I Believe I Can Touch the Sky: From Poverty to Prosperity in Stories

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I was born in rural Shelby County, in East Texas, in the 1940s, a time of rigid segregation. Parking in my hometown of 715 people was segregated by race and I went to a separate school where books and desks were hand-me-downs from the town’s white school. The first new textbook I ever laid hands on was a physics textbook in high school when the school district included physics for the first time and had to buy a sufficient quantity for both schools.

     After graduating from high school in 1962, too poor to attend college and refusing to accept the employment available to black people in East Texas at the time, I joined the United States Army to see the world that I’d been introduced to through crinkled pages of old National Geographic magazines.

     In the ensuing fifty-plus years, I rose from the poverty of a small farming town to prosperity, from tending the pigs on our small farm to meeting with kings in their palaces and presidents in their state houses.

     Thanks to the urging of my daughter, Denise Ray-Wickersham, I have finally put down stories from my life in written form—stories that I bored her and her brother with when they were growing up and her children with during the past few years.

     I Believe I Can Touch the Sky: Stories From My Life is not your usual memoir. The focus is not really on me, but on the incidents and events that impacted on me in my life. Short and to the point, much like the novelettes I write, it is a series of stories that stretch back over seven decades. Stories about the famous and infamous, the well-known and the unknown. It is a story of the persistence and patience of a young boy who refused to accept that the pine-covered clay hills were all there was to the world, or that he was limited to what other people said he could do because of the color of his skin.

     Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle version on Amazon. Get your copy today:

Hardcover:  $15.99

Paperback:  #$7.99

Kindle version:  $0.99

Review of ‘Illegal’

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September 11, 2001 saw a resurgence in the United States of nationalism (the belief that one’s country is better than all others), thinly disguised as patriotism (love of one’s country), which has, since the 2016 elections, only grown worse. Illegal by John Dennehy is a memoir by a young American, following the author’s journey of discovery, beginning with the reelection of George Bush to his second term, when Dennehy decided to leave his home country to find true meaning in his life.

In Ecuador, a country in the throes of profound political change, Dennehy meets Lucia, an activist, and begins to discover the meaning of national and personal identity; a journey that begins and ends at the same place. Along the way, the author offers insights into the inconsistencies that exist in an increasingly globalized world that recognizes the free flow of money, goods, and ideas, while at the same time, restricting the movement of people.

A compelling story of the meaning of culture and nationality, and how one person learns to cope with them. A must-read for anyone who wants to begin to make sense of a world that sometimes seems to be going mad.

I give Dennehy five stars for this one.

Review of ‘Hank Brodt Holocaust Memoirs: A Candle and a Promise’

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Hank Brodt was born in 1927 in the Polish village of Boryslaw, Poland. His family was poor, headed by his mother; his father having died when he was but an infant. When his older siblings left home, Hank was placed in an orphanage where he stayed until his bar mitzvah at the age of 13 in 1939, just as the Germans were invading Poland. Sent to a series of Nazi concentration and labor camps, Hank saw the reality of Nazi atrocities, up close and personal, as friends and fellow inmates were worked to death, committed suicide, or were simply brutally murdered when they were no longer of any use to the regime.

Hank Brodt Holocaust Memoirs: A Candle and a Promise, written by his youngest daughter, Deborah Connelly, is Hank’s story. It’s not a story of survival, or of death, but a more or less matter of fact account of his life, and how, through hope, he was able to survive the horror of the holocaust, and create a new life for himself in America after the war.

This is a story lacking embellishment. Hank’s story, as told to the author, is a simple, yet profound, recitation of the life he led from childhood to the advanced age of 90. Loss, love, death, and redemption are described as events that took place. At times, Hank’s voice comes through loud and clear; it is through hope and strong will that we are able to endure. But, most of all, it is a story of the importance of remembering. We should never forget that ordinary people, through fear and prejudice, are capable of horrendous acts, but at the same time, even when faced with the darkness, some people retain the ability to show compassion.

This is a book that should be read by everyone. While it relates events that are more than seven decades in our past, we should never forget that such horror is always possible, and it’s only through hope and compassion, and knowledge, that we can forestall tragedy.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Athar’

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There have been many books written about the Jewish experience during World War II. Athar by Shlomo Kalo is a Holocaust novel that will stand out from all the others. It tells the author’s experiences as a teen-age partisan in a concentration camp for Jewish criminals in his native Bulgaria. Day-to-day life is outlined in stark, uncompromising terms. The author’s style is unique, a kind of staccato, stream-of-consciousness writing that flits from thought to thought, image to image, much like the mind does. This choppy style will probably be off-putting to some readers, but I think it conveys the sense of desperation and surrealism of the period most effectively. This is not an easy book to read, and not just because of the author’s style. It lays bare the reality of life in a situation when there is little or no hope, and when prisoners are stripped of their humanity, becoming ‘sub-animals.’ It punches you in the gut, and then while you’re curled in a fetal position, clutching your midsection in agony, it kicks you in the face. This is one hard journey, though, that you’ll thank yourself for taking.

Review of ‘My Secret Barack: Crowning the King’

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Not since the time of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot has a presidential election so electrified the American public—especially the young—as did the 2008 election when Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois made history by becoming the first African-American President of the United States. You have to have been inside a hermetically sealed chamber not to know that his direct appeal to young voters through personal contact and social media, almost as much as dissatisfaction with the direction the previous administration had taken the country, were the keys to his historic victory.

In My Secret Barack: Crowning the King, a memoir by Krista Nelson, an elected Obama delegate for the 2008 election, we see behind the media reports, and get a look at what this election meant from a distinctly human perspective. Nelson, who worked in advertising and marketing before becoming an Obama devotee, takes us through her involvement in this event, up to the inauguration, giving a rare insight into the emotions behind her political choice.

I received a free copy of My Secret Barack in exchange for my review. It’s a short book, easy to read in one sitting, but one that will have a profound effect on anyone who cares about the country and its politics, and who believes that we still have a ways to go in order to truly live up to our dream of a country where ‘all men (and women) are created equal,’ and where we can say after every election that ‘goodness won, goodness had triumphed.’ I give this book five stars.

Review of “The In-Between” by Jeff Goins

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I received a free copy of Jeff Goins’ The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing, thinking I would be reading another of those ‘I was down and Faith picked me back up again’ books, filled with homilies and platitudes that really tell me nothing new.

I wasn’t too deep into The In-Between, though, before I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, this is a book that is deeply grounded in the author’s religious faith, but you don’t have to be Christian to see the essential wisdom in it. His introduction, ‘Life Between the Panels,’ where he points out that we spend a significant, if not majority, part of our lives ‘waiting’ is worth the price of the book all by itself. His conclusion that the good stuff is neither ahead of nor behind us, but somewhere ‘in-between,’ or put another way, right where we are at the moment applies to all of us. Spending our waiting time constructively, rather than fixating on the next big thing, enables us to live more productive, fulfilled lives.

Goins offers an undergraduate degree worth of lessons in how to live the kind of life that at the end enables us to say, ‘I’m satisfied that I took advantage of every opportunity,’ and that includes the opportunities available to us during those periods ‘between the panels.’

Most books like this tend to be preachy, with a heavy religious hand pressing down on every principle. While Goins, as I mentioned previously, is obviously a person of strong faith, his use of stories and anecdotes of actual events (no matter how poorly they might be remembered) makes this book universally acceptable, and understandable.  These are real people and real events with which each of us can identify. A cornucopia of wisdom, with useful information on everything from learning to love to coping with loss, The In-Between is a book that you’ll want to read, and then re-read during those moments ‘between the panels’ when you’re waiting for the next thing to happen. Believe me, it won’t be a waste of time.

Five stars without hesitation.