S.H.E: Share Heal Empower Review and Interview With Author Shannon Hogan Cohen

S.H.E. Share Heal Empower by Shannon Hogan Cohen

S.H.E. Share Heal Empower unveils the stories of twenty-four women from around the globe and across all ages and cultures, who courageously reached within to overcome extraordinary obstacles. Author Shannon Hogan Cohen has carefully crafted each story into mini literary masterpieces and paired each with art from a female artist.

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Wow. Just wow.

That’s what I have to say about S.H.E. Share Heal Empower. For not being the type of book I typically pick up, it grabbed my attention and didn’t let me go.

Though maybe I shouldn’t say this isn’t my type of book because every single memoir I’ve ever read I’ve absolutely loved. From The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls to Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart to Playing With Dynamite by Sharon Harrigan to Educated by Tara Westover (just read, review forthcoming), I’ve found memoirs to be beautifully touching and affecting.

So rather than saying this isn’t the type of book I typically pick up, I should say that I avoid picking up these types of books unless prompted because I don’t like feeling my feelings lol. I feel enough feelings in an average day to last me a lifetime.

You could say my hang up about memoir is similar to the hang up I have about reading World War II fiction, which is well-documented on this blog. Almost always end up enjoying the book (or straight up love it and call it the best book ever), but boy do I have a certain amount of resistance about it.

S.H.E. Share Heal Empower contains twenty-four stories from real women, recounting some of the hardest and darkest troubles of their lives. Each memoir was powerfully moving and inspiring. Reading through some of these stories truly made me grateful for my own life and everything I have.

I sometimes grow fearful that my own struggles have thus far been relatively small – meaning that the hardest times of my life surely still lie in front of me. Sure, I have had some dark moments and days, but compared to what some people have gone through, it’s really nothing. So I try not to think about the fact that law of averages should dictate that there’s trouble somewhere over the horizon.

But for me, reading S.H.E. was inspiring because reading through some of these stories, of these women who have gone through the most terrible hurts and the darkest times, gives me courage that when trouble does come from me, I’ll know that I’m strong enough to withstand it.

Out of the twenty-four stories in S.H.E. I connected most with the stories of Barbara Jean, Desiree, and Sonia Marie.

Barbara Jean because hers is a story of a life lived among horses and animals. She also recounted some heartbreaking experiences that hit me like a stab in the heart and made me tear up.

Desiree because I cannot imagine what I would do if I experienced what she had experienced losing her child in such a horrific way. But her courage to continue on and fight through her grief to a place where she gives back to others is truly inspiring.

Sonia Marie because it’s clear she is a fighter. Not only did she fight through her own terrifying health crises, she fought to be a strong single mother for her two sons, one of whom has his own health problems. And not only did she fight, but she’s another woman who had taken her darkest moments and used them as seeds to inspire others.

All three of these woman (and the twenty-one others in this book) have exhibited great courage in sharing their stories with the world. I have always believed that the best way to heal is to share with others. I think of it this way: when you are burdened with a terrible pain or hurt, every time you tell the story, you break off a small piece of your pain and give it to someone else to hold onto for you. And the people around you that love you are glad to do this for you because your tiny piece of hurt does not hurt them in the same way it hurts you. So they are able to help you shoulder your burden and over time, your own pain diminishes through this process of retelling and giving away a piece of the hurt.

If you’re looking for a moving, inspiring book to read with your book club or share with all the women in your life, don’t miss S.H.E. Share Heal Empower!

I was able to interview author Shannon Hogan Cohen shortly after the release of the S.H.E. audiobook and at the time of this publication, she is giving away a free copy of the audiobook to one lucky winner. Head on over to the S.H.E. Facebook and Instagram accounts to enter. Good luck!

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What Inspired You to Create the S.H.E. Book?

Growing up, I experienced tension between my mother and father and knew my mother was silently suffering but unaware of the extent. As she slowly revealed her untold stories in my late twenties, I began to understand that this woman was not weak, which is how I always perceived her, but primarily a victim of social circumstance. She had done everything she could to conceal her struggles with my alcoholic father, his death at age thirty and her strained second marriage. My probing became healing for her. Her sharing became empowering. This book became an opportunity for other women to feel safe and do the same. I have learned, we are all wounded, we all worry and we are all weighed down by feelings of unworthiness. For me, the bedrock of love, friendship and community is vulnerability. These heartfelt exchanges provided me with connection and consolation, which is my hope for the reader.

Whose Story Did You Relate to the Most Out of the Twenty-Four Women You Interviewed?

Chapter Twenty-Four, Joni…my mother and who I dedicated the S.H.E. book to. Her rock solid resilience and unimaginable human spirit is inspiring. Nevertheless, each of the women who honored me with their profound stories gave me both a sense of courage and camaraderie that I had never known before. It has taken me years to put the jagged puzzle pieces of my life together. Life offered me clues to help solve my puzzle, but I ignore them at times. It was refreshing recognizing parts of myself in each of these women, who courageously reached within themselves to overcome extraordinary obstacles. These women and their stories together with the many others who have come into my life have created a circle of sisterhood. S.H.E. was born in the spirit of this.

How Did You Come to Include Art in the Book Alongside the Stories?

Once the chapters began to take shape it felt that a simple snapshot image of each woman was not enough. In addition to that, several of the women in the book chose not to have their actual likeness portrayed. I spoke with my sister Shelby, who is an amazing artist and she liked my idea.  In short, it felt right to invite twenty-four different women artists to create a unique portrait of each remarkable woman based on her storyline. I mindfully paired the artists who were able to read their woman’s chapter and were asked to fashion a specific stylistic piece. I continue to marvel at the insight and perception of each altruistic artist. Their representations came from all types of visual expression: pen and ink, fused glass sculpture, to traditional acrylic painting, and more. All the artists in the book are of different ages and abilities, which match the women they were interpreting.

What Was Your Writing (and Rewriting) Process Like?

I describe myself as an amateur scribbler. My writing process is very raw and rewrites only come after I have my husband read through the initial rough draft (of which he calls “homework”- but politely obliges). An author friend once told me years ago to read my pieces out loud and include inflection. This is extremely helpful during my writing and rewriting process, as I have the ability to be very verbose. I am very fortunate to have a wonderful editor, who understands my messy mind and has the ability to make my words pop off the page. Without her, these stories would not be architecturally solid.

Do You Use a Computer or Write By Hand Before Transcribing?

I am old-school; ink on paper. After each interview with a woman, I will listen to our conversation again and begin crafting the chapter in a black composition notebook. I am a tactile person. It is difficult for me to create from scratch on my computer with a blank screen staring at me. For some odd reason, a blank piece of white, lined paper is more inviting. Uni-bal Air rollerball gel pens are my preference. A cup of steamy coffee is mandatory.

What Were Your Biggest Takeaways From the Journey to Become a Self-Published Author?

The journey was extremely frustrating at times, but the end result was very rewarding. I spoke with several publishing houses, who wanted to tweak or modify my manuscript. This irritated me. I understand the need to “sell” books, but I was not willing to compromise certain women’s stories to appease them. Not knowing which direction to go at times was challenging at times, as I flailed forward not knowing if the decisions I was making were accurate. In the end, it all worked out. People came into my life at the right moments and were great mentors guiding me along the way. It feels fantastic to say, “I produced this masterpiece from start to finish.”

Will There Be a S.H.E. Volume 2?

Absolutely, in fact, I have twenty women already in my queue, who are ready to share their stories. It was prudent for me to take some time off and recharge. My goal is to begin interviewing and traveling to meet the women in late September of this year. My favorite part of the process is listening to the women share their life experiences, take those concentrated nuggets of wisdom and develop a storyline to celebrate their personal victories. I remind myself and the women I interview “We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can chose how we respond.”

S.H.E. book Volume One and the woman I am, and continue to become is the result of S.H.E. Sharing, Healing and Empowering.

 

Where Can People Find Out More About You, S.H.E, and Submit Their Own Stories?

On the S.H.E. website which is www.ShareHealEmpower.com. There is a tab called “Suggest a S.H.E.” which you can use to submit a story. And please connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube (as ShareHealEmpower) to see what we’re up to!

 

 

An Evening With Neil Gaiman in Review

In an effort to become a better writer, I’ve been doing a lot of things lately that are kind of outside my comfort zone:

1. I joined a writer’s group. I’m still not sure why they like me, but I’ve spent enough time around horses to know not to look a gift horse in the mouth!

2. I went to a writer’s conference. Which I realized I still need to review on the blog. More on that later then.

3. I signed up to go to a second writing conference in May.

4. I got tickets to go see Neil Gaiman speak in San Diego.

The last one is notable because I bought a ticket without finding out if I knew anyone who wanted to go with me. At the time I was thinking I’d probably find someone to go with and we could carpool. Which did not happen. So I’m super proud of myself that I didn’t flake especially because I had to drive myself downtown to go.

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Anyway, back to the event. I really had no idea what to expect. It was billed as “An Evening With Neil Gaiman” which is all I really needed to know. What I didn’t expect was how many other people find Neil Gaiman as cool as I do.

Earlier that day I was explaining to someone how the event I was going to was at the San Diego Civic Center. To which they pointed out that it’s an enormous space for an author to book. I looked this up later – The San Diego Civic Center seats 2,967 people. While not every seat was filled, the majority were. And that is just so cool for an author to fill that many seats with booklovers and wordnerds. I’ve been to concerts and sporting events, but there is just something so uniquely magical about gathering a crowd of overly excited introverts together to talk about books.

The setting itself was just as dramatic: a single podium on that massive stage. No signs, no backdrop, no video screen. The whole evening was blessedly free of pomp and circumstance. Just Neil and a microphone.

As could be expected, he did some reading of his work. Nothing I had actually read before so it was nice to experience it for the first time being read by the author. He read a story from his book Norse Mythology and he also read a short story about a genie.

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Apparently Neil had also been accepting questions prior to the event. I didn’t know about this, but it was okay. He had quite a stack of questions up there on the stage which he picked from. Some of the questions required longer answers, some just a few words.

Overall, I really liked how the evening was unscripted and fun. It ended up feeling like a very intimate event, despite the fact that perched high on the balcony I had to squint to see the tiny figure on the stage. My only real complaint was that 90 minutes was over much too soon.

If you get the chance to hear Neil Gaiman talk, I highly recommend! He’s as lovely and entertaining as all the Twitter posts have led you to believe.

Speaking of Twitter, this happened the next day:

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Life. Made.

 

 

 

Author Spotlight: John Connolly

My first Connolly book was The Book of Lost Things. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was intrigued by the summary on the back which reads thus:

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own — populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.

Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

I wholly enjoyed this novel. It’s a story for kids and then it’s not-it’s more gruesome than you would expect. I also enjoyed the take on fairy tales that aren’t all happiness and rainbows. Connolly projects a world that is decaying and being overcome with darkness. Within the pages, we recognize bits and pieces of the stories we learned as children, but they are not as we expect.

Connolly’s prose has the right degree of enchantment to it. He is a lovely writer who compels us to keep turning the page, to follow the type into this magnificent world he’s creating.

The next Connolly books I read were definitely for children and young adults. The Gates and the sequel, The Infernals. These books explore the story of an English boy, Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell, as they attempt to prevent the encroachment of evil into our world, fighting the minions and emissaries of The Great Malevolence.

While the first Connolly book was sort of ambiguous as to its audience (part of the dedication page reads, “For in every adult dwells the child that was, and in every child the adult that will be”) and the latter two books clearly aimed at children, they are still wildly entertaining. Connolly employs the art of nuance to lasso his adult readers; the books are full of references and subtleties that children will simply pass over.

Connolly does have a dedicated adult following; I have one of those books, The Lovers, sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. While I can’t comment on his style in those books, if my previous three Connolly excursions have proved anything it’s that he’s an author worth picking up.

Book Blogger Thoughts:

The Gates at Vishy the Knight

The Gates and The Infernals at Bookhimdanno

The Infernals at My Shelf Confessions

The Book of Lost Things at Blog at Bree

The Book of Lost Things at Chasing Greener Days

Author Spotlight: Fyodor Dostoevsky

I have a big soft spot for Russian literature. My first foray was with Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. What I remember most about the novel is how difficult it was for my then fifteen year old self to get through. I hated the novel much more than I loved it. But when I was done, I was struck by the beauty and elegance of the novel. The themes were so sweeping and universal. My next Dostoevsky novel was Crime and Punishment which, while retaining the same beauty and universality of theme, I enjoyed reading so much more. My final Dostoevsky was The Brothers Karamazov. That one I read primarily on a flight to Paris and the exhaustion of the flight probably killed that book for me. Nonetheless, I still consider Dostoevsky one of my favorite authors, though I confess I haven’t attempted to reread any of them, they still loom large in my memory.

I think what I like most about Dostoesvky is the care and attention he takes with his characters. He builds up his microcosms of Russian society so delicately that at times it seems like he’s describing the goings-ons of a real family, rather than an imaginary one. The most stirring complexity of the work is the names. As a non-Russian reader, the names and shifts in names get confusing. And I’m not saying I know enough about patronymics to speak to this, but the care that he takes sorting out the names of every character is admirable. I mean in all honesty, if you’re writing a 600 page book, are you really going to bother figuring out all the different nicknames certain characters use for a given character? I wouldn’t. Given name, family name, nickname, done.

He is also deft with the symbolism. Especially in The Idiot which you need only to look at the cover to know is rampant with Christ references. But the symbolism is always subtle and provides the reader with so much to unpack upon contemplation. Crime and Punishment, probably the best known of his work, needs no real introduction from me except to say that there’s a reason it frequently finds its way onto High School Reading Lists (you know, the non-compulsory kind, since I’m pretty sure this book has long occupied a spot on the Banned-Book list): Crime and Punishment is fairly easy to read and even easier to turn into the subject of an essay.

Whenever someone asks what my favorite books are, a Dostoevsky inevitably springs directly to the forefront of my mind. Like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky was one of the greatest authors of his age. And like Tolstoy, he is one amazing author worth reading.

Book Blogger Thoughts:

Crime and Punishment at Eli Bendersky

The Idiot at Books Without Any Pictures

The Brothers Karamazov at Boomers and Books

Author Spotlight: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

In my opinion, these guys have a lock on the thriller genre. And for good reason. In a genre that counts among its authors, Dan Brown, Jack DuBrul, James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Greg Bear, Iris Johansen, James Rollins, Raymond Khoury, David Lynn Goleman, William Gibson, and a bunch more, these guys really only have competition from Michael Cricton, who’s probably the undisputed God of this genre. Let’s talk about the fact that this is a convoluted and ambiguous subset of fiction. I think that most of the books one could term “thriller” also have their fingers in a separate genre. According to Amazon, my interests are apparently in “action & adventure fiction”, “science-fiction adventure”, “mystery & thriller”, “suspense thrillers” (really, Amazon?) and “techno thrillers”. Makes sense, yeah? Good, moving on.

I suppose you could say I’m a Preston and Child Completist. To-date, I’ve read (including solo efforts):

-Relic

-Reliquary

-The Cabinet of Curiosities

-Still Life with Crows

-Brimstone

-Dance of Death

-The Wheel of Darkness

-The Book of the Dead

-Cemetery Dance

-Fever Dream

-Thunderhead

-Tyrannosaur Canyon

-Blasphemy

-Riptide

-Mount Dragon

-The Ice Limit

-Impact

-The Monster of Florence (non-fiction)

-The Codex

-Death Match

-Utopia

-Deep Storm

-Terminal Freeze

-I’m currently in the midst of reading Cold Vengeance.

About the only thing I haven’t read yet is Douglas Preston’s non-fiction and the “Gideon” books.

So what is it about these guys? These are thriller novels, not literary fiction. With the exception of the Pendergast series, the characters aren’t deep. But the writing is tight and quick, propelling you to an insane conclusion, one that you can’t reason out from page one. There isn’t any lag-time in these novels. You don’t even have a chance to get bored. Much as you don’t have a chance to stop reading the book. Sure, if you’re hardcore against these novels, I suppose you won’t enjoy them. They do require suspension of belief. But it’s not really a hard-sell. But I’m not convincing people who hate these types of novels to give them a shot. I’m explaining why these guys are at the top of their game and why their novels are absolutely top-notch. I started with Relic. That would be my suggestion to anyone looking to break into the series. The Pendergast set is what made them famous and for good reason. I read the series in order though, in the midst of waiting for the new releases (I’d estimate I started these books in the winter of 2006), I read their other stuff. The Preston solo efforts are a bit stronger than the Child projects, but they are all nonetheless quite good. Out of all of these, I probably liked The Codex the least.

These guys are masters of plot. They can spin subplots and subtext like woven wool. To read one of these novels is to embark on a ride you didn’t know existed. With the passing of Michael Crichton (whose later works were certainly less brilliant and whose career included some unfortunate missteps) this pair is the worthy successor to such a dynasty. They rarely write anything that isn’t excellent (though I haven’t heard good things about the Gideon series, though apparently Hollywood is trying to turn it into a movie, so go figure) and whenever I get my hands on another of their novels, I always start it next. Case in point: I got Cold Vengeance for Christmas and I started it on the 26th, right after finishing The Fellowship of the Ring.

Book Blogger Thoughts:

Cold Venegance at A Walrus Darkly

Relic at Ryder Islington

Riptide at Cher Cabula’s Mindbox

Thunderhead at Jandy’s Reading Room

Impact at The Book Smugglers

Author Spotlight: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A few summers back, I wandered into my local Barnes & Noble. I was hoping to interview with a literary agent the next week and wanted to read one of the books she represented. While looking for that one, I stopped the display for Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game.With a title like that, I couldn’t not pick it up and skim the back.

In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martín, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.

Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed–a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.

I was hooked. I wanted to buy the book right then. Then I noticed The Shadow of the Wind on the table beside it. That one was in paperback while the other was in hardcover. I set down The Angel’s Game and picked up The Shadow of the Wind. In case you’re wondering, I also bought the book I game in for which was title, Something Missing (also good, might do a review in the future).

The book sat on my shelf for awhile. It wasn’t until Christmas that I started it. And I fell in love.

At this date, I’ve read The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. I own The Prince of the Mist, but I haven’t read it yet. Zafon has utterly captivated me. I simply cannot believe only three of his books are available in English. Simply put, his work is fantastic. Every time I’ve recommended his novels, I’ve scored a hit.

Zafon has a lurid and lush writing style. He composes sentences that twist and fold in upon themselves like the shadowy streets of his romantic Barcelona. Zafon plans to write a four-book series that involve the mysterious place called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Literature is involved at every level in his work. From this secret library sort of place to the readers who delve in its works to the bookseller and his son to the young author, Zafon paints the world of the bibliophile with love. And Barcelona is the perfect backdrop for it all. Beyond Paris and London, it is one of those cities infused with the romanticism of the nineteenth century.

One of my friends said his work was very cinematic. This is true, but it’s not cinematic in the Hollywood blockbuster sort of style. The Barcelona Zafon creates for the readers is as vivid and colorful as a reel of film.

Although this is an author spotlight, I’m going to briefly comment on the two novels I’ve read. Both are considered to be for adults. His previous works, including The Prince of the Mist and his untranslated works, are geared towards young adults. Of the two novels, I enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind a little more. The Angel’s Game is dark and twisted, much more so than the preceding book. While both books deal in the currencies of sadness, regret, and memory, The Angel’s Game provides little respite from those hard-hitting overtones. However, I would easily recommend both books.

Book Blogger Thoughts:

The Shadow of the Wind at Jo’s County Junction

The Shadow of the Wind at I Hug My Books

The Angel’s Game at Compulsive Reader

The Angel’s Game at My Wordly Obsessions