Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder

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Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Biography
Length: Full Length (261 pages)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Gene Wilder was one of the great comic actors who defined the 1970’s and 1980’s in movies. From his early work with Woody Allen to the rich group of movies he made with Mel Brooks to his partnership on screen with Richard Pryor, Wilder’s performances are still discussed and celebrated today. Kiss Me Like A Stranger is an intimate glimpse of the man behind the image on the screen.

In this book, Wilder talks about everything from his experiences in psychoanalysis to why he got into acting (and later comedy-his first goal was to be a Shakespearean actor) to how a Midwestern childhood with a sick mother changed him. He writes about the creative process on stage and on screen, and divulges moments from life on the sets of the some of the most iconic movies of our time. He also opens up about his love affairs and marriages, including his marriage to comedian Gilda Radner. But the core of Kiss Me Like A Stranger is an actor’s search for truth and a thoughtful analysis of why the choices he made-some of them so serendipitous they were practically accidental-changed the course of his life.

There’s so much I didn’t know, but I do now… since I’ve read the rest of the story.

Gene Wilder is more than just a mildly eccentric comic with fantastic timing. There’s the cynical side and the manic side, but he’s more dimensional. This book showed the good, the bad and the human side of him.

I’d loved the work of Gene Wilder since I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child. For the longest time, I thought of him as Willy Wonka and the man who helped Gilda Radner while she battled cancer. Trust me, there is so much more to him.

I loved how he told the stories of his childhood. It wasn’t all roses and comedy. He spent time in a military school and worked hard to make his parents proud. He dealt with the death of his mother and trying to find his way as an actor. Talk about taking the long road…he certainly did.

He shows his human side as well in this book. Some actors don’t want their past revealed. He talks about his struggles with women, his adopted daughter, balancing his acting life with his inner demons and finding real love in his life. Wilder holds nothing back. I could relate to some of his experiences and respected him more as an actor.

The stories about his movies injected a human quality to them, as well. He’s not just an image on the silver screen but a person. I gained a lot of respect for him.

If you want a book that will make you laugh, cry, think and love…then this might be the book for you.

Lost in Transplantation: Memoir of an Unconventional Organ Donor by Eldonna Edwards

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Lost in Transplantation: Memoir of an Unconventional Organ Donor by Eldonna Edwards
Publisher: Whole Heart Publications
Genre: Autobiography, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (249 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

One Gently Used Kidney, Free to a Good Home.

When 48 year-old single mother, massage therapist and returning student Ellie meets a young woman with kidney disease, she decides to make it her mission to save the girl. Unfortunately, outdated rules made it difficult for altruistic donors, and besides, the woman doesn’t want a savior. Does this stop Ellie from her quest to “be the change” one seeks in the world? Not a chance.

Told with humor and self-reflection, this inspirational memoir of courage and compassion is interwoven with anecdotal stories that help the reader identify what kind of person commits the selfless act of organ donation. Ellie,a self-described devout agnostic, is kind but often irreverent. She is generous, but she is no saint. Ultimately, becoming a kidney donor has given her a renewed sense of purpose and fulfillment. Lost in Transplantation asserts that we are all capable of altering a human being’s life for the better, including our own.

How much would you risk to save the life of someone you’ve never met? It’s easy to talk about altruism as an abstract term, but it’s much more difficult to live in out in such a personal manner.

Ms. Edwards decision fascinates me, but it is her honest, wry sense of humour that made this story so enjoyable for this reader. She has the uncanny ability to find the light side of even the most serious topics. Nowhere is this more evident than in the beginning of her journey when she realizes that a classmate has kidney disease. Her spontaneous offer to give her classmate one of her kidneys gave me an early glimpse into the author’s character as well as provided some of the funniest moments in this tale.

As interesting as it was to read about everything else that was going on in the author’s life while she was in the process of donating her kidney, all of these subplots bog down the gist of her memoir. This is especially true when it came to all of the information I learned about her childhood and young adulthood. The tales were interesting, but some of them were off-topic for this particular book.

With that being said, Ms. Edwards descriptions of the donation and recovery processes are absolutely fascinating. By far my favorite sections focused on all of physical and mental health tests one must pass in order to be considered as a candidate. I wish more time had been spent discussing this part of the donation process because, at least for me, the risks weigh heavily on my mind when I think about the possibility of being a live donor. While the vast majority of donors recover without any complications, there is always a chance of developing an infection or having a bad reaction to the anesthesia with any surgical procedure.

Lost in Transplantation: Memoir of an Unconventional Organ Donor is a thought-provoking look at one woman’s unorthodox decision to save a stranger’s life. I’d recommend it to anyone who has even the slightest whiff of curiosity about this subject.

Secrets of the Velvet Closet by Lena Rai

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Secrets of the Velvet Closet by Lena Rai
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Autobiography, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (284 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Secrets of the Velvet Closet starts with the tale of a young girl who struggles with abuse and must somehow manage to find her way into adulthood, as well as find herself, through hardships, questionable choices, trials and tribulations, humor, and of course, love. A true coming-of-age story with heartfelt memories and laughter. This autobiographical account is truly an emotional roller-coaster with a highly inspirational message to follow your dreams, and most of all, your heart!

Terrible secrets lose power when they’re exposed to the light of day.

The best sections of this book involve memories about things that most people don’t like to recall due to embarrassment or the worry that other people will judge them. Ms. Rai readily admits to these things, though, and she isn’t ashamed by anything that has happened to her. I get the impression that she is the sort of person who has long since learned to stop caring what others think about her, and when combined with her extraordinary storytelling abilities this makes it difficult to put Secrets of the Velvet Closet down.

The narrative jumps around a bit, and sometimes I found it hard to keep track of what was happening. The inclusion of anecdotes about such a large list of friends and family members was also occasionally confusing because there was so little space to get to know these individuals better. Ms. Rai has had such an interesting life that this tale could have been easily split up into a series. This would have also given her more time to delve into the backstories of the men, women, and children who have emotionally impacted her.

There are plenty of colloquial expressions in the plot that I’d never heard of before. I really enjoyed the author’s use of them as well as of slang terms in order to paint a vivid picture of her social circles. Ms. Rai has a wonderfully creative way with words that makes it very easy to envision exactly how her adventures take place.

Grammatical and punctuation errors did occasionally make it difficult for me to understand what she was saying, though. While most of them were easy to decipher there were a few instances in which I was stumped. Had this not been the case this book would have earned a higher rating as the anecdotes themselves were quite entertaining!

What I liked the most was Ms. Rai’s ability to pick herself up and try again no matter what happened to her. As a small child she was exposed to a lot of things that are extremely harmful to children, yet she seems to harbour no ill will against the people in her life who should have been protecting her from those experiences. It takes a lot of courage to reach this point, and I admire her honesty about the painful times as well as as the happy ones.

Secrets of the Velvet Closet made me laugh and cry. This is a good choice for anyone looking for an uplifting autobiography.