I mentioned recently that my friend and fellow blogger Stephanie Shar has recently published her first e-book, and I’m thrilled to be sharing my thoughts on it today while Steph simultaneously guest posts on my other blog, The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower. Be sure to check that out, as she’s also giving away an copy of her e-book to a lucky reader!

In 7 Steps to Living Loudly: Discover Who You Are, Decide What You Need and Create the Life You Want, Stephanie draws on her passion for inspiring others as she breaks down her method for living Loudly. In keeping with the theme of her popular blog, The Loudmouth Lifestyle, she delves into the essence of the Loud movement: living fully and happily by following your dreams, loving yourself, and surrounding yourself with people that will inspire you on your journey. The seven steps are to Be You, Be Passionate, Be Honest, Be Present, Be Bold, Be Loved, and Be Loud; each step is also followed up by a journal prompt that helps the reader engage even more in the material.

7 Steps to Living Loudly is a small book that inspires a big experience. As she highlights the necessary phases of changing one’s life for the better, Stephanie keeps her message straightforward and her ideas organized, while also keeping her method open for the reader’s creativity to interpret. The seven steps can be approached at once – say, in one quiet evening’s dedicated study – or spaced out for deeper, more long-term work. A great idea is to attribute each step to a different day, spending a bit of time each morning or night (or both) with one step before moving on to the next; some readers may even be inclined to stretch each step out into a week, coming up with new ways to apply Stephanie’s advice and achieve related goals, like being more open to social situations or increasing one’s self-esteem. Likewise, the book can be returned to again and again, the steps followed through repeatedly, in order for readers to make Living Loudly a natural part of their everyday.

Stephanie writes with compassion, wit, and honesty; she becomes an instant friend to the reader, sitting down for drinks or coffee and some deep, motivating conversation. Though her narrative is breezy and lighthearted, she’s not afraid to dig deep and deliver some powerful truths. One of the most memorable moments for me came when she wrote, “You won’t know what love is supposed to look like until you love yourself, unconditionally.” Through this and many other messages, Stephanie’s wisdom and heartfelt support helped me to uncover some of the blocks in my own life and encouraged me to work hard at busting through them. Her journal prompts are simple in the way that they won’t seem daunting or intimidating to the reader, but they’re also effective, which is a difficult combination to achieve. As a debut, 7 Steps to Living Loudly shows Stephanie’s confidence and determination, as well as her genuine gift for inspirational writing; and as a source of motivation in living a happy, fulfilling life, it’s a great resource.

Enter the giveaway @ The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower

(It’s a .PDF so you don’t need an e-reader to enjoy!)

Title: 7 Steps to Living Loudly: Discover Who You Are, Decide What You Need and Create the Life You Want

Author: Stephanie Shar

Genre: nonfiction, self-help, inspiration

Publisher: Stephanie Shar

Release date: June 8, 2014

Source: Stephanie Shar (c/o)

Buy the book: Dress Loudly

More from the author: Blog | Facebook | Twitter

In her memoir, Ezra and Hadassah: A Portrait of American Royalty, author Heather Young weaves the intricate, painful story of her childhood with her brother Rex as helpless victims of the state. Born Hadassah and Ezra, the siblings spent the early years of their lives between a foster home and weekends spent with their biological parents. As children of parents overpowered by mental illness, Ezra and Hadassah were at the mercy of Children’s Services, a system that failed them when they were sent first to an unloving foster home and later adopted into an abusive family. With their names changed to Heather and Rex, the two grew up in an environment rife with physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse that would determine the course of their lives. In Ezra and Hadassah, Young charts her unexpected journey to find her place and also tells the remarkable, heartbreaking story of how her brother Rex ultimately inspired her.

In straightforward and thoughtful prose the story of Heather and Rex’s lives engulfs the reader from the very first page, producing in vivid imagery the tumultuous experiences the siblings faced, from the few but meaningful positive memories to the plentiful and utterly tragic recollections of abuse. Some of Young’s memories she writes as being passed from her memory perhaps by will or even the residual shock of the trauma, but she recounts the details of her life with Rex and two other adopted children with honest and determined courage. What results is the devastating reality of two brave young people whose circumstances forced them away from everything they knew. Young openly admits to her readers the separation she and Rex faced when their home life drove them to fend for themselves, and she profoundly reflects on the many ways she wished she could have helped her brother, whose developmental struggles were not only ignored by his adoptive parents but also considered a reason for punishment. As Young explores the path Rex’s life took away from hers she also recalls her determination to escape her devastating situation, remembering the people who served as guiding lights as she traveled a very sad road. In the end, the reader comes to understand that the tragedy of their childhood impacted Heather and Rex’s view of the world in unexpected ways. As Heather starts a family of her own she discovers a profound strength of will, and years later when her life leads her back into contact with Rex she experiences how the power of faith can help a challenged man not only appreciate his life, but love with a selflessness most could only dream of.

While at many times a shocking account of the devastation of human nature, at its core Ezra and Hadassah is a story of triumph against all odds and of how unexpectedly entwined we are with the family into which we’re born. As an adult, Heather finds her biological parents back in her life and it is here, as well as in her relationship with her brother, that Young illustrates how sometimes the most conflicting, challenging relationships in our lives can come with the most heart. Through her deeply moving account of loss, struggle, and the search for love, Young opens herself to her readers with all the faith her brother instilled inside her and all the heartfelt honesty born into her from her parents; Ezra and Hadassah is a memoir about endurance in tragic circumstances and, above all, about the roles other people play in our lives, from the villains to the unexpected and beloved heroes.

Title: Ezra and Hadassah: A Portrait of American Royalty

Author: Heather Young

Genre: memoir

Publisher: Heather Young

Release date: January 15, 2014

Source: Heather Young (c/o)

Buy the book:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Connect with the author:
Website/Blog | Goodreads

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Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s An Unsuitable Princess weaves a unique combination of fiction and memoir as it tells two stories at once, stories that span the distance between a Renaissance fairy tale and a young woman’s experience coming of age in early-1970s Hollywood. This unusual pairing is achieved through a creative rendering of the book’s format. Foremost is a fantasy story about a mute orphan and her love for a blacksmith’s apprentice; in moments where the fantasy takes particular inspiration from her life, LaForge adds footnotes marked by flowers, which lead the reader into the second part of the book: her true account of young adulthood, Renaissance faires, and the boy who changed her life. As both stories unravel at the same time, the reader is introduced to a new and heady type of literary adventure, one that touches the heart and feeds the imagination.

One would expect, given such a unique style, that An Unsuitable Princess would require some particular skill or endeavoring on the reader’s part in order to best appreciate the book as a whole, but it’s a testament to LaForge’s ability – and perhaps her confidence therein – that the experience of reading this dual narrative feels surprisingly natural. Her alternating accounts are separated from each other by both the clarity of their unique atmospheres and the author’s dedicated tone. In the fantasy, the story of mute orphan Jenny and the young blacksmith Samuel is unraveled in a style that quickly draws the reader into its setting amid Renaissance England. Her characters – from the determined Sir Robert to the imposing Queen Marion – take vivid shape as the story follows Samuel’s determination to survive war and the unknown to be with Jenny. At comfortable and seemingly quite natural transition points, triggered by certain phrases or scenes in the fantasy, we’re brought forward in time to the real-world Laurel Canyon of the author’s childhood and young adult years, where she documents first her adventures in school and life before eventually getting to the heart of the matter, and the stories’ crucial point of relation: a boy named Sam. LaForge recounts their meeting as character volunteers at one of California’s renowned Renaissance faires in the decade when it was known more as a source of bawdy liberation than a family-friendly atmosphere; she explores the experiences they shared before finally resigning herself and her reader to the tragedy that waited at the end of their relationship. In this, the memoir that inspired the fantasy, her narrative is fast-paced and witty, but ultimately profound, infused with pop culture references that bring the world of her memories even more to life.

LaForge handles both the memoir and the fantasy story of An Unsuitable Princess with a caring and intimacy that strikes the reader’s emotions; it is clear in the words, in both the heartrending reality and the blissful imaginings, that the author is baring her deepest, most candid truth to her audience. Her efforts are applied with insight and heart; the combined nuances manifest into a gift as much for her reader, her family, and herself as it is for the memory of an imperfect time and the beauty of a young soul. Through a remarkable execution of prose and memory, LaForge unfolds her tales of fantasy and reality before the reader simultaneously and the result is a beautiful, one-of-a-kind experience.

Title: An Unsuitable Princess
Author: Jane Rosenberg LaForge
Genre: fantasy, memoir
Publisher: Jaded Ibis Press
Release date: April 15, 2014
Source: Book Savvy PR (c/o)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
Connect with the author: Website/Blog | Facebook | Twitter

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First published in 1994, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird is considered one of the quintessential books for writers. As the subtitle Some Instructions on Writing and Life suggests, Lamott’s narrative breaks down the writing life, guiding students of the craft on the journey to understand what drives our passion by sifting the intricacies of writing through the varying emotions and circumstances we’re apt to come across in our day-to-day lives. In chapters like School Lunches and Index Cards Lamott draws on her habits and experiences to better explain her own unique process, while in the chapter titled Writing a Present she explores the various ways in which her inspiration has taken root somewhere outside of herself. Her characteristic wit is at work throughout her narrative, often turning a darkly comic glance on the harrows we come across in writing and life that can sometimes help to fuel our journey.

While Bird by Bird covers a lot of ground, Lamott’s voice handles the material with a quick and comfortable pace. She has a unique ability to shift from seemingly superfluous stories to some hard-hitting and beautifully honest words of advice; occasionally the asides she takes will require the reader to pay a bit more attention in order to fully appreciate her meaning, while at other times she delivers blatant and profound bits of wisdom without preamble. Her ability to balance the two is one of the significant defining factors of the book, but at the core of its impact is the most basic, most important writing advice Lamott can offer, to her readers as well as to the students in her writing workshops.

Bird by Bird reads quickly and easily, and the reader can be in danger of sometimes zipping through its pages with a little too much casual enjoyment, at the risk of missing some of the book’s most powerful – yet delightfully simple – messages. Although she has a clear understanding for the intellectual science of the art of writing, Lamott’s focus weaves between the deliberate and the philosophical; her chapters on creating honest, in-depth characters and natural dialogue will have the reader fervently scribbling notes (“One line of dialogue that rings true reveals character in a way that pages of description can’t.”) while in other chapters she encourages the reader’s introspection and subjectivity (“Write towards vulnerability.”). When she gets to the most philosophical topics of her instruction, the vital question of why we write, she departs from her humor to offer some of her most heartwarming and thought-provoking words of encouragement. Although these are arguably the little gems – such as, “You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words” – that we as aspiring writers are the most quickly inspired by, throughout Bird by Bird Lamott delves into topics deeply important for writers, exploring them with a sense of wit, charm, and wisdom that will have a lasting resonance within her reader.

Title: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Author: Anne Lamott
Genre: nonfiction, writing
Publisher: Pantheon Books (first edition)
Release date: January 1, 1994
Source: Local Library
Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | BetterWorldBooks
Connect with the author: Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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