OMG, fellow bloggers, when was the last time you saw a Monday Book Review? A long time now. I may not keep to the Monday schedule yet, but I’ll try keeping my reviews regular.  I have a long list of books I’ve read in the past year that I haven’t been able to review, so I’m mixing them up with books that I’m reading and are on my TBR. Today I’ll be reviewing A River in Darkness-One Man’s Escape from North Korea.


BOOK:  A River in Darkness-One Man’s Escape from North Korea

AUTHOR: Masaji Ishikawa

GENRE: Memoir

RATING: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥/♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥


Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.

In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit


In a word, heartbreaking. Mr. Ishikawa takes us through his life in North Korea over a thirty some odd year period, from his move from Japan to North Korea with his abusive father and mother to his final escape. After being placed in the lowest social caste, the family found employment nearly impossible. It was worse for his mother because of her Japanese heritage.

From his failed marriage to his children, it felt like the blows kept hitting me in the chest. We think we have a good understanding of the strife in North Korea but we aren’t even close. Mr. Ishikawa explains how many times his family was near starvation and the treatment they received from military personnel.

After discussing his escape plans with his family, he promised to get them out. The most heart-pounding scenes in the book were when he actually made his escape. I won’t give away any spoilers but I’ll admit that I nearly cried at the end.

I loved the writing style and couldn’t put the book down.  It was translated from its original Japanese which I thought would be a problem, but it wasn’t. You may not want to read this if you’re overly sensitive (guilty) but I highly recommend this book.

RATING: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥/♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥






Good morning everyone! Today is an exciting day in my life and the life of my blog. I am hosting my first guest. What makes it special is that my guest is author Mark Koopmans, who’s been close to my heart since lilicasplace was still a ‘baby blog’.

I didn’t know how the blogging community worked at the time, so I’d visit various blogs and leave comments on posts I liked. One of Mark’s impressed me, so I left a comment. He shocked me when he made his way back here and commented. When I told him I was ‘honored’ by his reply, it affected him in some kinda way, because he wrote a post about it! Read it here. I think I was enamored with the fact that he was a journalist and the winner of a memoir award (which I come to find, happens to be for REVIVAL!) 

I’m proudly taking part in Mark’s current book tour for the release of Revival, the book I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. You can find it here. You’ll also find author information there too!

REVIVAL_-_Blog_Tour_Banner[1] (2)

Just about everyone who follows me knows my background. Writing is one of my biggest outlets. It’s one of the few creative strategies I use to help myself and my brain heal. I love reading about Mark’s stories and what inspires him, so busy-body that I am,  I just ask. As long as there’s some wine layin’ around, he doesn’t mind answering. 😀

Take it away, Mark …


As I continue the REVIVAL – The Donald Braswell Story Tour, I’ve been looking forward to today. Eva and I know each other a couple of years, and as her regular readers are aware, she’s a fighter, and a true friend with the hugest heart.

Eva asked me to describe why I write.

I had to stop, take a sip of cheap boxed red wine before I answered with a deep, quiet conviction.

“Oh, anyone can write, love. I’m just in it for the money. Thanks for hosting and tomorr— ”

What? You want the real reason?

Easy. I love using the power of words in a positive way. (My superhero name would be WordWarriorManDude-Guy. A handful, perhaps, but we’d fix it in CP edits.)

I was a beat reporter my first few writing gigs, but there was (is) enough bad news reported, so I thought, why not focus on the “silent majority.”

Every day, I drove around spacious neighborhoods, (and we all have a story to tell, right?) I decided to get to know some of our readers.

Armed with my trusty photo ID, reporter’s notepad, recorder (and extra batteries after the first time the darn thing died) I soon wrote features on:

  • A Holocaust survivor
  • A 99-year-old former jazz player who worked in Chicago during the Roaring ‘20s
  • Several veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
  • A Rwandan Army officer in Cocoa Beach—who’d never touched the ocean
  • Several pastors who were planting new churches
  • A Mom who lost her son in a motorbike crash
  • A Dad who lost his son in Afghanistan

For those last two features, my goal was never, (and never will be), to “ambulance chase” the parents, instead I just let them talk about—and share—the goodness of their child—and what we, the local community had lost.


In the past, I’ve worked as a cowboy server in France, a drunken clown in Spain, a busboy in Holland, a restaurant manager in England and a bank teller in Florida.

All those jobs had positive moments, but earning the trust of an interviewee—and honoring that trust—via the final, published piece… well, to me there was (is) no better feeling.

That’s why I write.

Why do you write?

Tomorrow, I’ll be visiting Lisa Buie-Collard who wants to know a little of my history and what life was like growing up in literary Ireland.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

WAIT EVERYBODY!! Don’t leave yet!! There’s a giveaway for some really cool prizes! Click the Rafflecopter link below the prize list to enter!

GRAND PRIZE (2 winners): Donald Braswell to sing (Happy Birthday/Anniversary) via
Skype or phone call. (A unique gift idea!)
1st PLACE PRIZE: Signed Donald Braswell CD/REVIVAL book combo
● 2nd, 3rd and 4th PLACE PRIZES: Signed copies of REVIVAL (by Donald and Mark)
5th, 6th and 7th PLACE PRIZES: Signed copies of Donald Braswell CDs
8th, 9th, and 10th PLACE PRIZES: Signed Donald Braswell 8×10 picture

a Rafflecopter giveaway


If any of you missed it, here is the Season 3 audition video for America’s Got Talent. Talk about turning the crowd around!

DBraswellGo to donaldbraswell.com to find out more about this amazing man.




KoopYou can find my beloved boxed-wine drinking buddy at markkoopmans.blogspot.com.




If anyone has questions, leave them in my comments! I’m sure Mark will be stalking checking back periodically during the day, and will answer any questions or respond to any comments you have!




Hey everyone! Welcome to my first review for the Reading and Review Challenge, started by the wonderful Jessica Therrien. It’s a great opportunity for authors and reader/reviewers to connect. ReadRev

Click on the image  to find out more.

I’ll be reviewing Woman on the Verge of Paradise, by popular and hysterically funny blogger Robyn Alana Engel.






MY RATING: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥/♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

4.5/5 HEARTS



She’s 4 feet, 8 inches of heartfelt ferocity, and nothing can stop this post-pubescent spitfire from claiming her fairytale–not jarring tragedy, not penile incompetence, not even the explosive demise of a new marriage. Not until Robyn finds her happily ever after…alone.


As soon as I read the beginning where Robyn states who the book is NOT intended for, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Martha Stewart? You’d have to read her blog to get it.

Ms. Engel writes about her life growing up in a popular middle class Jewish family where all the neighborhood kids loved to gather. She writes about suffering emotional abuse throughout her childhood, not understanding it for what it was at the time.

She shares with us her journey, as she stumbles along in life trying to find her place, and her prince charming. We’re treated to the kind of humor that only Robyn can dish out. Her dating escapades are truly ‘one for the books’. I found myself laughing out loud more than once trying to picture myself a fly on the wall on some of these ‘dates’.

Robyn writes openly and honestly about the good and bad events that have happened in her life. For as much as I laughed, there were also moments I was near tears. The loss of her mother from cancer had a huge impact; I know it well.

Included in the book are excerpts from diaries she’s kept over the years. This memoir is poignant, yet funny. We’re even treated to a bit of Jewish culture, tradition, and language – Okay, Bubushka? Cue: “I’m NOT your Russian Grandmother!” LOL!

If you have an aversion to profanity being used in the telling of one’s story, or are narrow-minded in your views of the world around you, this may not be the book for you. For anyone that can relate to a life of seeking love, acceptance, and to finally finding some peace – I say get it!

MY RATING: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥/♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

4.5/5 HEARTS

Check out Robyn’s book video trailer below.




EngelRThis 4 foot, 8 inch spitfire hails from California. She’s an author, a poet, and addicted to all things chocolate. Woman on the Verge of Paradise marks Robyn’s mission to shift literature away from the fairytale and towards self-love and respect –gently, humorously, and with a side of deep dark chocolate. Warning: If you don’t find the chocolate, that’s because Robyn already did.

Check out her blog: LIFE BY CHOCOLATE. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on a good thing!




Welcome to Monday Book Reviews! Today I’ll be reviewing Revival – How a Tenor Lost His Voice But Found His Calling by Donald Braswell with Mark Koopmans.






RATING: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥/♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥




Five years removed from his 1990 Juilliard graduation, Donald Braswell is set to be “the next Pavarotti.” Braswell’s successful career ends, however, not with a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall, but alone, lying in a dirty ditch.

Following the hit-and-run accident that steals his voice and future, the “Texas Tenor” struggles with depression and despair—until the night his daughter, Aria, is born. Understanding this new and immediate life change, Braswell fights to relearn how to speak and sing—and how to share this gift of second chances with others. When he auditions for America’s Got Talent, his family, his faith, and his entire future hangs in the balance.


I will be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for come-back stories. Unless you’re in a position of recovery yourself, it’s difficult for a lot of people to fathom the hardships, struggles, depression, and desperation that Mr. Braswell had gone through over the years.

Donald Braswell was an up and coming shining star in the opera world. He graduated from Julliard and was a fantastic tenor until he lost his voice secondary to trauma caused by a freak car accident that occurred while he was bicycling. His doctor’s had informed that he’d probably never be able to sing again.

He went through what many of us who have suffered through life altering medical events, like I mentioned above, but with his faith in God and the love and support of his family and friends, he persevered. Though he believed his singing career was over, he knew he had to help support his family. He and his wife had three beautiful daughters after his accident.

Donald went from singing opera to working as a painter, a carpenter, and a car salesman. One car sale opened the door to his recording of a music CD. An application sent without his knowledge by his wife to America’s Got Talent would change his life and his perspective on it.

I’m so inspired by Mr. Braswell’s journey and it makes me acutely aware of just how powerful FAITH and hard work can be. It reminds me that I CAN recover, that I CAN defy the odds, and I CAN find my place in the world.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys memoirs.

RATING: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥/♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥



DBraswellDonald Braswell II is an American actor, classical crossover tenor and composer. Braswell was on a fast track to become an internationally acclaimed opera singer when he suffered a car accident in 1995 that made him unable to speak for almost two years. After that, he lived a quiet life outside of the spotlight until his appearance on the 2008 season of America’s Got Talent where he was a Top 5 finalist, which gave him another chance at a career in entertainment. Since then, he has entertained audiences both internationally as well as shore to shore in the United States in concerts, television appearances, inspirational speaking and radio. He boasts an international fan club with fans from over 25 countries.

KoopMark Koopmans is originally from Ireland. After working in Holland, Spain, France and England, he won his U.S. “Green Card” in 1994, and is an American by choice since 2003. Koopmans began his writing career with a feature for a regional magazine in California. Since then, he’s worked as a staff writer for newspapers in Florida and Texas. Koopmans is also a proficient blogger and is working on his next book, a novel. Koopmans lives in Virginia and is a married, stay-at-home dad to three active boys under the age of nine. He writes at night. Check out his blog: Vignettes from VA (and DC, too!).





Prison Baby Book Review-Deborah Jiang Stein

Hello blogger friends and family…I’m doing another book review post today. I was going to do a post about some of the goings on in my life over the past couple of weeks, but this book was so AMAZING, I had to do it ASAP.Pri

PRISON BABY – A Memoir                Deborah Jiang Stein

***** FIVE STARS *****

From the back cover:

‘Twelve-year-old Deborah Jiang Stein felt like an outsider. Her multiracial features set her apart from her well-intentioned adoptive Jewish parents, who evaded questions about her past. When Deborah discovered a letter revealing the truth — that she was born in prison to a heroin-addicted mother and spent the first year of her life there — she spiraled into emotional lockdown and deeper trauma. For years Deborah turned to drugs, violence, and crime to cope with her grief until she abandoned her reckless life and forged her way through healing and, eventually found peace. Prison Baby proves that redemption and acceptance are possible, even from the darkest corners

Ms. Jiang Stein’s story engrossed me from the moment I picked it up until the end. I ready it in one sitting. Deborah and her ‘brother’ (also adopted), were adopted in the 1960’s when there weren’t many caucasian families with mixed race adopted children, and even fewer resources.

I felt her emptiness, her sadness, and later, her ever-growing distance and anger from her adoptive parents, especially her mother after she found the letter.

I found myself internally yelling at her mother in the book to talk to her, explain what you can about her history, about who she is. I know her adoptive mother felt she was protecting her then, but Deborah was fully aware of the physical differences between her and her family. Ignoring them and pretending they didn’t exist would only lead to more angst for her.

One particular incident that nearly set me off was when one of her classmates called her a “nigger” on the school bus. The problem was, Deborah had no inkling what race she had in her at all. She doesn’t respond, but shoves the anger deeper inside herself. When she gets home and her adoptive mother presses her about how her first day was, she finally tells her; she still doesn’t get it:

‘I yearn for her arms around me so I can fall apart against her chest, but I don’t want to break down before my mother reaches out first. I wish I could melt into her. Into someone. Anyone. But I can’t, don’t know how.
She heaves a sigh like I’ve forced her to talk about my race again. All I want is a hug. Also, all I want is to shove her into the wall.
“But you’re one of us, dear, and we love you,” she says…
…I gave up on the idea of ever having a mother. I was on my own. She’s one of them, I thought. White, and she won’t understand. (pg. 38)

–Deborah Jiang-Stein

The older she gets, the more Deborah rebels. She causes trouble in school, is confrontational with her mother and delves into the world of drugs and alcohol. She leaves home for college at 18 and quickly gets herself involved in toxic relationships, drug crimes and more heavy usage. It’s not long before the school asks her to leave and she disappears for a few years into her own dysfunctional world.

She comes back a few years later, after a harrowing incident, and stays with her uncle Peretz while she cleans up. From here Deborah began picking up the pieces of her shattered life and commits to find out everything she could about her birth mother, and herself. Her ability to finally reconcile with her adoptive family and find redemption makes this all the more powerful.

I would recommend this book to anyone to read.  It is powerfully written and the author is brutally honest and holds nothing back. Even if you aren’t into memoirs, this is one you might want to consider.

*****FIVE STARS*****

I happened to win a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway, and I consider it a blessing that I did.

Until next post…