Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview With Elizabeth Chadwick, Author Of THE SUMMER QUEEN (Review)

(Eleanor of Aquitane #1)
Elizabeth Chadwick
Sourcebooks Landmark; July 1, 2014
Hardbacj, paperback, and ebook, 478 pages
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Historical fiction, Middle Ages
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A RICHLY DRAWN,  FINELY WRITTEN, METICULOUSLY RESEARCHED,  FICTIONALIZED ACCOUNT OF  ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE -- Elizabeth Chadwick's fleshed-out characterization of this controversial and often misunderstood historical figure is loaded with vivid descriptions and a sumptuous scenography that brings the medieval setting to full life at every turn of the page. Glorious in every compartment (character development, scene setting, world building, dialogues), The Summer Queen spans over a period of time of about fifteen years. The protagonist's life was such an eventful and dramatic ride that, in that window of time alone, she was twice married, twice a queen, and mother of a future king: an incredible pool of inspiration for a fictional treatment of real historical events. 

One of the most powerful women in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, Eleanor was famed for her beauty and strong personality. Daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, she became Duchess of the richest territory of Southern France at a very young age. She was only 13, in fact, when her sick father died in Spain during a pilgrimage of penance: Eleanor ('Alienor' in the novel) instantly became one of the most eligible heiresses in the continent. In order to protect her from unscrupulous vassals and the duchy from political turmoil, before his death William arranged Alienor's marriage to Louis, son of Louis VI and heir to the throne of France. The young duchess' life radically changed during the summer of 1137: raised as a free-thinker and uncommonly beautiful,  she won the heart of her 17 year old bridegroom, but her unconventional conduct made her an unpopular queen among Church elders and some powerful people at court. Victim of schemes and intrigues, she eventually clashed even with her husband's rigid ecclesiastic background. After taking an active part in the Holy Crusade at her husband's side, Alienor requested and obtained a dissolution of her marriage based on her inability to produce a male heir. 

The kidnapping of wealthy heiresses and forced marriages as a way to obtain title and lands were a common practice during the Dark Ages, so while she was on her way back to her duchy, Alienor almost fell victim of two kidnappers. She was the sole ruler of the Aquitaine when barely two months after the annulment of her first marriage,  she willingly entered a new high-profile 'alliance' -- this time, to Henry King of England. We have to wait till Elizabeth I in order to see  the right of rule for women restored.

Alienor of Aquitaine is one of the most fascinating and legendary women in European history: the first in a triad of books  centered on this charismatic and high-spirited character, Chadwick's novel is possibly the most original and unbiased interpretation of her life. 

***Review copy graciously offered by the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion.

Please welcome the author, Elizabeth Chadwick -- she's on the blog to answer a few questions about her latest book and her writing career.

1) Welcome to Mina’s Bookshelf, Elizabeth! Betty Trask Award for your first novel, The Wild Hunt; shortlisted for the UK's mainstream Best Romantic Novel of the Year Award 4 times and longlisted twice; The Scarlet Lion selected by the founder of the Historical Novel Society as one of the landmark historical novels of the last ten years; arguably "the best writer of medieval fiction currently around"...was this life of writing achievements in your bucket list when you started dreaming about being an author of historical fiction or it just happened? How did you become 'Elizabeth Chadwick'?

The awards are the icing on the cake really.  I knew from the age of 15 that I wanted to write historical fiction for a living, but my goal was just that – to have my books published and earn a living wage doing it. I had told myself stories ever since I could remember and it just seemed like something I was good at and was meant to do.  It began as my hobby and turned into my job.  Even if I hadn’t been published I would still be writing – it’s part of who I am.  How did I know I wanted to write historical fiction for a living rather than any other sort?  That just kind of happened.  I fell for a rather gorgeous guy in a historical TV programme called Desert Crusader.  I began writing a story inspired by his adventures and it involved researching the 12th century in order for me to feel that it was right and authentic.  The more I research the more interested I became and the more I wanted to write about the period.  So I fell in love twice I guess.  Once with the TV guy and once with the Middle Ages!

2) Did any particular life experience/book/author influence your decision to write about the Middle Ages? If you could write of any other time period, what would be your second best choice?

I think I’ve answered a bit of that above. The catalyst was the programme Desert Crusader.  You can actually take a sneaky look at the episodes on Youtube if you type in Thibaud Ou le Croisades.  It was dubbed from the French, but you can see the knight in white robes that started it all off for me!   I began devouring fiction set in that period too and became an eager reader of the likes of Roberta Gellis,  Sharon Kay Penman, Dorothy Dunnett and Ellis Peters with her Brother Cadfael stories. All of these authors made the Middle Ages come to life for me.  I felt that both the history and the characters were real and that was what I aspired to myself.

3) Your writing style features a strong sense of time and place and it's safe to say you are one of the most gifted and accurate HF writers on the publishing scene today. How much do you enjoy the research part vs. the writing/creative process? How much of your fiction sticks to historical facts and records, and how much  is fruit of your prolific imagination? How do you balance the two?

Thank you for saying that!  I love doing the research because I think the more you know about your characters and their background, the more authentic it is going to feel for both the readers and the writer, as well as doing justice to the life and times.  I want my characters to be of their time and not modern people in fancy dress. As far as the balance goes between research and the creative part:  I would say that the research does several things and that it works in tandem with the creativity.  I strive to get the scene setting right and that is based on research.  Also my characters will have the mindsets and attitudes of their period as best I can make them. The creativity comes in moving them through their world and creating drama out of their lives.  In  illuminating incidents and bringing them to modern readers in the form of story.  I always ask myself on a scale of 1-10 how likely something is to have happened. Would a character have thought or reacted like this? If the answer is between 8 and 10 I’ll go with it.  If less, then I’ll find another way.

4) I was reading in one of your bios online that up to the late '90s you exclusively wrote about fictional characters and that you later shifted your focus on real historical figures. Why did you decide to turn in that direction? 
A couple of reasons.  One was that historical fiction was shifting in that direction anyway and if I wanted to keep my job then I needed to think about that.  And actually it dovetailed beautifully with my own way of thinking.  For a  while I had been toying with the notion of writing about real people, but I kept wondering if I was up to doing the research when I couldn’t just make it up any more.  It’s a skill to be able to stick to history but still tell a good story.  I took the plunge with a novel titled Lords of the White Castle in the UK (retitled THE OUTLAW KNIGHT in the US), which was about a Medieval  knight who turned outlaw when King John took away his ancestral lands. This man really lived and had a hugely adventurous life that I was able to tap into.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing his story, it was shortlisted for a major UK award, and I realised that yes, I could do this, and make a good job of it.
5) Let's talk about your latest novel, THE SUMMER QUEEN, and its extraordinary protagonist, Eleonor of Aquitaine. Why did you choose to write about this 'controversial' woman? Historians haven't been particularly 'nice' to her in the past: are you trying to set the record straight about her motivations and  'adventurous' life?
I always begin writing novels because I become curious about someone.  I begin asking ‘What were you really like?  Are the stories true?  Is there more to you than meets the eye?  What can you tell me that you haven’t told anyone else?  It goes from there.  With Eleanor, I felt that there was a lot of debris clogging the view and I wanted to clear it away and get a clear idea of the woman beneath.  Once I began digging, it quickly became obvious how much detritus there was to shift. For example Eleanor’s biographers were all describing her to fit their own ideas.  I found her  as a curvaceous brunette with snapping black eyes, a saucy hot-blooded blond with grey eyes, and a good-humoured  green-eyed red-head.  But actually there isn’t a single description of Eleanor in the historical record.  Those supposed historical facts are just fantasy.  Many of the rumours about her do not hold water when you look at the historical background in depth, so it was interesting sorting the fiction from the fact – in order to write my own fiction!  
6) Historical accuracy, language consistent with the time period, love of details, strong characterizations, romantic flare, a really good story resonating with historical themes that can engage different readers for their universal validity: THE SUMMER QUEEN seems to possess all these qualities. Could readers of non-historical fiction enjoy your biographical account of Eleonor of Aquitaine?
Yes I’m sure they could.  It’s a timeless story even while  its roots are in the past. It’s about striving to do what’s right and what you can while the world throws its worst at you. It’s about grace in adversity and the  fantastic adventure of  an extraordinary woman’s life.  Her name still resonates now, 900 years on and there’s  a reason for that.
7) Can your novels be labeled as historical romance? Or it would be more correct to talk about romantic historical fiction?
I would say that they are mainstream historical fiction  but with a romantic element  in the widest sense. They are not historical romance because they involve more issues than just the hero/heroine relationship. I tell it like it is.  They do contain the full scope of human relationships and experience.  There are love stories of every kind in them.  There is young, sweet love, there is the love of enduring relationships  that grows into maturity and even old age. There is the flawed false love that turns to poison, the love between mother and child, between sisters, between brothers. It’s about the whole human condition.  So no, they are not historical romances, but historical novels with some romantic elements in the mix.
8) If you could travel back in time for research purposes, which year and place would you choose and why?
I’d go to the 1170’s and watch William Marshal in a tournament and observe his technique.  He was the greatest jouster of his age and it would be so interesting and exciting to watch him.  I would also like to see the technique they used that involved grabbing their opponents by the bridle and forcibly dragging them off the field.  It sounds incredibly dangerous and I’d like to see how it worked in practice.   If not that, I’d go and spend a couple of days with Eleanor of Aquitaine soon after her marriage to Henry II, and see if the way I have portrayed her is anything like the real thing.
9) It must take a great deal of passion to write with such flair and craft about a long gone era. Do you think you were born in the wrong century?
No.  I think this century is great for communication, for health  issues and for personal comfort.  Physically it was a lot harder then  and medical issues we see as simple or curable were life threatening then.  As a woman, I wouldn’t have been able to have a job like this for starters.  I’d be involved in child care and manual labour!   However, I would LOVE to go back in time for holidays and live the life for a few weeks each year.  If you’re into reincarnation, then perhaps we have lived past lives in many eras. And once you get into quantum physics and all the new theories that are coming along, perhaps all time is one and those medieval lives are being lived right at this moment alongside our modern ones!
It was a pleasure to have you on the blog, Elizabeth! Thank you for the fabulous interview.

Friday, July 18, 2014

STRONGER by Jeff Bauman, Bret Witt: A Review

Jeff Bauman, Bret Witt
Grand Central Publishing, April 2014
Memoir, Authobiography
Rating : 5 out of 5 stars

In a week marked by a terrible air tragedy and escalating military conflicts, the familiar face of Boston Marathon bombing survivor, Jeff Bauman, re-emerges with uplifting news of his recent paternity and the development of a  movie project based on his biography, Stronger (Grand Central Publishing, April 2014).

By now, we all know his inspirational story of resiliency in the face of great adversity. Bauman's life dramatically changed when he met Tamerlan Tsarnaev at 2:48 pm on April 15, 2013, half a block away from the finish line of the Boston Marathon. In a crowd of half a million people celebrating Patriot's Day and running for charity, he found himself right beside one of the two Chechen brothers responsible for the most high-profile terrorist event on US soil since September 11. Jeff was standing among that crowd to cheer for his girlfriend, Erin Hurley, when he noticed Tsarnaev. His demeanor immediately struck Jeff as odd. Sunglasses and white baseball cap pulled low over his face, a hooded jacket that seemed too heavy, even on a cool day. "[...] unlike everybody else, this guy wasn't cheering and watching the race", Bauman recalls in his memoir. "He was alone, not having a good time, not enjoying himself. He was all business." Jeff couldn't see the young man's eyes, because of the sunglasses, but he had the strong feeling Tsarnaev was staring at him: "I know now he was planning to kill me - in less than a minute [...] I'd be dead - but his face revealed no emotion. No doubt. No remorse."

Distracted by a few friends standing next to him, Bauman lost eye-contact with the young Chechen, but he noticed that the bag-pack the guy was carrying just moments before was sitting on the ground, right near his feet. That airport warning to pay attention to suspicious and unattended bags and a sudden jolt of fear ran through his head. Too late. Two pressure cooker bombs went off two hundred yards apart from each other, killing three people and injuring more than two hundred and sixty. Jeff Bauman was among them. The memory of the moments that immediately followed the explosions didn't get hazy for Bauman. On the contrary, they got very clear and they are recorded in a brave and compelling autobiography that Lions Gate Entertainment will bring to the big screen with independent production company Mandeville Films. 

In his heart-wrenching memoir, Bauman narrates how he was still groggy from a series of life-saving procedures and still unable to speak when, hours after the bombings, he pointed at paper and pen, and wrote down a few words that would set off  one of the biggest manhunts in the history of this country. A key witness in the FBI investigations, he was caught in the mainstream and social media firestorm that led to  the identification of the two attackers.. Humbled and overwhelmed by the world's admiration, he devotes several pages of his book to celebrating all the fellow survivors of the bombings, the rescuers, the medical personnel that gave him the chance to walk again and prove that "I - that we - are better than cowards with bombs. That we are not broken. And we are not afraid." Jeff Bauman certainly brings the slogan "Boston Strong" to a whole new level: while he bravely struggled with the permanence of his injuries, soldiers from the Wounded Warrior Project and several celebrities (Bradley Cooper, James Taylor, Julian Edelman, Brian Williams, GQ Magazine) paid homage to his courage. Generous donations were made through social media and fundraising (Challenged Athletes CAF Foundation and Wiggle Your Toes) to help him sustain the exorbitant cost of prostetic legs. 

The gruesome scene of the carnage unfolding in front of his eyes, the memory of a man (Carlos Arredondo) in a yellow cowboy hat who leaped over the barricades to lift him and put him into a wheelchair, the frantic ambulance run to the Boston Medical Center, are recorded by Bauman with narrative vividness and emotional clarity: "I lay down. I'm going to die, I thought, and I realized I was okay with that. I had lived a short life, only twenty-seven years, but a good life. I was okay with letting go." Penned in collaboration with New York Times bestselling author Bret Witter, Stronger is the heart-shattering account of a devastating trauma and courageous, albeit arduous, journey to recovery of a young American man who lost a part of his physical body, but faced his new circumstances with grace and raised above them with a renewed sense of purpose: "I saw the bomber. He took my legs, but he didn't break me. He only made me stronger." 

***Review copy graciously offered by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased and honest review

Thursday, July 17, 2014

And The Winners Are...

I am thrilled to announce the names of our giveaway winners! Drum roll, please...
1 copy of THE FRENCH HOUSE by Don Wallace goes to
skkorman - Sheila Korman
2 copies of BAUDELAIRE'S REVENGE by Bob Van Laerhoven go to
skkorman - Sheila Korman
1 copy of THE SUMMER QUEEN by Elizabeth Chadwick goes to
Winners have been notified by email. Thank you for entering the contests and happy reading!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

THE GIFTED How To Live The Life Of Your Dreams by Daphne Michaels: A Review

THE GIFTED: How To Live The Life Of Your Dreams
Daphne Michaels
Published by Daphne Michaels Books; May 15, 2014
Format: Paperback, 130 pages
Genre: non-fiction, inspirational, psychology, personal development
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
"My theology, briefly, is that the universe was dictated but not signed." Christopher Morley
 My Review
In the darkest and most challenging phases of our lives, we may feel like our existence plays out like a movie on a screen, each frame a shot that has been already written and etched on film, unalterable. Every attempt to change it as the projector's light shines, hopeless. In her inspirational book, author, speaker, and licensed psychotherapist Daphne Michaels reminds us that, although we can't stop it from rolling, the 'movie' of our life is interactive and can be dramatically changed through nine gifts we are all born with: Awareness, Potential, Stillness, Disharmony, Harmony, Ease, Clarity, Freedom, and Engagement. Like thoughts and instincts, these spiritual dimensions are in organic connexion with our being, but we rarely experience them in their full glory, preventing us from achieving authentic happiness.
When our lives spin out of control (in our personal relationships or in the workplace), we all tend to find answers to our problems in the same old places and usual life patterns, because we are afraid of change, destruction, and renewal. Challenges cannot be faced, opportunities cannot be seized when we tune our self-awareness (our real needs, our true potential, our dreams) on a low focus. When we bank on an unreal perception of our potential (unreal because dictated by other people's expectations and external circumstances, or simply lack of self-focus), goals and dreams dissolve into nothingness. We are not in tune with the universe and our true mission. If we fight our need for transformation and refuse to leave a wrong career, a wrong marriage, a wrong way of life behind, we create sorrow for ourselves and others. The secret of how to wield our power of transformation  and rebalance our being (overcoming exhaustion, healing through small and continuous health-ensuring "corrections", and igniting our creative impulses), is inside us waiting to be claimed.
Michaels leads us through the stages of self-discovery and personal growth with the grace of a manual that is as succinct as it is inspiring. Part of a series of motivational guides to self-improvement (The Gift Of Your Dreams, The Gift Of Charisma, The Gift Of Creativity, The Gift Of New Sunrises), The Gifted: How To Live The Life Of Your Dreams is a pleasant read and a wonderful reminder that when we align our actions and pace of life with our true intensions, we are in sync with the universe and we will inevitably attract a series of positive and meaningful coincidences.

***Review copy graciously offered by the author in exchange for an unbiased and honest opinion.

Monday, July 14, 2014


“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”
Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman   

According to an article published on TIME Magazine ("Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter And Nicer"),

"Recent research in cognitive science, psychology and neuroscience has demonstrated that deep reading — slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity — is a distinctive experience, different in kind from the mere decoding of words. Although deep reading does not, strictly speaking, require a conventional book, the built-in limits of the printed page are uniquely conducive to the deep reading experience."

The author of the article continues,

"The deep reader, protected from distractions and attuned to the nuances of language, enters a state that psychologist Victor Nell, in a study of the psychology of pleasure reading, likens to a hypnotic trance. Nell found that when readers are enjoying the experience the most, the pace of their reading actually slows. The combination of fast, fluent decoding of words and slow, unhurried progress on the page gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions. It gives them time to establish an intimate relationship with the author, the two of them engaged in an extended and ardent conversation like people falling in love."

Along these lines, Lauren Martin (ELITE DAILY) argues that readers  are proven to be nicer and smarter than the average human, and that maybe they are "the only people worth falling in love with...".

We agree. Wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

IN THE MIRROR by Kaira Rouda: Author Guest Post

A Day in the Life of . . .

    I thought about what the notion of the writing life that I had as a child, when I first dreamed of this career. Back then, in sixth grade or so, I became enchanted by Emily Dickinson. My head was in the clouds, and frequently, buried in one of her poems. The fact of her premature demise didn’t daunt my visions of writing, nope not at all.
    In my childhood dreams of being an author, I held a pen (computers weren’t around yet, eghads), a thick notebook of blank, unlined paper and I was always sitting on the beach.  From middle school I moved on to high school, and more adventurous writerly dreams – of being an ex-pat in Paris with Hemingway or at writing about fabulous parties like Fitzgerald.
    At Vanderbilt University, I was an English major, especially enamoured by the Southern Writers of the 1940s and 1950s. Eudora Welty – amazing.  Have you read One Writer’s Beginnings? You must!
    The more practical aspect of becoming a writer always evaded me. I never quite had the courage to go for it, not until five years ago. Instead, I wrote for newspapers. For magazines. I wrote advertising copy, and radio scripts. Press releases and brochure copy. Television spots and speeches. Next, I joined my husband and we built a company together for almost 10 years. It was a great ride, an amazing experience.
    But all along, I kept the dream alive. The dream of being able to say: I’m a writer. So when we sold our company, I put the dream into motion. And today, finally, that’s what I say: I’m a writer.
    So what’s my day like? It’s awesome. It’s not glamorous, but it’s just what I dreamed and more. Here’s why. First, I’m actually living at the beach! For a girl who lived in Ohio most of her adult life, this is a big deal people. When I look out the window from my office, and it’s sunny, and I can see the Pacific Ocean. Well, that’s heaven.
    Another factor adding to my incredible luck is that all four of my kids are happy. (knock wood) If you’re a parent, you know what I mean. And if you’re a writer, you know there’s nothing worse for writer’s block, than when one of you kids is unhappy. You’re really only as happy as your saddest child, by the way.
    I’ve met a bunch of authors and that’s super cool. Both here in Laguna Beach where I live, and online, where I spend a lot of time, women writers are the most supportive, coolest people on the planet. My days are so much better because of this community.
    Bottom line. My days, like yours, are a gift. To be able to do a job I’ve always dreamed of is a blessing. To have readers who enjoy my stories is simply the best feeling in the world. All in all, a day in the life of Kaira feels very wonderful right now.
About the Author
Kaira Rouda is an award-winning and bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction. Her books include: Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs; Here, Home, Hope; All the Difference; In the Mirror; and the short story, A Mother's Day.  She lives in Southern California with her husband and four children and is at work on her next novel.
Her latest novel is the women’s fiction, In the Mirror.

For More Information

About the Book

What choices would you make if you knew you might die soon?
From the multi award-winning, best-selling author of four books, including Here, Home, Hope, a gripping and heart wrenching novel about a young mother who has it all. The only problem is she may be dying.
In her previous works including All the Difference, Rouda's characters "sparkle with humor and heart," and the stories are "told with honest insight and humor" (Booklist). "Inspirational and engaging" (ForeWord), these are the novels you'll turn to for strong female characters and an "engaging read" (Kirkus).
In the Mirror is the story of Jennifer Benson, a woman who seems to have it all. Diagnosed with cancer, she enters an experimental treatment facility to tackle her disease the same way she tackled her life - head on. But while she's busy fighting for a cure, running her business, planning a party, staying connected with her kids, and trying to keep her sanity, she ignores her own intuition and warnings from others and reignites an old relationship best left behind.
If you knew you might die, what choices would you make? How would it affect your marriage? How would you live each day? And how would you say no to the one who got away?

For More Information


IT AIN'T OVER... TILL IT'S OVER by Marlo Thomas: A Review

Author: Marlo Thomas
Published by Atria Books; April 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Genre: non-fiction, inspirational, self-help
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Add it on Goodreads
Buy it on Amazon

"Some women are afraid of change. Others thrive on it."

We all have dreams we left behind, dreams we tried to achieve to no avail, dreams that never got even attempted: quitting a job that leaves us depleted and unfulfilled; trying a new career; upgrading our education after spending the best years of our lives attending full time to house and family; dreams of reinventing ourselves, mentally and physically, after a failed marriage, an abusive relationship, or the loss of a loved one. Traumas, life-changing experiences, existential crisis are the number one motivation to create a new dream or pursue an old idea, but if for some women that defining moment (a lay-off, a divorce, a life-crisis of some sort) represents a springboard toward a new life-cycle, for others that need for transformation hits a brick wall. Those women who struggle to rekindle their dreams have something in common: the overwhelming feeling of being stuck and the fear it could be too late to try and change.

The good news is that we can all start over again, despite the facts, despite the conventional wisdom, despite the discouraging statistics. We must dare to dream again, because nobody can do it for ourselves but us. "Impossible is just something that hasn't happened yet" should become our daily mantra, so that our future is something we can invent, not predict.

Those women who found, in their evolving, challenging and sometimes even desperate life conditions, the determination, the vision, and the courage to abandon the beaten path, soar above the odds, and open a new chapter of their lives (if not an entirely different book) inspired actress and activist Marlo Thomas to author a new uplifting collection of real life stories, the stories of personal reinvention, resiliency, and self-motivation of five dozen women who refused to go with the flow and smother in the stagnation of a wrong job, toxic relationships, and ungratifying professional paths.

When in 2010, Thomas launched her own website on AOL and the Huffington Post, her weekly series "It Ain't Over Till It's Over", a destination where women could gather together, tell their stories, and encourage one another, became an instant sensation. Over the years, the actress, philanthropist, and New York Times best selling author decided  to collect and chronicle the amazing reinvention stories of some of those women in a meaningful whole that could inspire other women to do the same. Marlo Thomas' It Ain't Over... Till It's Over is a first-rate collection of inspirational stories you will love to read. So, here they are, some of the most remarkable personal reinventions, humming with hope and emotion - women who dared to dream, who changed their life patterns, who gave back and today walk to the beat of their own drum:

50 year old Marguerite Thomas who was brave enough to leave a successful 20-year career as an architect to try her hand at something completely new. For her mid-life career change, she decided to volunteer at a small school on a nearby Native American reservation and help kids struggling with reading and communication disorders.

Natasha Coleman, a 35 year old woman who had to 'lose' in order to win. Precisely 400 pounds. Heavy but pretty, her obesity had never been a big deal for her and her family, until she boarded a flight to Mexico with her husband and couldn't even fit in her seat. A drastic diet later, she doesn't recognize herself in the mirror, but what she sees today is a woman who has vastly increased her chances to live a longer and healthier life.

Kit Gruelle, age 59 and a past of domestic violence behind her. She can tell you what it means to be a battered woman and get asked repeatedly why she didn't leave her abusive husband right away. Domestic violence is not only about black eyes and cracked ribs: sometimes the worst 'bruises' are the ones no one ever sees. The physical violence is just the punctuation mark of coercive tactics and mental cruelty...sometimes these forms of abuse and control can disable a woman and keep her 'hostage' even more than a broken nose. Today, Kit trains police officers about how to handle domestic violence.

Sue Rock, Founder of Sue Rock Originals Everyone Inc.

Sue Rock, a 51 year old woman from Brooklyn who found a new purpose in life after her neighbor was killed by her abusive husband. Tyleasha was trying to flee home the night she died. All she was wearing was her sweats. The shocking murder awakened Sue to a somber reality: women escaping domestic violence flee with only the clothes on their back. They need clothes. Skilled at knitting and crocheting, Sue started collecting fabrics and other sewing treasures destined to the trash and with the help of her tailor husband she put them to good use. Using reclaimed fabrics, Sue created a small line of easy-to-wear women's clothes to be sold to boutiques and online. Soon, the idea of a contemporary eco-fashion line became the funding bedrock of a clothing charity for victims of domestic violence. Working with shelters, nationally and internationally, Sue Rock Originals Everyone Inc. gives victims of abuse a chance to craft their own possessions, thanks to donors and volunteers.

Jessamyn Rodriguez, Founder of Hot Bread Kitchen

In 2008, Jessamyn Rodriguez, age 36, launched Hot Bread Kitchen out of her Brooklyn apartment, creating a place where immigrant women like herself not only could capitalize on their baking skills, but could also acquire language and marketing skills that would help them and their families to escape poverty and move into the middle class. Three years later, the Kitchen expanded its mission, launching HBK Incubates, a program that supports graduates who wish to start their own feed businesses.

Nancy Hughes, Founder of Stoveteam International

Nancy Hughes' new life started at age 71. As a volunteer who used to cook dinner for her medical team in Guatemala, Nancy realized that the most dangerous activity for women in the developing world was cooking, because they do it with their kids strapped to their backs while leaning on fire. In unventilated houses. She launched Stoveteam International, an organization that helped raise $ 1.2 million to open factories in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragus, and Mexico to produce Ecocina, the innovative low-carbon-emission stove.

Some women built empires out of a single idea, others found a way to fulfill themselves in the wake of a personal loss. They are the living proof that we are defined by our own courage and endurance. Dare to dream again, because it ain't over till it's over.