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A mother's murder. Her daughter's redemption. And the complicated past that belongs to them both. Kelly always knew that her family was different. She knew that most children didn't live with their grandparents, and their grandparents didn't own porn stores. Her classmates didn't sleep on a boat in the marina and she knew their next-door neighbors weren't drug addicts and j A mother's murder. Her daughter's redemption. And the complicated past that belongs to them both. Kelly always knew that her family was different. She knew that most children didn't live with their grandparents, and their grandparents didn't own porn stores. Her classmates didn't sleep on a boat in the marina and she knew their next-door neighbors weren't drug addicts and johns. What Kelly didn't know was if she would become part of the dysfunction that surrounded her. Would she sink into the depths of harbor life? Or would she end up alone and dead on Hollywood Boulevard like her mother had years before? When the grittier aspects of her family history are unearthed, Kelly decides to discover how the place she was raised will define the person she will soon become. To do this, Kelly goes back to the beginning, to a mother she never knew, a twenty-five year old cold case, and two of LA's most notorious murderers. We Are All Shipwrecks is Kelly's story of redemption from tragedy, told with a tenderness towards her family that makes it as much about breaking free as it is preserving the strings that anchor you.


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A mother's murder. Her daughter's redemption. And the complicated past that belongs to them both. Kelly always knew that her family was different. She knew that most children didn't live with their grandparents, and their grandparents didn't own porn stores. Her classmates didn't sleep on a boat in the marina and she knew their next-door neighbors weren't drug addicts and j A mother's murder. Her daughter's redemption. And the complicated past that belongs to them both. Kelly always knew that her family was different. She knew that most children didn't live with their grandparents, and their grandparents didn't own porn stores. Her classmates didn't sleep on a boat in the marina and she knew their next-door neighbors weren't drug addicts and johns. What Kelly didn't know was if she would become part of the dysfunction that surrounded her. Would she sink into the depths of harbor life? Or would she end up alone and dead on Hollywood Boulevard like her mother had years before? When the grittier aspects of her family history are unearthed, Kelly decides to discover how the place she was raised will define the person she will soon become. To do this, Kelly goes back to the beginning, to a mother she never knew, a twenty-five year old cold case, and two of LA's most notorious murderers. We Are All Shipwrecks is Kelly's story of redemption from tragedy, told with a tenderness towards her family that makes it as much about breaking free as it is preserving the strings that anchor you.

30 review for We Are All Shipwrecks

  1. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    I found this such a fascinating read. This is written with such attention to detail you could almost forget this is a personal memoir and not a well written piece of literature. I really enjoyed this unique and interesting summary of a life. I found this so captivating I was sad the book had to end. Although there are quite a few sad moments littered throughout, I was also deeply heartened by this book. There's a lot of reflection and you sense that Kelly only wants to share her story for no othe I found this such a fascinating read. This is written with such attention to detail you could almost forget this is a personal memoir and not a well written piece of literature. I really enjoyed this unique and interesting summary of a life. I found this so captivating I was sad the book had to end. Although there are quite a few sad moments littered throughout, I was also deeply heartened by this book. There's a lot of reflection and you sense that Kelly only wants to share her story for no other reason than to make some sense of her life and to honour those that helped her get to where she is now. Throughout her childhood and adult years Kelly tries to find clues to uncover what happened to her mother who was murdered under mysterious circumstances when she was only a newborn baby. It is a journey of self discovery, self awareness and questioning where you belong in the world. This is a very personal account and gives a raw insight to her very interesting life, full of whacky characters and weird situations that you can't help but enjoy it for the funny stories it brings to the page. I love the sentiments of this book so much and it made my heart warm, with her ability to embrace the love around her amongst all the chaos and dysfunction. It also tells me loud and clear there is no such thing as a "normal" family. Thanks to Sourcebooks and Netgalley for my advanced readers copy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    GoldGato

    Her mother needed money and must have decided the best way was to turn a trick on the streets of Los Angeles. She had a newborn girl, just three weeks old. So she placed the baby inside a motel drawer and walked outside. She probably never thought she would become one of the earliest victims of the notorious Hillside Stranglers. Author Kelly Grey Carlisle was that newborn and she uses this memoir to detail her search for herself and some kind of normalcy in a world that didn't give her a great s Her mother needed money and must have decided the best way was to turn a trick on the streets of Los Angeles. She had a newborn girl, just three weeks old. So she placed the baby inside a motel drawer and walked outside. She probably never thought she would become one of the earliest victims of the notorious Hillside Stranglers. Author Kelly Grey Carlisle was that newborn and she uses this memoir to detail her search for herself and some kind of normalcy in a world that didn't give her a great start. How I was a little baby who needed a home, and my grandfather did not want me, and my grandmother did not want me. The author eventually went to live with her grandmother and her partner. Then granny had a fatal stroke and it was back to the West Coast to live with her grandfather. An Englishman who spoke of great deeds, he had turned his back on his homeland and spent his days running a porn store in the Valley. He really wanted to live on a boat and that's where Kelly Carlisle spent her childhood, in a dilapidated Long Beach marina, where pollution and trash co-existed with pets and their urine and tapeworms. She called her step-grandmother, "Mommy", and watched as the woman gradually became a secret alcoholic obsessed with religion. Maybe home is what you carry inside you, the way a place makes itself part of you, for good or for ill. They weren't poor and she was sent to a private French school then on to a good high school. All the time she worried that she would lose her ramshackle family, just as she had lost her mother. Different from others, she learned to adapt to what others wanted until she decided she had to live her own life and find her own path. Maybe we're all just Mormon Rocks and tumbleweed. I wasn't sure I would enjoy this read. Then Carlisle's wonderful writing drew me in, chapters of life-affirming reflections and the realization that her eccentric childhood gave her a distinctive viewpoint. I sometimes wanted to shake her and her family into some common sense, but then I'd turn the page and another lovely passage awaited. We are who we are and god bless the child who's got her own. Book Season = Summer (ears of trees)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Claire- Louise

    Well written yet not all that interesting.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lolly K Dandeneau

    via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ “Who killed her? No one really knew. My grandfather had explained this to me. How had she been killed? I knew that too. She’d been strangled. Why she’d been killed didn’t seem as important, and who could answer that question anyway? Why did people die? They just did. People died all the time. Other questions seemed excessive, nosy- like the people that slowed down to stare at crashes on the 405.” This memoir is not just simply about the tragic mu via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ “Who killed her? No one really knew. My grandfather had explained this to me. How had she been killed? I knew that too. She’d been strangled. Why she’d been killed didn’t seem as important, and who could answer that question anyway? Why did people die? They just did. People died all the time. Other questions seemed excessive, nosy- like the people that slowed down to stare at crashes on the 405.” This memoir is not just simply about the tragic murder of Kelly’s mother Michele Ann Grey, when Kelly was a baby, left behind in a drawer. It is the background noise of a complicated, unique upbringing. Today, it’s not that unusual to encounter children being raised by their grandparents, but decades ago it wasn’t so much the norm. When her grandmother passes away, Kelly ends up under the roof of her grandfather Richard and his much younger wife Marilyn. “Sir Richard, that is.” Much of the survival funded through a porn store the couple owns, that mustn’t ever be mentioned to others, Kelly was surrounded by content she wasn’t ready for. If early exposure to sexual images aren’t enough to confuse a young girl, moving into a houseboat surrounded by misfits, prostitutes and drug addicts certainly is. With a grandfather that loves his ‘Little Toad’, there is more hidden about her family history than she feels free to uncover. Told for years her mother died in a car crash, she discovers that just isn’t so. Who was her father? Nobody worth mentioning, if you ask her grandfather, just some jailhouse trash, if he even was her father. Her grandfather was a character, some people just are, but those who live with them aren’t always delighted and charmed- sometimes swallowed up in shadow instead. Her family history is scattered to the winds, half truths- half lies. Why does her grandpa have few pictures of her mother? Why is he so bitter and hateful about her deceased grandmother, Spence? The things he tells are brutal to little ears, from sexual stories and jokes to hateful comments. Bitter with disgust for his ex-wife and her ‘friend’, trying to stain the fond memories she has of both, Kelly is thrown into confusion about love. Seesawing between giving her the best, such as making sure she attends top schools, to exposing her to the worst. Forcing his way of life on his wife and child, his nature wasn’t one to ask for approval before making life changing decisions for everyone. Some call it willfulness, others controlling. Did Spence’s secrets drive her mother to her brutal ending? Could her life choices really have caused her mother Michele to run, or was it Richard’s absence? Is Richard to blame for the way her mother turned out? Just where can Kelly point her finger? Just who did murder her mother, could she have been an early victim of the Hillside Stranglers? Or was she a victim of terrible parents? Her family is abnormal compared to fellow students. Where they have calm adoring homes, beautiful clothes, popular perky friends, Kelly is stuck feeling frumpy, alien to the youth she should understand. She doesn’t listen to the right music, she is a throwback more invested in old shows and movies than in what’s the hot current trends. Other girls don’t have to care for elderly fathers, nor carry the dark mystery of death deep in their hungry hearts. They are sheltered from the filthy things men do to women, at least for now. They don’t yet have to navigate the world full of deviant acts. Growing up with missing pieces makes for much struggle. As her grandfather ages, he becomes less the adoring, fun-loving grandpa he once was. Marilyn is the only mother Kelly has ever known, and the pain of watching the once beautiful younger woman become a worn out, faded shadow of her former self because of her grandpa’s demanding, often cruel nature is a difficult reality to stomach. Through the years, becoming more of a caretaker for her grandfather she finds solace in swimming, but must fight the jealousy he feels when anything takes attention away from his needs. Much of Kelly’s existence is wrought with conflicting emotions. Sir Richard is the only father she has known, and he has done the best he could. There was love, there are fond memories that peek out much like the sun in a storm. Will she make it out of this seedy place, living along the water with unfortunate people, on a boat that is falling into disrepair? Could she rise above the bleak existence her mother knew in her final years? Will she ever know the truth about anything in her life? How can she become a strong woman with her grandfather and Marilyn as the sole examples of love? Can she see beauty with a grandfather that immediately colors the world ugly, suspect of every situation, always thinking with his mind in a gutter? Will she sail off into the unknown and finally find a life for herself? Will the thickness of blood keep her moored where she doesn’t want to be? This memoir is a painful peeling of many layers. None of us are ‘normal’, we all carry the weight of unmentionable tragedies. Kelly’s just happens float inside a fog of mystery. A heart-breaking, sometimes funny, fascinating memoir. Publication Date: September 5, 2017 Sourcebooks

  5. 4 out of 5

    Scottsdale Public Library

    What an amazing memoir! Carlisle immediately hooks you with a tender but honest recounting of her voyage from an awkward child to a confident adult and all the quirky, loving and exasperating people who played vital roles in her growth. Added to this is the shadow of a mother she never knew, who was brutally murdered by an unknown person, and whose loss the young Kelly increasingly experiences as she grows up and becomes a mother herself. Wonderful writing and a compelling life story make this b What an amazing memoir! Carlisle immediately hooks you with a tender but honest recounting of her voyage from an awkward child to a confident adult and all the quirky, loving and exasperating people who played vital roles in her growth. Added to this is the shadow of a mother she never knew, who was brutally murdered by an unknown person, and whose loss the young Kelly increasingly experiences as she grows up and becomes a mother herself. Wonderful writing and a compelling life story make this book a must-read! - Louisa A.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shirley Cagle

    Although I should feel sorry for Kelly, given the early loss of her mother and her unorthodox childhood, but she seems to have remained well-grounded. The memoir reveals some details that are wince-worthy and even shocking, but she narrates them in such a matter-of-fact manner that one can almost believe it seemed normal at the time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Raidene

    4.5 stars A powerful memoir of a young woman who came to terms with her sometimes tragic, often unconventional childhood, one filled with many challenges but also love. The author's acceptance of her past, her generosity of spirit and development into a positive person automatically create sympathy and admiration towards her in the reader(at least this reader)!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cindy H.

    This book has been on my shelf for awhile now and I’m so disappointed I didn’t read it sooner. Kelly Grey Carlisle is a gifted storyteller and she has quite a story to tell. At 3 weeks old, a detective finds her asleep in a draw of a seedy West Hollywood motel. Her mother has been strangled to death. What follows are her years being raised by her unconventional grandparents and the path to discovering the cause of her mother’s death. A story about redemption & recovery. This book has been on my shelf for awhile now and I’m so disappointed I didn’t read it sooner. Kelly Grey Carlisle is a gifted storyteller and she has quite a story to tell. At 3 weeks old, a detective finds her asleep in a draw of a seedy West Hollywood motel. Her mother has been strangled to death. What follows are her years being raised by her unconventional grandparents and the path to discovering the cause of her mother’s death. A story about redemption & recovery.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Mendiola

    First off, I never talked to Dr. Carlisle during my time at Trinity but she always seemed like a great professor from a far. I picked up this book from a recommendation from my friend, Maddie Smith. I really enjoyed this book. It was profound and meaningful in a way that felt very personal and grounded. There were so many events in her life that could have been this melodramatic climax but, ultimately, the book plays out very much like all of our lives. There are dips and highs and fleeting expe First off, I never talked to Dr. Carlisle during my time at Trinity but she always seemed like a great professor from a far. I picked up this book from a recommendation from my friend, Maddie Smith. I really enjoyed this book. It was profound and meaningful in a way that felt very personal and grounded. There were so many events in her life that could have been this melodramatic climax but, ultimately, the book plays out very much like all of our lives. There are dips and highs and fleeting experiences and lasting memories and lots of unsatisfying conclusions. Our lives just happen. There's no guarantee for closure or even happiness but we have to do our best to live with ourselves, each in our own way. My favorite part of the book is definitely the lack of black-and-white characters. Even the short-lived appearances of the people at the Marina had assumptions and then revelations in every one of them. People and opinions are something we always have and know yet they should and do change when we take the time to understand them better. As someone who grew up with challenging family life, this helped me cope, in some small ways, to the realities of my situation and the people around my life. We're all, to some degree, all victims and products of our past though, deep down, there is a genuine love driving most of us. Anyways, this was a wonderful book that I'd happily recommend.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex Perfilio

    Kelly Gray Carlisle writes about her incredibly abnormal youth in her memoir, We Are All Shipwrecks. She lives her whole life continuously being fed lies by her pompous, verbally abusive grandfather concerning the details of her mother’s death and her unknown father. Kelly’s curiosity never ceases, and through many years of digging, she finds the answers to the questions that have taunted her since her childhood. In her memoir, Kelly recounts her seemingly endless hardships and inconveniences Kelly Gray Carlisle writes about her incredibly abnormal youth in her memoir, We Are All Shipwrecks. She lives her whole life continuously being fed lies by her pompous, verbally abusive grandfather concerning the details of her mother’s death and her unknown father. Kelly’s curiosity never ceases, and through many years of digging, she finds the answers to the questions that have taunted her since her childhood. In her memoir, Kelly recounts her seemingly endless hardships and inconveniences that she has managed to overcome. This seems to be her motive for writing this book. She demonstrates that though she sometimes felt as if life was out to get her, her less than ideal circumstances have shaped her into the person she is today. This notion is one that can be applied to everyone’s lives. This is what I admired most about Carlisle’s memoir. Personally, We Are All Shipwrecks never seemed to fully grasp my attention. By the way the book was presented in the beginning, I anticipated it to be centered around her mother’s death. However, it wasn’t at all. In fact, it was hardly mentioned, and I was quite disappointed by this. As a whole, I found the book to be very scattered and filled with mostly uninteresting and insignificant events. I also struggled to form a mental picture of the people she introduced throughout her memoir, as their character descriptions seriously lacked detail. This made her writing seem incredibly dull and I simply did not enjoy reading it. However, Carlisle successfully portrayed an incredibly strong and important message which, for me, made it tolerable to read. Truthfully, I would not recommend this book. It is incredibly tedious, and I didn’t find Carlisle’s life interesting enough to read about. I was left feeling more disappointed than satisfied in the end.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John

    I want to round this one up to four stars, but can't quite bring myself to do so. It's well-written, with good audio narration, but just didn't live up to my expectation. The author's mother's murder is emphasized for promotional purposes, but is dealt with fairly quickly at the beginning, and later (more directly) near the end. Between those, it doesn't so much overshadow the story, as get sidelined. Kelly lives with her grandfather and his much-younger wife from age four until she leaves for co I want to round this one up to four stars, but can't quite bring myself to do so. It's well-written, with good audio narration, but just didn't live up to my expectation. The author's mother's murder is emphasized for promotional purposes, but is dealt with fairly quickly at the beginning, and later (more directly) near the end. Between those, it doesn't so much overshadow the story, as get sidelined. Kelly lives with her grandfather and his much-younger wife from age four until she leaves for college. To me, her grandfather's many tales of his life story don't add up at all. Kelly expresses a bit of doubt on that score, but not much. Ironically, one item she felt was untrue turns out to be a valid claim, though embellished a bit. Even taking into account that the action in the book took place in the late twentieth century, I found it difficult to believe that her grandfather could lead quite such an open life with no immigration status (a/k/a illegal alien). Though Kelly optimistically maintained that he loved her, and I suppose on some level perhaps he did, I felt that in the end taking her in was more a means of control with his former and current wives. Around sixth grade or so, the family moves onto her grandfather's boat as their full-time residence. The bulk of the "action" focuses more on her life there in a dysfunctional household; her mother could have just as easily died of natural causes or an accident. The final 15% of the book covers her search for answers regarding her parents as an adult. There is closure for Kelly there, but as a reader I found it too late, and subjective, for that. Do I recommend the story? Yes, for those who are looking for a memoir with an uplifting, if not "happy" ending. Folks who approach it as fans of True Crime... not so much.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    It was really cool that I got to meet Kelly Carlisle before I read her book. I was at the Decatur Book Festival and saw a panel called Nature vs. Nurture that I was interested in. I got there, saw the blurb on the book, and bought it before I even went to the panel! And, as it turns out, the other author on the panel had to cancel so it ended up just being an interview with Kelly. She was eloquent and honest, and her writing is the same. Because I had seen her in person and heard her speak about It was really cool that I got to meet Kelly Carlisle before I read her book. I was at the Decatur Book Festival and saw a panel called Nature vs. Nurture that I was interested in. I got there, saw the blurb on the book, and bought it before I even went to the panel! And, as it turns out, the other author on the panel had to cancel so it ended up just being an interview with Kelly. She was eloquent and honest, and her writing is the same. Because I had seen her in person and heard her speak about her life, I knew for a fact that what I was reading was a memoir, but she is such a vivid writer that I still had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't fiction. I enjoyed reading Kelly's voice and seeing the people in her life through her eyes. The book is not as funny as I initially thought it would be due to the blurb, but that didn't diminish the story. My only complaint is that the end (when she begins to search for information on her mother and father in earnest) seems sadder than the rest of the book, despite the fact that Kelly suggests that she is happier with her husband and daughter than she has ever been in her life. I think it is because I shared her grief in finding out information that was devastating, about accepting that she would never definitely know what happened to her mother, that she would never meet her father, and in discovering the lies that people in her life had told her. But this is a memoir and it would be silly to think it should have a "happy ending" because it is real life! In any case, the book was engaging and fascinating and I really enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    I really enjoyed this memoir. Carlisle was raised primarily by her grandfather and his wife, who she considered to be her parents, after her mother was murdered when she was 3 weeks old. Nevertheless, she had a lot of loving adults in her life, and her grandfather was certainly an interesting person, at least I thought so for the first couple sections, because he’s this snobby acting Englishman who has the title of “sir” and shops at a fancy grocery store and yearns to own a yacht but also owns I really enjoyed this memoir. Carlisle was raised primarily by her grandfather and his wife, who she considered to be her parents, after her mother was murdered when she was 3 weeks old. Nevertheless, she had a lot of loving adults in her life, and her grandfather was certainly an interesting person, at least I thought so for the first couple sections, because he’s this snobby acting Englishman who has the title of “sir” and shops at a fancy grocery store and yearns to own a yacht but also owns a seedy porn store. I also learned there is (or was) such a thing as a “traveling porn video salesman”, which I’m guessing doesn’t really exist anymore, which is kind of a shame. anyway, as Kelly gets older, you can see more glimmers of something not quite right about her grandfather, definitely some things that kinda really creeped me out but that the author writes of in a very matter of fact way that did make me think perhaps she didn’t want to or isn’t quite ready to reckon with some of her grandfather’s big failings. Carlisle writes so descriptively of the places she lived and the people she lived among, and while her family was definitely eccentric and a little broken in many different ways, what comes through is the love she received and gave to the people around her who became her family.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Scottkane2010

    A wonderful memoir and an engaging read. What I love about Shipwrecks is Kelly Carlisle shows sympathy to the flawed family members who helped to raiser her. She isn’t bitter about the circumstances of her upbringing, but in fact appreciates the small blessings she had along the way. Highly recommended

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susy Miller

    This book brought back memories from my childhood, which I didn't anticipate. And questions, concerns and doubts. Things I will never find answers to. I respect and appreciate Kelly for writing this story, her story. Not everyone could, I couldn't. I am glad to know that it has not stopped her from finding happiness in her life today and ultimately in guessing it has made her a better parent. Silver linings.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    The author’s grandfather was an odd one who made her upbringing difficult. But he liked cats, as in “When the cats peed on my grandfather’s bed, he preferred to sleep in the soiled sheets rather than disturb a sleeping cat.” I now know 3 people who will not disturb a furry little bundle -- the author’s grandfather, my wife, and me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Yancey

    Full disclosure: I went to college with the author. But that aside, this is a fantastic memoir. The story of a girl who realizes that most families have their own level of imperfection... although hers was more imperfect than most.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Johnson

    This is a well-written memoir, and although I'm generally not a big fan of memoirs, this one was interesting. Read it for book club, and am bummed I cannot be there for the discussion!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bookjazzer2010

    Rounded up to a 4. My interest and appreciation waxed and waned throughout, but overall it was worth reading.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kim McGee

    This memoir is about a little girl who was raised first by her grandmother and then by her grandfather and his very young wife. This sounds innocent enough except the family business were successful adult video shops which then meant Kelly had everything she needed including being sent to a French immersion school in Los Angeles. Kelly was fortunate in that to balance her grandfather's crude remarks and rough behavior, she had a friend in his wife Marilyn. As Kelly grew up her mother's unsolved This memoir is about a little girl who was raised first by her grandmother and then by her grandfather and his very young wife. This sounds innocent enough except the family business were successful adult video shops which then meant Kelly had everything she needed including being sent to a French immersion school in Los Angeles. Kelly was fortunate in that to balance her grandfather's crude remarks and rough behavior, she had a friend in his wife Marilyn. As Kelly grew up her mother's unsolved murder when she was just a baby took on more meaning and she actively pushed to have the cold case reopened and solved. Her story is heartbreaking and honest and it makes us all cherish our family and childhood innocence. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jennine

    While a few parts were disturbing- overall I really enjoyed the book. I think people who write their own story and use their own names are exceptionally brave. I’m not sure I could do it. I also find it inspiring when someone who has experienced a childhood that is less than ideal manages to become successful in life through their own perserverence.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Abby Miracle

    Picture a little girl who is mystified and endlessly curious about the sea, the earth, the night sky and every creature she encounters. Picture this same little girl gleaning comfort and companionship from these same elements as she makes her way through an unconventional childhood and reckons with the fraught history of where she comes from. This memoir is a poignant reminder of the power of the natural world and the importance of our connectedness to it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Hughes

    This is a good book. A bit sad. Just never had the big interest for me. I don’t regret reading it- just wasn’t a page turner.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ericka Seidemann

    Kelly was always told when she was growing up that where she comes from is what makes her who she is.  Raised by her grandfather, “Sir Richard,” and his much younger wife, Kelly believed for most of her childhood that her mother had been killed in a car accident. One day, just before a retired police investigator meets her family at a nice restaurant for brunch, she learns that was never true.   Kelly’s life is rife with half-truths and mysteries, many of them never completely understood until she Kelly was always told when she was growing up that where she comes from is what makes her who she is.  Raised by her grandfather, “Sir Richard,” and his much younger wife, Kelly believed for most of her childhood that her mother had been killed in a car accident. One day, just before a retired police investigator meets her family at a nice restaurant for brunch, she learns that was never true.   Kelly’s life is rife with half-truths and mysteries, many of them never completely understood until she was well into adulthood. Some relatives that were once prominent in her life no longer have anything to do with her, while others from her early childhood, not even related to her, keep their relationship for years. Her upbringing was unconventional, although she didn’t realize the degree of its unorthodoxy until she was much older. Kelly grew up with her grandparents, living on a small houseboat in California. The boat dock was full of other run-down, barely-seaworthy craft inhabited by drug addicts and petty criminals. Numerous cats ran around the boat, Kelly had to know how to work pumps and mechanical equipment, and there was a constant fear of electrical fires. Despite her unease, she still had to get up for school every morning, often wondering if someone would show up to bring her home. She attended a private French school, was introduced to haute cuisine and literature by her grandfather, and yet they often barely had enough money to make repairs to the boat. She was embarrassed wearing her school uniform, worried that it made her look snobby around the almost-homeless people who lived around her.    What touched me about Kelly’s memoir is, although we had completely disparate childhoods, her interpretation of her surroundings as a child was very much like mine. She was often afraid of things that were beyond her control: people she loved getting sick, or those people leaving her. She was burdened with feelings of guilt when someone she loved, mainly her grandfather, behaved in ways that made her feel embarrassed or ashamed.   To add to the confusion and mayhem of growing up on the boat, Kelly’s grandparents’ main source of income came from running a porn store. Her childhood introductions to sex involved images of violence and domination, and her grandfather’s cavalier attitude to discussing inappropriate subjects only added to her bewilderment. The porn store had to be kept a secret from her peers, and she certainly could never bring friends home. The people in her life were unpredictable and often temperamental. Nothing, not even her house, was stable.  Despite the insecure and seedy environment in which she grew up, Kelly comes to realize that the denizens of the docks took on some of the responsibility of raising her, giving her the advice and love that she needed in their own way. And always lingering in the background was her mom, Kelly wondering about her likes and dislikes, her personality, if she loved her baby. This book was fascinating and tragic, funny and also wretched. Kelly’s story is unusual and insightful, a highly recommended memoir. My thanks to Sourcebooks and Netgalley for this advance copy in exchange for my honest review. 

  25. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Bruno

    Kelly was a little girl when her mother died. She lived with her grandmother for a while, and then later, with her grandfather along with his youthful wife. When she became old enough to handle the truth, her grandfather told her that her mother had actually been murdered. Kelly spends her life thinking about her mother's unsolved murder. She pushed for the case to be reopened countless times until it finally was. Much later, she finds out that her mother had been raped by two men that murdered Kelly was a little girl when her mother died. She lived with her grandmother for a while, and then later, with her grandfather along with his youthful wife. When she became old enough to handle the truth, her grandfather told her that her mother had actually been murdered. Kelly spends her life thinking about her mother's unsolved murder. She pushed for the case to be reopened countless times until it finally was. Much later, she finds out that her mother had been raped by two men that murdered ten other women and were in jail. The book mentions some really difficult topics, but it never really goes into great detail about anything. It was extremely scattered when it came to topics and the timeline of Kelly’s life. I could barely even keep track of what the time period was unless it mentioned what year it was or how old she was when the event happened. I feel that her life wasn’t very extraordinary besides the fact that her mother was murdered as a child and that she lived with her grandpa and his wife. One of the only good things that I liked about the book was the fact that she portrays herself in a way that you almost have to have respect for her. She overcame all of the obstacles in her life, and turned out to be pretty successful. Overall, I really did not enjoy the book, and probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It was really dull, and it didn’t make much sense because it wasn’t in chronological order. In my opinion, Kelly’s life wasn’t really interesting enough to write about.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    This memoir was carefully written as a unique story told in a way that connects readers from all backgrounds and upbringings. Almost everyone has a moment, or moments, in their life when they realize that there are some things they want to make sure they do differently when they have a family of their own — things they never want their children to experience like they did, or things they never experienced that they want their children to. In We Are All Shipwrecks, Kelly Grey Carlisle recognizes This memoir was carefully written as a unique story told in a way that connects readers from all backgrounds and upbringings. Almost everyone has a moment, or moments, in their life when they realize that there are some things they want to make sure they do differently when they have a family of their own — things they never want their children to experience like they did, or things they never experienced that they want their children to. In We Are All Shipwrecks, Kelly Grey Carlisle recognizes that there are so many versions of stories similar to hers, and doesn’t dismiss any story as being too small to be told. Her story is an inspiration to all the untold stories of childhood experiences, stories of growing up and breaking free from what you thought was “normal” all those years, while still knowing you wouldn’t quite be the same person you are today without those experiences.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

    Fantastic!!! A wonderful true story!!! Everyone should read this book!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    I heard this author on a true crime podcast I listen to, and when I learned she is currently teaching at my alma mater, I decided to read the book. A lucky choice. This isn’t a true crime read, it’s really a memoir of a child raised by her grandparents after her mother’s murder, and her search to know more about her mother, and by extension, herself. Her childhood was unusual, to say the least. She lived on a boat in the Los Angeles harbor, and her grandfather owned a porn store. She learned to I heard this author on a true crime podcast I listen to, and when I learned she is currently teaching at my alma mater, I decided to read the book. A lucky choice. This isn’t a true crime read, it’s really a memoir of a child raised by her grandparents after her mother’s murder, and her search to know more about her mother, and by extension, herself. Her childhood was unusual, to say the least. She lived on a boat in the Los Angeles harbor, and her grandfather owned a porn store. She learned to love the natural world- the ocean, it’s creatures and any green or growing thing. One of the few children who lived in the harbor, she was surrounded by adults who could be considered outcasts from life, but who showed the author love and kindness in the different ways they could. This is a beautiful book that manages to be kind, loving, forgiving and harsh at the same time. I raced through it and was rewarded with a beautiful and thoughtful reading experience.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    I was disappointed not because of the writer or the writing but because the way the story was presented I thought it was about something different

  30. 5 out of 5

    Karen Germain

    Thank you to Sourcebooks for providing me with an advance copy of Kelly Grey Carlisle's memoir, We Are All Shipwrecks, in exchange for an honest review.  PLOT- When Kelly Grey Carlisle was just three weeks old, she was left by her mother in a hotel room dresser drawer. Carlisle's mother was murdered, her body strangled and dumped in an abandoned lot in Los Angeles. Although it was suspected that her murder was the work of the Hillside Strangler, the case was never solved.  Carlisle was told that h Thank you to Sourcebooks for providing me with an advance copy of Kelly Grey Carlisle's memoir, We Are All Shipwrecks, in exchange for an honest review.  PLOT- When Kelly Grey Carlisle was just three weeks old, she was left by her mother in a hotel room dresser drawer. Carlisle's mother was murdered, her body strangled and dumped in an abandoned lot in Los Angeles. Although it was suspected that her murder was the work of the Hillside Strangler, the case was never solved.  Carlisle was told that her father was unknown and she was taken in by her eccentric grandfather and his much younger wife, Marilyn. Her grandfather could be loving and jovial, but he could also be angry and verbally abusive. When she was young, Carlisle was treated to fancy clothes and meals out, through money earned from her grandfather's pornography store business. Later in her childhood, money would get tight, as her grandfather decided to pour all available funds into his dream of owning a boat. They ended up living on a boat that was primarily docked in a marina with a group of off-beat and fellow down-on-their-luck neighbors.  Although Carlisle lived with her grandfather and Marilyn. she honors several adults who took an active interest in her childhood and who helped raise her. We Are All Shipwrecks is a memoir of discovering ones roots, while acknowledging the impact of how you were raised. LIKE- Carlisle's life is fascinating and heartbreaking. I was most struck by the contradictions and confusions in her life. She sees two very different men in her grandfather; the man who is fun-loving and the man who cuts with his words. She loves Marilyn as if Marilyn was her mother, but is heartbroken to discover Marilyn's alcoholism. She is curious about the porn business, but later realizes that some of the porn that her grandfather sells involves violence towards women. In particular, there are parallels between strangulation porn and her mother dying by strangulation. Carlisle mentions a guilty feeling of knowing that the porn business funded so much of her childhood, such as private schools and material possessions.  I had a very personal connection to Carlisle's story. Towards the end of her memoir, she talks about being in her twenties and taking the initiative to research her family. She discovers a relative who mentions that Carlisle's mom died in a car accident. My father died in a scandalous way and when I was a teenager, I learned that all of my distant relatives on my father's side thought that he had died in a car accident. It's a misunderstanding that has caused a huge riff amongst my family. I had chills and a burst of anger when I read this part in Carlisle's memoir. Although I was raised by my mom, I can also relate to her desperate need to find out information about her family. I went through similar motions as she did, looking up newspaper articles and latching on to whatever information that I could find in our family records. Information is so precious. I was crushed to read that photographs of her mom and grandmother were destroyed when their boat got wrecked in a storm.  Beyond having an incredible story, Carlisle's descriptive and emotional writing kept me glued to We Are All Shipwrecks. Her life is filled with many unusual characters and situations that are completely unfamiliar to me. I can't imagine living on a boat. I had no idea that there are places in Los Angeles (my hometown) where there are these floating trailer parks. Carlisle is also only a year older than me, so many aspects of her childhood were familiar. DISLIKE- Not a single thing. Carlisle's story is unusual and compelling. RECOMMEND- Yes. I enthusiastically recommend, We Are All Shipwrecks. Carlisle's story is one that I will not soon forget and I loved her overriding message about it taking a village to raise a child. This is a beautiful tribute to her messy childhood and to the people that she has loved. Like my review? Check out my blog!

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