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Showing posts from 2016

Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection by Debra Spar

Debra Spar was raised in the wake of the 60's, when the feminist movement was in full swing and never really considered herself a feminist or a beneficiary of the feminist movement.  Her life, though, demonstrates that it was - she is currently the President of Barnard College and was one of the few first female professors at Harvard Business School. Her argument is that in spite of women having made a number of different strides forward, they still can't have it all. Her book also serves as a call to all women to dispel and kill the myths that make them feel so woefully inadequate.

What I really liked about this book were the coherency of the arguments and the accessibility of source material - it was easily and fully annotated and easy to understand.  What I also really enjoyed was that it got me thinking about my own assumptions about why I did some of the things that I did and why I felt some of the things that I felt.

What I didn't like was that it seemed to repackag…

REVIEW: If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkoski

There's nothing that I like better than books written by fellow Poles and especially one that was begin as the result of a short non-fiction piece called "To Write Love on Her Arms" that was written by the author in 2006.  That story literally blossomed, seemingly overnight, into a non-profit organization that helps with depression and suicide. The passages are everything from notes and emails to prose and span the period in between 2006 and 2015. It felt at times, like I was reading someone's personal diary or journal - that's how personal the material was.

This book is a collection of Jaime's short stories and provides insight into both his own humanity and mind but also the minds and humanity of the people that he surrounds himself with. It's no surprise that it's insightful, particularly if you've read his material before or if you've had the pleasure of seeing him speak. It opens a dialogue up about topics that would otherwise be insurmo…

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NG

For a debut novel, this was fantastic with a hook right from the start: a teenage girl is missing and her family doesn't know about it, there's a lake involved and a bad boy neighbor. And it's 1977, and the girl is biracial - her father is Japanese and her mother is white - which adds an element to the whole thing.

Lydia Lee is the missing girl and the middle child - what is unusual is that she's the favorite and a biracial Asian/white girl with Asian features and blue eyes. She seems so driven that she's the least likely of the three children in her family to go missing. The police are called and ask questions of Lydia's parents - how was she doing at school, who were her friends, was she depressed - and her parents find themselves unable to answer with any degree of certainty or honesty. The question in this novel is why are they unable to answer the questions.

Marilyn, Lydia's mother, has her own demons - she's estranged from her mother.  James, a J…

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

I'm generally not a reader of celebrity memoirs.  I find that generally, celebrities don't write very well and don't necessarily have a voice that I want to hear, which is fine because their skill set may be elsewhere - acting, singing, whatever. But I heard positive things about this particular memoir so I picked it up.

For those of you that don't know, Carrie Brownstein was one of the founders of Sleater-Kinney, a Riot Grrl band in the early to mid nineties. That's not how I first became familiar with her - I became familiar with her through her absolutely brilliant and funny performances with Fred Armisen in Portlandia, on IFC. This book talks about Brownstein's life and her desire to be noticed and held in high esteem for her first love: music. She and her family lived in Redmond, WA and her proximity to Olympia and Seattle - the state's music centers - definitely had an impact on her. Music, after all, became her escape when her mother was hospitalize…

City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

I was hesitant to pick up Justin Cronin's trilogy, which began with The Passage, because I was vampired out.  But it's different. It combines science fiction and westerns and spans about 1500 pages and 1000 years and generations, upon generations of people.  It's dystopian and hopeful all at the same time! The vampires don't sparkle, thankfully, and the story isn't just told in prose - it's told via letters, journals, scientific journals, flashback, the whole nine yards.
As the book opens, we find our beloved characters in a time of peace and relative prosperity.  There have been no viral attacks for twenty years. The main characters are all struggling with something that has broken them and they each struggle. And there was also Zero, the ultimate bad guy, that wants his say and his ultimate revenge. This book is wonderful in the sense that it is Cronin at his absolute best - he is a storyteller on par with perhaps the best of the fantasy writers - of any w…

In Memoriam

One of my most favorite bookish podcasts, Books on the Nightstand, has ended its tremendously successful run.  It has been around seemingly forever and was one of my staples in book recommendations. It will be sorely missed and leaves a space in my podcast listening zone that I'm striving to fill.  While I understand that the podcast em-cees, Michael and Anne, have their own lives that they probably want to continue with (and podcasting takes a lot of time, particularly when you're as popular as they are and, for example, as popular as the Manic Mommies are/were), they will be sorely missed.  However you can find them on both Goodreads and on Twitter.

In anticipation of their ultimate decision to end the podcast, I found a number of other really awesome podcasts to fill the void, some of which are bookish and some of which aren't.  For your listening pleasure:


BookRiot - more of a news in the publishing industry podcast but still pretty awesome;All the Books - a weekly po…

The Importance of Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel passed away over the weekend - the Independence Day holiday weekend here in the States - and in some ways that was a fitting time for a man such as he to pass from the world that he tried so hard to make a better place.  In the picture to the right, Mr. Wiesel is on the second bunk. There is a man with a white cap on and another man, leaning up on his elbow and you can then see Mr. Wiesel peeking around the edge of that man.

Mr. Wiesel will be mourned and missed by all. In 1960, his memoir, Night, about his time in a concentration camp at the age of 15 was published, rocketing him to fame.  He continued, throughout the course of his life, to write about religion and humanity as a result of his experiences in that Concentration Camp during World War 2. In his writings and his life, he fought against atrocities perpetuated against  people and never let people forget what had happened to him at the ages of 15 and 16 while he was imprisoned. He touched the lives of thousands i…

The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker

This book came highly recommended to me by a number of co workers and other people that have since assumed a very special place in my life. I read during a period in my life that was particularly trying and it really, really hit home, additionally helping me overcome the stressful thing in my life. This book is a primer on violence written by someone who has a tremendous amount of personal and professional experience in dealing with violence. This book singularly changed MY life as far as my personal and intimate relationships go and I am forever indebted to the book and its author for the role it played in changing the course of MY life.

In short, this book is a brilliantly written discourse and analysis of various, common forms of violence. The reader is given many different perspectives during the course of the analysis - from the victim's perspective, the investigator's perspective and other outsider's perspective - in order to demonstrate to the reader that patterns …

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This book is off putting when you initially see it - once because of the sheer size of it.  It is close to 750 pages in the hardback  (720 to be exact) and the cover is of a young man with an expression that is seemingly a combination of pleasure and pain. This is a book about friendship but not amongst women - it seems that everyone writes a book about friendship between the female gender doesn't it? - but about the friendship between a group of four friends that meet in college and whose relationships span the period of about 30 years in the novel. There's the actor Willem, the artist JB, the architect Malcolm and the attorney, Jude (who we learn is addicted to cutting himself). The center of the story is Jude. The pages that follow shows how each of these men rise and fall and lose their centers and bearings, sometimes painfully.

TRIGGER WARNINGS are a must for this book. Jude's story, which is the center of this novel, is so painful and contains so many triggers that …

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

You may recognize the author's name - Krakauer is perhaps most famous for the book Into the Wild about a young man that goes to Alaska (and which was made into a movie).  I enjoyed that book and when I heard on a podcast that I listen to that Krakuer had written a new book, I decided to get it and read it.  In this book, which is non fiction - he focuses on the University of Montana, the local police department and at the local prosecutor's office and analyzes their job performances through the eyes of five young women who were sexually assaulted. During this same period, the Department of Justice investigated how those same parties handled 80 rape cases and that investigation yielded dismaying results. In one instance, a detective re assured a male suspect during an interrogation that she didn't believe he committed a rape (despite evidence to the contrary) because they got a lot of false accusations. Similarly, the Chief of Police (!!!) sent an article to a victim citin…

The Passage by Justin Cronin

OK, I know that everyone is like "PUH-lease, more vampires? Are you serious? Totally overhyped." I swear this isn't vampires that were spawned from 50 Shades of Gray Fanfic and aren't sparkly in the sun.  Or are 500 year old stalker pedophile types. This novel is the first in a trilogy written by a literature professor at Rice University and I swear I couldn't sleep at night because of it. This is a dystopian, science fiction thriller at heart and is set a few years in the near future. The war on terror is mounting and is on American territory, with attacks at shopping malls and schools in addition to the typical military targets. As a result, a secret government project is spawned (no pun intended) in which 12 death row inmates are infected with a virus that was procured from Bolivian bats in the hopes of creating a new super-soldier. It isn't a far cry to realizing that things start to go wrong and then a virus, Walking Dead style, has spread throughout th…

BellZhar by Meg Wolizter

Meg Wolitzer is known for her adult novels - many of which I've read and enjoyed - so I wanted to try this novel, a Young Adult novel. It also is a play on words and references The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which I LOVED reading and is one of the books that I often read over and over and over again. The majority of this novel takes place at a boarding school in Vermont where emotionally fragile and highly intelligent teens go. The narrator, Jam Gallahue, is a student that "was sent [there] because of a boy" - it's a boy named Reeve that we see throughout the novel, often with Jam. One of the classes that Jam is registered for is a highly selective English class called "Special Topics in English" (there are only 6 students total in the class). Each student receives a beautiful, old, red leather journal that they are told they must write in as part of the class. While writing in the journals, the students start having extraordinary experiences.  The novel fo…

The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell

Wow. Just wow.  The novel begins in 2019 at the Arecibo Observatory when the program there picks up a transmittal of music from Alpha Centaury.  The Jesuits are the ones that sponsor a mission to the system and send a team to the planet, Rakhat, to explore. It is clear from the beginning that only one of the team - a priest by the name of Emilio Sandoz - survives the mission and the story is therefore told in flashback, alternating between what happened on the mission and his relating the story in the contemporary time. Sandoz has returned to great controversy because the Jesuits sent the mission without UN oversight and because it ended terribly. Sandoz returns as a shell of the man that he was and we are left to sort out why.
This book was simply amazing.  Doria deals with many heavy subjects in such a terrific way: the benefits and risks in absolute faith in a benevolent God, the role of God in the lives of people who believe and people who don't, and how that would effect int…

Simple Happiness by Jim Ryan

I received this from the publisher to review, as an up front, so I was unsure as to what to expect. But when I started to read it, it was like a breath of fresh air and couldn't have come at a more opportune time - a time when I'm trying to take control of my life and change it in ways that are more positive, starting with the power of positive thought. Jim Ryan is a motivational speaker and he brings that power to his writing and this book in a really wonderful, refreshing way.

The Chapters are very short and can be read one day at a time, almost like you're doing daily meditations. What I would have liked to do and will do going forward is read one a day in the morning and then journal on it that night to see how well the lesson went for that day.  52 could also be a magical number - one devotional per week (for one year of devotionals/meditations). Each chapter has a simple message that may be obvious to some or all of us, but which you (I know that I don't always)…

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me - by Jennifer Teege

I have always had a morbid curiosity with the Holocaust.  OK, not just THE Holocaust, but any sort of situation where people can do horrendous things to each other. I make no excuses: I am looking for answers. I want to know WHY people the things that they do.  It helps me to process things that are very difficult and emotional for me. So when I saw this book, I was excited. I was hoping it would give me answers and it provided a woman's account of her struggle to come to terms with who her family members were/are.
Teege discovered, at the age of 38, that her maternal grandfather is Amon Goeth (the Commandant of Plazow and who was made famous by Schindler's List). As a result of her discovery, Teege decides to research her family by traveling to Poland and Israel and attempting to reconnect with her mother Monika (Amon's daughter). Teege writes the book with historian Nikola Sellmar.  Teege documents the personal memoir part of her journey while Sellmar provides us with …

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The first novel I read by this author was Americanah and I enjoyed it so I've been looking for another by this author for quite some time.  This is also a novel about Nigeria - specifically, it is about the Nigerian Civil War, which occurred between 1967 and 1970 - and is told from three different perspectives - Ugwu (a servant in a wealthy Nigerian family), Olanna (a wealthy, black Nigerian) and Richard ( a white Englishman). The book jumps about dramatically - and alternates between the period before the war and the period during/just after the war has ended.

Adichie focussed on the war from a purely civilian standpoint - the military and its characters are ancillary at best - and the main characters go from relative wealth to squalor. There are stories of raids, mass murders, genocide and abduction, some of which are experienced by the main characters. I enjoyed that the perspective was that of a civilian one. However, the choppiness of the period changes made it sometimes dif…

Spinster by Kate Bolick

The premise of this book is fascinating and, perhaps, long overdue. In this book, Kate Bolick poses the theory that being single and alone, particularly as a woman, is preferable to being married. This book is, in part, a memoir in which Bolick explores her journey to feel comfortable as a single woman of a certain age while at the same time providing small histories of the women that have impacted her life: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Maeve Brennan among them.

I would classify this book as being more closely related to Eat, Pray, Love or Wild, in which Bolick attempts to decide HOW she wants to live and seems to defend her singledom. I did enjoy learning about Ms. Bolick's "awakeners" - the women that she says influenced her the most.  However, the parts of the book that I found more and most fascinating were the parts that were memoir based where Bolick was describing her life and memory and her own personal struggles.  Her voice is unique a…

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

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David Lagercrantz, a Swedish journalist, could easily have waited until the original Millenium Trilogy achieved classic status (which I'm nearly sure it will) before continuing the series.  But he elected to continue it right away. The success of these novels is and continues to be the two main characters: Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander and their unique relationship. I was so happy to hear that the series was continuing because Lisbeth has to be one of the BEST heroines that has ever been created.  If there's one character that I would want to be in my corner, it's her.  She's tough as nails, smart as hell, fearless, loyal and has a heart bigger than her body.

Which leads me to my major concern about this novel. While I was VERY excited about more Lisbeth Salandar, would a new author completely and utterly much it up? Lisbeth is VERY unique and so, would only Stieg Larsson be able to give us her as she must be and should be? So I admit that I opened the no…

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

This book has been all over everyone's radar lately, from the folks at NPR to the folks at BookRiot to Ann and Michael at Books on the Nightstand. Since the three major sources of my reading material were all super positive, I borrowed it from my local library. Essentially, it seems, this book was born of the pain of others and the premise that experiencing the pain of others requires imagination and a leap of faith. It's all kinds of pain - physical, emotional, economic, mental, you name it. This book is a collection of essays that the author has penned over the last few years about pain and how people other than her experience it. She has lots of questions too: what do all these sorts of pain mean? What do we do about it?

Her focus seems to be the space between the person suffering the pain and the person who is observing the sufferer and how to bridge that gap. Her stories fill both categories: in two of them, she is the one that is suffering and needs empathy (in one beca…

Godspeed Ms. Lee

Dear Harper:

You died on February 16, 2016 so I must make my apologies for no writing you sooner and memorializing you in my own way. It is completely inhuman of me and disrespectful, giving the esteem with which I hold you and how you have influenced my life in a positive way.

I first read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in ninth grade at Memorial High School. At that time, I found it fascinating that a group comprised of two children, their single father and their Black cook could so easily form a unit.  I was more fascinated by the adventures that the children had and what happened to Scout at the end of the book, with Atticus just being a character that flitted around the edges, no more important than Calpurnia or Boo. As a 13 year old or 14 year old, I think that I had related more to Scout than anyone else in the book and in some ways I probably still do (since she is loosely based upon you and we probably had more in common than not).  This is, however, one of those few books…

The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen

Ipicked up this book because, in part, I have this morbid curiosity about what drives people to do some of the most horrendous things ever: bombings, the Holocaust, whatever.  I'm also a transplant in the Boston area - I went to college on mile 13.1 of the Boston Marathon (go Wellesley), so Marathon Monday always will and always had a special place in my heart.  So when the bombings at the finish line happened on April 15, 2013 it was almost a personal violation. 

This book isn't about intricate relationships between Jahar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev or about family even.  I found that it was more about disconnection and sociopathy and what led to the disaffection that could lead two people to cause such pain and tragedy in the city that had seemingly welcomed them. It describes the events leading up to the bombings and the events in its immediate aftermath and offers a theory that the FBI doesn't really get terrorism. The book was most interesting and effective in conveying the …

Sofie's Choice by William Styron

This is a book steeped in contradictions.  The main character, Sophie, is the epitome of this. She is very tragic and yet beautiful, a liar that is honest in her lies, she is utterly depressed and then manically happy, she is a survivor but also a victim.  I read the book before I saw the movie so I already had a notion of what Sophie looked like before she was there on the screen. 

The narrator in this movie is William Styron's alter ego - based loosely on himself - a Southerner from tidewater Virginia - that I now affectionately remember by his nickname - Stingo.  After quitting his job at a publishing house, Stingo, an aspiring writer, rents a room in Brooklyn which he refers to as the Pink Palace and meets Nathan Landau. Nathan is a compelling but very deeply disturbed Jewish intellectual who works at Pfizer and who has singlehandedly nursed a Polish WWII victim, Sophie Zawistowska, back to health. At the time that Stingo meets them, the pair have become lovers. Stingo is drawn…

Hiatus is broken, a cool website and some great book podcasts

I so want this coffee mug because I feel like it totally defines my relationship with books. Give me a good one and we can't be separated.  Anyways, I've been on a bit of a hiatus lately because I've just been so busy that I haven't gotten much done in the way of reading - between starting a new job, taking care of my home and children, the holidays and coaching soccer, i have very little time. But I'm back now and am reading two books currently:


Sophie's Choice by William Styron. This novel is approximately 500 pages long (and I love every word of it so far!) and won the National Book Award in 1980 - it was published in 1979.  I think everyone is familiar with the premise of this story - it's become an American pop culture reference for having to make a choice between two unfathomable, terrible options.  I've always had a morbid fascination with the Holocaust in the sense that I simply can't understand what would drive anyone to commit mass murder …