Sunday, December 10, 2017

My Education by Susan Choi

I admit it: I have a thing about academic novels.  And by that, I  mean novels that occur on campuses and are about characters that are entrenched in academia (think Donna Tartt's The Secret History or I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe). Combine this proclivity with my penchant for getting book recommendations from NPR and I'm in.  That's how I got to this book.

This isn't Susan Choi's first book - it's the most recent release by her but the first that I've read - and it's kind of typical in some ways. At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to the young protagonist, a first year graduate student, who is taking literature classes at an East Coast University- I assumed it was the Northeast but that could totally have been my own experiences and biases coming into play. She's taking classes with Nicholas Brodeur, a celebrated academic, and Choi seems to set up a relationship between Brodeur and our main character, until a scene at a dinner party where Brodeur's wife, Martha, eclipses him by swooping in and hooking up with our main character!

This book details, in a painfully intimate fashion, the unfolding of this relationship between our main character (Regina) and Martha - Regina's almost teenage exuberance and expectations of it (she is only 21 or 22) and Martha's guilty ambivalence (married, thirties maybe and with a new child). This book is, thematically, most of all, about how different people navigate different relationships at different points in their lives.  This is driven home most poignantly by the book ending with Regina, fifteen years later, trying to navigate a wide variety of things from her marriage, to her career and other obligations that have given her a new perspective on what occurred when Regina was a mere 21.

What was also particularly interesting is how Choi takes on the sexual interests and love of two women who identified as straight.  In some ways, it's really interesting - she takes it seriously and tries to provide some literature about people who are bisexual (is it REALLY so that literature has been about straight or lesbian/gay couples but not about bisexual attractions? Maybe that's a loaded question for another time). Regina says, interestingly, that the sex of her lover wasn't an issue and was very nonchalant about it.  I got the opposite feeling from Martha. So in that sense, I respect this - this is LOVE BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE, not two women or two men or a man and a woman.  Their life stages - one married with the children and the other a 21 year old grad student - is what is problematic for them, not that they are in a same sex relationship.

That being said, I simply loved reading this novel.  Choi writes beautifully, elegantly and breathtakingly about this and I want to read her previous novels simply because of the grace and beauty of her writing. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

Many know Jessica Valenti as the founder of Feministing, a feminist blog and website.  However, she's also a successful author. This book is more of a primer on feminism than an in depth analysis of the subject and is aimed at those who don't consider themselves feminists (think: "I'm not a feminist but..." and then insert something that is totally feminist, like equal pay for equal work.).

The book is written in a very colloquial style, which initially I really liked but then which really got on my nerves.  I understand and appreciate a more simple style of writing, but the overuse of curse words really took away from the valuable points that Ms. Valenti was trying to make. I feel like she lost credibility along the way. That being said, the point of the book was to ensure that the younger generation, who tends to believe that feminism is dead or not needed or not for them, understands why feminism is so important.  And since this was the goal, I found that Ms. Valenti adequately accomplished that goal. She provided numerous examples of why, even in this day and age, feminism is extremely important and necessary even where it might look different than what it did in our mothers' or grandmother's time.

Generally, a decent first shot, but I hope to find something better out there.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters

I have a confession:  I got this book out because I worked with Ben's brother, Andy and because it takes place mostly in Concord, NH, a city that I now work in and know somewhat well. That being said, I don't regret getting this book out at all and I actually really loved it.

It's not unusual to have a murder in a mystery.  A cast of unique and quirky characters with interesting backstories and even insurmountable odds. However, the insurmountable odd in this series is an asteroid that is inevitably going to hit the earth but no one knows where on the earth is going to hit exactly. In spite of this, Detective Palace of the Concord Police Department is investigating what he believes to be the homicide of a local insurance agent that was found hanging in the bathroom of a local fast food restaurant.  The fast food restaurant is obviously a Mickey D's although the company itself has gone out of business, as has Dunkin' Donuts (a sacrilege in New England). Cell phone service is getting more and more spotty. Many employees are going "bucket list" - they are quitting their jobs and their lives and trying to do everything that they wouldn't have done during their normal lives under normal circumstances.  This includes many police officers. Who wants to solve a murder when the world is going to end by the close of the year?

The insurance agent's body is found hanging in a seeming suicide but our protagonist thinks that it was a homicide and not a suicide and is dead set on proving that he's right. I found myself starting off thinking that Palace was just going to be a regular, dogged grunt.  But then I found myself giving him more and more respect as the very well written novel progressed. He followed his instincts and was persistent, dogged even, in attempting to find justice for his victim in the light of much heel digging and joking. The novel itself moves quickly and with confidence. I loved Detective Palace and I loved the premise of the book: in a time when everyone has an "I Don't Give a F***" attitude, I  was very happy to see someone who just went about his business.

Go get this - I'm about to go get the second novel in the trilogy!  :)

Monday, September 4, 2017

American Fire by Monica Hesse

As with most of the books I read, I heard about this one on NPR.  I am also on a true crime kick right now - think Making a Murderer, the Keepers, the disappearance of Maura Murray and Adnan Syed. So when I heard about this book, I was intrigued.

This book is non-fiction written by journalist Monica Hesse, in which she tries to determine the question of what really happened in a rural Southern county. In November, 2012 in Accomack County, Virginia, the first abandoned house went up in flames. It was a long night, even though no one died.  There were two further fires that night in the area, so firefighters were extremely busy. Over the course of a few months, firefighters were seemingly called out every night as further homes blazed - it was quickly determined that these were the works of an arsonist or arsonists.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book was Hesse's attempt to delve into the reasons that an arsonist would commit arson.  It's not just a property crime. In many ways, it's an emotional and psychological crime too - think pyromania or control issues or a desire to please or all three! It also impacted, in this case, the other residents of the community - while the structures that were set on fire were abandoned, the residents lived in fear that the fires could easily spread to their own homes and there was a tremendous amount of anxiety over not knowing who was committing the crimes.

Even though we learn very early on who did it, it is still unclear as to what the motivations were.  The buildings burned were abandoned and the arsonists didn't have insurance policies on them, so money wasn't the motivation. Hesse speculates it was about the intersection of things like poverty, codependence, hope, pride, sexual performance and risk.  The defendants - Charlie and his girlfriend Tonya - led extremely difficult lives. They lived hand to mouth.  Tonya's three children demanded a lot of attention for various reasons (even though all children demand attention).  At the end of the day, while both were ultimately convicted of their crimes, we still don't have a clear answer from them as to their motivations.

I found this book fascinating and very readable.  I couldn't put it down.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ernest Hemingway by Mary Dearborn

I think like every American school attendee, I had to read Hemingway.  I clearly remember reading The Old Man and the Sea in 8th grade, but I didn't read any other Hemingway until recently. I admit, I hated The Old Man and the Sea, in part because I didn't get it.  After reading A Farewell to Arms, and knowing that Hemingway was troubled (at best on a good day) and downright psychotic at his worst, I wanted to learn more about him as a person.

Dearborn's book was very well researched - thorough and exacting - and yet, her story was compelling and her writing style accessible.  I learned a lot, in particular, about Hemingway's relationship with his mother Grace (who he really seemed to dislike and whom he blamed for his father's eventual suicide-that's another thing I learned.  It seems that for four consecutive generations, people in each generation of the Hemingway family committed suicide!). Hemingway was not able to write very much after World War II and his physical and mental health precipitously tanked during that time period. He had everything from high blood pressure to manic episodes and, it sounds like, a psychotic break, that Dearborn attempted to link to a traumatic brain injury that Hemingway received during the Second World War.

Ultimately, Dearborn was successful in describing a man that was tremendously flawed but also tremendously compelling. It was such a great read.  Definitely worth each and every page.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Widow by Fiona Barton

For a debut novel, this one wasn't too bad actually.  It is a mystery in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, with a female protagonist.

I'm not giving anything away here when I say that at the outset, you learn that a possible kidnapper and child molester has just died. All of England had been riveted by, obsessed even (think OJ here in the States), this trial - mainly because it involved a 2 year old girl and lots of intrigue. In the immediate aftermath of his death, his widow is a a very popular subject for an interview and reporter, Kate Waters, is really trying to get an interview with her - it's popularly believed that the widow knows more than she has let on.

I don't want to get too much into the plot because a novel like this relies upon slowly revealing tidbits of information, like peeling back the various layers of an onion.  The story comes out in pieces, told by the three main players that still remain alive: the widow, the reporter and the main detective on the case.  In a case and story such as this, this particular method of story-telling proves to be very effective. The chapters are short and quick, letting a busy reader take in the story in short bites (which, for me, was perfect!). And somehow, Ms. Barton manages to create a smooth continuum to the story, even though the chapters are told from different perspectives.

I enjoyed the novel because it caused me to think about a few topics:  how much spouses really and truly know about each other, when they find out that knowledge, how they react to it and what they decide to do with that knowledge.   For instance, would I stay with a person that was simply accused of such a thing?  What if I had a gut instinct that it was true but no hard evidence?  After the person's death would I willingly sell what knowledge I had for my own personal gain?  What would it cost me?

This is a deceptively simply written book that challenges the reader to think about all of these things while entertaining at the same time. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud by Anne Helen Peterson

I've always bee interested in gender studies. When I was in college, the study of gender was called women's studies and I'm happy that the name was changed to gender studies, because really, it's a study of both men's and women's roles and everything in between.  So when I saw this book, I was intrigued.

Anne Helen Peterson is a cultural critic at Buzzfeed and in this book, she creates a catalog of sorts of women who are "unmangeable" in the sense that they do not act in accord with the rules that society has placed on their gender. For instance, she looks at women who have been classified as too strong, too slutty, too shrill, too gross. She has everyone from Serena Williams to Lena Dunham and in each chapter, she dissects why these women have drawn sometimes negative attention, even though they've stayed close enough to the mainstream to be highly successful.

Each chapter starts out the same way - short statement of the problem and then a pretty in depth analysis of the societal norms that they defy. She doesn't push as far as she can, however and in some ways, that's disappointing to me.  At the same time, she can't really be blamed because perhaps she's trying to make her points to as many people as she can and change as many minds as she can. This can't be done if she's considered to be outside the pale.

This is an understated and brilliant book that should be added to your collection.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

I now can see why everyone says that Hemingway was inspired to write this novel after serving in World War I.  The unabashed drawing on the author's own life makes the parallels so obvious that a blind man could see it.  Hemingway, like his protagonist, was an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross on the Italian front, was likewise injured and likewise fell in love with the nurse who cared for him while he was convalescing.

We are introduced to his main character, Lt. Henry, just as things are coming to an end in World War I.  Lt. Henry has seen lots of very bad things but wants to continue fighting because that is the only way the ugly badness that he has seen will be eradicated. Other characters feel very much opposed to the war and so the spare dialog that ensues captures the very strong, complicated emotions felt by all sides and conveys them in a style that Hemingway was notorious for and popularized immensely.

I loved how Hemingway glorified the brotherhood and bonds that the soldiers on the battlefield had among each other. The shared experiences of these men drew them together in ways that Hemingway portrayed amazingly well. The affection of these "war brothers" is so palpable you can feel the affection coming off the pages. Lt. Henry meanwhile can never seem to catch a break.  He endures so much hardship in such a short period of time. It's a tremendous book.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Most people have heard of the serialization of 13 Reasons Why by Netflix, which became a huge hit this past spring. And I admit, I binged watched the series before reading the book because, until the end of the series, I was woefully ignorant of the fact that this was a book, originally published in 2009. It was a debut novel by Jay Asher about teen suicide and was a stealthy hit.

The book, much like the series, is made up of the transcripts of the tapes left behind by Hannah Baker, who we know right away has killed herself.  The transcripts are interspersed with the thoughts of Clay Jensen, the most recent recipient of the series of tapes. Each tape has an anecdote or two about another classmate, essentially creating Hannah's narrative as to why she felt it essential to take her own life. It's a fascinating look at the backbiting and sexual coercion that we adults often forget (still) occurs in high school. And this is also why I think that the book appeals to the young adult audience as well.

There was much to like about this novel - it addresses a tremendously personal and important subject in a sensitive way.  Teenage suicide is often not discussed because it is taboo in many ways - the parents or guardians of a child that has taken their own life often won't discuss it openly for fear of judgment being heaped upon them.  Good parents would have seen the signs and done something right?  Schools won't discuss it presumably because of liability reasons - what if we give the idea to someone and they do it?  What if we could have done something to prevent it and we didn't and then we go about talking about it - will that be used to establish our negligence in a court of law?  And if adults struggle talking about such an intensely personal and intense subject, I can't imagine what a teen/adolescent goes through in trying to figure out how they feel let along whether or not they can actually or want to talk about it with someone.  So the fact that Jay Asher wrote this novel and then got Netflix to do a series was awesome - it gets people talking.

I enjoyed the pacing of the novel. It is one of those books that goes very quickly and I would have sat with if until two in the morning reading it if I didn't have other things that I had to do as an adult.  It was just that good. I thought it was creative to have the main protagonist embodied literally first person in the other main character of the book - Hannah is with us through Clay. It serves as a reminder of the complete and utter BS that bullying can be and the impact that it can have on people - what someone may think is no big deal - for others might be the straw that broke the camel's back.

I truly hope that all read this book and that for those with children entering the appropriate age groups that you read this with them because this is just so important and necessary.  

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This novel is my favorite novel and is written by my favorite author of all time. And the fact that it was written in 1985 just blows my mind. It's set in a dystopian American society sometime in the near future. The government has been overrun by the conservative religious zealotry. The Constitution is gone and women have no rights. The main character in the novel is our narrator - Offred - who is a handmaid to a powerful government official. Her only job is to bear children for this man. During the course of her days, we are given insights into the lives of the other women in society and glimpses of how the country got to be the way that it was. There were many, many poignant moments in this book that absolutely struck me beyond belief but the one that struck me the most was when Offred went to use her debit card in the time before she became a handmaid and learned that her account had been frozen and all of her assets transferred to her husband's account literally overnight.

This was an incredibly relevant novel when it was published and it is still highly relevant. In the 80's there was much concern about backlash made for women's rights during the 60's and 70s. Today, there is concern in some parts of American society about women's rights being slowly and steadily eroded.  I also really like the pieces of sardonic humor that are well placed in this novel. They appealed to my own sense of humor. The author's extrapolations are very very carefully drawn from the trends of the time. I'm glad that she used Offred to tell the story - the POV made the novel.  Offred was so matter of fact in telling her story that you couldn't help but believe that everything that she said was true.

Definitely a must read and a must add to your library.

Monday, May 29, 2017

True Crime Addict by James Renner

Lately, I've been way into true crime cases and missing persons cases - I guess it's a throwback to my life before what I'm doing now. And I stumbled upon the Maura Murray case because a co - worker told me about a podcast they were listening to. In that podcast, the hosts refer to and even speak with James Renner, who as it turns out wrote a book focused on the case called True Crime Addict. And when I found out that Maura was around my age and disappeared from an area near where I started my job and for which I hold great fondness, I was hooked. So I got the book from the library.

i will be honest. I got this book out because I wanted to learn more about Maura's case, but I was sorely disappointed.  The book merely used Maura's case to provide Renner with a vehicle for telling stories about his own life beginning when he was about eleven and fell for a missing girl, who was around his age. While I was really interested to hear about Renner's experiences growing up and why he became involved in the Maura Murray case, I was very disappointed that I didn't get any additional insight into the case.

AS far as the writing goes, it was passable and quick. The chapters were split up into very small snippets - none more than 5 or 6 pages- which could be consumed in quick little bites.  In some ways, this was effective because it left you wanting a bit more. On the other hand, that craving wasn't always satisfied.  This was a bit of a let down for me personally, but if you're into the whole true crime genre, it's right up your alley and not bad at all.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Settle For More by Megyn Kelly

I'm not quite sure why I waited so long to read something by Megyn Kelly.  I think what prompted me to read something now, quite frankly, is her defection to NBC and what she had to say about it. She was also kind of an unlikely feminist hero, who disavowed the title, when she stood up so publicly to Donald Trump's attempted shaming of her. So, for these reasons, I picked up her memoir.

I learned some things about Megyn Kelly that I didn't know before I read this:


  • She, like I, went to Syracuse University - she for her undergrad and me for my Juris Doctor (she went to Albany Law!);
  • She firmly believes in being apolitical, which is a tremendous help in her journalistic career;
  • And she has a badass mother!
What I also really enjoyed about this book - salacious commentary about Fox and Trump aside - was that Kelly wanted to tell more than a story that was gossipy and salacious.  The book was almost more of a self help book in some ways and strove to empower the people that read it and in some ways, for me at least, it did.  For crying out loud, she still keeps a handwritten journal - which is AWESOME and which inspired me to continue to keep one of my own. She's not much older than me and wise in many ways - she's weathered more than I have and is inspiring because she rose to it and above it through sheer grit and determination. What I didn't particularly like is her writing style - while it was interesting to read about her and what she had to say, I could only really take it in small doses.  It's way to sweet and watered down in some places and starts off really slowly.  

This is a book I'd get from the library because it's worth the read but isn't a book I would add to my library.




Sunday, May 21, 2017

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty has been all over the pop culture blogosphere and news lately with the success of the first season of Pretty Little Liars, based upon her book of the same name. I honestly didn't want that to be my first book by her so I went through her titles and found this one, which looked interesting. They're not my usual selections - I tend to associate them with chicklit even if they aren't technically that and chicklit isn't my most favorite type of book to read (although it serves a purpose - more on that in another post!).

This is at heart, an amnesia story plotline. Alice, our main character, is at the gym, falls off her bike at spin class and hits her head pretty good. When she regains consciousness, she believes that she is 29, pregnant and happily married to Nick. When Alice discovers that it's ten years later (and she's nearly 40), has three children and is involved in a nasty divorce that involves Nick, she's shocked out of her pants. She struggles to reconcile her life now and the life that she remembers from ten years previously.

The story started off really strongly - amnesia and head injuries are a fantastic way of creating sense and mystery without really asking the reader to suspend their disbelief at all.  However, I wasn't thrilled with the rest - it kinda faded.

Moriarty's writing style doesn't lend itself well to the introspection and emotional upheaval that her main character is experiencing.  Her style is brief, chatty, flighty and, in a way, Valley Girl-ish. While I would totally appreciate this sort of tone and style in a book that was less serious or a true mystery, in a book that deals with the sorts of issues that this book does, I expected something more meaty and substantive, with a bit more insight. There isn't much of a story either - this is all about Alice being confused and trying to figure stuff out.  I still am not quite sure why, medically, she lost ten years of her life as opposed to one year or one day or some other random number. I feel like the whole book was about Moriarty trying to keep me there reading by spoon feeding me bits and pieces of information in an effort to extend the book for as long as possible and not necessarily to move any plotline forward at all.

I will also be quite frank: Moriarty has a class and race issue. This book deals with the rich, white mom world in Australia.  It's not very diverse and that, to me, makes it really not interesting at all. There were so many issues that she could have tackled with substance in this book - marital issues and divorce, friendships, adoption/surrogacy/infertility - that she let fly by the wayside and didn't even scratch the surface on. This disappointed me to no end. At the end of the day, if you don't expect too much, I guess it's ok, but I wouldn't otherwise bother unless you're SO desperate for something to read that you can't find anything else.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mothers Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell TRIGGER WARNING (sexual abuse, drug abuse, physical abuse)

This is a book of short stories, that, while easily able to be broken up into quick reads, are still not simple reads by any stretch of the imagination.  It is Ms. Campbell's sixth book, which is very impressive, and her third of short stories.  In it, we are introduced to rural characters - all of whom are women - that have suffered extensively in their lives. They often struggle with abuse in some way, shape or form - molestation, rape, drug/alcohol abuse, for example. We also see characters that deal with teen pregnancy, men who cheat and loss of employment. We meet a drug addicted woman who is willing to have sex with her boyfriend for drugs, but not with his three friends (even though they do anyways), a mother who can't trust the one man who loves her and a dying woman who tries to explain why she allowed her boyfriend to molest her daughter. This book is NOT an easy read so be forewarned!

That being said, what I enjoyed is that these women seemed, on some level, to have their own agency. They wanted things like sex and jobs and connection and more mundane things, like candy. I sincerely believe that Ms. Campbell, in these stories, sought to show us and remind us that everyone is human no matter what they struggle with in their private lives currently or have gone through in the past, so it would behoove all of us to treat each other with basic human decency and civility. Ms. Campbell also seeks to show us that our lives seem to be governed by our base, animal instincts as opposed to our brains. Lust - for sex, drugs, whatever - dominates her characters' decision making process more than careful reasoning and each woman does not know how to master it or control it. I felt terribly uncomfortable reading a lot of the stories, but I think that this was also Ms. Campbell's point - life isn't all glitter and unicorns. And that's perhaps the best part of this book

A definite must read.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Forward by Abby Wambach

Abby Wambach is a superstar in the soccer world.  She has 184 goals to her name, two gold medals, a World Cup and a Fifa Player of the Year Award.  She was a standout soccer player in high school. And yet, she really doesn't want to be known as just a soccer player, even though that is what she's totally famous for. After retiring in 2015, she started to work on becoming famous for something other than being an absolutely amazing soccer player.

Forward, her memoir, is one way of documenting her journey - from the beginning as the youngest of seven children, through her relationships and struggles with substances as well as her failed marriage and DUI. The book is a very quick read and I'm not totally impressed with MS. Wambach's literary writing ability.  I found it to be quite amateurish really but I enjoyed learning more about her in the meantime. She has struggled with the low self esteem and the need for outside building up that I think a lot of women need.  I wonder how much the US National Soccer Program knew about her substance abuse issues though.  I'm not sure that they were complicit in it, but a Women's National Team Trainer knew about Abby's issues while she was employed with the program, so I'm hesitant to say that the program didn't know about it.

I enjoyed how honest and open she was about the struggles that she has with addiction - it seems that she has taken a tremendous step in accepting that about herself. Perhaps this book provided one of the mechanisms by which she could face her demons and if that is the case, all the more power to her. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

I don't honestly remember where I heard about this book but it's absolutely one of the most courageous books.  It is unflinching and contemplative in some ways, but with the most recent news of the author coming out (no pun intended), I'm not sure how thoroughly contemplative the author was (although of course, much could have changed since the book was published).  It did, however, motivate me to be a better and more authentic person at the time that I read it.

The author, Glennon, deals with a number of hot button issues: body image, substance abuse, you name it.  How one person could deal with all of the issues at once is beyond me.  However, the overarching theme is love - love of self, love of family, love of others. Glennon ultimately decides to love herself enough to put the work in to make herself a better person and to silence the harsh self critic. I found that she was engaging and insightful during her memoir. I wonder, though, what will happen when her children are old enough to read the book - will they feel uncomfortable with how much she shared?  What about her parents?  Were they on board with this?

Melton recently announced that she and soccer star Abby Wambach are engaged and will be getting married. I am genuinely happy for her and for Abby because both women have gone through many, many struggles. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Faith by Jennifer Haigh

So, when I read the inside jacket on Faith by Jennifer Haigh, I was intrigued but also unsure as to whether I actually wanted to read the book because at some point, I just got exhausted about hearing about the Catholic sex abuse scandal.  I grew up Catholic, which gave me the cultural perspective if you will and spent a lot of time in the Greater Boston area, having gone to college there and then relocated just North of there as an adult.  I was hesitant because I didn't want to re live the same stories and reactions over and over and over again - I thought that there were only a certain limited number of ways that one could tell this story. But I was very much mistaken.

Jennifer Haigh has written three novels previously but this is the first one that I have read by her and it told, what I thought was going to be, the same old tired story in a completely different, humanitarian and refreshing manner. The story begins from the perspective of Sheila McGann, an Irish-American Catholic that grew up in a devoutly Irish Catholic family in Boston (along with all the assumptions that this entails!) two years after the events that she is talking about have occurred. She had taken a vow of silence about the events - more of a promise to her older half brother Father Art - that she's breaking by telling us readers about what happened. Art's early life is laid out by Sheila - their mother was abandoned by Art's father when Art was an infant and when their mother remarried Sheila's father, he was very distant from all of the children and not just Art. So when Art learned that he enjoyed the Catholic rituals and the comfort it brought him, he became a priest - not expecting that it is a burden in addition to a shield.

The biggest question that was presented by Sheila was how does a priest navigate being human in addition to being a priest because priests have to deny a big part of what makes people human - their sexuality, marriage and connection, sometimes even family. She handled it deftly and intelligently in big part because her narrator - Sheila - was fantastic. She was candid about her biases and faults. Sheila talks to us about regret and the book actually contains a fair amount of suspense for what it's about - in many ways it reminded me of the movie Doubt starring Meryl Streep in that regard. I thought that it was masterful to navigate a scandal of this magnitude from the perspective of a sympathetic and flawed (but not in the way you  may suspect) defendant who is seemingly apathetic as the faith of his family is tested and shattered and which forces his family to decide who and what to believe. This is a truly amazing book and one that I think I will revisit at later and different points in my life. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

You Are a Badass by Jennifer Sincero

Self-help books, I think, tend to get a bad rap - they're touchy, feely hippie type of things that no one can get any help from or guidance from.  And some of them are completely like that, don't get me wrong.  But there are some that are gems that can completely feed the spiritual side of you and teach you things about yourself and those are the ones that should be grabbed on to with two hands and never let go. This is one of those books - even though it's really focused on career, the advice that Jen Sincero provides in this book can really and truly be applied to every aspect of ones life.

Sincero provides advice that, while not new, is refreshing in the way that it is provided. She has a very forthright and direct manner that I found easy to comprehend and which got the message through to my, at the time, addled brain. I also really enjoyed how she explained why we often get into the places that we get - which is really important to me since I am totally one of those people that needs to know why everything happens and I'm never really truly satisfied until I get that explanation. She debunks any and all possible excuses and leaves the reader - at least this one - feeling very motivated to move forward and feed the soul. She punctuates her advice with personal stories of how things did and didn't work for her, establishing a connection with me at least - if it worked for her and she's like ME in some ways, then it can work for me too.

This book is one that I purchased because I will be revisiting it and journalling about it for the foreseeable future.  It's definitely a keeper and one that you should add to your library. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

So, Star Wars has always played a huge role in my life.  Episode 4 - the original Star Wars for those of you that don't know anything about the Star Wars universe - came out two years before I was born. One of my earliest memories of movies was eagerly awaiting that opening credit with the theme music and the scrolling words.  Also, pretending to be Han Solo shooting TIE fighters as the Millenium Falcon blasts out of the Death Star.  AWESOME. And honestly, the Princess Leia character was the first legitimately tough, commanding, badass woman that I saw - she in some ways was a feminist role model to me before I was conscious of what feminism and its role models were (followed ten years later by Ellen Ripley of Alien fame, but that's another story for another time), so when I learned that Carrie Fisher wrote a memoir about her time on set at Star Wars, I was super excited.  This was compounded by the fact that Ms. Fisher passed away Christmas week, devastating me in the process.

Carrie Fisher, for those of you who live under a rock, is the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. She literally grew up in the spotlight - she was a toddler when her father left her mother for Liz Taylor, so there was never really a time when Carrie Fisher wasn't in the spotlight.  That type of associative fame - fame that was derived by being associated with someone else famous - was completely different from being famous in her own right and she was thoroughly unprepared for it. This memoir looks at how, at 19, she dealt with being thrust into the spotlight as an overnight hit and with sex and intimacy.

I loved Carrie's voice in this memoir. She was sardonic and witty when it came to her fame and amused when it comes to her love life.  Her big secret was that during the filming of the Star Wars movie, she had an affair with Harrison Ford, who was then a married father of two. We learn that the 33-year old Harrison Ford seduced Carrie in the back of a cab while she was seriously inebriated and after having rescued her from the clutches of some really drunk crew members at George Lucas' birthday party.  My eyebrows were certainly going up at that point. She includes excerpts from the diaries themselves, which I wasn't all too fond of. I skimmed through them. They were boring quite frankly and very "woe is me."  I wish that she had just stuck to telling the story because she is smart and funny. Generally a good read. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I'll be honest - this wasn't the first time that I had read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The last time I read it was 9 years ago, right after my son was born - I can't believe that it has been out for that long. I'm glad that I re-read it now, because I found myself in a place where I could relate more to Ms. Gilbert and her experiences.

At the start of this book, we learn that the author is not in a good place. It's the middle of the night, she's on her bathroom floor sobbing and her marriage is literally going down the toilet. She enters quickly into another relationship that is very stressful for her and ultimately very heartbreaking. She was hurt, depressed and anxious. In order to heal, she decided to spend one year of her life traveling in order to get to know herself.  For the first third of the year, Ms. Gilbert spent time in Italy. For the middle third, Ms. Gilbert spent her time in India and in the last third, she went to Bali.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  Ms. Gilbert is self-effacing, humble and quite frankly, funny and relatable. Books like this can go so wrong so quickly - it's a good thing that she was brutally honest.  I was also very impressed that she set boundaries and stuck to them. For instance, she was honest about having marital problems and the divorce but she was very up front and clear about not wanting to get into the reasons and the fights and I really respected that. There were parts of this book that also really led me to re-evaluate my own life and what was going on in it.  I couldn't have read this book at a better time- without getting too much into it, it reaffirmed my drive to really learn more about who I am as a person now and alone.  I felt like I learned something from this book and it let me do a ton of soul searching (and led to a few journal entries) that would not have occurred had I not read this book.

Definitely read it. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book 1: Superficial by Andy Cohen

I have to be honest - I started this book in 2016 but completed it in 2017.  I still feel like I can totally count it towards my total in 2017 though since I didn't actually finish it in 2016.

This is the "sequel" to The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Superficial Year. Thanks to my sister, I now am the proud of owner of Superficial as well. For those of you that don't know who Andy Cohen is, he is an executive producer at Bravo TV best known for his role in the "Real Housewives" franchise - he is their executive producer and hosts the infamous reunion shows. He began his career in 1989 at CBS and also hosts his own late night TV show - "Watch What Happens Live."

I have to say that this was one of the most annoying books that I had ever read.  It was totally superficial - which I should have figured from the title. Ha!

My Education by Susan Choi

I admit it: I have a thing about academic novels.  And by that, I  mean novels that occur on campuses and are about characters that are ent...