Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dear Fatty

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 57.

Dear Fatty by Dawn French

Summary (via the book jacket):
With a sharp eye for comic detail and a wicked ear for the absurdities of life, Dawn French shows just how an RAF girl from the West Country with dreams of becoming a ballerina/air hostess/bridesmaid/thief rose to become one of the best-loved actresses of our time.  Here she reveals the people, experiences, and obsessions that have influenced her and, for the first time, shares the experience of losing her beloved dad and later finding a tip-topmost chap in Lenny Henry.
From hailing the virtues of grandmas, David Cassidy and stealing, to describing the highs and lows of family and friendship, Dear Fatty reveals the surprising life behind the smile.

My Opinion:
Another random interest of mine:  British television.  Although Dawn French is a well known English actress, I only discovered her about 5 years ago through PBS airing her series The Vicar of Dibley - I enjoyed it (and her) very much.   This memoir has been on my "to-read" list for quite some time (it was released in 2008), and I was happy to finally get my hands on a copy.
While there were some stories that didn't interest me because I didn't recognize any of the actors mentioned (my fault, I'm sure a British reader would have no trouble), I liked reading about her professional journey and I found out about many shows and movies she's done that I would like to see (my "to-watch" list is almost as long as my "to-read" list...if only I didn't require sleep!)
The personal stories were much more interesting to me, although they were tinged with sadness for two reasons.  One, her father committed suicide when she was 19, so hearing how nurturing he was and how confused she was by his death was heartbreaking.  Two, she wrote many pages about Len and what an amazing husband and man he is, and I know that since the book was released they divorced after 25 years of marriage.
I'm glad I had the chance to read it but wouldn't recommend it unless you're very familiar with her work.
Quote from the Book:
"There might have been endless new doors but behind each one was [Mum] and Dad, making a safe and happy place for me to be."


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tough Sh*t

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 56.

Tough Sh*t by Kevin Smith

Summary (via Goodreads):
That Kevin Smith?  The guy who did "Clerks" a million years ago?  Didn't they bounce his fat ass off a plane once?  What could you possibly learn from the director of "Cop Out"?  How about this: he changed filmmaking forever when he was twenty-three, and since then, he's done whatever the hell he wants.  He makes movies, writes comics, owns a store, and now he's built a podcasting empire with his friends and family, including a wife who's way out of his league.  So here's some tough shit: Kevin Smith has cracked the code.  Or, he's just cracked.
Tough Sh*t is the dirty business that Kevin has been digesting for 41 years and now, he's read to put it in your hands.  Smear this shit all over yourself, because this is your blueprint (or brownprint) for success.  Kev takes you through some big moments in his life to help you live your days in as Gretzky a fashion as you can: going where the puck is gonna be.  Read all about how a zero like Smith managed to make ten movies with no discernible talent, and how when he had everything he thought he'd ever want, he decided to blow up his own career.  Along the way, Kev shares stories about folks who inspired him (like George Carlin), folks who befuddled him (like Bruce Willis), and folks who let him jerk off onto their legs (like his beloved wife, Jen).  So make this your daily reader.  Hell, read it on the toilet if you want.  Just make sure you grab the bowl and push, because you're about to take one Tough Sh*t.

My Opinion:
First of all, the summary doesn't do the book justice but I'm too lazy to create my own.
I'm a longtime fan of Kevin Smith's.  Although I prefer hearing him speak, this quick read had many entertaining stories (I love "behind the scenes" dirt!).
Just as with his movies, Kevin Smith entertains on many layers - the top layer is funny haha (poop jokes and zingy one-liners), the middle layer is funny true (characters you feel like you know yet are crazier and cooler than real life at the same time), and the bottom layer is the moment after the laugh when you realize Kevin Smith is much deeper and smarter than people give him credit for.
Recommended to fellow fans.

My Favorite Chapter:
Holy Shit: Red State, Part II

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Language of Sisters

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 55.

The Language of Sisters by Amy Hatvany

Summary (via Goodreads):
Ten years ago, Nicole Hunter left her troubled home behind her, unable to cope with the demands of a life with her disabled sister, Jenny.  Though her search for happiness - both in career and in love - has fallen short of her dreams, Nicole pretends that all is well.  Then a shattering event turns her world upside down, and suddenly, she is back in her hometown, caring for her pregnant sister and trying to heal her embattled relationship with her mother.
Reunited with her family and forced to confront the guilt that haunts her, Nicole finally has the chance to be the sister she always wished she'd been.  And when she is faced with the most difficult choice of her life, Nicole rediscovers the beauty of sisterhood - and receives a special gift that will change her life forever.

My Opinion:
I'm not going to nitpick scenarios/character choices, even though I found them implausible, but I have to address my hot button issue - the gratuitous use of the 'r' word.  I could not reconcile the two halves of Nicole: the sensitive Nicole that uprooted her entire life with no hesitation to move home and take care of her sister and the completely offensive Nicole that could utter the phrase "This was not the sole lesson I learned about life as the sister of a retarded child". By the way, the passage that followed that sentence in the book was beautiful and spoke to my heart.  The fact that Nicole is a trained therapist adds even more reason that she would never use the 'r' word in such a cavalier fashion and even less reason that she would make all the choices she did.  Even when I don't agree with someone's choices, I have to understand why they made them (which is not the same as justifying them; it's just finding their motivation).  If I can't make that connection, I'm out.

Although I like the author's writing style a lot and will definitely read another one by her, my opinion on this particular book is to skip it.  I just couldn't shake the negative reaction I had at the beginning of the book even though the second half was much better.

Quote from the Book:
"My heart ached with emotion I had forgotten I was capable of experiencing."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Her Fearful Symmetry

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 54.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Summary (via the book jacket):
Julia and Valentina Poole are American twenty-year-olds whose attachment to one another is intense.  Their aunt, Elspeth Noblin, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment under two conditions: that they live in it for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it.  Julia and Valentina are twins.  So were the estranged Elspeth and Edie, their mother.  The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery.  As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including - perhaps - their aunt.

My Opinion:
I was trucking right along with this book, not exactly loving it but definitely intrigued by the supernatural aspects, the characters, and the underlying creepiness of the twins.  Then about 75% of the way through, a plan emerged and my reaction was "what? come on!"  Then it just kept getting stranger and stranger and something that I saw coming but hoped wasn't coming happened.  Then it got even stranger.  Then it was done.
It was...interesting.  A middle of the road read; I wouldn't discourage someone from reading it if I saw it in their hands but I wouldn't make a huge effort to find it either.

Quote from the Book:
"She's going to break my heart and I'm going to let her."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Me Before You

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 53.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Penguin Viking for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Summary (via Goodreads):
Lou Clark knows lots of things.  She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home.  She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.
What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is keeping her sane.
Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live.  He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to all that.
What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour.  And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

My Opinion:
This book is lovely and the writing is absolutely stunning.  This isn't a grand sweeping story; it's quiet and delicate and emotional and beautiful and perfect.  I didn't want it to end but couldn't put it down.
Highly recommended.  This is easily one of the best books I've read this year.

Quote of the Blog:
*Since I read an ARC, I couldn't quote from the book directly like I normally try to.  Instead, I found a quote from a different book that seemed fitting.

"You have touched my soul, and I have seen your heart, and I know I am forever changed by the essence of you." ~ Jenna Roads, Under a Painted Sky





Monday, August 12, 2013

We Killed

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 52.

We Killed: the Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Kohen

Summary (via Goodreads):
In We Killed, Kohen assembles America's most prominent comediennes (and the writers, producers, nightclub owners, and colleagues who revolved around them) to piece together the revolution that happened to (and by) women in American comedy.  We start in the 1950s, when comic success meant ridiculing and desexualizing yourself.  Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller emerged as America's favorite frustrated ladies; the joke was always on them.  The Sixties saw the appearance of smart, edgy comediennes (Elaine May, Lily Tomlin), and the women's movement brought a new wave of radicals: the women of SNL, tough-ass stand-ups, and a more independent breed on TV (Mary Tyler Moore and her sisters).  There were battles to fight and preconceptions to shake before we could get to where we finally are: in a world where women (like Tiny Fey, or, whether or you like them or not, Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler) can be smart, attractive, sexually confident - and most of all, flat-out funny.
Like all revolutions, it's suffered false starts and backslides.  But it's been a remarkable trip, as the more than one hundred people interviewed for this riveting oral history make clear.  With a chorus of creative voices and often hilarious storytelling, We Killed is essential cultural and social history.

My Opinion:
I read this book because I like comedy and love "behind the scenes" type stories, and funny women is a topic that has been unexplored until recently.  It was entertaining and informative (not just about stand up comedy, but TV shows as well), and the anecdotes were dishy.  An added bonus was all the talk about SNL - I'm slightly obsessed with the show and read anything I can about it.
I really liked it but recognize it's not a "mass market" type of book and recommend it only if you have an interest in the subject.

Quote from the Book:
"I think that is the comedy mentality: you just have to be around this group of people to feel validated. " ~ Laura Milligan

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 51.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Summary (via the book jacket):
When fifteen-year-old Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, her fiercely intelligent but agoraphobic mother, Bernadette, throws herself into preparations for the trip.  Worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Bernadette is on the brink of a meltdown.  As disaster follows disaster, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces.  Which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together emails, invoices, and school memos to reveal the secret past that Bernadette has been hiding for decades.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette is an ingeniously entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are, and the power of a daughter's love for her imperfect mother.

My Opinion:
This book reminds me how much I dislike catty women, especially when they band together in a groupthink against someone they deem an "outsider".
The unique storytelling and original concept kept me guessing; I had "wait, WHAT?!?" moments throughout the entire book and I stayed up very late because I had to know how everything would wrap up.
I would definitely read other books by this author, and I recommend this as a solid, interesting read.

Quote from the Book:
"I felt so full of love for everything.  But at the same time, I felt so hung out to dry there, like nobody could ever understand.  I felt so alone in this world, and so loved at the same time."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Treason

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 50.

Treason by David Nevin

Summary (via Goodreads):
America has entered her most trying time.  Three powerful men collide in a tale of treason that put the very future of the nation and its democracy at stake.
Aaron Burr shatters the trust he enjoys from the American people by attempting to steal the presidency from under Jefferson's nose.  Stripped of power, Burr kills Alexander Hamilton in a raging duel and flees.
General James Wilkinson, secretly on the Spanish payroll as Agent #13, fuels Burr's unquenchable ambition and conceives a plot to steal the entire Louisiana Territory from Jefferson.
And James Madison, the unlikely hero, who uses his icy nerves and powerful intellect to try and hold a fledgling nation together.
Treason is the stirring story of historical mystery and power politics in the days when our nation was young and vulnerable.  A time of plot and counterplot, intrigue and greed, and the story of the figures of American history as they really were.

My Opinion:
When historical fiction is done well, it's one of my favorite genres.  I enjoy it the most when the author takes an event/era that I have basic knowledge about and expands on it, usually through the viewpoint of a lesser known or completely forgotten historical figure.
This book definitely fit into that category.  Although I was familiar with the names of Aaron Burr and James Madison, I didn't know how involved they were in U.S. expansion.  Fun fact:  Aaron Burr was the sitting vice-president when he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel and he still presided over the Senate while facing murder charges in New Jersey...who knew?
The author did a great job building tension and maintaining interest even though the reader knows the outcome before starting (if the fact that Burr was unsuccessful in his attempt to start a new country is a spoiler for you, please consult a map), which is another characteristic of well written historical fiction.
This book reminded me that our founding fathers were human - they weren't always good and their instincts weren't always correct but they took many risks to keep their new country together at a very perilous time.  It was also interesting to consider how a few shifts could have had dramatic results (for example, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson technically tied in the 1800 presidential election, a loophole that was closed for future elections; how different would our country look if Burr had become president and Jefferson vice president?).
It was a slow start but picked up after a few chapters.  Recommended if you like historical fiction and have an interest in U.S. history.  

Quote from the Book:
"[She] marveled at how often great events and national movements and crucial decisions turned on the same human emotions that children in a nursery will exhibit - rage, fear, greed, hunger..."