Sunday, November 29, 2015

Born with Teeth

Book 33 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from June 21 - 24

Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

Summary (via Goodreads)
Raised by unconventional Irish Catholics who knew "how to drink, how to dance, how to talk, and how to stir up the devil," Kate Mulgrew grew up with poetry and drama in her bones. But in her mother, a would-be artist burdened by the endless arrival of new babies, young Kate saw the consequences of a dream deferred. Determined to pursue her own no matter the cost, at 18 she left her small Midwestern town for New York, where, studying with the legendary Stella Adler, she learned the lesson that would define her as an actress: "Use it," Adler told her. Whatever disappointment, pain, or anger life throws in your path, channel it into the work.
It was a lesson she would need. At twenty-two, just as her career was taking off, she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. Having already signed the adoption papers, she was allowed only a fleeting glimpse of her child. As her star continued to rise, her life became increasingly demanding and fulfilling, a whirlwind of passionate love affairs, life-saving friendships, and bone-crunching work. Through it all, Mulgrew remained haunted by the loss of her daughter, until, two decades later, she found the courage to face the past and step into the most challenging role of her life, both on and off screen.
We know Kate Mulgrew for the strong women she's played--Captain Janeway on Star Trek; the tough-as-nails "Red" on Orange is the New Black. Now, we meet the most inspiring and memorable character of all: herself. By turns irreverent and soulful, laugh-out-loud funny and heart-piercingly sad, Born With Teeth is the breathtaking memoir of a woman who dares to live life to the fullest, on her own terms. 

My Opinion
The pages turned easily and quickly.  Kate is an excellent storyteller.  Some parts are tinged with bitterness, some are told in snips and pieces to leave the reader to read between the lines, and almost all paint herself in a favorable light (although she briefly touches on it in toward the end, I imagine her sons had to have been more affected by her work/lifestyle than she acknowledges).

Giving her baby up for adoption was a loss she felt throughout her life but she tried to get on as best she could, and I'm glad she found a happy ending.

The ending of the book was a bit abrupt.  I had to look up for my own curiosity if she ended up with Tim since the picture made it appear that she did but he wasn't listed in the acknowledgements.

On a personal note, the story about her character Kathryn Janeway originally being named Elizabeth made me smile.  My husband picked the name Katherine for our oldest daughter and he's always told her she was named for the strong female character (he's a sci-fi fan).  I don't know if he's teasing her or if that's really how he came upon the name, but after reading that I told Katie she could've been an Elizabeth instead (like a true fan, Kevin wasn't surprised when I told him because he already knew that fun fact).

A Few Quotes from the Book
"But Catholic girls from good families don't miss chances; they dodge bullets and slowly relinquish their dreams. They go to Mass and wait for a miracle and aren't terribly surprised when it arrives in the shape of a handsome young man with modest ambition, dry wit, and honorable intentions."

" "I'm scared, B," I said. "There doesn't seem to be any way out."
   "No," Beth corrected me, "there are, in fact, several ways out, but all of them are painful. You have to know your own tolerance for pain, what you can endure, what you know you can live with, and what you can't live without." "

"Actresses...Madly in the love with the child. Madly in love with the craft. Trying desperately to forge an alliance between the two, and constantly failing. If I were a man, I said to myself, none of this would be in question. My children would respect me, my wife would honor me, and everyone would exalt the work. But turn the knife just slightly to the left, and what you have is a harried woman sneaking out before dawn, cracking the whip for sixteen hours on a soundstage, creeping back home under cover of night, forever explaining, forever apologizing, forever in conflict."

Dept. of Speculation

Book 32 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from June 17 - 21

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Summary (via the book jacket)
In the beginning, it was easy to imagine their future. They were young and giddy, sure of themselves and their love for each other. "Dept. of Speculation" was their code name for all the thrilling uncertainties that lay ahead. Then they got married, had a child, and navigated the familiar calamities of family life - a colicky baby, a faltering relationship, stalled ambitions.
When their marriage reaches a sudden breaking point, the wife tries to retrace the steps that have led them to this place, evoking everyone from Kafka to the Stoics to doomed Russian cosmonauts as she analyzes what is lost and what remains. In language that shimmers with rage and longing and wit, Offill has created a brilliantly suspenseful love story - a novel to read in one sitting, even as its piercing meditations linger long after the last page.

My Opinion
I can't sum up this book at all but it was compulsively readable.  Without the description, I would have had no idea about the Dept. of Speculation until nearly the end.

It was written in that frantic, desperate way when people have words pouring out of them and need to get it out, like a true journal.  It was a very unique writing style that kept me interested.

I wasn't ready for the book to end, both because of the writing style and because I wanted more of the story.  I would definitely read this author again.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"That one was so beautiful I used to watch him sleep. If I had to sum up what he did to me, I'd say it was this: he made me sing along to all the bad songs on the radio. Both when he loved me and when he didn't."

"Nothing is better for a man than a good wife, and no horror matches a bad one."

"Advice for wives circa 1896: The indiscriminate reading of novels is one of the most injurious habits to which a married woman can be subject. Besides the false views of human nature it will produces an indifference to the performance of domestic duties, and contempt for ordinary realities."

"A few nights later , I secretly hope that I might be a genius. Why else can no amount of sleeping pills fell my brain? But in the morning my daughter asks me what a cloud is and I cannot say."

"Three things no one has ever said about me:
  You make it look so easy.
  You are very mysterious.
  You need to take yourself more seriously."

"What the rabbi said: Three things have a flavor of the world to come: the Sabbath, the sun, and married love."

Going Off Script

Book 31 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from May 26 - June 18

Going Off Script by Giuliana Rancic

Summary (via Goodreads)
Giuliana Rancic is best known for interviewing A-listers on the red carpet and E! News, skewering their shocking style choices on Fashion Police, and giving viewers a front row seat to her marriage and family life on her reality show, Giuliana & Bill. What fans may not know is that she learned English from Eddie Murphy, got her American citizenship so she could be a beauty queen, and used to have a bad habit of stealing cars for fun.
Giuliana bares this and so much more in her hilarious, warm, and inspiring memoir, Going Off Script. From a young age she dreamed of being a TV anchorwoman but, because of her inclination toward mischief and away from schoolwork, her path to her dream job was far from straight. After a fateful (and mortifying) encounter with the late Senator Ted Kennedy, she learned that Hollywood news was where she belonged. Thankfully for readers, this epiphany led her to a bounty of LA misadventures (featuring notables such as Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Russell Crowe) and an entertaining behind-the-scenes perspective on what our favorite celebrities are really like.
In spite of her glamorous Hollywood life, however, Giuliana could not escape some rockier times, including her battles with infertility and breast cancer. Here, for the first time, she reveals the whole truth behind her well-publicized struggles, and the highly controversial decisions she had to make. And, of course, at the heart of it all are the two loves of her life who keep her strong through everything, her husband Bill and her son, Duke.
Candid, funny, and poignant, Going Off Script is an autobiography that proves you don’t always have to follow the rules to get the life you’ve always dreamed of.

My Opinion
I liked that it was real and actually embarrassing, not the 'oh no I fell down once aren't I a complete mess?' stories some actresses write.  She was funny too.  However, it was weird to me that her profession is to dig into celebrities' lives but she doesn't go very deep into her own; it almost felt detached, like she was reporting on someone else as opposed to actually living it.

Her childhood was interesting but the book really picked up for me when her life changed.  Whether that's because of a shift in her or because that's when I started knowing her and could picture the situations in my mind, I'm not sure.   It could also be because things that were funny to her about her childhood fell flat or sounded mean.  I would have the same issue describing my childhood because my family has a very warped sense of humor and used it to get through some tough situations.  If I told someone about the tricks we would play on my mom after she had her stroke, such as adjusting the height on her cane, we would sound like psychopaths even though I promise my mom found it funny.  So I'm not judging but am pointing it out because I could see other people being put off by some of the anecdotes.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Weirdly enough, for all my insecurity and self-consciousness, still burning inside me was that same stubborn conviction I'd had since the age of seven, that I was meant to be on camera. I wanted everyone to look at me; I just didn't want anyone to see me."

"Three days in, I had to say things were going pretty well in L.A.: I was technically homeless but no longer entirely friendless, Johnny Depp had admired my body, sort of, and I was not yet a prostitute."

"I became the go-to girl once the producers realized that I was game for just about anything, whether it was letting Hulk Hogan pick me up and spin me around or challenging Neil Patrick Harris to an impromptu juggling contest at the SAG awards. (NPH won, but I'm self-taught and he obviously received professional training at an elite clown college or something.)"

"Battling cancer and becoming a mother at the same time changed not only how I looked at the world, but how I moved through it. There wasn't room in my life anymore for cynicism or selfishness."

Billy Joel

Book 30 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from April 9 - June 17

I received a copy of this book via Blogging for Books and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

Billy Joel by Fred Schruers

Summary (via Goodreads)
In Billy Joel, acclaimed music journalist Fred Schruers draws upon more than one hundred hours of exclusive interviews with Joel to present an unprecedented look at the life, career, and legacy of the pint-sized kid from Long Island who became a rock icon.
Exhibiting unparalleled intimate knowledge, Schruers chronicles Joel’s rise to the top of the charts, from his working-class origins in Levittown and early days spent in boxing rings and sweaty clubs to his monumental success in the seventies and eighties. He also explores Joel’s creative transformation in the nineties, his dream performance with Paul McCartney at Shea Stadium in 2008, and beyond.
Along the way, Schruers reveals the stories behind all the key events and relationships—including Joel’s high-profile marriages and legal battles—that defined his path to stardom and inspired his signature songs, such as “Piano Man,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “New York State of Mind,” and “She’s Always a Woman.” Throughout, he captures the spirit of a restless artist determined to break through by sharing, in his deeply personal lyrics, the dreams and heartbreaks of suburban American life.
Comprehensive, vibrantly written, and filled with Joel’s memories and reflections—as well as those of the family, friends, and band members who have formed his inner circle, including Christie Brinkley, Alexa Ray Joel, Jon Small, and Steve Cohen—this is the definitive account of a beloved rock star’s epic American journey.

My Opinion
There were some rumors I'd heard after receiving this book about Billy Joel stopping his cooperation with the author after some disagreements.  I don't know if the rumors are accurate but toward the end of the book he does quote Billy Joel's interview in a magazine, saying he "depicted the cancellation of his autobiography for fear it was being steered to "more of the sex and wives and girlfriends and drinking and divorce and the depression" --topics the interview then pursued"; whether that's referring to this book or not, I don't know.  

The author says that he spent over one hundred hours interviewing Joel personally, spanning from 2008 through 2014, as well another another hundred hours interviewing those close to him.  I would believe it because there is a lot of information in this book but unfortunately, it read to me like a book report.  There wasn't much emotion and nothing drew me in.  The long timespan spent working on the book caused a little confusion for me as well when someone that I knew to be deceased was interviewed and quoted; I drew my own conclusion that the interview must have taken place toward the beginning of his research but that wasn't made clear in the reading.

At the end of the day, I don't feel like anything new was shared that I couldn't have learned reading the numerous articles published about Billy Joel over the years.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Who am I? I don't know anything about myself because I don't have a father to let me know what I'm supposed to be like. In some ways, this can free you up - you can be anything you want, go in any direction. But in other ways, you may not feel you ever have a center."

"...I was excruciatingly shy when I was a kid, up until my midteens. That's when I realized that I could make my piano talk for me. The piano spoke what I was feeling."

"My ethic in writing songs throughout that era was always to be talking about people, whether it's a love song, a song about a relationship, or a friend, or a barfly - it's always got to be about a particular person. If you try to write for an audience or to a concept, I don't think you're really writing for anybody. But if you're writing for a specific person and a specific situation, a lot of people might be able to identify with that."

"I think people have this idea that Billy Joel is set in concrete. They either like my stuff or they don't like my stuff. They either like me or they don't like me. I don't think they really know a lot about what I can do. Maybe I don't even know anymore what we can do, what we can't do. But I suspect there's a lot more that I can do."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Loyalty in Death

Book 29 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from May 26 - June 10

Loyalty in Death by J.D. Robb
Book 9 of the In Death series

Summary (via the book jacket)
An unknown bomber is stalking New York City. He is sending Eve Dallas taunting letters promising to wreak mass terror and destruction among the "corrupt masses". And when his cruel web of deceit and destruction threatens those she cares for most, Eve fights back. It's her's her job...and it's hitting too close to home. Now, in a race against a ticking clock, Eve must make the pieces fit - before the city falls. 

My Opinion
My favorite book of the series so far!  I don't know if it's a coincidence, but I finally took my own advice and didn't read the summary before starting so I had no idea what was going to happen.  Of course, looking at it now, the summary for this book doesn't reveal very much at all, but I still think I'll continue to go in 'cold' as I read the series. 

The case was very interesting.  There were enough red herrings to keep me guessing but also plenty of red flags so the reveal wasn't out of nowhere.  The last part was quite a ride - very exciting!

The personal storylines were good too.  I really like the partnership between Eve and Roarke, and adding some new characters helped change it up too.

Two notes that don't really have to do with the story...first, it was a throwaway sentence but the mention of someone living on a "retired professional mother's pension" made me smile; the future isn't all bleak in these books.  Also, it was published in 1999 (pre 9/11) so it was weird to have a book set in the 2050's mention the Twin Towers; they were also mentioned as a symbol that could be targeted for terrorism and I'm glad for the author's sake that she chose other symbols for actual action - that would've been a very unfortunate coincidence. 

All in all, I really enjoyed this read and look forward to continuing the series.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"...little details changed with the fashions and societal sensibilities. But one constant in the business end of life to death appeared to be the last will and testament. Who got what and when and how they got all the goodies the dead had managed to accumulate through the time fate offered.
   A matter of control, she'd always thought. The nature of the beast demanded control be maintained even after death. The last grip on the controls, the last button pushed. For some, she imagined, it was the ultimate insult to those who had the nerve to survive. To others, a last gift to those loved and cherished during life.
   Either way, a lawyer read the words of the dead. And life went on."

"She'd never lived through war. Not the kind that killed in indiscriminate masses. Her dealings with death had always been more personal, more individual. Somehow intimate. The body, the blood, the motive the humanity.
  What she saw now had no intimacy. Wholesale destruction accomplished from a distance erased even that nasty bond between killer and victim."

"He stopped her by brushing a hand over her hair. "It hurts you. The children."
  "It reminds me," she corrected, "of what it's like to have no choice, and to have your life in the hands of someone who thinks of you as a thing to be used or discarded as the mood strikes." "

The President Has Been Shot!

Book 28 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from May 20 - 26

The President Has Been Shot! by James L. Swanson

Summary (via Goodreads)
In his new young-adult book on the Kennedy assassination, James Swanson will transport readers back to one of the most shocking, sad, and terrifying events in American history. As he did in his bestselling Scholastic YA book, CHASING LINCOLN'S KILLER, Swanson will deploy his signature "you are there" style -- a riveting, ticking-clock pace, with an unprecedented eye for dramatic details and impeccable historical accuracy -- to tell the story of the JFK assassination as it has never been told before.

My Opinion
On the younger side of the YA spectrum, this book is a good resource with bite-size chunks of information presented in a clear way.  The pictures were helpful in adding context and I imagine they would help keep young readers interested as well.

It's amazing to me that in one generation we've gone from concerns about electing a Catholic president to electing a black president and having a female frontrunner.

Although there wasn't anything new for me (but I do want to research Addison's disease further), it was an enjoyable read and I would definitely recommend this to my children and other young readers.  A good addition for school libraries.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"The next morning [on the day of his inauguration], John and Jacqueline Kennedy left their [Georgetown] house for the last time and embarked on a journey that he would not complete, and from which he would never return."

"Of all his characteristics, John Kennedy had one more important than all the rest - an ability to inspire people, through words and personal example, to attempt great things."

"It was done. Four days of blood and death, of mourning and drums, were over. America would never be the same."

"The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, is as compelling as any drama written by William Shakespeare. It is the great American tragedy. Except for this: The tale is incomplete. In the tragedy that he wrote, Lee Oswald left the stage before the final act. He quit the drama before the play was done, and before he told us why he did it or how the story would end." 

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Book of Strange New Things

Book 27 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from April 18 - May 26

The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

Summary (via Goodreads)
It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.
Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.
Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that madeThe Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos

My Opinion
Here's the thing.  I tend to avoid Christian fiction because it's my least favorite genre.  When I do happen to read it as a recommendation or a book club selection, I try to put my bias aside and rate the book as is; it's not fair for me to pick up a book I'm pretty sure I won't enjoy and then tear it apart.  
BUT...when a book isn't clearly labeled as Christian fiction so I have no idea what I'm getting into, I get to rate it based on my opinion.  
My opinion is a very low 2 stars, only redeemed from a 1 star rating because of the middle section.

As I started to read, I was disappointed because it seemed like the only thing sci-fi about this book was that instead of Pastor Peter being a missionary in another country, he's on another planet.  As I continued to read, I was curious about what would happen but couldn't forget the anger I felt in the beginning at being tricked.  Then it started to move away from Christian fiction with language and sexual situations and even though Part IV was completely off the rails, I let my guard down and wondered if my initial judgement was too harsh.  Then the ending came and I was angry again; it was so abrupt I had to check and see if there was a cliffhanger for another book I didn't know about.  I've invested 500 pages, I need more resolution!

On the plus side, the author had some beautiful phrases even if I didn't buy the concept. For example, "A small red insect, like a ladybird but with longer legs, settled on his hand. He aligned his fingertips in a triangle and let the creature walk up the incline of one finger and down the slope of another. He let the creature nibble the surplus cells from the surface of his skin. It wasn't greedy; he barely felt it and then it flew away."  I also appreciated the little things like the last words of each chapter being that chapter's title, or the section headings coming together for part of the Lord's Prayer (Thy Will Be Done/On Earth/As It Is/In Heaven), or the pages looking like goldleaf when the book is closed to resemble a bible.

So this review is all over the place, just like my feelings about the book.  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"...he was embarking on a great adventure. He'd been chosen out of thousands, to pursue the most important missionary calling since the Apostles had ventured forth to conquer Rome with the power of love, and he was going to do his best."

"Like all creatures in the universe, they were only waiting for the elusive light that would grant them purpose."

"If only Bea could see this, he thought. Every day, provoked by some event or other, he regretted her absence. It wasn't a physical yearning - that came and went, and it was at an ebb just now - but rather an uneasy awareness that a huge, complicated phase of his life was passing by, crowded with significant and emotional experiences, none of which Bea was seeing, non of which she was remotely involved in. And again now: these three great shimmering veils of rain, swirling majestically across the plains toward him: they were indescribable, and he would not descibe them, but seeing them would leave a mark on him, a mark that would not be left on her."

"Simply lying side by side did more for a relationship than words. A warm bed, a nest of animal intimacy. Words could be misunderstood, whereas loving companionship bred trust."

"It's all about the scale of the problems and the available energy to deal with it. When someone gets their leg blown off by a bomb, you rush them into surgery, mend the stump, fit them with a prosthetic, give them physiotherapy, counseling, whatever it takes, and a year later, they may be running a marathon. If a bomb blows off their arms. legs, genitals, intestines, bladder, liver, and kidneys, IT IS DIFFERENT. We need a certain proportion of things to be OK in order to be able to cope with other things going wrong. Whether it's a human body or Christian endeavor or life in general, we can't keep it going if too much of what we need is taken away from us."