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Showing posts from 2022

Book 49 of 52: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I hate to add another review in a long line of reviews of "it's fine!" but once again I am here. Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid is fine. It's fine! I was surprised by the "it's fine!" quality of the book because that hasn't been my experience with Jenkins Reid's previous works. Daisy Jones & the Six , about rock and roll, was the first book I read during the first flush of the pandemic that captured my brain and kept me from doom scrolling. I didn't like the twist at the end of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo , which is about a very Elizabeth Taylor-like Hollywood star, but the book was so engrossing that I lost at least one good night's sleep because I could not put it down. And Malibu Rising ! Fantastic! A mix of surf and entertainment culture all rolled into one messy ball. Loved it. Carrie Soto suffers from being set in a less rich environment. The title character is a tennis star who comes out of retirement in the

Book 48 of 52: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I first learned about Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty via the Hulu adaptation. Yes, I'd read Big Little Lies and thought it was fine (perfectly fine!) but not fine enough that I sought out her other books. I didn't watch the show because it looked incredibly creepy — almost Stephen King-like. It's a really weird time, and I'm not one to watch horror, so I said no thanks and went on with watching other shows. But I did pick up a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers when I saw it in a Little Free Library. I've long read creepy books because they don't seem as scary when I am processing it through the written word as images, and I was feeling in the mood for something different. I knew I'd be on my couch for a bit after my bivalent COVID booster (which just gave me a bit of a headache). Why not give it a shot. Nine Perfect Strangers is about nine people (duh) who check into a Tranquillum House in Australia for a 10-day detox and wellness retreat. The pl

Book 47 of 52: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

I am back from my trip to the National Parks of the upper midwest, which was lovely. Please see this photo. I took Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel with me because I wanted to read it, and also because I associate Michigan with Station Eleven (both the book and show ).  Michigan was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined, especially the deep blue waters of Lake Superior. However........I did not like this book.  I think we'll look back on it after she continues to have a very long and successful career (which I think she will have!) as a swing and a miss, one prompted by trying to put this current pandemic into another novel that also has a pandemic. At times, the observations of a specific character read like St. John Mandel's COVID-19 diary (if she kept one). It doesn't translate well. Sea of Tranquility is about a people in different times connected to what appears to be a paranormal experience: a British ex-pat in 1912 Canada walks into a forest a

Book 46 of 52: Murder, She Wrote: Debonair in Death by Jessica Fletcher and Terrie Farley Moran

After discovering that the Murder, She Wrote mystery novel series not only exists but is still active , I figured I should try one of the newer titles to see if it's changed over time. After reading Debonair in Death , I can say....not much. But that's what genre fiction, especially series, is supposed to be, right? Like putting on your old running sweatsuit, as Jessica Fletcher still apparently does in 2021 when this book was published.  In this one, the crime is the murder of Nelson, a "from away" co-owner of a Cabot Cove shop. He's found covered in blood, with a young woman who works at the local salon standing over him, also covered in blood. It doesn't make sense that young Coreen could or would have done this, but who else could it be? Well, anyone! As Jessica both tries to finish her next book's synopsis and clear Coreen's name, smuggling and MI6 also somehow get involved. It all gets a bit silly, but I wouldn't expect anything less.  I am

Book 45 of 52: Hoot by Carl Hiassen

Another boat, another Carl Hiassen book.  Hiassen's Stormy Weather was book five in this series , from alllllll the way back in January. I snapped a picture of it from the back of a boat speeding off to Dry Tortugas National Park . In that review, I mentioned that Hiassen's work was ripe for a TV series or movie, especially since he hadn't had that many. One was a 2006 movie version of his 2002 middle grade novel  Hoot . It starred a lot famous people, including Brie Larson, Luke Wilson and...Jimmy Buffett, but wasn't well received . Hopefully the upcoming Apple TV+ series  Bad Monkey , starring Vince Vaughn and Ashley Nicole Black, will fare better. So when I saw a copy of Hoot in a Little Free Library, I figured why not, and took it with me on vacation. That picture is from Miller's Ferry to Put-in-Bay, Ohio (when I got on the boat, I realized that most people were going there to party, not to see Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial . It was a

Book 44 of 52: I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

I listened to the audiobook of Jennette McCurdy's I'm Glad My Mom Died while packing for and then starting my road trip to the national parks of Minnesota and Michigan, and often had to stop the recording to process what I'd just heard.  It is one of the most harrowing celebrity memoirs I've ever read. It comes with every kind of content warning you could imagine. I'm going to share some of what she wrote about here, so if you need to click out of this one, I completely understand. McCurdy was a child star pushed into show business by her mother, an abusive narcissist who taught her daughter how to be anorexic, did "exams" on her into her late teens, didn't let McCurdy shower herself (and often showered her together with her teenage brother), and didn't even let her wipe herself after she went to the bathroom until she was at least eight years old (she describes the behavior at that age but if she said when it ended, I didn't catch it).  The b

Book 43 of 52: Fly Girl by Ann Hood

Fly Girl by Ann Hood is a "look behind the curtain" type memoir. After college, and before becoming a successful novelist, Hood worked as a flight attendant for TWA, "at the end of those glamour days," she writes, starting her job a time when flying was something you dressed up for, and ending after deregulation started to shrink prices but also amenities, seats and leg room.  Those glamour days were also more sexist, where flight attendants couldn't be married, couldn't have children, were chosen in large part based on their looks, and had to maintain a specific weight (and could be fired for going over, especially in their first six months of "probation"). That didn't discourage women though. At the time Hood applied, TWA had acceptance rates lower than Harvard. It was an in demand job.  It was a big change from when the role was "courier" and only open to men. In 1930, Ellen Church, a registered nurse, convinced United Airlines to

Book 42 of 52: The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

The Man Who Died Twice  by Richard Osman is the second in the Thursday Murder Club Mysteries series, which brings together a group of senior citizens from a British retirement village with two local law enforcement officers and assorted neighborhood characters to solve crime. In this one, the ex-husband of Elizabeth, one of the seniors, comes back into her life, asking for her help. Despite her feelings about him (he cheated on her often), she still says yes. And then everything goes to hell. I don't want to say too much here because details about Elizabeth, her ex-husband or the fellow seniors would be major spoilers for the first book,  The Thursday Murder Club  (which gave the series its name), which you should probably read first. You could do without it, but you might be confused. I read The Thursday Murder Club  last summer and had to refresh my memory as I got into this one.  It's not as much a cozy mystery a la the Murder, She Wrote books , but more along the lines of

Book 41 of 52: Unmask Alice: LSD, the Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson

I don't remember how old I was when I read Go Ask Alice by Anonymous, but I do remember where I was. Until I went to college, I spent most of my summers in a campground at the Jersey Shore. My mom would take us to the beach in the morning, then drop us off at the campground pool on the way back and tell us to stay there until dinner. It must have been July or August because the pool was packed, so much so that all the chairs were all taken, and the only place I could sit was my beach chair. That's where I stayed was on a beautiful summer day, enraptured by the "diary" of Alice, a drug addicted teenager. I hadn't thought about the book in years, until I listened to  an episode of the You're Wrong About podcast that featured Rick Emerson , author of the new book Unmask Alice: LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World's Most Notorious Diaries .  They dissected exactly why the book is implausible, which seems obvious to me now in a way that teena

Book 40 of 52: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy by Alison Bechdel

This post starts with a book I haven't read: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and the Body in Healing Trauma  by Bessel Van Der Kolk, which I bought months ago and kept picking up and put it down. Earlier this month, I finally told myself "You're finally going to read it, damnit." I even painted my nails the same color as the stars on the cover, and took a picture holding the book. And yet. I've been thinking enough about trauma lately and couldn't bring myself, in this exact moment, to read about what it's done to me. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, a terrible tragedy I covered and told myself for a long time could not a big deal to me personally since I was safe and I didn't lose my home. I was just the channel through which other shared their despair and anguish, what's the big deal? I grew up in a "brush it off" household. I should have been able to brush that off too. Spoiler: I did not. And near

Book 39 of 52: Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh

I've put off writing a review of Mary Balogh's Someone to Wed  because I don't have much to say about it. I read her books when I want a pleasant distraction from whatever hellfire is consuming our politics/planet on that day. They're well written regency romances where of course there's a happily ever after, but without some of the tense plots these books can bring, like someone is going to die or be murdered if the two leads don't act promptly.  In this book, which is part of the Westcott series, we have Wren Heyden, heiress to a glass works company and fortune who is largely a recluse, due largely to a birthmark on one side of her face (and what previous people have said about it, which is revealed late run the book).  She proposes a marriage for very practical reasons to Alexander Westcott, who has unexpectedly found himself as the Earl of Riverdale for reasons that aren't really worth getting into here (but are a plot line through the series). He needs

Book 38 of 52: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

As I've mentioned before, I have a subscription to Libro.fm , which lets listeners buy audiobooks through an independent bookstore. With a subscription, I pay a monthly fee for one audiobook a month (plus I get discounts on additional audiobooks should I choose to buy more). Generally, one a month enough for me, but in July I found myself with a week between finishing a book and my new credit going live.  So I turned to the Libby app, which I access for free through my library, and decided why not: I'll give The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis a whirl. If I read any of the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, I don't remember. As a four hour audiobook, it didn't seem like a huge investment of time. And...eh? It was fine. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for a Christian allegory, especially not right now. I don't think I can add much to the discourse about it, but I can say that it wasn't a complete waste of time because I got to listen to the wonderf

Book 37 of 52: Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success by Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan

I read Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success  by Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan for work, so I'm not going to go too  much into it here right now. When the piece is out, I'll add a link to this post, and also write a new one so those of you who read this chronologically don't miss it.  But you can get a very good idea of what's in the book  via this recent New York Times piece that distills their res earch and data , showing via interactive graphics that a lot of the fear mongering about today's immigrants is just false. Instead, I'm going to share how a piece of this book is related to one of my side projects. For two completely different reasons (and no I'm not telling you those reasons), I've been working on histories of both sides of my family. I learned — as many people had through Abramitsky and Boustan's work — that what's been passed down to me isn't 100% accurate. In building a family tree, I found out th

Book 36 of 52: Murder, She Wrote: A Question of Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

In January, on my way to Key West, I stopped at Connie's Bookshelf , a wonderful used bookstore in Daytona Beach Shores. I picked up an assortment of paperbacks, including Murder, She Wrote: A Question of Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain. Yes, "Jessica Fletcher" the fictional murder mystery writer/murder mystery solver from Cabot Cove, Maine, is listed as an author. I, like many people, loved Murder, She Wrote . I'd caught episodes here and there when visiting my grandparents, then binged a few seasons at the start of the pandemic (at the time, I couldn't figure out how to stream the whole thing, though now all 12 seasons are on Peacock ). I liked the pattern of the show. I liked the familiarity. I appreciated that Jessica Fletcher was a runner, and that she dressed in a way that the kids today find cool . In 2020, I also read Angela Lansbury's 1999 authorized biography Balancing Act , where she shared many tidbits about the show, including that aft

Book 35 of 52: Where the Deer and the Antelope Play by Nick Offerman

I have so many thoughts about Where the Deer and the Antelope Play by Nick Offerman that I'm going to number them. 1. It's not uncommon for celebrities to partner with ghost writers for their books. I don't mind this — in fact, I think it's a good thing. A celebrity has a story to tell and hires a professional to help them tell that story in the best possible way means we get a better book, and a pro writer gets paid. However, that's not the case here. Offerman calls himself a "humorist" and is a pretty good writer. I listened to and loved Paddle Your Own Canoe  and also The Greatest Love Story Ever Told , which he co-wrote with his wife Megan Mullally ( Good Clean Fun , which is about woodworking, fell flat to me, though I listened to it while running a 24-hour race , so that vibe might be related to what I was doing at the time). I think I need to read his books in physical form. His voice? Fantastic, of course. But I love listening to celebrities read

Book 34 of 52: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

My plan to go back to Italy in 2023 or 2024 proceeds, as does reading books about Italy. So  Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes it is (or was since I finished the book last night). This 1996 blockbuster memoir is by Mayes, a professor of creative writing who takes her divorce settlement and buys an abandoned villa in Tuscany. Through the course of the memoir, she and her pal Ed (who eventually became her husband) fix up the place, and spend all their summers there ( which seems to be a thing that has only been disrupted by the pandemic ). It's a home renovation story, a second love story, and, probably more than anything else, a food story.  I've spent some time in Tuscany in early fall, which is when Mayes usually returns to San Francisco, but even after the rush of summer, the food is unbelievable. In 2008, I met up with my own "pal" at the time, who was there for work, and we at so much gelato that I thought I'd never be able to eat American ice cream again

Book 33 of 52: The Blue Diamond by Leonard Goldberg

How many more stories can we wring out of Sherlock Holmes & Co? Quite a few, it turns out. The Blue Diamond is the latest installment in Leonard Goldberg's "Daughter of Sherlock Holmes" series. Like the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, these books are "written by" by Dr. Watson, except this time, it's the son of the original John Watson, who is married to Joanna Watson, the daughter of Holmes and Irene Adler. Joanna and the Watsons live together at 221B Baker Street, in a household run by the same Mrs. Hudson. Together they - what else? Solve crimes.  Is this all far fetched? Or course it is. That Holmes had a daughter at all, and with Irene Adler, and that Joanna grew up not knowing it, is a leap. But whatever way Goldberg got to this arrangement of these characters, we're here. In this mystery, Joanna and the Watsons are investigating the disappearance of 3,000 carat flawless blue diamond, which turns out to be just the start. It's no

Book 32 of 52: Flying Solo by Linda Holmes

I'm a subscriber to a local weekly newspaper , and I always make sure to read the death notices. I'm nosey, but I also look to see if the parents of someone I knew in high school - or, sadly, sometimes a classmate themselves - has passed on. Unlike obituaries, which are staff written, death notices are submitted and paid for by someone who knew the deceased. Sometimes death notices are pretty rote: born, married, job, died. Other times, they include the person's favorite hobbies, where they traveled, and things they liked to do with the family that is now grieving, information about services, and where you can make a donation in their honor.  The ones that irk me the most those that point out the person wasn't married. Even in death, they're still getting shit from their families for being single.  This is a round about away of getting to Linda Holmes' Flying Solo . It's a novel about Laurie, a Seattle-based freelance journalist who returns to her hometown i

Book 31 of 52: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

And still we read on. I'm not going to pretend it's not shit right now, and that I'm not incandescent with rage. But I know that reading is one of the ways that I have become a better person, and that books can bring about a lot of good. They can impart information and education, build empathy towards other people, or just be a means of escape. We're need those things. We're going to need them, maybe even more in the future. And so, we read on. And I review on. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel is the follow up to wildly successful - and also reviewed here - Station Eleven . It's another overlapping, interweaving story, this time with a young woman named Vincent, whose mother disappeared while canoeing, at the center. Everyone in the book is linked to her in some way: her half brother who struggles with addiction; a Bernie Madoff-esque villain who uses Vincent as a prop when retaining and attracting investors; and the victims of his crimes. It's mor

Book 30 of 52: Baggage: Tales from a Fully Packed Life by Alan Cumming

I'm a big fan of taking long road trips. Since I flew to Texas to buy my 2002 Jeep Wrangler TJ and drove it home to New Jersey without really knowing how to drive stick - and didn't die in the process - I've found the appeal of taking a very long drive.  But those long drives are often boring. Music alone doesn't cut it for me, and NPR repeats itself after a while. In 2014, when I took that long Texas drive home, we didn't have as many podcasts as we do now. So before my flight, I went to my library and checked out a "book on tape," which was then a CD.  I was so intensely focused on trying to drive a new to me car in a new to me way that I didn't think I could concentrate on whatever the book was about (something historical, probably about English royalty). So I opted for whatever I could find on the radio to accompany me through my white knuckle driving. By the time I took a road trip to Asheville, N.C. a year later, I could (mostly) drive the car, a