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Book a Week with Jen Three: The Wrap Up

Last night, as I finished up reading Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman , I started thinking about what I'd say in the review. Then I remembered - oh right - I'm already done the series. That's how this installment of Book a Week with Jen has gone. It wasn't exactly an afterthought, but it wasn't an undercurrent of the year. When I first took on this challenge in 2007, I threw myself into the project. I was at a very dark spot in my life, and forcing myself to read a book a week, I wrote about those books and my life, and it helped me heal. This year wasn't awful, but it started off rotten. I ended a long term relationship, briefly moved back in with my mother, then lived in a scarcely furnished house (the house I had bought in 2007 then turned into a rental because that relationship was supposed to be "it") while I put my life back together. I had an off year work wise at the exact time my expenses rose because I was living alone again. I nearl

Book 52 of 52: Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

What a heart wrenching story.  Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt is about the aftermath of his daughter Amy dying suddenly of a rare heart condition while running on her treadmill. Two of her three small children saw it happen. After her death, Rosenblatt and his wife move into Amy's home and help her husband cope with the loss and with the children. The story is told in short vignettes, which mirrors what grief does to your system. Everything is scrambled, and flashes of the past, when that person is alive and whole, mix with the profound feeling of loss that they're never coming back. Mix in that this is a story of a father who buried his daughter, and how the children try to cope, and you have an incredibly sad yet beautiful book about love, loss and family. Rosenblatt doesn't make the book entirely about darkness, and I think that's why it works. The children are still children and do funny things. His daughter seems to have been a remarkable person, and he lets

Book 51 of 52: Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence by David Samuel Levinson

I started  Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence by David Samuel Levinson before I flew from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. It was supossed to be my in-flight reading. But I ended the flight by playing word games on my phone while glancing at my fellow passenger's in-seat TV, which was showing the end of the Eagles game. And I don't like football. It's not that it's a bad book, but it's a sprawling, messy one - and not in a good way. There's too many narrators, which make for too many story lines. The book starts in the middle of what happened to these characters, which can make for good tension in a book as what really happened unfolds, but that tension was buried under too many plots moving in too many directions. I kept seeing it as a movie. It would make a good one if someone clarified the story, and made those plot lines more clear while trimming back some of the ones that go nowhere. I almost DNFed the book, but I brought it with me to California, and was more

Book 50 of 52: The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

This is the second time I've read Pat Conroy's  The Prince of Tides , but I can't remember exactly when was the first. The novel was published in 1986 when I was six, and the movie came out in 1991 when I was eleven. I'm guessing I read it sometime when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. It's a heavy novel, and not just for a tween. WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD (which seems somewhat silly for a 27 year old book, but still). The story takes places in two times, the bulk of which is the childhood of Luke, Tom and Lila Wingo. Tom narrates that story from the present, which of course was the 1980s, by telling it to his sister's psychologist after his sister has once again tried to take her life. Their childhood was a disaster, and they lived at the mercy of their father, who beat them and their mother, and that mother, who felt she sold herself short by marrying a shrimper. There's also sexual assault and a very graphic rape. I found myself slowing down

Book 49 of 52: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is not a novel with a traditional narrative. Yes, there is a narrator - Bee, an 8th grader whose mother has vanished - but she's only a small part. The rest of the book is made up of letters, emails, faxes and even some IM chats, all winding back to who is this Bernadette, why she had become a kind of hermit, and why did she suddenly disappear, as curated by a teenager. It's an okay read. I feel very three out of five stars about it. Enjoyable, but not earth shattering and very Seattle (that's why they lived after some mysterious event, and Bernadette's husband works at Microsoft). It'd make a good beach read, less so a "sink on the couch and read because it's cold out" read. I was more intrigued about where the book came from. I bought it on Half.com, and knew it was a used library book. It's even stamped as a "Readers Choice," which makes me wonder why it was culled from the library s

Q&A: Fred Minnick, author of Whiskey Women

Good news, whiskey lovers! Book 26 of 52: Whiskey Women is now out, as is my review in American Way magazine. Promotion has been a whirlwind for author Fred Minnick, who took time out of his busy schedule, which also includes preparing for the birth of his son, to answer a few questions. Ever wonder what it's like to do a book signing at Costco? Read on. JAM: According to the wordsmith Beyonce, girls run the world. Tell us how that's true in whiskey today. FM: Today, women are the CEOs, CFOs, marketers, blenders, distillers and owners of many whiskey brands. They are running every aspect of the whiskey industry. And the funny thing is, they’ve always been in the thick of the whiskey business. JAM: So women have been in charge for some time... FM: Women have always been a part of whiskey. Even before whiskey was coined as such, Sumerian women invented beer and Mesopotamian women invented distillation. When we get into the brands we see on shelves today, women once ow

Book 48 of 52: Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts

I almost didn't read this one. Nora Roberts been disappointing me lately. She's published three series recently. The first was the Bride Quartet ; the second the Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy . I've read a lot of what makes good romance, and conflict is key. There always needs to be some kind of conflict that is pushed the hero and heroine apart, and the plot turns as they overcome those challenges. For those two series, the conflict was...just not really there. For Brides, it was "OMG! We run a wedding industry but we are so resistant to love!" For the Inn BoonsBoro Triology, it was "we're building an inn! AND THERE'S A GHOST." Yes, that oversimplifying both series, but they weren't that great. It felt like Roberts was off her game, and that she was writing copies of books she'd done before, just with a lot more brand names mentioned over and over again, and hooking them into series because that made financial sense. So I'm glad to

Book 47 of 52: Shoot the Woman First by Wallace Stroby

Shoot the Woman First (Crissa Stone Novels) is the third book in Wallace Stroby's series about career criminal Crissa Stone. I'm not really into mysteries or thrillers, but I read another of the Criss Stone books when I wrote about Stroby for New Jersey Monthly , and I was hooked. Yes, Stone is a career criminal, but she doesn't target people who would miss the money, or focuses on bad guys. In Shoot the Woman First , she's involved in a heist from a drug dealer, and things go wrong (if things didn't go wrong, this wouldn't be much of a book). The story flips between Stone, who is trying to give a part of her take to relatives of her partner, and Burke, a former police officer who is being paid by the drug dealer to track down who hit his operation. Crissa Stone a variation of a hooker with a heart of gold type story. She does bad things, but to bad people. She's living by her own moral code, and that makes her a sympathetic character. Stroby's don

Book 46 of 52: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh seems a fitting read right after the last book about memoir writing. Because, yes, this is a lot of memoir, even if part of the story is told in comic from. Brosh started blogging and posting comics about her life in 2009 as a way to procrastinate from studying for a physics final. Some of the comics in this book have run on the website already; some are original. I have heard about Brosh in passing from some editors at Runner's World. Even though I really enjoyed them, I never really checked the site outside the links that they shared, so almost all of this was new to me. It's an interesting way of story telling because it's not just comics and it's not just words, but a blend of both. And because that visual element is there, Brosh can inject some very perverse humor into comics about terrible topics, like contemplating suicide in a bout of depression. I felt bad for laughing, but I think that's the point. It's weir

Book 45 of 52: Writing is my Drink by Theo Pauling Nestor

Writing is My Drink is the second book of this cycle by Theo Pauline Nestor. The first was Book 16 of 52: How to Sleep Alone in a King-Sized Bed,  which I read after attending a memoir writing retreat organized by Nestor. While How to Sleep Alone in a King-Sized Bed  is a full on memoir, Writing is My Drink  is part memoir but the memoir part is set up to support the writing instruction that is given throughout, from personal lessons that Nestor learned on her path to publication, to lessons that she uses in her writing classes, to check lists of writing activities at the end of each chapter. I've been writing professionally now for a while - 15 years if you count when I started earning something for my writing, almost eight years if you start the clock from when I became a full time freelance writer. I've written a lot of personal stuff and what could be considered memoirs in essay length since then. So some of this advice is basic to me, but not all. I dog eared a

Book 44 of 53: [Redacted]

So I'm not going to share the book that is #44 of the series for a lot of reasons, the top one being that this is my blog and I MAKE THE RULES, DAMMIT! It's a self help book and I really don't want to share what I was reading and why. In case you're wondering, I'm fine, fit and healthy - I picked this up on the recommendation of a friend. But I read it, so it's part of the list. It's also an example of the back stories of used books. This one was published in the early 1990s, and it had been read before. Someone wrote in the book, and turned down corners. Based on how flat those folded corners are, I'm betting this book has stayed shut for about 20 years. The person who read it before me made notes in red pen - a very specific red pen if I can remember right: the old Bic pens with the white body and the cap to match the color of the ink. I used to pop off the bottom of the pen - a little round plug - and play with it when I was bored in class. I we

Book 43 of 52: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

If I remember right, I was sent a galley of John Green's  The Fault in Our Stars   before it was published in 2012. It didn't seem like the book for me. YA? Cancer? Pass. I donated it. But after seeing some of John Green's Youtube videos , and realizing he was friends with my friend Claire Zulky , and that the book was being turned into a movie AND that I had marked it "to read" on my Goodreads page, I decided to give it a go. And I am so glad I did. The Fault In Our Stars  is told from the point of view of Hazel, who should be dead. She almost died when cancer took over her lungs, but was saved by a miracle drug that keeps her tumors from growing. So she is alive, but constantly attached to oxygen and knows that the drug could stop working at any moment. At group therapy for cancer kids, she meets Augustus, who has lost part of a leg to cancer, and Isaac, who is about to go blind because of it. The book is what happens to the trio, though Isaac is the thi

Book 42 of 52: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

Dear readers, I am writing to you from a terrible flight. First, I had an abominable day yesterday. Probably the second worst day of 2013 that left me sobbing in the shower for an hour. Then, for today, I finally  cashed in some of my USAirways Dividend miles for a flight from Philadelphia to Chicago. In return, USAirways gave me a ticket that put me on the plane in the last boarding group. Person after person with rolling bags got on before me - including a woman with two! - and then, just as I was about to get on the plane, a USAirways employee grabbed my bag and took it from me. When I then took the ticket from her hand, she made a nasty comment about me, in front of a crowd of people. Apparently she thought I couldn't hear her because I was wearing headphones. But no. I heard her, loud and clear. As did everyone else. So then I get packed onto the flight, and a person is in my seat. After much shifting around, I finally sit, and the woman next to me promptly takes over th

Book 41 of 52: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The parade of Collingswood Book Festival titles continues! The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling was the most expensive of the batch - it cost me a whopping $5. That's a lot more than most vendors were charging for used hardcovers, and the guy tried to hard sell me on it by saying it's a first edition (yes, a first edition Harry Potter might be worth something, but this? Eh). But since I so loved the Harry Potter books, I figured Rowling was worth a fiver. The Casual Vacancy  looks at what happens to a community after one person dies, though Barry Fairbrother's death doesn't cause the problems in Pageford Parish. It sets forth a series of events that take place revolving around who will take Fairbrother's seat on the parish council (because he died, his seat being open is called a "casual vacancy") That's because Fairbrother had been on the side of council that didn't want to relinquish control of a poorer part of town. The other side thought

Book 40 of 52: Her Dearest Sin by Gayle Wilson

I don't have too much to say about  Her Dearest Sin (Harlequin Historical) . This is another Collingswood Book Festival buy, though instead of $.50 I paid $.25. Her Dearest Sin  is a historical action romance that's pretty typical of the genre: woman in distress, soldier who saves her, they fall in love, happily ever after ensues (and I'm not giving away the ending here - it's a romance, and they're all supposed to end that way). The "sin" in the title doesn't come from something naughty the heroine does - it's not that kind of book - but from the last name of the hero, Sinclair. Why did I pick it up? Because $.25 is a cheap way to try a new author. I tend to read everything in a romance writer's backlog if I really like her work, but it takes a leap for me to try someone new. Even though I'm not going to make that leap with Wilson here, I don't think it was a waster of that quarter.

Book 39 of 52: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of those books where I'm not sure I can add anything else to the pile of criticism. It was a wild success and turned into an Oscar-winning film (in an acting category). So I will say only this: the book made me angry. Not just because of what the book portrayed or that Stockett is a white woman who wrote in three difference voices here, two of them black (which she addressed in an afterword to the book), but that while so much has changed since 1962, so much has stayed the same. I didn't need to go back too far to illustrate why - I didn't even need to leave this week . On Tuesday, Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court Justice , said that the 14th amendment was for all, not "only the blacks." Last night, Cory Booker became fourth black person to be elected to the U.S. senate , the first from New Jersey, and will be one of two black senators in the current senate. Oh and then there was the incident of flying a Confederate fl

Book 38 of 52: Ingenious by Jason Fagone

I'm not a car person. I drive a 2002 Honda Civic that I won't replace when it either dies or fails inspection. I do, however, spend more than a fair amount of time on Bring a Trailer , a fascinating blog that aggregates cool cars for sale, and provides commentary on why they're cool. Jason Fagone says he's the same thing. "I'm not a car person," he writes in the introduction to  Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America . You can argue that Ingenious  is about cars, and it is, but what makes this book accessible to everyone is that it's more about the people trying to reach a crazy dream. They just happen to be dreaming about cars. In 2007, the X Prize Foundation said it would give $10 million to someone who could create a safe car, mass produceable car that was more efficient than what's on the road now. The terms and the rules of the competition changed, but the key point was that cars needed to t

Book 37 of 52: Hotel Babylon by Anonymous and Imogen Edwards-Jones

When I do my taxes, I spend a lot of time organizing and tallying up receipts, so I pick a random show streaming on Netflix, and watch that while I work. A few years ago, that choice was Hotel Babylon , a BBC show that ran from 2006 to 2009. When I re-subscribed to Netflix, I found that I still had two more seasons to watch. And I loved every minute of it. I didn't know until after I'd finished with the series that the TV show was based on the book  Hotel Babylon: Inside the Extravagance and Mayhem of a Luxury Five-Star Hotel by an anonymous reception desk clerk and Imogen Edwards-Jones. Hotel Babylon  is a cover, and it's pretty obviously why Anonymous chose that name - he names names, and even though the book was published in 2004, some are still big like Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, Princess Diana and even the Queen Mum. Those stories, however, are far from the most interesting in the book, which has as many "OMG that happens in hotels?" stories into one book

Book 36 of 52: The Theory of Opposites by Allison Winn Scotch

Allison Winn Scotch is a familiar name to long time readers of the blog.  I've reviewed or written about all four of her previous novels - whether here or somewhere else. I haven't landed an assignment about The Theory of Opposites  quite yet, but I hope I do soon, especially since she's taking a slightly different path on the business end of this book. But let's save that discussion to a later time. As for the book! It's typical, excellent work. The Theory of Opposites  is about Willa Chandler-Golden trying to get out of the thumb of inertia, which comes from both her famous philosopher father and a husband who has mapped out their lives together. When said husband chucks the map out the window (not giving away too much by saying in a less than wonderful way), Willia is forced to try something new, which involves not standing still, and writing a book surrounding the (faux) reality show Dare You! I was a little concerned at first when Willa's ex-boyfrie

Book 35 of 52: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - well this is one book where I don't think I can offer more to what's already been said about it. It won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critic Circle Award, and was a book of the year in a slew of magazines and newspapers. But I'll try, briefly: to me, this read as a book about aging. The story slides in time around a handful of characters who are loosely connected, and we see them at different stages of their lives. For most, the last time we see them, they are drawn in a state of melancholy and also living the consequences of previous actions, for good or for bad. No one we meet more than once seems to have lived up to his or her potential. The older adult versions of themselves are flat where the younger versions - no matter how much wrong they were doing - were full of promise and life. Downer, right? Maybe I feel this way because I'm starting to think about aging. I turned 33 this summer, so my 20s are far behi

Book 34 of 52: The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey

Half way through Catherine Bailey's  The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and aFamily Secret ,   I emailed my editor at an inflight magazine and said "I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS BOOK YOU NEED TO LET ME REVIEW IT." That might a slight exaggeration, but all caps were used in a portion of the email. She obliged, which is why I can't write too much about the book here - I have to save it for the review, which will run in January, the same month the book is published in the U.S. It has already been published in the U.K. and was a smashing success. Bailey is a historian who started going through documents of the 9th Duke of Rutland because she was working on a book about the estate's "Lost Generation" - the young men who worked there and died in WW I. While at the estate, though, she stumbled upon big family mysteries that the Duke had apparently been trying to cover up while he was dying. Correspondence for specific

Book 33 of 52: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

I try not to read reviews for a book I write about on this blog until after I'm done with the book, but I accidentally saw something that Parade  wrote about B.A. Shapiro's  The Art Forger . The magazine called it a "literary thriller." Thriller? Yes. But literary? No. Sure, it makes for a servicable caper - a young painter shunned by the art world who is offered the chance to copy a Degas that had been stolen in the 1990 Boston art heist (the heist is fact; the Degas fiction). But any book that uses the word "laboriously" is not literary. I tripped up on the writing. It's just not good. The novel is told in present tense. Adverbs are ripe. Shaprio over describes everything, which is tedious to the point of maddening when describing how to forge a painting. I was very tempted to pick up my red pen and start slashing, but it just wasn't worth it after a while because I'd slash everywhere. The writing didn't pass my meter test: I would n

Book 32 of 52: What Shall I Wear? By Claire McCardell

I found out about Claire McCardell's  What Shall I Wear? from Couture Allure , my go to site for vintage fashions. She reviewed the book in January , and I just got to it now. It's an interesting read. It isn't a new book, but a re-release from 1956 by a master designer who made clothing more wearable and comfortable for American women. It's sometimes hilariously dated, with things like what to wear when you drive your husband to the train in the morning. "When you drive your husband to the train, is the whole community there? If you are display, it is only sensible to be displayable." On shoes, she writes "When you buy shoes, you are not just buying for your own feet. You are buying for  your husband's tastes, for the things you are going to walk to. Does he take big steps? Would he rather help poor delicate you into a taxi?" Sports are limited to skiing, hiking, golf and tennis, and gloves must be worn, always. Oh, and "every woman sho

Book 31 of 52: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

I, like many people, binge watched Netflix's Orange is the New Black  this summer. I fell down the rabbit hole on Fourth of July weekend, and immediately ordered the book upon which it's based -  Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison . I guess I wasn't the only one. Barnes and Noble said the book was backordered, so I cancelled that order and bought a used library copy from Half.com. It's always odd to read the book after you've seen the movie/TV show/series, and I wonder how I would have felt about the book version if I hadn't first seen the show. I wasn't disappointed, but I already knew parts of the story, even if they aren't a perfect match. Some of the basic facts are the same: the main character/narrator is a woman named Piper who came from a middle to upper class background, graduated from an all woman's college, and then traveled the world with her lesbian lover who was also part of an international drug ring. Piper,

Book 30 of 52: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

In February, I wrote a post about DNF-ing books. In that post, I told the story of why I reviewed Curtis Sittenfeld's Man of My Dreams  even though I didn't like it. I felt that the reader should know that an author's sophomore's effort was a let down after her wildly popular debut (in this case,  Prep ). I was happy, then, that Sittenfeld's third book The American Wife  seemed to be a return to form. I devoured that novel, and bought her new novel  Sisterland   as soon as it came out. It falls somewhere in the middle between Man of My Dreams  and The American Wife  - disappointing but not a terrible book. Sisterland  is about twins Violet and Daisy. They have what they call "senses" - either able to predict an event happening in the future, or know something about someone without knowing why (i.e. that a classmate will die young). Violet chooses to tune into these senses and brands works as a psychic. Daisy starts telling people that her name is Ka

Book 29 of 52: The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

Well, this was a disappointment. I got suckered in by the cool topic, media buzz, and the fact that a book was on the New York Times Best Seller  list. But as  The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story shows, these things do not always a guarantee of a good read. The Astronaut Wives Club  is the true story of the women behind the men who flew on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions. Most were stand-by-your-man military wives who found themselves pushed into public view, never more so than when their husbands launched, and the press camped out on their lawns. This should be fascinating, right? These women were plucked from obscurity because of their husbands, right as the women's movement started. There were stories of infidelity, and most couples ended up divorced. But no,  The Astronaut Wives Club  is a bland. It's like a bug that skates on the surface of the pond. I kept wanting it dive in and get wet. Halfway through, I started wondering if Koppel had even tal

Book 28 of 52: Messy by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Fug Girls are back! Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan are the writers behind Go Fug Yourself , a funny fashion celebrity blog. They're also YA authors and just published  Messy , their second novel. Messy is a modern day take on Cyrano de Bergerac (or  Roxanne . I loved that movie). Much in the same way that Clueless turned Pride & Prejudice into a send up of rich kids living the Beverly Hills lifestyle, Messy  is a send up of rich kids living in the shadow of Hollywood. It's also a sequel to  Spoiled in which we met Brooke Berlin, the daughter of mega action star Brick Berlin.  Spoiled  had Brooke (and everyone via gossip blogs) learning that she had a half-sister, Molly, who came to live in the Berlin mansion after her mom died. Here, Brooke hires Molly's green-haird friend Max to ghost write her blog as she tries to start her own acting and "it girl" career. They're an unlikely pair. Brooke is queen bee at Colby-Randall Prepatory School