Year: 2013

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…

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Book 52 of 52: Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

What a heart wrenching story. Making Toastby 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…

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

I started Antonia Lively Breaks the Silenceby 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…

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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…

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

Where’d You Go, Bernadetteby 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,…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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

Hyperbole and a Halfby 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…

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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…

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