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As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Visit From the Good Squad

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is a beautiful book that weaves together many stories into one narrative--and I actually enjoyed it!  Not because I don't love Ms. Egan, but because I am normally not a fan of books (or movies for that matter) that tell many stories that all collide into one.  This one was a little different, though.  It wasn't about how they all connected--it was about using the connection to tell a story that spans several decades.

I run into a conundrum I often face here on this blog which is giving too much away.  I really don't want to do that.  So instead of telling you the story, I will tell you how awesome Ms. Egan's story structure is.  You first feel that she is telling short stories with the first chapter.  Who is this girl and where is this story going?  Then you read the second chapter where Ms. Egan takes a character from the first ditty and tells their story--which may very well be in a different time period.  Then another character takes center stage in the third chapter but they are still related to the first two stories.  I have to say that I found it quite amazing and quite intriguing and I couldn't stop reading because I had to figure out who I was going to hear about next.

So you are saying to yourself, "According to Nicole, AKA the Sassy Peach, I should pick up this book."  And you are right.  You should.  So get on Amazon, click a few buttons, and rock it out on your Kindle.  You can also hit up your local library for either the real version or the electronic version.  But seriously, get off your tushy and read this book.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Date Like A Man

Date Like A Man: What Men Know About Dating and Are Afraid You'll Find Out is quite a misnomer for this book by Myreah Moore and Jodie Gould.  I picked this little ditty up thinking it would be funny and snarky with a little side of insight.  Nope.  I was wrong. 

Never have I been so offended as I was by this book, and I have certainly had my delicate sensibilities offended on a number of occasions.  What crap this was.  I will give credence to the fact that this book was published 10 years ago--but really, were we that entrenched in Me-Tarzan-She-Jane dating mentalities that we were still playing by The Rules?  Oh wait--she specifically says that this book isn't The Rules.  And it's a lie.

This book is full of anecdotal evidence of smart women making bad choices--which clearly means that without Ms. Moore's help we would all be Neanderthal women who cry in the night by ourselves with a half pint of mint chocolate chip.  Thank gawd she's here to help!  I might be single forever if I hadn't read this book.  You know, since I have a cat and men are really only dog people. (The book says this, so it's true.)

This "author" makes sure that you know, girlfriend (as the author likes to inject in every other sentence), that you shouldn't seem as though you want to learn anything ever.  Shut up, sit down, and look pretty.  You don't want to be annoying, now do you?  You will never get a husband that way.  By learning things, I mean.  Also, girlfriend, you don't want to have a life outside of your man.  Make sure that you do things he wants to do since he will never want to do anything that you are interested in.  Oh, and lie to men because they won't really like you.  They will prefer the fictional you, trust her, girlfriend

I will leave you with some gems courtesy of this self-monikered "dating diva."  I might have added my inner thought process in italics.  And I swear, if she calls me "girlfriend" one more time I might hunt her down and slap myself in front of her. 

"It's...the reason I developed my Pair and a Spare philosophy (dating at least three men at once)."  Do you not have any friends or do anything fun?  When the hell do you have time to go on THREE DATES A WEEK?!?

"The best way to handle questions like, 'Is he a boyfriend, or what?' is to say, 'He's my sweetie.'"  Is this 1980?

"When entertaining men, stick with sturdy everyday dishes and paper napkins.  Men are just as happy (if not happier) drinking beer from the bottle as they are from the glass.  They don't worry about which fork to use for the salad and dessert.  Trust me on this one."  Read: men have no manners and you were raised super snobby.  How sexist is this???

"If a woman has been single long enough, she sometimes gets fixated on the first man who expresses some interest in her."  OHMYGAWDNOSHEJUSTDIDN'T!  Watch out boys--the first man who expresses interest in me might find me going all Basic Instinct on him.  Except that I haven't...

"Most women are afraid of bugs.  If you have an eight-legged creature in your house, why not call him and ask him to help you get rid of it."  This is obvi why I'm still single--I'm not afraid of bugs.  Also, the bug will be gone by the time Prince Charming arrives to kill it, stupid.   

"Men have their own holidays [blogger's note: outside of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, which are chick holidays].   The high holy days for guys are the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA playoffs, Stanley Cup, World Cup, heavyweight championships, Master's, Grand Prix and the Kentucky Derby."  Because everyone knows men hate Christmas.  YOU FORGOT THE BCS CHAMPIONSHIP.  I WATCH SPORTS TOO.

"Elevators are another great place to flirt with men.  I do this all the time.  If I find myself alone with a cute guy I'll say, 'I'm so glad there's a man on this elevator, because I get so scared when I'm by myself.  Now I can hold onto you.'"  Need I really comment on this?

Regarding weddings: "The unspoken rule is that no one can look better than the radiant bride.  Why do you think all the bridesmaids are made to wear those freakishly ugly dresses?"  That's right, bitches.

"A guy may seem perfectly together, well dressed, polite, fun-loving and happy, but he's really going home to a bottle of vodka or a refrigerator full of human heads.  You never know."  VODKA?!?  Unacceptable.

"While public libraries tend to attract the elderly and homeless..."  And people who actually read books.  And me, the Sassy Peach.  Screw you.

On not acting like a diva: "Look at what happened to Princess Diana.  [She] was beautiful and royal, but it was the commoner Camilla who won the Prince's heart.  She may not be a beauty, but there is something in her that made Prince Charles feel important, wanted and loved."  Yeah, it didn't have anything to do with Charles being a jerky philanderer, you know?

And the clincher: "If you're saying, 'I like myself just the way I am,' good for you!  But ask yourself if the person you are right now is getting dates."  WHAAAAAAT?  If you like yourself but aren't getting dates, just be someone you don't like.  That should do the trick. 


Friday, December 23, 2011

O Little Town

O Little Town: A Novel by Don Reid was a lovely little novella to read while gearing up for the holiday season.  It's the story of a small town in 1958, and while everyone is gearing up for the most magical day of the year there is a lot going on.  The preacher's daughter is caught shoplifting, the preacher's wife is not as innocent as she wants you to think, the police captain's teenage daughter is expecting with a gentleman who is not her boyfriend, and all the while the townspeople are not perfect, it turns out.

All of these events are related if only because it's a small town.  There is a secondary story happening all the while involving a Christmas murder in 1904, and to be honest, it gets in the way of the main story.  If you are willing to look past that, however, this is a sweet story to read right before Christmas and to realize that, in the end, we are all just human with the hopes, dreams, and feelings that everyone else has.  It's a story of love and promise, of hope and joy in the little things.  Hold your family dear and know that in the end, kindness makes the world of difference.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Admit One: Ten Steps to Choosing Your Acting or Musical Theatre College Program

Admit One: Ten Steps to Choosing Your Acting or Musical Theatre College Program by Chelsea Cipolla and John West is a hand book of the greatest proportions, and one that all high school students looking to join the ranks of prestigious alumni everywhere should use as their bible.  It's a step-by-step examination of how to about transitioning from being a high school star to further studying your craft in higher education.

The greatest piece of advice Cipolla and West offer happens to be in their preface.  I have seen this many times--young actors saying, "Why do I need to go to college?  I am super talented."  Well yes, I am sure you are, but you are in competition with highly trained people who have secured strong connections.  You need a training program and you need an education.  The authors here are adamant about this from the beginning, and it's wonderful to see.  They are encouraging while still being forthright.

When I say this guide is step-by-step, I mean it.  It goes through the nooks and the crannies, the details and the minutiae, and the do's and the don'ts of this crazy process called "college auditions."  It can be overwhelming and at times can feel exclusive, but this book demystifies the process--from simply deciding to go from the beginning to figuring out what you can afford.  Of course it hits the creative process as well, and each chapter has places for notes and enough margin area to take your own notes in.

It's a keeper for sure.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Raisin In The Sun

Many of you don't know this, but I have been reading one play per week since the summer.  I see a good bit of theatre but realized this spring that I don't read enough plays, so I have been following one playwright at a time.  I started with August Wilson's Century Cycle, then moved on to the Wendy Wasserstein cannon, and followed this with Harold Pinter.  After the office fire, which destroyed the last of Pinter's plays I had not yet read, I discovered that I could rent A Raisin In The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry on my Kindle from the library.  Yessiree, that sounds right up my alley.  I rarely review plays, but it would be a crime to not express the love and thankfulness that this play was written and shared with us mere mortals.

It's the story of the Younger family in Chicago's South Side in the 1950's.  Living in a cramped two bedroom apartment with the shared bathroom in the hall, Lena lives with her daughter, Beneatha, who aspires to be a doctor; her son Walter Lee, who dreams of attaining riches through a liquor store; his wife Ruth and their son, Travis.  When the family receives a settlement of $10,000, Lena uses the money to put a down payment on a house for them--in a white neighborhood.

There are times that reading something so beautiful is not enough.  Feeling that my heart it taken from my chest and squeezed just tight enough to make me gasp for air--that's a mark of a stunning work of art.  I was halfway through this, considered a classic in the theatre, when it occurred to me that I may never be the same.  Mama's strength and her love for her children--even when they tear at her soul--is admirable and foolish at the same time.  Ruth's resolve is a killer, and at times you want to shake her awake.  Walter Lee's determination to provide for his family--that which eventually causes his downfall--is gut wrenching.  Lawd knows, we have all made similar mistakes.  Beneatha's youthful indignance is so relatable it's ridiculous, and 
at times it is painful. Oh, the follies of youth.

I closed this play both shattered and renewed, devastated yet hopeful.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg

I was attracted to The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg by Doug Bremner because it is the story of the psychiatrist who took down Accutane.  You know, that drug that the pharmaceutical companies don't want you to believe changes brain composition and causes depression?  Doug Bremner was that very psychiatrist and faced demons of his own, both professionally and personally.

You may remember the whole, "No one really knows..." news segments about this drug.  However, reading this book confirmed my suspicions that what you see released to news sources is exactly what they with the most money want you to hear, see, and believe--the spin.  You may or may not believe it, but you have to respect that most Americans do believe what their newscasters tell them.  I stand by Bremner in this book--his observations and his research, but most of all his assertion that this drug severely alters brain chemistry.  Thank you for your research, sir, and thank you for all of the crap you took from everyone in order to bring this research to light.  You have saved lives.

To be clear, the dialogue in this book is often stilted and unnatural.  Bremner is clearly a research writer and not a story teller, but don't let that take away from the important parts of this book, namely that of his research and his testimony. 

Side note.  One thing I learned that I had no clue about was that Ancestry.com was founded by members of the LDS church.  It turns out Mormon's have the largest ancestral records known to man and this is how the website got started.  Huh.  Who would've known?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mrs. Nixon

Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life by Ann Beattie really is all it's cracked up to be--which means it is also worth a turn on your Lazy Susan of books.

This novel is part author meditation on writing and part imagined stories based on fact.  Ms. Beattie takes events that are loose in their description and adds what she imagines might have happened: discussions between Mrs. Nixon (it's always Mrs. Nixon, rarely "Pat") and her daughters, interactions between Mrs. Nixon and "RN" (as President Nixon is called in this book), and thoughts she might have had while all of this takes place. 

In one chapter, Ms. Beattie uses The Glass Menagerie as a metaphor for Mrs. Nixon's life and it was one of the most powerful chapters in this book.  The comparison was beautiful and moving, and I appreciated such an eloquent homage to the former First Lady.

Truly, there wasn't a passage in this book that I didn't enjoy.  I found the meditations on being a novelist and using an historical character to be the most interesting, as Ms. Beattie examined how to remain true to the essence of Mrs. Nixon while still telling an interesting story--and balancing all of this with her novelist's imagination.  Fascinating. 

I must confess, prior to this book I had no interest in Mrs. Nixon other than adoring Joan Allen in the movie Nixon.  My interest has been piqued, however, and I am looking forward to doing a bit more poking around on the life of Mrs. Nixon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Slow Motion

Slow Motion: A Memoir of How A Life Gone Terribly Wrong Can Be Rescued Through Tragedy by Dani Shapiro is a story of personal triumph over family tragedy.  It's a heartbreaking story of Dani, a lost early-twenties kinda-sorta-actress on a path of self-destruction, who receives a call telling her that her parents have been in a car accident.  Unsure of how bad things really are, she flies cross-country to arrive at her parents bedside only to discover that things are very bad.  Dani has to face down her personal demons (an affair with a powerful older married man, drugs and alcohol, a strained relationship with her parents) in order to give her parents what they need.

This book was a great holiday read, as it took me through the airport, airplane ride, and some family down time all over Thanksgiving weekend.  Shapiro's storytelling is honest and raw, and as an outsider I wanted her to sober up, get rid of the jerk she was sleeping with, and be the best daughter she could be.  I was rooting for her, and I was rooting for her story.

It's emotion runs deep without being melodramatic, and Shapiro rarely feels self-pity.  Instead she tells it just how it happened in her memory.  She makes no excuses for her affair and doesn't apologize for her life leading up to the crash--she feels remorse but leaves it as it is.  I appreciate this in someone's writing, and I think you will too, dear readers.