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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, August 31, 2012

Thoughts from God's Favorite Child

Happy Celebrity Memoir Friday!  Today's celebrity is actually one in my world--my sweet friend Kristina Smith published a book of essays titled Thoughts from God's Favorite Child.  I could not be more proud of her and her work!  I feel honored that she sent me her book and I am soooooooo happy to be writing this post on her work.

Kristina refers to herself as "God's Favorite Child", not out of any arrogance or malice but because she has found herself in so many situations where she has heard the call, been spoken to from above, or otherwise been saved from an early demise by a higher calling.  A fourth generation Seventh Day Adventist, Kristina's faith is exploratory and real, and she wears no masks in her essays.  She is tested and she humbly abides.  She discusses everything from faith to family to work to an unabashed love of electronics; she pushes herself and others by questioning, both earnestly and rhetorically.  She is open and honest.

I could not be more proud of this lady for pulling together her writing and publishing this authentic account of her life.  I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Kristina over breakfast when she came to New York City a couple of months ago and it was one of the most uplifting conversations I have had with a friend in recent time. 

Reading this book was like hearing Kristina in conversation.  This book is so true to her voice that it made me smile reading it.  I admire her steadfast faith and her realistic views on religion.  And come on--look at that baby picture!!!  This book is as genuine as she is, and I am so thankful to have this book on my shelf.  If you want to be friends with Kristina, you too can get her book here or here for the hard copy or here for the Kindle version.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom

You might recall that I recently posted on Michael Ian Black's memoir, and I am a fan of Meghan McCain for her common-sense approach to politics, so after seeing these two interviewed at the Bryant Park Reading Room about this very book I hurriedly picked up America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom

 Michael and Meghan connect over Twitter and one night, super late and hopped up on carbs, Michael proposes an idea for a book to Meghan.  They will cross the country in an RV and interview people all over the country about their lives and politics.  Meghan agrees, seeing this a social experiment to see if two people with vastly different politics can not kill each other while traveling across the country together.  This is their story.

I had an absolute blast with this book.  I find Michael's humor to be right up my alley and, as I said earlier, I think Meghan as a great approach to politics and while I don't always agree with her I find her to be strait-forward and articulate.  Sometimes her searing optimism about how awesome America is grated on me (I wanted to be like, Rome was pretty great too in its time, you know...), but she is authentic in her writing and her beliefs so I can look past it.  I found their take on places such as Branson, Missouri; Nashville, Tennessee; and Little Rock, Arkansas to be intriguing and eye-opening.  These two visited a side of Las Vegas I can assure you I have not, and they were willing to go to the underbelly of many towns that I am not so wiling to visit. 

It was interesting to read this book as we enter into one of the most vitriolic presidential races we have seen (does anyone else feel more and more turned off by the overwhelming and pervasive hatred in these races as years go by?), particularly as it involves a young woman who was so intricately involved in the last presidential race.  Regardless of which side of the line on which you reside, this book is definitely worth a read to take it all just a little bit more lightly.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?

I truly love dysfunctional family memoirs.  I really do.  Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? fits perfectly into this category.  Goodness gracious, let's get to it.

Jeanette Winterson grew up in northern English industrial town with a Pentecostal mother who often locked her out of the house, leaving Jeanette to fare for herself on the front doorstep for hours at a time.  Jeanette leaves home at 16 after realizing that she is attracted to another woman.  Nine years later she publishes a highly regarded novel that is a fictionalized version of her truth.  Almost two decades later she seeks to find her birth family.  This is Jeanette's journey to understand herself through her past.

This is a short novel that I knocked out in a weekend day.  I fell in love with Jeanette's disarming and heartfelt truth that she lays out for her readers.  She spares no pain and no experience as she treats the reader as a cherished friend, sharing her tale over a hot toddy or chamomile tea.  Her story is absolutely painful to read even from a distance--to feel that unloved, that uncared for, and that much of a failure to your mother--how could you possibly not break?  I cheered for Jeanette as she drove away from the painful existence she was living.

If you are a fan of Jeanette's work, or just dysfunctional family memoirs in general, this is certainly worth a read.  If you care about the human condition or love a tale of resilience, this is it.  If you just enjoy good books, pick this up.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My First Five Husbands...And the Ones Who Got Away

Happy Celebrity Memoir Friday!  Today we have Rue McClanahan's My First Five Husbands...And the Ones Who Got Away. 

Eddi-Rue McClanahan, known as Rue, most famous for playing Blanche on The Golden Girls, is a veteran stage and film actress who has lived quite a life.  This memoir chronicles her life through her childhood in Oklahoma and on through her first five husbands (she is now on her sixth) and her many other engagements and entanglements.  Rue consistently reminds her readers to say, "Let me think about it."  If she had said that, she might have had a few less adventures--and marriages.

This was a truly fun read.  It wasn't heavy or deep, but it certainly was fun.  Rue has lived quite a life and it was a hoot to sit down with her tales of hilarity and misadventure to lighten up my week.  She has no qualms with making her love of men quite clear, and she is a riot on this topic.  She has said yes to more engagements than I have dresses in my closet!  She owns her mistakes and lays it all out on the table for her readers, warts and all. 

I appreciate this and I enjoy her writing style.  It's relaxed and it's fun, and it sounds an awful lot like we are sitting next to each other at a dinner party or in her living room late at night sharing secrets over a glass of wine.  This is what I love about Celebrity Memoir Friday--juicy gossip and a tall glass of wine.  Sit back and enjoy this weekend.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Runaway Jury

Yet another John Grisham book! This time it's The Runaway Jury, which is definitely one of his most beloved. It's not hard to see why.

It's the mid-1990's, and Mississippi is hosting the ninth mega-trial against a tobacco firm. A young man with virtually no past, Nicholas Easter, gets himself on the jury. Soon the defense's "hit" man starts receiving communication from a suspicious young woman. Can the jury be swayed? In which way?

YES, I can see why this book is one of Grisham's most loved. It was a fantastic read and leads you in a multitude of directions. When you finally put one piece of the puzzle together you come to the realization that you have what seems like a million more to fit until you can begin to see the whole picture. It is winding and gripping and entirely full of curiosities. This story was completely gripping and intricate--you have to pay attention.

This was the greatest read for the beach. I was able to sit back, listen to the waves, and turn pages only as quickly as my brain could absorb the words. I highly enjoyed my time spent with this paperback of goodness.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Dead Do Not Improve

The Dead Do Not Improve -- they most certainly do not.  I raced to get this novel by Jay Caspian Kang as soon as the reviews came out.  Howdy ho, what a ride.

In a seedy part of San Francisco, Philip, a self-loathing, disaffected writer who is a "break-up counselor" on a website for dumped men, lives in an area that is slowly gentrifying.  His neighbor, whom he as nicknamed "Baby Molester," is murdered through her window and soon Philip is suspected in the murder but is actually in the midst of one hell of a scheme.  Oh, and he is falling in love with his preppy neighbor.  He's not having the best week.  Obvi.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  It was hard for me to get into with it's super neo-noir feeling and it's characters' self-hatred.  I enjoyed Philip and I enjoyed following him through the story, but I found the narrative to be disjointed and not so much my cup of tea.

Look, there are many people who love this genre and this book got great reviews in several publications--I think the writing is interesting and it's a story that many can get into.  It's just not for me.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

Spark: How Creativity Works

Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein is a collection of essays put together from radio interviews from the public radio program Studio 360.  It follows such luminaries as Chuck Close, Tony Kushner, Richard Serra, Yo Yo Ma, Alison Krauss, and many others as their stories are grouped into sections that explore such themes as devastation and loss, relationship with family, collaboration, and inspiration.  The common thread through all of these essays is the subtitle of this book--how creativity works in different facets of our lives.

This book was readable in a sitting or two but contained so much power in it's pages.  Reading all these interviews with such incredible artists like those listed above and so many others was inspiring and interesting and eye-opening.  This book ran the gamut from entertaining to moving; reading to a composer's account of taking his mother back to his childhood home in New Orleans for the fist time after the storm was heart-breaking.  On the flip side, Patti Lupone's story about her mother was funny and endearing.  Delving into the musical partnership between Alison Krauss and Robert Plant was educational as well as fun to read.  All of these stories have merit.

If you are interested in this kind of subject--how does creativity work and what kind of information do artists have to pass on to me--this is a great book to pick up.  Hopefully you will find inspiration in these stories as much as I have!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Swamplandia!  by Karen Russell has been on my to-read list forever.  Well, for like, 2 years anyway.  It was a Pulitzer Nominee (and certainly deserved, in my opinion) and a recommended book by everyone who read it.

Ava Bigtree lives on an island in the swamps of Florida.  The Bigtree family has been running the Swamplandia! tourist attraction for generations (ok, just two generations).  Her mother Hilola was an alligator wrestler, her brother Kiwi despises the lack of intellect he believes his family has, and her sister Osceola communes with dead spirits.  A few months after her mother dies a new theme park opens on the mainland and Swamplandia! watches its livelihood disappear.  Suddenly Grandpa Sawtooth is put into a nursing home, the Chief (aka "Dad") leaves for the mainland on business, and both Kiwi and Osceola disappear in parts unknown.  Can Swamplandia! be saved, or will Ava lose everything she loves?

I had an absolute ball with this book.  Seriously--a total blast.  It gets deep and dark and emotional at times, and I still loved every second of it.  Ms. Russell has this imagination that will knock your socks off, and she truly understands the development of characters and story.  I ate this up like an apple pie--just one more slice, please, I kept saying.  I raced through this book just to get to the end--only to discover that I needed more.  It's worth more than one reading, that's for sure.

Swamplandia! is a character all its own, and it's a powerful one at that.  The Seths (every alligator in Swamplandia! is named Seth) are fascinating even though they have no words.  They had a character arc unto themselves.  There are also things that I can't tell you in this post because I can't give anything away.  (It's not my style.)  Just pick up this book.  You can check it out on your Kindle from your local library!  This book is just delightful and full of life and hurt and love and forgiveness.  It just is.

Get your copy. Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why We Broke Up

I had heard through the grapevine that Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Moira Kalman was a fantastic break-up book, so of course I read it asap.  They weren't lying. 

Min goes to return a box of things that represent her relationship with Ed.  On the way, Min writes Ed a letter explaining why they broke up.  This is her letter.  It outlines their relationship.  It lays out the red flags that Min should have seen.  It bares Min's soul and her pain.  It's raw; it's real.

Talk about being blown away.  I was blown away.  How intense and lovely and open and heartbreaking and honest this book was.  It's told from Min's perspective in first person, and I felt like I was her.  I was falling in love with the super popular football player.  I was falling for his words and for his earnestness.  I ignored the same red flags that Min did.  And I ultimately had my soul trampled on by this horrible, inconsiderate boy named Ed.

The illustrations of the items in the box only heighten the hurt.  They only make it more real.  I really can't recommend this book enough.  It was the highlight of my week.

Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right:

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Appeal

"Another John Grisham book?" I can hear you asking yourself.  YES, I reply, why of course!

In The Appeal, a hard-working lawyer couple wins a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Krane Chemical for dumping toxic waste in their small town in Mississippi.  The head of the parent company will do anything to win on appeal--including fixing the upcoming state Supreme Court election.  The candidate in this election is a good, wholesome man who might not know what is in front of him.  This story explores the lack of bounds to which the rich and corrupt will go to stay powerful.

It is no secret how much I enjoy Grisham's novels, and this one was no different.  His characters are well-crafted, particularly his protagonists in Wes and Mary Grace Payton, natives of the dumping-ground town who are fighting the case against Krane, and indirectly the antagonist Carl Trudeau, the head of the parent company.  There is no hiding the liberal leaning in this book--the tone is clearly set to be sympathetic toward the little people and anti-corporate greed and corruption.  I find the law to super fascinating (having chosen to not attend law school myself) and I enjoy reading the nitty-gritty of our justice system.  This book focused heavily on tort law and it was an interesting learning experience.

While this was not my favorite of Grisham's books, I still cared about the characters and their story.  It was a great read for a warm summer park day.  Take the politics of the book with a grain of salt enjoy the story for what it is--an entertaining story.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics

No, I have not read Steven B. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything before now.  Surprise!

I went ahead and read both books at once so you can enjoy a double post here.  Happy day!

The first book is a collection of connected essays on subjects such as what predicts a child's success, how legalized abortion is directly correlated with the mid-90's drop in crime, and the danger difference between handguns and swimming pools.  Levitt is a "rogue economist", meaning that he asks questions no other economists think of.  Dubner is a writer, and an interesting one at that.  They combined forces to put together a book that looks at what happens when you make economics interesting.

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should By Life Insurance is Levitt and Dubner's follow-up to their super well-selling first book. 

This sequel of sorts follows the same set-up as book numero uno, exploring subjects such as the similarities between prostitutes and department store Santas, the added values of pimps and realtors, and super cool things that can be done to save the planet--for pennies in comparison to the high-tech proposals.

Overall I enjoyed these books even if I did find myself quite frustrated often with the connections made on shaky correlations and tunnel vision on their conclusions.  It sometimes felt as though they were stuck on their conclusions only and left little-to-no room for mitigating factors.  The second book was far less guilty of the "correlation equals causation" jump-to-conclusions-ness that I often felt haunted the first book.  I did learn some fun facts though--the most exciting one being that kangaroo farts don't contain methane, therefore creating fewer greenhouse gases and being more environmentally sound.  This all being said, I won't deny that this pair writes an intriguing and beguiling narrative that keeps you reading.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thy Neighbor

I love a seriously creepy story, and I got my fix with Norah Vincent's Thy Neighbor which was released last week.  I was a big fan of her other two books, Self-Made Man and Voluntary Madness, so I was pumped about this book.

Nick Walsh has a rough past--right after his college graduation, his father shoots his mother and then himself.  Never understanding what could have happened that night, Nick lives a plush existence in the house in which he grew up.  He rises at dusk, writes a little here and there, and spends the majority of his time spying on his neighbors through stealthily hidden cameras in their homes.  One day, quite suddenly, pieces of the puzzle start to come together when he is contacted by a stranger that seems all too close.

This book was one of those that I couldn't figure out where the hell it was going and I couldn't put it down until I found out.  It was winding and unclear and fascinating and overpowering in my need to discover who this man, Nick, truly is and what his past means.  The book was creepy--and I believe it was meant to be.  There were moments that I felt slightly uncomfortable, and I appreciate this feeling.  It's great to have to examine why it is I am creeped out or uncomfortable. 

I found Nick as a character intriguing although not sympathetic; he is a mess and a bit of a jerk and he is not supposed to be loved by the reader.  I believe he is supposed to be investigated.  In fact, very few characters in this novel are sympathetic; each has pretty horrible qualities and I absolutely appreciated this in a novel.  Sometimes I get tired of sympathy--I want raw and real and human and non-linear characters.

So overall I would say this book is pretty great.  I am still thinking about it days after finishing it, and to me that is a sign of a story that pulls at sections of my brain that other works of literature do not.  I am grateful for stories like these.

Friday, August 3, 2012

You're Not Doing It Right

I love wishing you guys a happy Celebrity Memoir Friday here on the Sassy Peach!  Today's book is Michael Ian Black's You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations.

Black's memoir tells the tale of his meeting, wooing, and marrying his wife Martha.  Interspersed between these love-(and-sometimes-lack-of-it)-story chapters are little ditties that tell us about Black's past as it defines him in the present--stories about his family, about his escapades as a child and in college, about sometimes poor life choices that have been made. We learn about marriage (good and bad), parenthood, and getting old.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, because I dig Michael Ian Black but also because I love other people's stories.  I appreciated his intense love of his girlfriend, now wife, and his desire to make her happy early on in their relationship.  I also deeply appreciated how honest he is about things falling apart as you go on in life, and Black is forthcoming about the decision for him and Martha to attend therapy.  Black is also honest about having kids--he doesn't whitewash the often hellicious first few months with no sleep, no shower, and no sanity.  I can't say it's an undertaking I have any desire to do in the next few years (or ever).

If you are heading to the beach in the next few weeks and you need a good celebrity memoir, check it out.  You will be entertained, that's for doggoned sure.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Newlyweds

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger was all over everywhere about a month ago so I requested it from the library immediately.  Holy cow--I understand now the mad love.

Amina, a Bangladeshi, meets her husband George on a website that introduces American men to Euro-Asian women.  She moves to Rochester, New York, marries him, and goes about being a wife, a new student, and an employee of a multimedia store in the mall.  She adjusts to this very different life and culture, only to discover a secret her husband has been keeping from her.  It breaks her heart but leaves her determined to make things right.

I had read all over the place how great a novel this was, and every post and article was right on the money.  This was an addictive book, but not in a mystery/thriller kind of way--in a character-driven kind of way.  I fell in love with Amina and her desire to Americanize; I loved her devotion to her parents still in Bangladesh even as they are driving her crazy over the phone.  She is such a sympathetic character and such a lovely creation that I wanted to take a train to Rochester to sit on her couch, drink tea, and talk about her life.  That is the sign of a well-constructed character with a full arc.

I was really bowled over by this novel and I think it is well worth a read for anyone who loves well-constructed and beautiful stories.  It is lovely and beautiful and meaningful and sweet and why are you still reading this blog post when you should be reading this book?

Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right. Get it.