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Sassy Peach Goes to Kindergarten: Happy 5th Birthday!

Wow! We made it! Half a decade! That's crazy talk. I said to a friend the other day how much I couldn't believe how far I've com...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fraternity

I picked up Fraternity by Diane Brady this past week as it sounded super fascinating.  It was!

As the cover says, "In 1968, a visionary priest recruited 10 black men to the College of the Holy Cross and changed their lives and the course of history."  These men included Clarence Thomas, Edward Jones, Stanley Grayson, Ted Wells, and Eddie Jenkins--all of whom are featured on the cover.  These men took a leap by attending Holy Cross and were involved in everything from sports, starting the Black Student Union, and becoming embroiled with the Civil Rights movement.  These men became world-changers, and a good chunk of that has to do with Father Brooks, the Holy Cross dean who firmly believed in integrating the college and supporting these men.

This book was full of super interesting information and history although the writing was incredibly dry and dense.  I thoroughly enjoyed the back stories of these men--where they were raised and how they came to find Father Brooks and Holy Cross.  The politics of the college at the particular time in history (immediately following MLK's assassination and moving into the Civil Rights Act of 1968, followed by the Vietnam War and the draft) is super cool about which to read.  If you are interested in the history of these famous men, this book is your go-to source and is super informative as well as intriguing.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories

I cannot, for the life of me, remember how I heard about The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure edited by Larry Smith.  I am glad I found it though.  It made my weekend.

This book is made up of 125 (plus one) essays of life-changing moments in each writer's life.  Some are as profound as the birth of a child, and others are as wonderful as a conversation with a parent.  Some are funny and some are sad.  But each and every essay is focused on the moment the writer learned something about either themselves or the world around them.

I had a ball with this book over the weekend.  I loved being able to bounce around essays and not necessarily having to read it front to back.  I was able to find writers that I already love and to discover new writers I will grow to love.  The bios in the back provided me with no less than five books I would now like to check out from the library.  I loved how short and to the point these essays were; I was never bored.

This book got me thinking, and I appreciate when that happens.  It inspired me to write about the moment of my own life.  What it is, I will never tell.  Unless, of course, it's published.  Then I will pass it on.  Find this book, ingest it, then find your own moment.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Age of Miracles

Holy hell, this book is incredible.  Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles is a book that could write its own review of awesomeness because it is just that amazing.

The earth's rotation is slowing.  Days are growing longer.  There is nothing any scientist can do to make it stop.  The government mandates citizens live on clock-time--the 12 hour clock cycle.  Fringe groups live on real-time trying to keep with circadian rhythms.  Julia is an eleven-year-old only child who still has to go to school, face her crush, deal with bullies, and feel like an outcast.  These things don't change with the light.  As the world changes, though, so does her life: her mother gets "the sickness", her father becomes distant, and her grandfather is missing.  How can you be a normal kid when everything around you is falling apart, including the planet?

This book owned me for 24 hours. To say that I was captivated is not fair--I was addicted.  I wanted to leave dinner with friends to continue reading.  I needed to be with Julia as she faced these new horrible realities; I needed to talk to her, to tell her it would be OK even though I have no idea if it will be.  This world felt real to me, so much so that I was sitting in Central Park reading and I thought I was in the book.  It was still light out, I thought the world's days were in fact growing longer, I heard a siren and almost had a strait up panic attack.  I truly believed for a moment that this was my world until reality hit that I was actually in Central Park and super hungry.

I only wish that words could properly express how heavy my heart became while reading this book and I am so grateful for Ms. Walker putting her words into book form.  I will recommend this book over and over and over again for a while.  This is everything that I love about reading and what I strive to find in every book I seek out.

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Art of Intelligence:

Henry A. Crumpton was recently featured on 60 Minutes for the release of his book, The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA's Clandestine Services, so of course I ran out to pick it up.

Crumpton was a career CIA Clandestine man who worked on counterterrorism, the Afghanistan invasion, and worked hard to ensure integrity in his organization.  In this book he lays out his story as he knows it, including his late-in-life pursuit of a Master's in understanding intelligence.

Overall this book was super fascinating; hearing Crumpton tell his tales feels a little like being an insider sitting over a beer.  My biggest bone with this book was the dialogue--Crumpton does not have a knack for writing dialogue, which comes across as stilted and contrived, and I feel he would have been better off telling these portions as narrative rather than dialogue.  There is not a ton of these conversations though, so it's a bit easy to overlook.  It's his adventures in Africa in the Clandestine Service and his telling of how spying works that is super interesting and addictive to the reader.

My favorite part of his story, though, is Crumpton's clear references to the Bush's administrations motives in invading Iraq.  You need to read it yourself, but I will say that Crumpton makes clear the original lack of link between Hussein and Al Qaeda. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess.  I will put in a disclaimer early on here that Jenny is hero of mine and my group of besties--we read her blog religiously, email about it, and pray that she will come hang out and drink large amounts of wine with us.

 Jenny has lived an interesting life--her father had a love of throwing cougars in the laps of guests and taxidermy for fun.  Her exasperated mother was just used to it.  Her sister was super popular and encouraged Jenny to at least attempt to fit in which only led to her having an arm up a cow's vajayjay.  She falls in love with a man who truly gets her (most of the time), and she has a daughter that is kind of awesome too.

The truth is you can't not love Jenny after reading her blog or her book.  She is honest, authentic, and a true friend for all of us who read her words.  I own very few books in my home compared to other bibliophiles (partially because my studio is approximately 300 square feet regardless of my crazy-ass landlord's insistence that it's 400--I measured), but as soon as this one came out I purchased it.  Like, not at a discount.  For the full price at a bookstore.  [Pause.]  You can pick your jaw up from off the ground now.

What I am saying with all of this is that the book was highly enjoyable.  I appreciate Jenny's note in the front that forewarns you that she will offend you--and I love her for that.  Nothing actually offended me, but I really only get offended by jerks in bars who condescendingly refer to me as "Babe."  So perhaps my offend-o-meter is off.  There are moments where Jenny isn't funny because she actually went through some rough stuff--carrying her child to term was one of the greatest moments in her book.  We laughed, we cried--it was glorious.  The story of how Beyonce the large metal chicken came into being is one that will never get old.  Never ever ever.  If you don't know this story, then stop reading this blog post, go get the book, and come back here later.

So yes, happy Celebrity Memoir Friday, this is a book recommendation.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Canada

I was so excited when I received a notice from the library that Canada by Richard Ford was ready for me to pick up.  I have been dying to read this novel since I read a synopsis.

Dell and his twin sister Berner live with their parents in a small rural town.  At 15 years old, Dell is looking forward to school in the fall and maybe, just maybe, he will find a friend.  Until his life is irrevocably altered, that is, by his parents decision to rob a bank.  They are caught, and Dell is sent to Canada to work at a rural hotel by his mother's friend.  Dell grows up a great deal and discovers more about himself than he ever thought possible.

This book was what I would call a sweeping epic.  Dell's journey--losing his parents, losing his sister, and ending up in a small Canadian town where he must learn to fend for himself--is intense, deep, and lovely.  Ford's prose is encompassing and dense, and I appreciate this in such an epic.  His writing is languid and rich--it was hard to put this down.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Little Night

I picked up Luanne Rice's new book Little Night this weekend as a for-fun book and wow.  Totally worth my fun time!

Clare Burke spent two years in prison for attacking her sister's husband.  Although Anne was being abused, she stood by her husband in court.  Almost two decades later Anne's daughter, Grit, unexpectedly shows up on Clare's doorstep and is taken in.  There is a secret, though, that Grit is holding back from Clare.  Can Clare still save her sister?  And will it help heal Grit in the process, and in turn Clare?

I ripped through this book in no time.  Rice has a distinct writing style that is honest yet secretive.  She has a way of developing characters that makes me dig my heels in and not close the book.  I found myself caring deeply about the sisters, Clare and Anne, and their respective families.  I was horrified when Clare was sent to prison--after all, she was only protecting her family.  How could her sister allow Clare to serve time in prison for her horrible husband, Frederick?  Getting to know Grit was also intriguing--who is this young lady, really, and what is she doing in New York City?

This is a lovely novel that has the potential to keep you up all night with a curiosity about what the truth really is.  As you integrate yourself into the life of the Burke family (and their amazing historic Chelsea apartment) you might forget where you are and that you are not a long-lost sister.  Don't say I didn't warn you. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture

It's Celebrity Memoir Friday!!!  I love CMF.  Today's selection is Andy Cohen's Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture.  Oh, you know how much I love my Housewives.  And I love Andy too.

This book is exactly what you think it is.  Andy explores his life from childhood onward--his acknowledgement and acceptance of his sexual orientation, his addiction to talking, and his mad love of Susan Lucci.  He tells all (well, all he can) about the Real Housewives franchise as well as his time at CBS This Morning and at TRIO, the cable network shut down too soon.

Out of all of the celebrity memoirs I have read in recent years, this one is probably one of my favorites.  One of my most hated memoir-trappings is when a celebrity goes super in-depth into their childhood--look, it's not that I don't care, I'm sure it was meaningful/horrible/noteworthy and all but I am reading your memoir for the juicy bits.  Andy (we are totes on a first name basis) only tells you what you need to know about his childhood, then he gets to the goods.  Thank you, Andy!  (You like how I just gave him a shout out as if he will actually read this???)

I will not lie--I skipped to the Housewives parts first.  However, there was much more to Andy's story.  His time at CBS is fascinating and eye-opening, and I loved hearing about his perspective.  Producing is not easy work, but Andy gets down to business and never feels sorry for himself.  His coming out story is also quite touching.

Seriously, though, folks, this is worth a read if you love pop culture, or Andy Cohen, or celebrity memoirs, or just reading in general.  Now that I have finished the book I will spend the evening catching up on this season's new Real Housewives of New York cast.  Was there any doubt that I wouldn't?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Terror By Night

Terry Caffey and James H. Pence's Terror By Night is a true story, and one for which you have to have a strong stomach.

Terry Caffey was living a wonderful life.  He and his wife of 18 years were still happily married.  They had two young boys and a teenage daughter, and although there were the usual squabbles and rebellion, they were a tight-knit family who loved each other through thick and thin.  Or so he thought.  One night while the family lay sleeping, two men entered their home, shot Terry, his wife Penney, and their son Bubba, stabbed their youngest to death, then set the house on fire.  When Terry finds out his daughter survived, he is elated--until the truth comes out that she was involved.  

As I said, you have to have a strong stomach for this one.  Caffey has a no-holds-barred approach when telling his story.  I love true crime, so this book was a no-brainer for me.  Caffey is honest and makes sure that his readers understand what happened to him and to his family.  It's a heart-breaking story, to find out that the daughter you loved and with whom you thought you had a wonderful relationship actually hates you and has wanted you dead for some time.  The details are often sad to read, and the loss of life in the family, including Caffey's thirteen and eight year old sons, is overwhelming.

I am not one to be bothered by a lot of God talk in books, but I realize there are people out there who are.  Caffey is a professed Christian and uses his faith as a base in this book.  I like to give my readers fair warning when jumping into books that might not be their taste.  As I said, Caffey's deep faith and consistent references to leaning on the Lord did not faze me, but if you are anti-religion then this might not be the book for you.  If you have a deep and abiding faith, this book will certainly speak to you.

Caffey's power of forgiveness is amazing.  He went above and beyond to request life rather than death for the men who murdered his family, and he has chosen to stand by his daughter regardless of her choices and actions.  It's quite incredible, really, to read this book and to see the love and faith he has in his daughter even as the prosecution lays out the evidence of how they believe she planned this murder with her boyfriend.  If you take just one thing out of this book, this is the moral of the story.


Monday, July 9, 2012

This Bright River

I love recommendations, be it from a magazine, a friend, or a blog.  This Bright River by Patrick Somerville was a recommendation and oh my goodness it was a great read.

Ben's life has been less than stellar, including both drugs and prison time for an accidental arson, so when his uncle dies Ben is sent back to the family's small-town cabin in the woods to wrap up family business.  Lauren's life abroad unraveled quickly and she ends up back in her hometown of St. Helens, Wisconsin to escape her past.  These two high school acquaintances slowly begin a romance that might cost both their lives when Lauren's past comes back to haunt them--in a very real and violent sense. 

Somerville tells his story as you would imagine the river flowing beside the cabin in the book--at one moment it's peaceful and explanatory, but underneath lies a violent undercurrent that will carry you away when you least expect it because you just aren't prepared and you weren't warned.  Ben is a complicated character who may not be as awful as everyone believes--he is an onion, and pulling back the layers only reveals smaller and smaller parts of him that may make him truly wonderful.  Lauren is so complex yet when you discover her past it is so easy to understand her standoffish attitude through half of the story.

This tale is told from two different perspectives, both Ben's and Lauren's, and this is vital to understanding the characters.  Normally it bugs me to have more than one first-person narrator, but here it is necessary.  Both Ben and Lauren are deep, deep characters and have layers upon layers that the reader needs to understand without conversation.  I thoroughly enjoyed this read and had a very hard time walking away from my Kindle (even to do yoga!) as the end drew near.  It's heart-pounding and adrenaline-pumping during the last third of the story.  Pick it up and see for yourself.

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

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Happy anniversary, everyone!  This is a special Sunday post because we are celebrating a full year together on Sassy Peach Reads.  How exciting is this?!?  130 books read and reviewed--that's an average of one book read every 2.8 days.  No one can say I don't love the printed word, that's for sure!

I owe a big thank you to all of you, readers who take time out of your days to stop in and read these posts.  I love books like I love life, and I am so grateful to have this side project of mine--it is a labor of love for sure.  It's because of you all that it keeps moving forward--because without readers, what is a blogger?  Still a blogger, I guess, but it's not nearly as exciting.

So thank you, thank you, thank you!  Have a champagne toast with your dinner.

To celebrate, here are some of my favorite books of the past year, 13 pieces of awesomeness in no particular order:

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

The New Republic and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

Smut by Alan Bennet

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Submission by Amy Waldman

Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong by Raymond Bonner

Here's to another year of reading!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Farther Away

I won Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen on Twitter.  Yes I did!  I love winning books.  And this book was particularly good.  Prior to this I have only intended to read Franzen; this was an excellent primer for future Franzen books.

This book contains over two dozen essays dating back to 1998.  "Comma-Then" is Franzen's rant against the use of a comma followed by a "then": whoever really uses that in everyday language?  Several essays critique literary works of fiction including Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening, and other essays focus on Franzen's love of birds.

The first essay, "Pain Won't Kill You," had me hooked.  It was Franzen's commencement address to Kenyon College last May, and it struck home for me having come almost a decade since my own college graduation.  Becoming an adult is hard, and having to learn to make adult choices is even harder.  But we have to do it, and sometimes we have to hurt.  The lesson in this essay is that pain is necessary to grow and it won't kill you--without it, you learn less and feel less.

The essay that packed the most punch in this book was Franzen's memorial service remarks for David Foster Wallace, titled with his friend's name.  I found Franzen's remarks to be incredibly moving and heartfelt; it's difficult to not feel the love he has for his friend.  He doesn't mince words; he never avoids saying that Wallace took his own life or denying the truth of choices.  Franzen writes these words with such pathos and care that my heart broke although I never met Wallace in person.

This book of essays is definitely worth picking up.  It's raw and honest, and I loved his literary criticisms.  In fact, I might have picked up a few of those books as well!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mystery Time

Janet Hannah's Mystery Time came across my desk and at less than 250 small pages it was a fun weekend read. 

Alex Kertesz, a professor in Tel Aviv, is attending a biochemistry conference in Prague with his international colleagues.  When Bernie Green, an American biochemist, falls dead on stage, stabbed in the back, Alex and his colleague Hildegard Kraus must find out who killed him and the relationship this murder has to a watch left to Hildegard by her recently deceased husband.

This book was a fun and quick read.  I enjoyed the relationship between Alex and Hildegard and the story held my interest.  I particularly (and selfishly!) enjoyed the time the characters spent in Heidelberg, as I will be there in just two short months.  I also enjoyed (selfishly again!) that the first half of the story was set in Prague--I love reading about places that I will be visiting or have been visiting.  As I said, this was a satisfying story.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Emily the Ewe

Emily the Ewe by M. Dawn is a children's book from the UK.  I love doing posts on children's books here because they are fun, quick, and everyone needs a little animal action in their everyday lives.

Emily is a ewe and she lives in the Devon countryside.  We see her brought into this world as a baby ewe and watch her grow up to have babies of her own. 

This book is for very young readers, and it is a super sweet story.  Emily is a caring animal who takes on a fellow ewe's little lamb when it loses it's mother.  She is caring and sweet.  There is also a good bit of information in this book about animal facts.  For instance, did you know that when a lamb is born it weighs about 9 pounds?  The book is very cute with hand-drawn pictures.  Go Emily!

Monday, July 2, 2012

The World Without You

I was so excited to pick up this book.  The World Without You by Joshua Henkin was the lead book in several magazine book sections, so I snatched it up as soon as I was able.  Oh boy, and I thankful!

The Frankel family reconvenes at their Berkshires home on the Fourth of July--but this is no happy occasion.  It's the one-year anniversary of, and the headstone reveal of, the youngest Frankel, Leo, a journalist killed in Iraq.  Everyone brings their own baggage to the dinner table--Orthodox Jew Noelle comes packing her own kosher food from Israel, Lily feels the constant need to defend her unmarried relationship with her long-term boyfriend, and Clarissa is desperately trying to get pregnant.  Add to this Thisbe, Leo's widow, who comes with secrets of her own.

This book is hands-down the best I have read this year.  I was utterly blown away by it, and I am telling every person I see to go out and buy this book.  The writing is incredible; Henkin understands how to created a character arc in a way that I haven't seen in some time.  The story is awesome and the heartbreak is so real for each and every person in this book.  My heart even broke for the children who might never understand the gravity of the events that transpire over the pages of their story.

This was a book that, once I put down, I was afraid of picking up again. Because of it's intensity, it's addictiveness--because I feared that if I picked it up again I would never put it down.  That if I got lost in this family that I would never want to leave them again. I will continue to recommend this book over and over until everyone has read it.  Open your heart to the Frankels and welcome them into your life.  You will not regret the time you spend with them.