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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...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Know Your Beholder: A Novel

I have been an Adam Rapp fan for a while, and so I picked up Know Your Beholder when it came out. I am sorry to say it took me a while to finish it because I got distracted by life; that says nothing about the quality of work, which is amazing.

Francis Falbo was a rock star just a few years ago. He had a wife he adored, awesome parents, and an odd relationship with his band mates. Now he finds himself agoraphobic, holed up in his childhood home in Pollard, Illinois, serving as a landlord in his childhood home. His wife has left him for a pharmaceutical rep, his band is fractured beyond repair, and his mother passed away, causing his father to remarry and move to Florida. Now, there is a snow storm and Francis must look out for his home, which includes a couple whose child has been missing for weeks, his ex-brother-in-law and his weird visitors, an artist who draws men nude for a thesis project, and a new tenant who may be the person who saves Francis.

As I said earlier, I have been fond of Rapp's work for some time, an this book was certainly no exception. He has a sharp wit about his prose that works as an undercurrent in his writing. Francis is eccentric for sure, but he is also someone that we all understand. His heartbreak over losing his wife is something that is easy to relate to, and his refusal to leave his home is something most of us dream of. Rapp has a darkness about his writing that settles over the novel like a storm cloud. It's not just the snowstorm that adds a certain sense of foreboding; it's also the way that Rapp describes his characters and uses his sentence structure to his advantage. It's really something amazing to read.

I adored Francis, and when he meets the women who will come to affect his life, I silently cheered on the inside. While I have (obviously) never seen a picture of him, I was able to envision what he looked like and I loved his beard and his flannel pajamas. I became enraged for him when a former friend shows up and won't leave, and I wanted to shake Francis when he started wavering on his plan to get his friend out. I adored this man, and I loved reading about him so much that I just didn't want to close the cover of the book at the end of the story. It's an unconventionally happy ending, and I loved it.

For purchase below.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Then Again: Diane Keaton

I think Diane Keaton is the cat's pajamas. She is so unabashedly herself, and I admire that in her. This is her memoir that I picked up, Then Again

She is best known as Annie Hall, but Diane Keaton, born Diane Hall, has layers upon layers that define who she is. She tells her story in part through her mother, to whom she was close and whose journals she uses to tell her own story. Through relationships with Woody Allen and Warren Beatty, to choosing to adopt two children of her own in her 50's, Diane has always chosen to be exactly who she is. She is a mother, a daughter, an actress, an artist, and always herself.

She is just one hell of a woman, you know? Diane Keaton claims to be nothing other than herself, and it makes her just a general badass. Her candid talk about her relationships with the two film greats above was really fantastic, and in the moment she finally understands that she doesn't want to date Beatty, that she has always wanted to be him, I realized how much like her I feel. It's not a gender thing that she's talking about -- rather, it's the confidence that comes across on screen, the ability to have career choices, and the strong personality that pushes head first into the world. (That's my interpretation, anyway.) She also makes it easy to understand her relationship with Allen and their long-term continuance of their deep and meaningful friendship. They had a connection that can't be forced or planned; rather, it came naturally and it seems to be that those who need to find each other often do.

I also appreciated Keaton's exploration of her family's connection to herself and her success. She clearly loves her mother more than anyone on this earth, other than her two children of course, and the way she talks about her mother is full of reverance and pride. I can only imagine how difficult it was to jet from home at such a young age and take on NYC by storm -- even in my 20's it was something else. With only letters going back and forth, Diane had to make her way, sink or swim. It's a story of success, but it's also a story of grit and a refusal to back up, and there are many lessons to be learned from Keaton's reflections. I would love an update now that it's been several years since she released this book -- after all, I need to know how she is faring in the teenage years with her kids!

For purchase below. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family

I read a blurb about this book a while ago and added it to my queue, and I was pleasantly surprised when it came up a couple of weeks ago. This is Ezekial J. Emanuel's Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family

The Emanuel brothers are individually well known: Rahm was Obama's chief of staff and is currently the Mayor of Chicago; Ari is a well known Hollywood agent who had a very popular TV character made after him; and Zeke is a world-renowned doctor who has fought for universal health care. How did one family create three such extraordinary children? Their parents raised them in Chicago, both the city and the suburbs, spending summers in Israel and ingraining in them a strong sense of family, religion, and social justice. 

This book was extraordinary itself in the breaking down of a family that believed, and still believes, so deeply in creating greatness, supporting others, and fighting for what's right. I was incredibly moved by Emanuel's description of his mother, Marsha. She was a strong woman who raised her boys with pluck and a loose grip but instilled in them the incredible belief in justice for all human beings. I found myself teary-eyed when Emanuel wrote about her fights for justice on the streets of Chicago. I admired the woman when he wrote about how his mother would pack up the boys in their coats and boots and the youngest in a stroller, board the bus, and participate in a protest for fair housing or rights to public spaces, then would take the same bus back home to have dinner on the table for her husband when he got home from a long day serving his community as a doctor. 

Their father was also a pretty rockin' guy. He believed in quality health care for all, and he would charge his clients on a sliding scale depending on their income. Some he would just serve for free. This book was a great story about what the Emanuel parents put in their sons' cereal, but if you think it is just that, then read it again. It's a story of a pair of parents who raised their children with values that were bigger than just serving themselves. They raised their children to fight for what they believed in, and to fight for human rights of their fellow citizens. This story will absolutely stay with me as I hope to follow Marsha's example and instill in my own children a strong sense of social justice for all Americans.

For purchase below.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Unexpected Waltz: A Novel

I'm not sure I could have picked out a better beach book this past summer. This is Kim Wright's The Unexpected Waltz.

Marrying rich is definitely all it's cracked up to be -- until, that is, you find yourself a widow at a young age with nothing to do. Having left her job years ago when she fell in love with and married a VP at her financial establishment, Kelly is now alone and with a lot of time on her hands. After her daily run to the local high-end grocery, she finds herself having wandered into the dance studio next door. What are all of these crazy, amazingly fun dances she's seeing students do? Before she knows it, she has signed up for her first lesson. Before long, it's her new hobby. She will learn more about love and determination than she has ever learned before.

I will not lie to you, dear friends. With this book, you aren't going to get any hard-hitting journalism or deep thoughts. It is, however, a book that asks nothing more out of you than to enjoy it and it will love you back. That's my idea of a good beach book. It was light but it was oh-so-entertaining, and I found myself wanting to follow the story through to the end. Oh sure, I had some issues with the well-heeled Kelly and the depiction of her early years (all that sex was really just her trying to love herself!), but overall she came across as a fully formed woman who gave up her career for her much older, much more successful husband and then found herself regretting it just a little when, after he died, she didn't have much left. It turns out she hates serving on boards of directors and making centerpieces for galas -- and frankly, what self-respecting woman wouldn't? I appreciated her realness in all of this.

So yes, I think this is worth picking up for a beach read, absolutely. It had a sweetness to it that was fun and giggly in a girl-slumber-party kind of way. I finished it in a day and I had a good time in it. 

For purchase below.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Guest Blogger Charlotte - Girl Online On Tour: A Novel

Hi There!

So this is the second offering from the amazing Zoella, the YouTube tastemaker otherwise known as Zoe Sugg. Sugg’s first novel, Girl Online, broke all kinds of sales records for debut fiction largely due to the success of her YouTube channel. 

I love Zoella and I loved the first book (my review here) because it promised even more Zoella and in a whole new light, or so I thought. It turns out the book was ghost written by an author I’d never heard of named Siobhan Curham. This was kind of a let down, but I got over it. Zoella sort of owned up to the fakery and promised to be totally hands-on with Girl Online On Tour.

On Tour picks up at just about the place where Girl Online leaves off. Penny is officially dating rock star Noah Flynn and missing him like crazy while he’s away on a world tour. Her infamous blog is now mostly private. She lets only a few of her closest friends and her photography teacher read it. She’s still reeling from the scandal that exposed her blog and is now more private and anonymous than ever.

The cool thing about Penny’s life is that she gets to spend the summer on a European tour with Noah Flynn. Best summer ever, right? Yea, not so much… The pressures of fame and life on the road strain the relationship and things get rocky.

I can’t say I was surprised by anything that happens next, nor do I think you’ll be. Really, the only reason to pick up this book is if you are a diehard Zoella fan like me. Unlike the original Girl Online, there’s lots of Zoella in this book and it’s exactly the fix I wanted.

~ Charlotte

For purchase below:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

V for Vendetta

"Remember, remember, the fifth of November..." Yes, friends, I had never read Alan Moore's V for Vendetta until this fall. I have been waiting to get this post up until today, because, well...you know.

(Also, a happy birthday to my mother.)

The year is 1997, and the citizens of the United Kingdom are living under a fascist government as sheep who follow along with no qualms about their passive lifestyle. V, whose real face we never see, sets out to right the wrongs of his past and wake up his fellow citizens to fight the good fight and win back their own lives. Through this he takes Evey under his belt, a woman who was working as a prostitute (or, at least, trying to) and mentors her into becoming his next revolutionary protege. 

Of course I had seen the movie years ago, and honestly, I couldn't remember much of it other than, and I may be paraphrasing here, that the people should not fear the government, but that the government should fear the people. It was so eye-opening tor read the source material up close and personal. I was surprised at how violent the graphic novel could be, and even in 2015, and knowing what I know about how humans actually treat each other, I was still taken aback by the violence and inhumanity of the human experiments carried out on powerless people by their government. To that end, it's very difficult not to side with V. His personal vendetta is greater than just himself; it's about sparking a revolution, and you can't walk away from that.

I recently read Book Slut's post on this novel, and it's really great and very much worth a read. Like I said earlier, I can't remember much about the film, which I think is perfectly fine, really. What I loved about this novel was contained snugly inside of it, and it is the revolutionary underpinnings of what V stands for. He wants his fellow countrymen to wake up and fight for their right to live peaceably and not under the thumb of a totalitarian government that picks who lives and dies based on who is worthy and powerful enough. The only way to do this is to incite a little bit of violence. I am not advocating that as the only form of revolutionary means, but in this story, it is what makes absolute sense.

I understand why this novel means so much to it's readers, and it's a cult classic for a reason. It was well worth the read, and it's prompted me to dig deeper on the graphic novel itself and the ways it has been used in the subsequent 33 years since it's original publication. What does the revolution look like over the three decades following? We have some answers, and we are still working on it as a human race.

For purchase below. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Last Juror: A Novel

Oh, John Grisham, how you have such a large cannon of work that allows me to always enjoy you at the beach. This year's work was The Last Juror, and I enjoyed it immensely.

1970 was a big year for The Ford County Times, namely because Ford County saw one of the most grotesque murders it had ever seen. A young widow and mother of two was murdered in her own home, and a local boy was convicted. As he was dragged away, he promised the jury that he would get revenge on him. Soon after his release from prison almost a decade later, jurors begin dying one at a time. Could this be the revenge that Danny Padgitt promised, or just an odd coincidence?

This was a bit of a departure from Grisham's typical legal thriller, because although there was definitely a crime and a court case, this story was really about the paper and it's proprietor, a young man fresh out of journalism school with an ambitious idea to take over a small town newspaper and basically print money. He succeeds at this, and builds a strong reputation in the process. He is also our narrator, and he tells us a tale that begins with a gruesome act perpetrated on an unsuspecting woman and ends with a twist you didn't expect.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for my beach reading. As always, I brought two Grisham's with me, and neither disappointed. I enjoyed the departure here from the usual legal thriller, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story web that Grisham weaved in this novel. I cared about the players, and I wanted to follow along. I loved the relationships in this book, especially that between Willie (the newspaperman) and Callie, a woman he interviewed for a human interest story who became his closest confidant and ally in Ford County. Callie was a lovely character, and maybe one of my Grisham favorites. Ultimately, a good read worth my time. 

For purchase below.