Thursday, October 20, 2016

Book Review: What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas (audio)

This book was recently picked as a Great Group Read for National Reading Group Month (which is October) so I thought I'd give it a shot since the audiobook was available at my library and I love a memoir. This was more of a collection of personal essays and vignettes, in roughly chronological order, rather than a memoir I'm not sure who they were laid out on the page but a few seemed very (one sentence) short. After all the audiobook was just over 4 hours long. So I listened to the whole thing in a day.

It's about Abby's painting, her writing (less so), her adult kids, her best friend Chuck, and her second husband. For a long while I misunderstood and I thought Chuck was going to end up being her second or third husband, but no, he's just her best friend. He's a literary agent and they met while both working at a publishing house. Abby stopped working in publishing (although she's a successful writer and workshop leader) but Chuck didn't and yet they maintained their friendship for decades. They both were married and eventually they moved moved out of NYC and their kids had issues and their marriages had issues, but they stuck with each other through it all. It is interesting when some friendships are much more enduring than most marriages. Most of the book is Abby, in her early seventies, looking back on her life, and as events start to approach now, they get tougher: infidelity, a brain injury, cancer. But he gets through it all, as we pretty much all do. And that's the theme of her book: shit happens and you go on and maybe paint a painting. I can see a lot of topics for discussion but as a solo read, it was a little lightweight. She opens the door to dozens of weighty themes, but she only touches on them superficially and moves on. I wish she'd been deeper and less poetic in a lot of parts—I could have stood more depth and analysis. But the light touch seems to be her thing.

I downloaded this audiobook from Overdrive via my local library.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems by Matt Simon

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A fascinating exploration of the awe-inspiring, weird, and unsettling ingenuity of evolution On a barren seafloor, the pearlfish swims into the safety of a sea cucumber’s anus. To find a meal, the female bolas spider releases pheromones that mimic a female moth, luring male moths into her sticky lasso web. The Glyptapanteles wasp injects a caterpillar with her young, which feed on the victim, erupt out of it, then mind-control the poor (and somehow still living) schmuck into protecting them from predators.

These are among the curious critters of The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar, a jaunt through evolution’s most unbelievable, most ingenious solutions to the problems of everyday life, from trying to get laid to finding food. Join Wired science writer Matt Simon as he introduces
you to the creatures that have it figured out, the ones that joust with their mustaches or choke sharks to death with snot, all in a wild struggle to survive and, of course, find true love.

Publishing October 25, 2016 by Penguin Books.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Review: Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini (audio)

Once again, I will marvel at how helpful books can be when you read them at exactly the right time. I was planning to read (listen) to this book after hearing it reviewed on BookRiot's podcast, All the Books. I checked on Overdrive and boop—it was immediately available through my local library! So I downloaded but then I didn't listen to it for a few days. The checkout times for downloaded audiobooks is only about 10 days so I had given up. But then I had a Very Bad Day. And I wanted to read, but I didn't want to read. And I wanted to go for a walk and listen to something distracting, but most of my podcasts are book-related and I didn't really want to hear about books right now as my Bad Day was work (and therefore publishing) related. So I thought I'd see how many days I had left on my checkout. Oddly, it showed I hadn't checked the book out (maybe it had been a full 10 days already and had expired?), so I did, again and started listening immediately. I should have been angry with someone, but I just didn't have it in me to be, and so Leak Remini became my surrogate anger stand-in, like Luther, Key & Peele's "anger translator" for Barack Obama.

I've always liked Leah Remini from Saved by the Bell to King of Queens to Dancing With the Stars. We're close to the same age and I've always liked her attitude which struck me as not too far off from her Queens character, Carrie. And I'm pretty sure I was right. She's feisty, loyal to a fault, not afraid to get in your face, and honest. And she takes it all out on Scientology.

Unlike a lot of celebrities or actors, she didn't come into Scientology as an adult, after her success (or as an effort to gain success). She was about 10 when her mother found Scientology and soon she and her sister were at the Scientology Center with their mother, daily. She talks about how she started studying and working almost immediately, doing grunt work for pennies, not going to school, all not just accepted but encouraged. She always seemed to know she would be an actress. She'd had a knack and it seemed natural from a very young age. In her teens she pursued it seriously, as the family at that point was living in Hollywood, and was very broke (spending all their money on Scientology courses). It took her a while to break in, but she finally did. She was in dozens of failed sitcoms, failed pilots, series that ran for one season or half a season. She certainly did not find immediate success. But she plugged away at it daily, as she understood that this was a job.

She also plugged away daily at Scientology. She truly believed that they were trying to clear the world of evil, and that L. Ron Hubbard (LRH) showed them the path and that if she worked her way through the courses and steps and levels, the world would be a better place. But as an adult, she started to see some sketchy things. Eventually, around the time of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's wedding, the sketchiness became ugly and impossible to ignore any longer. Lies were being spread about her, rules were being blatantly broken for Cruise, and she also began to see the ugliness of asking ordinary people—not just successful actors—to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these courses, often having to buy the same course or the same book over and over again, or having to buy something in order to make up for a transgression, and how that was seriously negativly affecting people's lives and putting them deeply into debt.

She didn't want to leave the church. And she didn't leave because she stopped believing. Her problem was with the church, not the religion or the beliefs. But according to Scientology, they are one and the same. Eventually, she left, and was declared a suppressor, which meant all her Scientologist friends and family had to completely cut her off. Luckily, most of her family also left at the same time, but she lost dozens of lifelong friends.

Sure, plenty of people will say she was just vindictive or that she herself was lying, but if you've seen Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch, you tend to believe Leah's take on his batty behavior. If you've ever yourself lost your faith in something or someone, you'll recognize that her feelings ring true. In particular, as her small daughter charmingly points out that she can know in her head that it's wrong, but not yet know it in her heart, you can't help but understand that this was a serious struggle and challenge for Leah, and not something a person would choose to go through.

I loved that she narrated it herself. Her voice is so distinctive and so her. Once in her first brush with auditioning she was a sent to a voice coach, but he sent her home after just one session, saying her voice was great and she shouldn't change it. It conveyed too much of her personality to modify it. And it probably helped in some of the sarcastic or humorous parts, which I might not have totally gotten without her tone of voice.

Celebrity memoirs aren't my usual thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. And learned much more about Scientology, and how an otherwise sane person can have gotten into such a weird religion. I think that religion is bizarre, but I'm more likely to cut its adherents some slack.

I checked this audiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Review: The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl, Agnete Friis

If you like Scandinavian crime novels, you must read this book. It's a new classic of the genre.

Nina is a Red Cross nurse working with abused women, when a friend calls in a panic, begging her to pick up a suitcase at the train station. When she does, Nina is shocked to find inside a small naked boy. He is still alive, but obviously someone wants to hurt him, and Nina doesn't know who she can trust. Particularly when her friend turns up dead, Nina knows she is on the run for their lives.

The book takes twists and turns, every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, and it rockets along at an amazing speed. Impossible to put down, you worry so much about just what will happen, and of course how. This is more a thriller than a mystery, as we know from early on who the boy is (although Nina does not—he speaks a foreign language she doesn't recognize.) But we don't know who wants him or why until close to the end, and then there's a fabulous climax with lots of action and it's very satisfying in the end. If you like foreign-set thrillers, this book is for you!

This book is published by my employer at the time, Soho Press.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Review: On Folly Beach by Karen White

I wasn't sure about this book. Sure, Sally at Park Road Books had recommended it and she never steers me wrong, but it seemed too melodramatic and fluffy for me. But in the end, I really enjoyed it.

There are two parallel stories. In one, it is 1942 on Folly Beach and Maggie and Cat are two cousins in their early 20s, both orphaned, living together with Maggie's little sister Lulu in Maggie's house. Cat was orphaned at a pretty young age so they'd grown up together and Maggie's mother asked her to look after Cat. Cat is already also widowed, as she'd married the handsome Jim, who all three girls were in love with, and he was killed soon after being deployed. Cat, who looks like a pin-up girl, doesn't seem like she needs much looking after, stringing along load of officers. Meanwhile Maggie works at the family store, Folly Finds, a general store with a lot of books.

In 2008, Maggie's daughter-in-law, who has been running Folly Finds as a bookstore for decades, is ready to retire. Emmy lives in Indiana and her husband was recently killed in Afghanistan. Her mother, who is from Folly Beach, runs a bookstore. Emmy has a MLS but is just foundering in her grief, doing next to nothing. Her mother hears that Folly Finds is for sale and pushes Emmy to buy the bookstore and move to South Carolina. She's not so sure, but she looks through a box of old Folly Finds books that her mother bought off eBay, and find intriguing notes written int he margins between a man and a woman, and she's hooked. She buys the bookstore, moves, and begins to investigate the mystery. Which of course is tied back to 1942 and Maggie and Cat, both long dead, and Lulu who is a cranky old woman who sells bottle trees out of the back of the store.

Because of the two storylines there is necessarily a large cast of characters, particularly in the 2008 parts, so it took me a while to get into the book, but once I did, it just flew. I guessed certain things accurately, and others I got the big thing right but how it happened wrong. There were a couple of twists I didn't guess at all (although they were well set up) until I was right on top of them and suddenly realized what was happening. It moved quickly, the South Carolina beach town vibe felt right, and these two stories were not melodramatic or fluffy—they were well-drawn and an interesting side tale of something that might have happened during WWII. I think I will give Ms. White another try! That was thoroughly enjoyable.

I bought this book at an author event at the independent bookstore, Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From the co-creator of the landmark television series Twin Peaks comes a novel that deepens the mysteries of that iconic town in ways that not only enrich the original series but readies fans for the upcoming Showtime episodes.

Publishing October 18, 2016 by Flatiron Books.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Review: Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman

My husband loved Nick Offerman's first book, his memoir, so when I saw this at the bookstore, I suggested he get it. And then immediately I swiped it and read it.

At first I was worried it was going to entirely be people I was already familiar with: Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt. They're all great and I like reading about them. But I appreciated the book so much more when he got into people you less expect on a list of American heroes, like Yoko Ono and Willie Nelson and Carol Burnett, and I liked even more the people I'd never heard of, like the woodworking tools company founder, and the boat-building partners on Martha's Vineyard. They were so interesting. And it is a much more interesting story of America, to start off with the Big Heroes, but eventually to get down to the everyday, to people you and I could know, who live in our towns and communities. I agree that "gumption" is a uniquely American trait that usually works for the good. I almost wish I'd listened to this on audio, but then I'd have missed the cool caricature portraits that began each chapter, and I didn't need the audio—his voice rang in my ears the entire time, even reading it in print. If you're looking for something you can pick up and point down, it's great, as it's a series of essays and so doesn't have a narrative thread. However, you will find it very hard to put down, I promise.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore, Little City Books in Hoboken, NJ.