Posted in Reviews

Review: How to be Married by Jo Piazza (nonfiction!)

How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents about Building a Happy Marriage by Jo Piazza

Recommended: absolutely
for people who do or do not want to get married, for people who are already married, for people who are interested in people, for good advice on creating healthy and loving long term relationships of any kind, for a really lovely read about love around the world and from different people

Summary

At age thirty-four, Jo Piazza got her romantic-comedy ending when she met the man of her dreams on a boat in the Galapagos Islands and was engaged three months later. But before long, Jo found herself riddled with questions. How do you make a marriage work in a world where you no longer need to be married? How does an independent, strong-willed feminist become someone’s partner–all the time?

In the tradition of writers such as Nora Ephron and Elizabeth Gilbert, award-winning journalist and nationally bestselling author Jo Piazza writes a provocative memoir of a real first year of marriage that will forever change the way we look at matrimony.

A travel editor constantly on the move, Jo journeys to twenty countries on five continents to figure out what modern marriage means. Throughout this stunning, funny, warm, and wise personal narrative, she gleans wisdom from matrilineal tribeswomen, French ladies who lunch, Orthodox Jewish moms, Swedish stay-at-home dads, polygamous warriors, and Dutch prostitutes.

Written with refreshing candor, elegant prose, astute reporting, and hilarious insight into the human psyche, How to Be Married offers an honest portrait of an utterly charming couple. When life throws more at them than they ever expected–a terrifying health diagnosis, sick parents to care for, unemployment–they ultimately create a fresh understanding of what it means to be equal partners during the good and bad times.

Thoughts

For perspective, I don’t want to get married. I’m in a long term relationship and plan to stay with this person, but as for marriage? I’m not interested, and I’d say I’m even somewhat against it (for myself). One of the biggest reasons for that was always a bit hard for me to express properly, but this book put it into simple concise words for me:

There was something appealing about actively choosing your partner again and again.

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Posted in Reviews

2 Second Review: My Inner Sky by Mari Andrew

My Inner Sky: On Embracing Day, Night, and All the Times in Between by Mari Andrew

Summary

A whole, beautiful life is only made possible by the wide spectrum of feelings that exist between joy and sorrow. In this insightful and warm book, writer and illustrator Mari Andrew explores all the emotions that make up a life, in the process offering insights about trauma and healing, the meaning of home and the challenges of loneliness, finding love in the most unexpected of places–from birds nesting on a sculpture to a ride on the subway–and a resounding case for why sometimes you have to put yourself in the path of magic.

My Inner Sky empowers us to transform everything that’s happened to us into something meaningful, reassurance that even in our darkest times, there’s light and beauty to be found.

Thoughts

Made me feel a lot of feels. Inspired, energetic, depressed, cautious, pessimistic, hopeful, grateful, touched. Possibly my favorite element of this was the beauty of the physical book itself. It’s truly so gorgeous to look at. Since I found Mari Andrew through her art originally, then her writing after, I love seeing that she found a way to incorporate both into a printed version. Even the page numbers change color for each section to match the theme, and it’s touches like that in the printed hardback that I loved. Of course the inside content matched. I feel like this could be useful to have on hand any time I need a dose of determination, or gratitude, or a reminder of the goodness of humanity. This will probably be a purchase soon because I always need good books on hand for the dark days of winter.

The blurb gives a good impression of the emotions and mood of the book, but not the concrete content. Mari talks about her travels and mental health as she is in her young adulthood. She also focuses on her healing journey after a life-changing physical injury, which is the sort of triggering point and framework for a lot of this.

Posted in Reviews

Review: I Named My Dog Pushkin by Margarita Gokun Silver

I Named My Dog Pushkin by Margarita Gokun Silver

Recommended: yes!
For a how-to on getting out of Soviet Russia, for culture clash and integration stories told with a smile and a wink, for a lot of general Russian culture and lifestyle information

Summary

Buy a pair of Levi’s, lose the Russian accent, and turn yourself into an American. Really, how difficult could it be?

Fake an exit visa, fool the Soviet authorities, pack enough sausage to last through immigration, buy a one-way Aeroflot ticket, and the rest will sort itself out. That was the gist of every Soviet-Jewish immigrant’s plan in the 1980s, Margarita’s included. Despite her father’s protestations that they’d get caught and thrown into a gulag, she convinced her family to follow that plan.

When they arrived in the US, Margarita had a clearly defined objective – become fully American as soon as possible, and leave her Soviet past behind. But she soon learned that finding her new voice was harder than escaping the Soviet secret police.

She finds herself changing her name to fit in, disappointing her parents who expect her to become a doctor, a lawyer, an investment banker and a classical pianist – all at the same time, learning to date without hang-ups (there is no sex in the Soviet Union), parenting her own daughter ‘while too Russian’, and not being able to let go of old habits (never, ever throw anything away because you might use it again). Most importantly, she finds that no matter how hard you try not to become your parents, you end up just like them anyway.

Thoughts

This book had been on my list for a long time, and I don’t even remember how I originally found it. I am so glad I finally can around to reading it, because I was just as good as I had hoped it would be! Granted, I had no idea who/what “pushkin” was or why that would matter but I got the sense this would be filled with humor and I was correct.

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Posted in Reviews

Review: As You Wish by Cary Elwes

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

Recommended: Yes!!
For fans of The Princess Bride, for insight into a movie set and the process from before-start to twnety-years-after-finish, for the chance to listen to Cary Elwes’ soothing voice for about eight hours

Summary

The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for close to three decades. Ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come.

Cary Elwes was inspired to share his memories and give fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film while participating in the twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion. In As You Wish he has created an enchanting experience; in addition to never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, there are plenty of set secrets and backstage stories.

With a foreword by Rob Reiner and a limited edition original poster by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, As You Wish is a must-have for all fans of this beloved film.

Thoughts

I have listened to, I think, 3 audiobooks in my life besides this one (and one I ended up switching to a printed copy about halfway through to finish). So I have no idea why I decided to grab the audiobook version of this book and start listening. However, I am so glad I did! This is basically exactly what I never knew I’d want in an audiobook. I suppose if I’m going to listen to one that isn’t narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, Cary Elwes is a pretty good follow-up! And in honor of my successful audiobook foray, I voice-to-text wrote this review. 🙂

Cary narrates the majority of the book, as most stories are from his perspective. However, multiple other people who were involved in the movie include stories of their own, and their own perspectives on ones that carry tells. In the audiobook, most of them read their extracts and those who are unable to have a dedicated person to speak for them. This made it really easy to tell when it swapped, though they also said each person’s name before it was their words that came. It was really fun to hear everybody’s voices though, as it felt more like a group conversation and made it really engaging and almost interactive.

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Posted in Reviews

Review: Will by Will Smith

Will by Will Smith


Recommended: yep!
for a book that will change the way you see Will Smith for better or for worse, for a lot of self-discovery that might even help you, for interesting tidbits and insight into some of the projects Smith has worked on in his life

Summary

One of the most dynamic and globally recognized entertainment forces of our time opens up fully about his life, in a brave and inspiring book that traces his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness, and human connection are aligned. Along the way, Will tells the story in full of one of the most amazing rides through the worlds of music and film that anyone has ever had.

Will Smith’s transformation from a West Philadelphia kid to one of the biggest rap stars of his era, and then one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history, is an epic tale—but it’s only half the story.

Will Smith thought, with good reason, that he had won at life: not only was his own success unparalleled, his whole family was at the pinnacle of the entertainment world. Only they didn’t see it that way: they felt more like star performers in his circus, a seven-days-a-week job they hadn’t signed up for. It turned out Will Smith’s education wasn’t nearly over.

Thoughts

First off, a warning or at least an informational tidbit: this is not a fun, silly book. If you, like me, thought this might be a lighthearted and warm peek behind the curtain at some of the projects Will has worked on, interspersed with humor and love, you are very wrong. I was very wrong.

Frankly, I’ll never see Will Smith the same way again, and that’s because I’ll now see him as a whole person instead of a collection of on-screen personalities and characters.

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Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: Have I Told You This Already? by Lauren Graham (11/15/22)

WELL IT’S BEEN A MINUTE SINCE I HAD A BOOK I WAS LOOKING FORWARD TO…

Hey y’all! In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is Have I Told You This Already? by Lauren Graham!
Expected Release: November 15, 2022

Why wait on this one?

  • Oddly, no, I have never seen Gilmore Girls and have no idea who Lauren Graham is. That’s not a pull for me here. Although I am curious to see if, after reading this, I’ll end up wanting to watch the Gilmore Girls for the first time, which could be fun if there are some stories of insight on the show in this collection.
  • A big part of my interest here is in my recently found love of essay collections. While saying that makes me feel super boring, it really comes down to the fact that I just love hearing people’s stories, and the collections tend to allow a person’s voice to really shine through in different ways.
  • I also recently finished The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey and that certainly did spike me off on another watch through of The Office. Women in entertainment seems to be my theme in reading right now, and judging by how popular the tv series was (is?) and some of the examples in the blurb, I think this will be fun and heartfelt and lovely.

Summary

Candid, insightful, and wildly entertaining essays about life, love, and lessons learned as an actress in Hollywood, from the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and New York Times bestselling author of Talking as Fast as I Can.

With her signature sense of humor and down-to-earth storytelling, Lauren Graham opens up about her years working in the entertainment business—from the sublime to the ridiculous—and shares personal stories about everything from family and friendship to the challenges of aging gracefully in Hollywood. In “RIP Barneys New York,” she writes about an early job as a salesperson at the legendary department store — and the time she inadvertently shoplifted; in “Ne Oublie” she warns us about the perils of coming from an extremely forgetful family; and in “Actor-y Factory” she recounts what a day in the life of an actor looks like (unless you’re Brad Pitt).

Filled with surprising anecdotes, sage advice, and laugh-out-loud observations, Graham’s latest collection of all-new, original essays showcases the winning charm and wit that she’s known for.

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey

The Office BFFs: Tales of The Office from Two Best Friends Who Were There by Jenna Fischer

Recommended: yes
for people who like the show The Office (the American version, anyway), for fans of the authors in general, for some insight into the details of the show but also of the people in the show (including those we don’t directly see but who affected it so much!) and a little bit of showbiz side

Summary

Receptionist Pam Beesly and accountant Angela Martin had very little in common when they toiled together at Scranton’s Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. But, in reality, the two bonded in their very first days on set and, over the nine seasons of the series’ run, built a friendship that transcended the show and continues to this day. Sharing everything from what it was like in the early days as the show struggled to gain traction, to walking their first red carpet—plus exclusive stories on the making of milestone episodes and how their lives changed when they became moms—The Office BFFs is full of the same warm and friendly tone Jenna and Angela have brought to their Office Ladies podcast.

Thoughts

I think the obvious point to make about this book is the one I’ll just get out of the way first: yes, it’s got lots of fun and near-deadly anecdotes and insight into the show, the characters, and the people. I like The Office, and I enjoyed this book (plus it made start a new rewatch). For people who LIVE AND LOVE THE OFFICE — yeah, you’ll like this one. But even if you’re a casual viewer, you’ll enjoy it! If you’ve never seen The Office, this book is probably confusing and definitely full of spoilers, but you can still read it if you want! Why not?

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Posted in Reviews

Review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Recommended: for certain people
For folks who love food or have strong memory associations with it, for a heartwrenching amount of grief, for (seemingly, I guess who knows what she kept to herself) total honesty and dull blunt assessments of some of the most painful moments in her life, for little splashes of joy, for baffling contrasts of explosive anger and tender love

Summary

In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.

As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band–and meeting the man who would become her husband–her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.

Thoughts

I guess I didn’t expect or realize that this would be a memoir entirely via food. I’m not terribly interested in descriptions of food or eating or cooking or really much of anything about food, so this was honestly a struggle for me. Pretty much my own fault, but I still would have given this a go had I realized, I just would have been more prepared for it. There are a lot of sections that are entirely about different ingredients, or the process of cooking a meal, or the experience of eating it. If food holds memories for you (or you just like food I guess) then it probably won’t be any issue. This is a huge part of why I didn’t connect to or enjoy this one much, as much as you can “enjoy” such a sad focus in a memoir.

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Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: Parenthesis, 2/9/21

Hey y’all! In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is Parenthesis, a graphic novel memoir by Élodie Durand. And as I’ve said before, graphic novels are so often the most expressive and open medium for memoirs and personal stories. Just look at Banned Book Club! It’s no surprise that I’m ready for this one.
Expected Release: February 9, 2021

Why wait on this one?

  • As always, I pursue stories about experiences I haven’t or can’t (or in this case, hopefully never will) have myself. For Durand, it’s a tumor that emerged on her brain in her teens, causing seizures and memory loss and the identity struggles that come with it. Just when expected to be able to find herself in the world, she instead encounters a physical cause of her loss of self.
  • Since this book exists… I’m hoping for a happy ending. Or at least, a happy at-the-moment. I’m positive it will be filled with pain and hurt and fear, absolutely. But it seems that so often with those comes inevitable hope (which is itself painful, at times).
  • Graphic novels are, I think, a perfect medium for memoirs. I stand by that pretty firmly, and I so look forward to this one holding up that tradition.

Summary

Julie is barely out of her teens when a tumor begins pressing on her brain, ushering in a new world of seizures, memory gaps, and loss of self. Suddenly, the sentence of her normal life has been interrupted by the opening of a parenthesis that may never close. Based on the real experiences of cartoonist Élodie Durand, Parenthesis is a gripping testament of struggle, fragility, acceptance, and transformation which was deservedly awarded the Revelation Prize of the Angoulême International Comics Festival.

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Cat I Never Named by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess

The Cat I Never Named : A True Story of Love, War, and Survival (Hardcover)
by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Recommended: Absolutely
For people who want to be better people, for people who have never learned about the ethnic cleansing that took place in the 90s in Bosnia & Herzegovina, for a memoir of the extremes of emotion — highest hopes and bleakest depressions
Expected Release: September 8, 2020

Summary:
Amra was a teen in Bihac, Bosnia, when her friend said they couldn’t speak anymore because Amra was Muslim. Then refugees from other cities started arriving, fleeing Serbian persecution. When Serbian tanks rolled into Bihac, the life she knew disappeared—right as a stray cat followed her home. Her family didn’t have the money to keep a pet, but after the cat seemed to save her brother, how could they turn it away? Saving a life one time could be a coincidence, but then it happened again—and Amra and her family wondered just what this cat was. This is the story of a teen who, even in the brutality of war, never wavered in her determination to obtain education, maintain friendships, and even find a first love—and the cat that provided comfort, and maybe even served as a guardian spirit, in the darkest of times.

Thoughts:
The moment I saw this book was forthcoming, I knew I had to read it. I always seek to know more about people and the world and experiences that I cannot understand on my own. This memoir teaches facts through the descriptions of events, but can also teach much-needed empathy. The read is an experience in itself.

The summary and title promise that there will be a cat present throughout the story, and she does indeed weave through the pages. Simply called Maci (‘cat’), the cat who accompanies Amra’s family is a beacon of goodness. I believe every instance that happened with this cat, because they are too incredible to be invented. It gave me that kind of wondrous feeling of something more to this world that I don’t often feel. I’m grateful for so much that this book gave me, from knowledge to emotion.

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