Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Seeing Me Naked - by Liza Palmer

Seeing Me Naked by Liza Palmer. This is her second book and the second book of hers that I've read. Her first book, Conversations with the Fat Girl, was amazing and I actually used a quote from it as my quote on Facebook.  The way that Liza Palmer talks about life is just real. You can't help but feel what her characters are feeling be dragged into their neurosis and cheer for them to overcome them.  You laugh with them and you cry with them.  That's just what I did, again, in Seeing Me Naked.  Initially, it was just another good enjoyable book that I picked up and read during my nightly bath, putting it down and picking it back up the next night. But around the third night, about halfway through the book, I just couldn't put it down and I had to finish it.  It was really that good.  The characters are so fleshed out that they just feel real. And when the book is over you don't want it to end, you want to keep reading and know more about what happens as their lives continue.  To me, that's the true mark of a great book and a great author.

Seeing Me Naked is the story of Elisabeth Page. She's the daughter of a great Pulitzer Prize winning author. Her mother was heir to a family fortune. Her brother has followed in his father's footsteps becoming a great author in his own right.  Elisabeth, however, has followed her own path, she's a pastry chef.  Her 5 year plan has become an 11 year plan as she fights to pull herself out of the shadow of her family to discover who she really is.  It's not until she can really look at herself for who she is that someone else can do the same.  This is a love story but it's really more about learning to love yourself and learning what love really is and how to do it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's Hard Not to Hate You - by Valerie Frankel

It's hard not to love this book and to love Valerie after reading it.  Heck, I think I love myself a little more for reading it.  To say that I couldn't put it down would be an understatement.  I LOVED IT!  From the first chapter this book resonated so honestly with me that I felt like I could be reading my own story. 

For the record, unlike most of her other books, this is a memoir, a story of Valerie's life as a writer, a mother, a wife, but most of all a hater of the worst kind.  It began for her in 6th grade when she was shunned by her friends, laughed at in school and generally mistreated.  She decided to put on her "poker face" and not let the world see how much it got to her.  She let her hate fester and grow, but at some point it had to get out.

In her 40's after working years as a writer, losing her first husband to cancer in his 30's, leaving her with 2 small children and remarrying, she finds that she's inherited a rare genetic predisposition to cancer.  Luckily, her tumors were pre-cancerous, but this finding set her on a journey to discover a few things about herself.  She was angry at life, angry at everything, and hated everyone.  She had to learn how to let it out and calm down.  Over the course of a year, her discussions with a psychic, a Buddhist monk and Joan Rivers finally allow her to find a calmer version of herself.  She learned how to express her needs rather than just standing by and letting things happen around her (or not happen). 

"I'd ask you to please......" Read This Book.

It's Hard Not to Hate You

*I received a free promotional copy of this book for the promise of doing a review.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Might Queens of Freeville: A Mother, A Daughter & The Town that Raised Thme , by Amy Dickinson

The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them is the memoir of Amy Dickinson, the writer selected to replace Ann Landers.  This book is her story to some degree.  It's by no means a biography but more of stories of her life.  Each chapter is written around a theme and usually shares multiple small stories and one major one along the theme that ties them all together.

While the subtitle declares the book to be about "A Mother, A Daughter, and the Town that Raised them", I really wanted more of "the town that raised them".  I could see the stories as they were being woven together into a great movie, and I could also see someone coming along and fleshing out the stories of the smaller characters to make for a great little television series.

Amy comes from a long line of strong women in a small town.  Women, who for many generations have been used to going it alone. To the extent that the one aunt she has who got married and stayed married to her death was seen as an anomaly.  After years of marriage, Amy found herself returning back home to Freeville, a single mother.  By what seems like happenstance, but is closer to reality than what the movies want us to believe, Amy stumbles from one job to another and simply by knowing the right person gets her foot in the door to apply for the job as the countries most read advice columnist.  If knowing the right person was what got her foot in the door, giving the right answers was what got her the right job.  Amy shares the ups and downs of her life and what we learn through it is that she's just a normal woman from a small town, with lots of common sense that she inherited from all the other women in her life.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Faith: A Novel by Jennifer Haigh

I was sent an advanced reader copy of this book, for review purposes, by the Amazon Vine program.

I read early reviews of this book comparing it to the books of Jodi Piccoult, since I really enjoy her books, I thought I might also enjoy this one and I was right.  Although, it was a little slow going in the second and third chapter, once she started getting to the meat of the story, it all came together and really kept me intrigued and wanting to read more.

"Faith: A Novel" delves into the story behind the priest molestation scandal of the early 2000's.  This is the story of Father Arthur, one of the many priests who found himself ousted from his post after an accusation that he molested a child.  The story is told by his sister, Sheila, the one member of his family who opted out of their Catholic faith and is considered somewhat of the black sheep.  Despite this, her older brother, the priest, never turned his back on her and they stayed close.  Through the course of the book, Sheila shares what she learned about her own family, a family she really knew little of, in the months following the accusation.  While she chooses to stand by Arthur faithfully, her brother Mike instantly chooses to believe the allegations.  The truth is much deeper than any could know and Sheila finally uncovers it as she learns more and more about her own family.

There is always more to any story than meets the eye, and much like the books by Jodi Piccoult, that's what Haigh is getting at in this book.  While the press focused on the top layer of the story, this book examines the "what if" behind the stories.  While this book is fiction, it does make me wonder more about the stories of those affected by this scandal, on both sides of the story.  This is the story of a family changed forever, and of a faith changed forever.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli

It's a true sign of a good book when you are still thinking about it a week after finishing it (while halfway into another book). I've wanted to write a review for a while but I've had a really hard time processing my thoughts on this book to get them into words and I wanted to say a little more than "I really liked this book".

From the very start, "Radio Shangri-La" felt a bit like "Eat, Pray, Love", with that vibe of journeying across the world to find ones own self.  Lisa's journey is a bit different and in some ways maybe not as profound as Elizabeth Gilbert's, but at the same time just as important.

The subtitle of the book is "What I Learned in the Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth", and it is not just what she learned about herself that makes this such a good book and so interesting a story. As much, if not moreso, it's what she learned about Bhutan itself, and its inhabitants. 

Through a strange twist of fate meeting, radio reporter, Lisa Napoli gets an offer to go to Bhutan and help the Kingdom start their first radio station.  This is a Kingdom that rarely allows outsiders and when they do they charge a pretty steep travel surcharge.  Until the mid-90's, the people there did not even have television.  A one month trip to volunteer becomes several trips over the course of a couple of years and through her trips and her eyes we watch two parallel evolutions.  We see how Lisa changes how she looks at herself and at life in general, and we see how the people of Bhutan change their outlook on life.  Perhaps it is seeing possibilities that keep one from being happy?

Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert in "Eat, Pray, Love", Lisa didn't embark on this journey as a means of self-discovery or looking to change herself.  It was just an opportunity that fell in her lap and bored with the status quo she decided to accept the opportunity, with little knowledge of what she would find when she got to there.  In the end, I think that's what really seperates this book from the other.  While Gilbert's book is internal, Napoli's is external.  This book is less about her and more about others.  However you choose to look at it, I think it's a great book, not only interesting in the story but interesting in an informative way of learning about a culture you've rarely, if ever, heard of.

I was sent a free copy of this book from Read It Forward, which is an online service that provides advance reader copies of various books (free) with the idea that when you are finished, you pass it on.  I already know who this book is going to.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I recently caught the 2004 movie version of this book (starring Kristen Stewart) on Lifetime. The movie was good enough that I decided it would be worthwhile to read the book. As is usually the case, the book was much better.

This is one of those situations where reading the book and knowing what it's about, you find the book almost too enjoyable for the subject-matter. In a way this book is almost a dark comedy, as much as it is a serious message about what young people really go through.

Freshman year is a hard transition for anyone, but for Melinda it's even harder. She begins her first year of high school without any friends; not because she is new to a school, but because over the summer she called the cops to a party. No one knows why she called the police, and she hasn't told them. She bears this secret right along with the day to day struggle of seeing the people who were once her friends.

Her grades drop as she skips classes. All her parents see is a child who once "perfect" suddenly changing her actions and attitudes and refusing to speak.

The book progresses through the school year, as we watch Melinda fall further and further into herself and away from others. As she struggles with telling someone what happened over the summer, we finally learn what it was. There are moments of dark humor throughout the book, allowing you to feel the emotions that Melinda feels and struggle right along beside her.

The book is listed as "adolescent reading" but I thought it was a great read, and would recommend it for any woman (regardless of age).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

This book started a little slow for me, but by the end of the first chapter I was totally absorbed. A Reliable Wife is the story of two people, Ralph Truitt & Catherine Land, who are very different and yet so much the same. It is the story of how you so often find what you are looking for when you are looking for something else entirely; of how we rarely really know ourselves, let alone what we are looking for, or what we want.

Catherine Land is a woman who believes she is about beginnings and endings. She is looking for the ending to her story, with a feeling that there is no way that the middle could offer anything worthwhile. It's 1907 and she's in Chicago and answers a personal ad placed by Ralph Truitt, a wealthy businessman from Wisconsin, looking for a reliable wife. She replies that she is a simple and honest woman. Yet, she is anything but.

Ralph is looking for a reliable wife, but that's not really all he's looking for. He has a purpose in wanting a wife; a plan. Then again Catherine has a plan of her own; a plan to end up a wealthy widow. But, there's more to her story too than meets the eye.

Ralph has lost much in his life; the only woman he ever loved cheated on him and left him with a son that wasn't his. Eventually, he drove that son away out of hatred for the mother. Ralph wants a second chance, a second chance with his son, a second chance at life, a second chance at a legacy of his own. He figures if he has a new wife, his son will return. He sends Catherine to find his son and bring him back home.

The story twists and turns and even as I found the story going in the direction my mind wondered if it might go, I was still surprised that it went there, surprised at how it got there, surprised at just how much I felt for these people. Catherine and Ralph become more than just characters in a book, they become real people that you feel for and hope for and want happy endings for. As you read, you can't help but understand how each of them got to this point in their lives, and made the choices they made. You understand why they made these choices, and your heart breaks for them; at least mine did. I yearned for their happiness as much as they wanted it themselves.

Robert Goolrick is a powerful story teller and is amazing at character building. I'll be looking for his other books and hoping that this is something he does in each one.