In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

In the Country We Love: My Family DividedIn the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
Published by Henry Holt and Co.

When Diane Guerrero was just fourteen years old, her parents and brother were arrested and deported to Columbia. As Diane herself was born in the US, she was able to stay, finish her education, and pursue her dreams of becoming an actor, eventually landing a roles in the popular TV shows Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black. But living apart from her family during her teen years and navigating the world as a teenager by herself changed the trajectory of Guerrero’s life and her relationship to her family.

In the Country We Love is fascinating, horrifying and inspiring all at once and I think it was so brave for Guerrero to put her story out there and share some of the most difficult things she’s ever experienced with the world. This is one of those books that I just want to say “read it” and leave it at that, but there were a few specific things about Guerrero’s story that really stood out to me that I think are worth pointing out.

First of all, when Guerrero’s parents were arrested and removed from their home, not one person from the government reached out to her, checked on her, found her a foster family, took her to see her parents when they were in jail in the US before being deported, NOTHING. She was a child, a United States citizen, who was without any parental support or legal guardian in the country and not one person from immigration, local law enforcement, or the FBI even thought to make sure she was going to survive on her own at fourteen years old. Luckily, her friend’s mother took her in for a few years and then she transitioned to another friend’s family, but I am sure there are plenty of children in a similar situation who don’t have the kind of close friendship network that Guerrero had. It is shocking to me that a child who should be considered a ward of the state by any rational definition wouldn’t be so much as checked on by a representative of the government at any point throughout this process or in the years as she was growing up in the US without a parent or guardian.

Secondly, the degree to which this situation destroyed her family cannot be overstated and I honestly felt that Guerrero glossed over some of the ways in which this negatively affected just about every area of her life, but man was this rough on them. She lost touch with her brother, her brother’s ex-girlfriend, and her niece, she spent years estranged from her mother, not just physically but emotionally as well, her parents eventually divorced (which of course could have happened anyway but the stress of what they went through certainly didn’t help their relationship), and her parents had no significant part of her adolescence and early adulthood. She figured things out on her own and navigated the world in her own way, but the impact that this had on her life is staggering and this is just one person, one story. I can only imagine how many similar stories are out there that are equally or even more devastating.

Guerrero’s story is not all sadness, though, and that is what makes this book so fantastic. She is a very positive person who took a terrifying and sad situation and turned her life into something to be extremely proud of. It’s not just the acting – she became an advocate for other undocumented people and hard for that cause in many ways. She is an inspiring person and the fact that she was able to make her own dreams come true despite the difficulties in her life is inspiring.

The last thing I will say about this book is that the audio is amazing. I typically find that when actors narrate their own books the results are nothing short of great, and that is definitely the case here. She is telling her own story, in her own voice, and that adds so much to this book. If you choose to read In the Country We Love – and you absolutely should – definitely go with the audiobook.

So super highly recommended! If you never read celebrity memoirs, read this one. It shouldn’t even be classified that way, it is so much more than that.

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Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

Not My Father's SonNot My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming
Published by Dey Street Books

This was an audible recommended book to me based on several others I’ve listened to recently (I’m super into celebrity memoirs if you haven’t noticed), so I chose to listen to it even though I had no idea who Alan Cumming was. Turns out, he’s an actor, who was approached to do a reality TV show about his family’s genealogy, and decided to do the show in the hopes of uncovering the mystery surrounding the disappearance of his maternal grandfather many years ago. This experienced dredged up another long-buried secret that his father, from whom he was long estranged after years of abuse, decided to reveal to Alan. This secret would change the course of Alan’s personal narrative about his own life.

Alan Cumming’s story is one that absolutely needed to be told, and it’s fascinating both as a story itself and in the ways in which his father’s abuse and subsequent “confession” shaped his entire life and perception of himself. The abuse he suffered was really awful, and not just the physical aspect of it, but the way that his father indicated throughout Cumming’s life, in no uncertain terms, that he truly detested Cumming’s very existence. The fact that Cumming had to interpret this in some way as a very young child, and essentially had to tell himself that there must have been something he did wrong, something inherently wrong with him, for his father to hate him this much, is just devastating to think about.

I was less interested in learning about Cumming’s grandfather than I was about the situation with his father, which is a shame because I think that’s the part of the story that he was most happy to be sharing. I just felt that it paled in its poignancy in comparison to the issues with his father, so every time he started talking about the research he was doing about his grandfather I grew bored and restless and wanted him to go back to the other stuff.

I listened to the audio of this one and I really enjoyed hearing Cumming’s story told in his own voice. If you’re looking to pick this up I highly recommend the audio. I’m happy that I chose to listen to this book even though I didn’t have a clue who Alan Cumming was before picking it up. This is a perfect example of the fact that a well-written and interesting story is always a great choice, no matter who or what it’s about. Recommended.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
Published by Touchstone

From the publisher:

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

I am a huge fan of Anna Kendrick. Pitch Perfect is one of my favorite movies, and I just love her style, her attitude, and she seems to have a great personality. Yes, she’s a celebrity, but she seems very down-to-earth to me and like someone I could be friends with.

I’m glad I read this book because it confirmed everything I already felt to be true about Kendrick. She’s funny, but not silly funny, she has a sharp, smart witty sort of humor that fits with my style. I enjoyed getting to know her and found her charming and interesting along with funny.

I can’t say there’s anything revolutionary in the book in terms of the actual content, but I found a lot of her stories interesting and certainly entertaining. There’s a glimpse into show business, some behind the scenes commentary on some of the movies she’s done, and a lot about her personal experiences growing up – and while some of the stories are pretty random, there were some pretty hilarious ones in there, too.

What I would say as far as criticism is that I didn’t feel enough of a flow to the book – while I realize this is an essay collection and not a classic memoir, it felt a little all over the place without anything connecting each of the different sections to each other. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed this journey through Anna Kendrick’s brain and I’d highly recommend it if you are a fan of hers.

One other thing – I listened to the audio of Scrappy Little Nobody and I absolutely recommend that if you do choose to read the book. Kendrick narrates herself so it really feels as though she is talking to you, letting you in on her life stories and the way her brain works. I really enjoyed the experience and it for sure enhanced the overall quality of the book for me.

Final verdict – if you are an Anna Kendrick fan, this is a must-read. If you’re not familiar with her, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the book too much.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Modern RomanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Published by Penguin Press

From the publisher:

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?” 

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

This book was exactly what I expected, and that’s a good thing. I was hoping for a smart, funny look at dating in the modern world and how things have evolved and changed over the years, with a few jokes throughout – and that’s what Ansari gave me.

I particularly enjoyed what Ansari and Klinenberg learned from the focus groups in other countries. It’s always interesting to me to learn how people in other cultures do things, so learning about how twentysomethings in Tokyo meet people and find love as opposed to how it’s done in Buenos Aires was fascinating. Even among different parts of the US there are vast differences – for example, dating in New York City, where there are tons of young single people to meet at any given moment, is completely different from dating in a small town where people mostly can only date people they’ve known since elementary school.

I guess I don’t have a lot to say about this one, but I really enjoyed it. It was highly entertaining and Ansari is funny even when he’s talking about the most mundane of topics. Also, I listened to the audio which was a great choice because Ansari narrates it himself, and is able to use the proper inflections and changes in tone, which is especially helpful when he’s being funny.

If you’re a fan of Ansari, don’t miss the book. If you’re interested in dating in the modern world, don’t miss this book. If you’re zero percent interested in either of those things, Modern Romance may not be the book for you. But I really liked it!

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rimes

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own PersonYear of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rimes
Published by Simon & Schuster

From the publisher:

The mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder chronicles how saying YES for one year changed her life―and how it can change yours, too.

With three hit shows on television and three children at home, the uber-talented Shonda Rhimes had lots of good reasons to say NO when an unexpected invitation arrived. Hollywood party? No. Speaking engagement? No. Media appearances? No.

And there was the side-benefit of saying No for an introvert like Shonda: nothing new to fear.

Then Shonda’s sister laid down a challenge: just for one year, try to say YES to the unexpected invitations that come your way. Shonda reluctantly agreed―and the result was nothing short of transformative. In Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes chronicles the powerful impact saying yes had on every aspect of her life―and how we can all change our lives with one little word. Yes.

I loved this book. I loved it and cherished it and marveled at it the way that I did with Lean In and Tiny Beautiful Things – two books that inspired me and caused me to look at myself differently, to question if the way I was doing things and living my life was the BEST way, the most authentic way. That’s how I feel about Year of Yes – like a changed, more inspired, challenged person.

Shonda Rimes did something so brave, and that is that she challenged herself to say yes to every single thing that scared her in one year. If I did that … I can’t even fathom that. I am scared of a lot of things. So to say that her journey was inspiring to me is a huge understatement. I can’t even begin to go into detail about all the things that she did, but broadly speaking – she gave speeches, did a lot more publicity than she had ever done before, became more confident as a leader, eliminated friendships with toxic people, made a huge decision about her personal life, oh and also lost over 100 pounds and embarked on a completely new healthy lifestyle. The weight loss is SO not the point of the book, just one of many things that she said yes to, but it becomes a physical manifestation, a metaphor if you will, for all the other amazingly positive things that happened in Rimes’ life because of saying yes.

To get into how much I gleaned from the book personally would be too much to share here. Let’s just say that Shonda gave me a LOT to think about. A lot a lot a lot. I’ve been doing tons of thinking since the first chapter of the book, and I just finished it today, and let’s just say I’ll continue to do a lot of thinking for a long time. And doing. I want to do some doing, too.

I am a huge fan of Shondaland shows. I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder from the beginning of each show. But I don’t think you need to be a fan of Shonda’s shows, or even understand what she’s all about as a TV writer, to appreciate the book. I think a book this inspiring has the power to positively influence just about anyone to make some kind of positive change. I just had to put that out there in case you’re saying – but I don’t watch her shows, there won’t be anything here for me. Not true.

However. If you ARE a fan of Shonda’s shows, you will love this book that much more. The book is written how the characters on her show talk – the essence of Shonda Rimes just pours out of the page (and poured right into my heart and mind). It is a fantastic experience. And I listened to the audio, which she narrates herself. SO SO GOOD. I definitely recommend that choice if you’re an audio person.

So very very highly recommended. I wanted to hug the book when I was done with it. And find Shonda and hug her, too. And become her best friend. Love love love.

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and ScientologyTroublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
Published by Ballantine Books

From the publisher:

Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.

That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.

Indoctrinated into the church as a child while living with her mother and sister in New York, Remini eventually moved to Los Angeles, where her dreams of becoming an actress and advancing Scientology’s causes grew increasingly intertwined. As an adult, she found the success she’d worked so hard for, and with it a prominent place in the hierarchy of celebrity Scientologists alongside people such as Tom Cruise, Scientology’s most high-profile adherent. Remini spent time directly with Cruise and was included among the guests at his 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes.

But when she began to raise questions about some of the church’s actions, she found herself a target. In the end, she was declared by the church to be a threat to their organization and therefore a “Suppressive Person,” and as a result, all of her fellow parishioners—including members of her own family—were told to disconnect from her. Forever.

Bold, brash, and bravely confessional, Troublemaker chronicles Leah Remini’s remarkable journey toward emotional and spiritual freedom, both for herself and for her family. This is a memoir designed to reveal the hard-won truths of a life lived honestly—from an author unafraid of the consequences.

I have to admit that Scientology fascinates me to no end. All religious cult-ish things fascinate me, but Scientology in particular because it’s such a big thing among celebrities. I feel like people who are swayed by cults would typically be people who are needing/wanting for something tangible, and the cult promises to deliver that – disenfranchised people, basically. But celebrities are anything but disenfranchised, they’re some of the most privileged among us, so why on earth would they be attracted to this “religion”? For everything I’d read in the past about Scientology, I couldn’t understand that specific aspect of the religion, so for that reason it was absolutely enlightening to read Leah Remini’s story.

Remini does a good job telling the story of how her family came to be Scientologists, what life was like for her growing up in the church, and then spent a good chunk of the book on how Scientology was in the fiber of every single aspect of her life throughout her adulthood. She talks a lot about how being a celebrity in the church comes with tons of special perks, how the church actively recruits celebrities because the belief is that if more celebrities are public Scientologists, more “regular” people will also join the church.

Being a celebrity Scientologist, one could assume that Remini was friendly with Tom Cruise. She is very clear in the book on exactly what type of friendship the two of them had (knew each other and spent some time together, but they weren’t exactly friends) and how her association with Cruise was a part of why and how she ended up leaving the church. It’s a pretty jaw-dropping story and definitely one you have to read to believe. But I loved this part of the book – yes, it’s juicy celebrity gossip, but on another level it is beyond fascinating to see how the inner workings of Scientology are just so freaking weird. There is no other way to put it. This shit is weird.

I enjoyed the hell out of the ride that Remini took me on with this book. It’s no joke that Scientologists are extremely calculating and cruel, especially when a person leaves the church, so I do believe she took a risk in writing her truth for the world to see. Her bravery and honesty in the face of this cult-like organization are inspiring and honestly, the book is just incredibly entertaining. Also, she reads the audio herself – and she’s a pretty good actress, so she does a great job. I really enjoyed Troublemaker. If you are at all interested in Scientology and/or celebrity memoirs, this is a great one to pick up.

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading part 4)

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
Published by Image Comics

Publisher’s summary: When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

I chose to read Saga because I have been wanting to try more comics and everyone raves about this one, so I thought it would be a good choice. I really loved it! I loved the angle of these star-crossed lovers – individuals from two different intergalactic species that happen to be at war who fall in love, have a child together, and have to try to make it despite the universe telling them they cannot be together. There is war, drama, love, ghosts – you name it, Saga has got it. And the illustrations are absolutely beautiful and SO creative. I am by no means an expert on comics but I found this one truly excellent and am looking forward to reading the rest.

Mambo in ChinatownMambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok
Published by Riverhead Books

Charlie Wong has spent almost no time throughout her twenty-two years of life outside of Chinatown, where she lives with her father and younger sister. Her job as a dishwasher makes her miserable, so when she lands a new job as a receptionist at a dance studio, she’s thrilled. As Charlie gets to know this new world of dance, her own talents begin to rise to the surface and her life quickly changes into something she had never dreamed for herself. At the same time, however, her sister is having trouble in school and seems to become almost chronically ill. Charlie has to figure out how to grow into her new identity in the American world while at the same time figuring out how to get her firmly Eastern world-minded father to help her sister.

Jean Kwok has a talent for bringing to life the experiences of people I don’t read much about – in her first novel, she detailed the life of Chinese immigrants, and in this one it’s all about American-born Chinese – those who were born here in America, but have lived their lives immersed in Chinese culture. I really enjoyed this novel and felt SO deeply for Charlie. She is the kind of character the reader connects to immediately and roots for throughout the novel. I read so anxiously and hopefully as Charlie discovered this new world, as she learned that she has true talent for something other than washing dishes, and as she stood up to her father and her uncle in regards to her sister’s care. I was proud of her, even! Kwok really showed the reader how difficult a balance children of immigrants must strike between their parents’ ways of thinking and living and the ways of the culture they’ve been immersed in here in the US. Mambo in Chinatown is a fantastic story with a lot to think about, a ton of heart, and great characters. Highly recommended.

Why Not Me?Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling
Published by Crown Archetype

Mindy Kaling’s second collection of essays invites readers to see inside her brain as she talks about career, her quest to find happiness and excitement in life, falling in love, and looking different from just about every other person in Hollywood.

I’m a huge Mindy Kaling fan and I really enjoyed these essays. Kaling is smart, witty, extremely funny, and really has an eye for what’s going on in society. She pokes fun at people and ideas without being hurtful, while at the same time shows readers how tough it can be to be yourself in a world that wants you to be the same as everyone else. She is just great, I enjoy her tremendously, and if you like her humor you should definitely read both of her books.

Mini-Reviews: Recent Nonfiction Reads

Bad Feminist: EssaysBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Published by Harper Perennial

I wish I had the energy or motivation to write an entire post about this incredibly smart, challenging, and at times witty book of essays but I’m struggling to find the right words to gush about it. I loved Gay’s style of writing – it’s intensely personal but in a way that made me feel like I was chatting with a girlfriend (a highly intelligent girlfriend who motivated me to think more deeply about things). The essays here are about all sorts of things, almost all relating in some way to feminism, but some more loosely than others, and many having to do with racism and sexism and how the two intersect in ways that most people don’t realize or even care to consider. My favorite essay in the book, hands down, is one where Gay lists rules for how women should be while in friendships with other women. It’s brilliant and so true that I want to share it with every woman I know. If you’re at all interested in feminism, read this book. If you think feminism is not necessary, read this book. If you think racism and sexism are not things that happen anymore, read this book. Or if you just happen to be interested in good writing, read this book. Bad Feminist is great and I’m looking forward to more from Roxane Gay.

Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity...and Why It MattersUnchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Published by Baker Books

The authors of this book did an extensive study on young people’s attitudes and beliefs about Christians. Not about Christianity itself, but Christians as people. The implications for what they learned – mainly that young people perceive Christians to be judgmental, hypocritical, homophobic, obsessed with politics and politicians that reflect their conservative beliefs – can have huge implications for the future of Christianity. IF the right people read this book, learn from it, and make changes. I agree with a lot of what Kinnaman and Lyons said here, and although I am a Christian I personally see a lot of what was reflected in the book and it doesn’t always make me feel good about calling myself a Christian. While I enjoyed reading this book, mostly because it confirmed for me a lot of things I already felt, I don’t see how it will make a difference because I just don’t anticipate that the people who need to read the book will actually read it. Church leaders who want to actively change the way Christians are perceived in the world should be reading Unchristian and doing something with the knowledge gleaned from it, but I just don’t see that happening. That being said, I think it’s a valuable read for those of us who try to represent Christ in the world while holding tight to a church that isn’t perceived to consistently do a great job of being Christ-like in its actions.

I Suck at Relationships So You Don't Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever AfterI Suck at Relationships So You Don’t Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever After by Bethenny Frankel
Published by Touchstone

The ONLY reason I read this book is because Bethenny Frankel wrote it. I have a slight obsession with her – I think she’s hilarious and smart, witty and incredibly tough, a person who doesn’t take shit from anyone but isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and have her heart broken (on TV, no less), and ultimately is the most genuinely real reality TV star out there (and I watch too much reality TV, so I have formed quite an opinion). Honestly this book was really silly and nothing that I could ever use or need in real life. But I appreciated her snark throughout and her attitude always puts a smile on my face. I can’t imagine anyone that would actually use this advice, but she’s sold tons of copies already so obviously those people are out there. I can’t say I really liked this one, but if you are a fan of Bethenny you’ll probably want to pick it up.

Mini-Reviews – End of 2014 Reading part 4

The Rosie Effect (Don Tillman #2)The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
Published by Text Publishing Company
Review copy provided by Netgalley

I loved The Rosie Project so I was super excited to see that Simsion wrote a sequel. In this book, Rosie and Don have been married just under a year when Rosie becomes pregnant. Unfortunately, this sends their relationship into a tailspin – the two of them aren’t communicating, Don has moved a friend into their apartment, and Rosie continues to insist that everything is fine even when it so obviously is not.

I have to be honest and say that I was so disappointed in this book. What was endearing and cute about Don in the first book became redundant and quite annoying in this one. Further, it bothered me how Don and Rosie both acted exactly in character, yet for some reason neither one was able to figure out how to deal with the others’ issues – even though they figured out how to communicate and get along perfectly fine in book one! Wouldn’t you think that Rosie would understand how Don sees the world and acts in the face of adversity and know how to handle it when things out of the ordinary happen (as she did in the first book)? And vice versa? I was, quite frankly, bored with most of the book and if I hadn’t gotten it from a review copy source I would have abandoned it. I like Simsion’s writing but I’m ready for him to create some new characters.

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
Published by It Books

I have been a fan of Amy Poehler since she was on Saturday Night Live. I love Parks and Recreation (and really, really don’t want this to be the last season – SO SAD!) and I knew I’d read this book as soon as I could. Yes Please was everything I wanted and more. Funny, honest, authentic, true, Amy Poehler is everything and I just love her. Everyone says that the audio is better than print, so I may have to reread it this year in audio format. But either way, it’s fantastic and if you are at all a fan of Poehler’s, this is a must-read.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged HospitalFive Days at Memorial: Life and Death at a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sherri Fink
Published by Crown

If you haven’t heard of this book, chronicling the five days nurses, doctors, patients and their families spent at Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, you must have been living under a rock. I am here to tell you that the praise this book has received is absolutely worth it, Five Days at Memorial is an incredibly fascinating, if terrifying, read. There’s so much here to think about and discuss it boggles the mind but the biggest lesson I took from this book is that disaster planning is so necessary, especially for big companies. There are individuals who Fink kind of points the finger at here, but at the end of the day, the structures that are supposed to be in place to protect people from having to make life or death decisions in the face of very little food, sleep, and water were just not in place here. I cannot recommend this book enough. I didn’t put it on my end of year survey because I hadn’t quite finished it when I wrote that, but Five Days at Memorial is one of the best books I read all year, hands down. And the audio production is fabulous. Please pick up this book in audio or print – either way you will not regret it.

Mini-reviews: Celebrity Memoirs

Love LifeLove Life by Rob Lowe
Published by Simon & Schuster

I really liked Lowe’s first book, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, so I knew I’d get to this one as soon as I could. Love Life isn’t so much a fluid memoir as it is a series of anecdotes, vignettes, and stories about Lowe’s life – both the career side and the personal side. He talks a lot about his family in this book, and I loved getting to know him more through the stories about his wife and children. There’s less name-dropping in this book than in the first one – this one seemed more personal to me, less talk of other celebrities, unless they were integral in some way to a story about something else. Of course, I listened to the audio of this one, narrated by Lowe himself, and it was phenomenal. I could listen to that guy’s voice all day long. If you’re a fan of Rob Lowe, I highly recommend this book.

Brunette AmbitionBrunette Ambition by Lea Michele
Published by Harmony Books

I really like Glee and I think Lea Michele is super talented. I was heartbroken for her over the passing of Cory Monteith, and I admired the way she handled herself immediately after his death. Unfortunately, her book is not something I enjoyed. It seemed that the overall message of the book is “be unique, be yourself, you are special just the way you are”, yet the entire book is her telling her fans what’s worked for her in all aspects of her life – food, style, health, etc. So if the reader is supposed to be their own unique self, why would they read this book and become exactly like Lea Michele? The message was very confusing to me. Also, I tried making one of her recipes (for Italian Vegetable Soup), hoping that the recipe would redeem the rest of the book, and the soup turned out just okay. Nothing special. So even though I’m still a fan of Lea Michele, I did not like her book.

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham
Published by Random House

I’ve seen the first two seasons of Girls and really admire the way Dunham is so unflinchingly honest in that show, the way the characters say and do things that are real and authentic but rarely shown/discussed on TV. I was excited to read this book because I wanted to get to know Dunham more as a person, outside of the character she plays on the show. I liked this book enough – basically she’s the same raw, authentic person in real life as Hannah, the character she portrays on her show. She’s not afraid to tell the truth and nothing embarrasses her. I didn’t love this book, though, and I think I was just expecting more. I guess I was expecting more of a deeper read – I don’t know how to explain it. But I liked it! I admire Dunham a lot and I am glad I read her book. Also, I listened to the audio of this one, which is narrated by Dunham herself, and it was a great choice.