Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
Published by Hachette

I hadn’t even heard of Lindy West when her memoir came full-force into the book world, but many of the feminist authors and activists I’ve come to admire over the years were recommending it, so I read a few pieces she’d written online before downloading this audio. I liked the snippets of West’s that I read, so I settled in for what I anticipated to be a smart, funny listen that would hopefully make me think differently about some issues. And I got exactly what I was hoping for.

Lindy West is incredibly smart, darkly funny but also witty and can even be silly funny, and bares all for the reader in her book. She talks about the experience of having an abortion and how it affected her (and, more importantly, the ways in which it did NOT affect her). She talks about having a “debate” on national TV about why it is not okay for comedians to make fun of rape, or more specifically, of women who have been raped. She rails against a societal message that to be fat is to be less than, that we should make judgments about people based on what their bodies look like. There is a LOT packed within these pages and I could have had twice as much, that is how much I enjoyed it.

I listened to the audio of Shrill, which West narrates herself, and it was fantastic. There’s nothing like an intelligent, interesting human telling his/her own story in their own voice, right into your ears.

There’s a lot to discuss within the pages of Shrill, but I’ll leave it short and sweet here. This book is really great, full of anecdotes and opinions, yes, but so much food for thought about topics even I, a self-proclaimed feminist, hadn’t really considered before. Highly recommended.

Two Rush-inspired reads

My boyfriend is a huge fan of the band Rush, and as a drummer himself, he particularly loves Neil Peart. He is also not a big reader, so when he suggested that I read a few books that he’s really loved over the years – both Rush-inspired – I definitely wanted to check them out. While I didn’t love either book, I can see how a Rush fan certainly would love them both. Here’s a few thoughts on these two books.

Clockwork Angels (Clockwork Angels, #1)Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson
Published by ECW Press

This is a sort-of steampunk, sort-of dystopian novel that was inspired by Neil Peart’s lyrics in the Rush album Clockwork Angels. It’s basically about a teenage boy who grew up knowing that the Watchmaker (almost like the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz) has put the world in such a perfect ordered way so that everyone can have peace and happiness. Everything is done in a prescribed way, every day is exactly like the one before it, and as long as everyone follows the rules and their routines, everything will be great. But when he’s on the cusp of becoming an adult in this society, he goes on an adventure that changes everything for him, as he learns that the way he grew up is not the only way of doing things, and he can live in a different society, with a different way of life, if he chooses to leave his father and everything he knows behind.

I liked the concept of Clockwork Angels enough and the way the world is explained by Anderson was interesting and gave me a feel for what’s going on within it. The main character, Owen was extremely ignorant about the world around him, which, although annoying, was of course by design so it made sense. Also, I would have liked to see a bit more character development within Owen, which could possibly have made me want to read future novels in this (I think) series. The story is well-paced and definitely held my interest – at no point did I consider giving up on the book, even though I found the writing and the story itself just okay.

The main thing I can say about Clockwork Angels is that I can totally see how a Rush fan would absolutely love it. There are tons of Rush lyrics sprinkled throughout the book – it would almost be like a scavenger hunt for a Rush super-fan to attempt to find them all. And now that I know some of the songs from the Clockwork Angels album, I can see how a fan of the band would love that the concepts of the album were expanded into a novel. Ultimately, this is a conceptual book more than anything else, and while it works on that level, either you’d like it if you’re a Rush fan and probably just not get it if you are not.

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing RoadGhost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart
Published by ECW Press

When Neil Peart was in his mid-forties, his nineteen-year-old daughter was in a fatal car accident. A year later, after being unable to cope with her grief, his wife Jackie succumbed to terminal cancer and also died. Ghost Rider is Peart’s memoir chronicling the year he spent by himself, driving around Canada, the US, and Mexico on his motorcycle, attempting to grieve and heal from the pain of losing the two most important people in his life.

Can you imagine losing a child, and then watching your spouse die just a year later? I certainly cannot, and I think these two things are the two things in the world most people fear the most. This was an interesting memoir because the way Peart chose to deal with his grief is definitely unique, but he knew himself well enough to know that this was the only way he could possibly heal and maybe move on to some other life he couldn’t dream of at the time that he started his journey. I liked reading Ghost Rider as a memoir on grief and found it interesting how Peart was able to heal himself throughout this journey.

While I liked the book, I can see how Rush fans must absolutely love it. Peart is a relatively private person and doesn’t like giving interviews or meeting fans, so for a Rush fan to get this much of an intimate look inside his thoughts, to get to know him this well, must be a pretty great thing. I would recommend Ghost Rider to any Rush fan or anyone who is looking for a memoir around the grieving process.

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in BetweenTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
Published by Ballantine Books

I’m not sure what to say about Talking as Fast as I Can that hasn’t been said by other reviewers – if you like Lauren Graham, especially if you are/were a fan of Gilmore Girls, this is a must read. She has tons of funny stories and reflections and some more serious thoughts about the show itself, what happened leading up to and during the filming for the Netflix 10 years later series, and all kinds of other stuff about her life, fame, etc. Graham narrates the audio herself and it is a fantastic performance, so definitely consider that if you’re an audio fan. The book was exactly what I expected, but in the best possible way. As I said – a must read if you’re a fan of the author or of Gilmore Girls.

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.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 Part 1

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 was a crazy year for me in a lot of respects. One thing that happened towards the second half of the year, due to a lot of personal stuff, is that my reading slowed down a LOT. But there are still a few books that I managed to get through these past few months that I haven’t told you guys about. So I thought I’d start 2017 by wrapping up 2016 in the form of mini-reviews of my final six reads of 2016. Here are the first three.

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6)The Trespasser by Tana French
Published by Viking

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and, as expected, the genius of Tana French did not disappoint. I really loved detective Antoinette Conway – there’s something so incredible about French writing a female character, as she wrote Cassie in The Likeness. Of course, all of her characters are fantastic, but I have been particularly drawn to those two out of the six she’s written so far. In this book, Conway and her partner, detective Stephen Moran, are assigned to a murder case that seems pretty simple at first – a young woman is found dead from a head injury after it appears that she had a dinner date all set up and ready to go – but it becomes clear right from the start that things are not what they seem with the victim and those around her. As only French can do, she pulls together all of the different threads of this story, mixed in with intricate character development and snappy dialogue, and she had me riveted throughout the entire novel. I absolutely loved it and am ready for the next book in the series.

I'm Just a PersonI’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro
Published by Ecco

I’d heard of Tig Notaro before picking up the book from watching the Ellen show and seeing her talk about her HBO special, but I didn’t know too much about her before picking up her memoir. She’s a fascinating woman with an incredible story about going through so much personally with her own health, losing her mother at a relatively young age, dealing with heartbreak and professional setback, and she dealt with all of that by using humor and a positive attitude to mostly make it through unscathed. She’s got a dry, sarcastic kind of humor that I am drawn to and really appreciate, so I really enjoyed her take on her own life story. Also, I listened to the audio, which she narrates, and I thought it was definitely the way to go. I found myself admiring her and I really enjoyed getting to know her through reading this memoir.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

I FINALLY got around to reading this one, months after it was published, and while I liked it enough, I definitely wasn’t wowed by it. I’ll admit that it took me a bit to get into the format of reading a Harry Potter book as a play instead of a novel, but even with that issue aside, I didn’t love this like I had hoped that I would. It was definitely an interesting take on where these characters’ lives went, years after the final book in the series concluded, and I certainly appreciated getting to know the children of the characters I fell so deeply in love with while reading books 1-7, but I felt just meh about where the plot went and the choices that were made about how these characters would have reacted to certain events throughout this experience. I don’t know – on the one hand, I was grateful to get another look into these characters’ lives and to spend “extra” time with them, but on the other hand, I was disappointed with exactly how everything turned out here. Meh.

Mini-reviews – catching up

Relish: My Life in the KitchenRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

This is an adorable food-themed graphic memoir that was super enjoyable to read. Lucy Knisley basically takes the most pivotal moments in her life and relates them to what she was eating, cooking, or learning to make at that time. I really loved the experience of reading this book – not only is it a heartwarming memoir, but the illustrations are great and Knisley includes several of her tried-and-true and family recipes, as well. Overall I just really enjoyed it and will definitely be looking for more from this author.

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Published by Flatiron Books

The basic gist of this one is three couples, of varying degrees of friendship, get together one night for a barbecue and something disastrous happens. The book details the personalities and relationships of the characters before the big event, and then goes into depth on how it has a ripple effect on each one of the characters for quite some time after. I have really loved all of Moriarty’s novels and this one was no exception. The way she is able to create tension amongst a group of people and the way she is able to make even the most vile of characters sympathetic and relatable are two talents that she has that very few authors share with her to this degree. I was definitely kept on the edge of my seat throughout this novel and continue to be impressed with her writing and ability to craft a well-paced, unputdownable story.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Feyre is nineteen years old and her life revolves around finding food for her family and staying safe from the faeries that once ruled the world she lives in. When she kills a wolf in the woods, who turns out to not be a wolf but a faerie, she is collected by Tamlin, another faerie, to give her life in exchange for the one she killed. Once she gets to his estate, she finds herself falling in love with him and subsequently doing everything in her power to protect Tamlin and his world from the dark power that threatens to overtake it.

That was a cliffnotes version of a summary of this book – a book that I liked a LOT. I don’t read a ton of fantasy (almost none, actually) but this one really worked for me. The main element of the book that I loved was getting to know the characters – Maas did an excellent job making Feyre an incredibly believable character that I could really relate to. And Tamlin drew me in with his fiery, dark personality – I loved the two of them together. Plus, their chemistry was seriously hot. This is NOT a book for young teens – there were some pretty intense sexy times happening here. Anyway – I really liked this book and definitely will get to the sequel.

Sweet Disorder (Lively St. Lemeston, #1)Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
Published by Samhain Publishing

Romance is a genre that I’m just getting into and Rose Lerner is an author recommended to me by the lovely and brilliant Jenny at Reading the End. I am happy to say that I did like this one and it is a good example of feminist romance – the type of romance that I would like to read more of, for sure. Something I appreciated about the plot of this one is that both main characters’ actions were motivated by helping their families, and there was a lot of character development of not only the main love interests but their family members as well. Both Nick and Phoebe were drawn to each other, but both knew that their being together would go against everything they needed to do to take care of their families. In the end, obviously, it’s a romance novel – there’s a happily ever after. But the getting there was quite enjoyable and I really liked the journey these characters took.

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent ChildhoodGreetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman
Published by Harper
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours

From the publisher:

When Claire Hoffman is five-years-old, her mother informs her and her seven-year-old brother Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—the Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—was a salvo that promised world peace and enlightenment .

At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. Claire attends the Maharishi school, where her meditations were graded and she and her class learned Maharishi’s principals for living. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. Eventually, Claire moves to California with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. A decade later, after making a name for herself in journalism and starting a family, she begins to feel exhausted by cynicism and anxiety. She finds herself longing for the sparkle filled, belief fueled Utopian days in Iowa, meditating around the clock.  So she returns to her hometown in pursuit of TM’s highest form of meditation — levitation. This journey will transform ideas about her childhood, family, and spirituality.

Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into this complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts, and its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman reveals, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief, inner peace, and a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.

This book sounded interesting to me because I am always up for learning about a different religion, especially one considered to be strange or, even better, cult-like to outsiders. I knew almost nothing about Transcendental Meditation before reading this book, so in that area this was a total win for me, as Hoffman does a pretty good job familiarizing the reader with the religion and explaining why they do certain things and what it’s all supposed to mean. I was fascinated by this religion, and specifically loved when Hoffman went into details about the different rules and rituals, the symbolism of different aspects of the faith, and some of the history behind the faith and its leader, Maharishi. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book – every time she started getting into details about the faith and the practice of meditation that seemed to be the bedrock of that faith, I was riveted to the page, eager to take in more and more information.

Unfortunately, that’s kind of where the love for this book starts and stops with me. I didn’t really connect to Hoffman, so that made it really difficult for me to latch onto any specific aspect of her personality OR care about her story. I was interested, yes, but did I care what happened to her? No, not at all, which is a definite issue when reading a memoir – for me, at least, I kinda have to give a crap about the person telling me their story. And in this case, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t.

The other issue I had was that when I turned the final pages, I was still asking myself why. Why did Hoffman choose to write this book? What story was she really trying to tell? Was the point for her to explore how and why people blindly follow religious figures, even to their personal detriment? Or was the point to say that, sure this religion is kind of messed up and weird, but lots of people who follow it are normal and just looking for a spiritual path, and actually they might be right about doing it this way? The fact that I can’t really tell where Hoffman falls on the wide spectrum between those two ideas is strange to me, and I don’t enjoy not understanding what the whole point of her telling this story actually was. Maybe this is a weird thing for me to be annoyed by, but it really turned the book into one that I just couldn’t fall in love with.

So. I was definitely interested in parts of Greetings from Utopia Park, but overall the book did not thrill me. I’m not sure if I’d read more from this author, but I’m glad I got the chance to learn about a faith practice that I had no previous knowledge about before picking up the book.