Posts Tagged: blogher book club

A Good American by Alex George

February 21, 2013 Books 7

13542473A Good American
By Alex George
ISBN-13: 9780425253175
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 2/5/2013
Pages: 432

I’ve had my eye on this book for SO. LONG. Ever since the hardback came out. The combination of the title, the cover, and the description were too much to pass up. So why I did, is a mystery to me. Thank goodness for BlogHer, as I finally got my hands on a copy.

And boy, I got everything I wanted and more.

A Good American is a multi-generational story of epic proportions. I mean, it’s huge people. The story of the Meisenheimer family starts with Frederick and Jette, traveling across the Atlantic to Mississippi from Germany (before WWI) (whenever I hear “fleeing Germany” I automatically think WWII, so I wanted to clarify) (they were not fleeing war, rather, a mother), where poor pregnant Jette’s water breaks. The story follows their lives in Mississippi, their search for acceptance, and on down through their children and their children’s children. I love Frederick and Jette; they were such an unlikely pair. The music of this novel (and the food!), and the lives of this family, is a thing of beauty. See, this novel is a culmination of everything I love! Family, music, America, and food! (Not necessarily in that order.)

And the writing? The writing is wonderful. George’s debut novel doesn’t read like a first novel. The characters, the story, are fully realized – no small accomplishment even for a seasoned novelist. It’s hard to believe George spent 8 years working as a corporate lawyer in London! George, and his novel, or rather, his novel, have stolen my heart with this beautiful story. And I can’t wait for George’s next novel and am hoping this will restore some of my love of historical fiction. It has been way too long!

Bits I loved:

We are all immigrants, a glorious confection of races and beliefs, united by the rock that we live on. As the years wash over us and new generations march into the future, family histories are subsumed into the greater narrative. We become, simply, Americans.

“What is it?” She hissed through clenched teeth. “What’s wrong?”

He bent down toward her. “I was just thinking how beautiful you looked.”

The punch was impressive, both accurate and strong. Jette’s fist caught her husband squarely on the jaw. It was an absolute peach of a shot, and it propelled him backward into the chest of drawers.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.” And thank you Penguin, as always, for the opportunity.

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My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future

November 15, 2012 Book Reviews, Books 6

Title: My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future
Author: Kate and David Marshall
Published: November 6, 2012
ISBN: 978-1592407842
Acquired: from publisher, via BlogHer

Introduction:

If anyone needs help organizing their life, it’s me. Good Lord, it’s me.

Plot:

Kate and David Marshall have set out to provide a book that helps readers lay out their past, present, and dreams in such a way that assists one in finding the way to happiness and fulfillment. So, in other words, sign me up!

This slim book is deceptive. When I took it out of the envelope, and saw how SMALL it was, I thought how is such a thing going to help me? My life needs more work than these few pages can provide, surely! However, the inside holds a lot more than I thought it did. I was expecting, well, preaching, like you get with most self-help books. The Marshall’s do not preach however. This self-help book is unlike any I’ve read before (not that I’ve read a bunch, so not really not much basis for comparison). This journal provides maps. (Hence the name, eh?) These maps help you “see” your life.”  There are maps for your past, for where you are now in the present, and maps for the future. Then, the Marshall’s help you take these maps and use them to “see” where you want to go.

I so desperately need to see where I want to go.

Obviously, it’s too early to say if these maps will help me. I haven’t had the book very long! Yet, as I’ve started filling it out, I can see the value in this. The Marshall’s ask you to look back at your life, to even the most mundane things, and remember what used to make you happy. To what fulfilled you. What you liked when you were in grade school, college, just starting out in life. Then they (supposedly, I haven’t gotten that far yet) help you find that in your life now and in the future.

That’s a pretty powerful thing. If you (and I) sit down and do it.

Strengths:

  • Well laid out
  • The ideas are inspiring

Weaknesses:

  • Have to stick with it

Conclusion: 

I think this would be a great gift for graduates, friends you know are struggling, and maybe even the most well put together. I’m going to keep going with it and see if it helps.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own. Many thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book.

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Diary of a Submissive by Sophie Morgan

October 18, 2012 Book Reviews, Books 7

If you’re looking at this and thinking something along the lines of, “I can’t believe Heather read this,” you’re not alone.

I can’t believe I read it either.

Firstly, let’s talk about what this book is about, then we’ll discuss why I read it, and if I came even close to liking it.

Diary of a Submissive is exactly what it sounds like. Sophie Morgan is a “21st century woman.” She’s smart, she has a successful journalism career, she has some snark; she just also gets off on being the submissive in a S&M relationship. This “diary” follows Sophie’s story of her sexual life. From the early days in college where she was first spanked to later in life where things get a little… crazy…. To put it in today’s terms, Sophie meets her Christian Grey (50 Shades of Grey reference!) and the whole reason her book got published, I expect. Sophie doesn’t pull any punches, or hold back the details. What follows is a straight-forward discussion of sexual fetishes. It’s no-holds-barred, explicit, and (to me) a little unnerving.

Okay, a lot unnerving.

I am not what I would call a prude. However, okay, yeah, I do have a bit of the prude about me. I just believe there is a time and place for every conversation. I think sex lives are best left (mostly) private. Yet, I found myself curious. I’ve BEEN finding myself curious. Not about the lifestyle, per se, but about this sudden influx of erotic literature into the market. I know it’s always been around, but ever since 50 Shades of Grey took the world by storm, I’ve been curious. What IS it about this kind of literature that is attracting so much attention? From all I’ve heard, 50 Shades of Grey is horrible. I’ve had no desire to read it. Yet. What was I missing?

Apparently not much.

Yes, Diary of a Submissive is daring. It’s bound to be controversial. After all, this does purport to be a true story. I know I don’t see the appeal of this lifestyle. Not only does it seem slightly dangerous, it seems demoralizing, and I can’t see how a good relationship can grow from such a thing. I had hoped perhaps Ms. Morgan would help me see the light a bit, but sadly, she didn’t. I finished the book feeling… well… a little dirty. And in probably not the intended way.

I can just imagine the kind of discussion a book like this could generate. So, join in. Come visit BlogHer all month to discuss the book and find out just what other people think of Diary of a Submissive.

Disclaimer: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own. Seriously. MY OWN.

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You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)

May 3, 2012 Book Reviews, Books 5

How’s that for a title? It wouldn’t be Vanessa Williams if it wasn’t big and bold, would it?

I have no idea why, but Vanessa Williams has always been on my radar. It’s probably because my grandmother was one of the types who got the National Enquirer every week and read it cover to cover. And watched the Miss America pageant, without fail, every single year. So I saw when Vanessa Williams won the pageant and was the first African-American to do so. And I saw when she turned her crown in, thanks to a scandal that, quite frankly, no one would really bat an eye at nowadays.

I’ve watched her movies. I’ve listened to her sing (and what a lovely voice she has!). I’ve seen her on TV. And I’ve always been struck by her grace, professionalism, and her infectious smile. The woman is gorgeous, but wears it so well! So when her biography, written with her “no-nonsense” mother (and a ghost writer), came up for review, I thought “what the heck,” and took it. Because after “knowing” her practically my whole life, I thought it would be interested to get to “know” her a little better. Plus, I probably have a bit of that “National Enquirer” spirit inherited from my grandmother. Okay, I admit it. Sometimes I have a penchant for celebrity memoirs. So sue me.

And I admit, the fact that her mother helped write it intrigued me too. I’ve often wondered at the parents of such talented, successful people. You know, if they were the supportive type, the stage-mother type, or what. And boy howdy, is her mother a feisty one. Loved her. And I still love Vanessa. What a great memoir. I loved the way they wrote this, with the back and forth between mother and daughter. It felt like a conversation between to dynamic women and I was lucky to be allowed to listen in. I loved getting more of the story, the real story, behind the photo scandal, the marriages and men, and career highs and lows. As the title says, “you have no idea.” Yes indeed, I had no idea. I haven’t read this kind of book in a long while, so I’m glad I took and chance and read it.

I’m so excited to see Vanessa herself is supporting her blog tour for the BlogHer Book club! She tweets at @vwofficial and she has tweeted about the campaign! Want to join the conversation? Join us at BlogHer to learn more!

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

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BlogHer Book Club: Lost and Found by Geneen Toth

April 12, 2012 Books 4

If you’re thinking this isn’t my usual book, you are completely right. However, as the owner of a entirely too small house and an income that doesn’t exactly provide for a bigger one, I occasionally like to dip into these sort of books for, oh, I don’t know; inspiration? encouragement? the feeling that I’m not at all alone in that? and of course, how to remedy that.

One morning, Geneen Roth got a call that changed her life forever. She, and her husband Matt, were part of the many people ripped off by Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme, according to Wikipedia is:

is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to its investors from their own money or the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from profit earned by the individual or organization running the operation.

Overnight Geneen went from comfortably rich to having $5,000 in the bank. Unfortunately for the Roth’s, they invested their money instead of paying off their equity, their mortgage, and, well, putting they’re eggs in that one basket. Geneen lists willful ignorance, complacency, and, the main problem – the fact that she believed she shouldn’t care about money. At first, I want to be annoyed with Geneen, for  her “It was always more important for me to find work that I loved than to be rich” attitude. Coming from a family that was very monetarily inclined (she even got a nose job), it felt like (to me) it was easy for her to say that. However, she goes on to explain how she washed dishes and worked as a maid in her late twenties, and worked as a nanny for a two year old, before going on to become a writer. She saw first hand what money cost:

What I do know is that I saw what money cost: parents who were cruel to each other; addiction to alcohol and drugs; infidelity; physical and sexual abuse; and self-loathing all around. It was impossible to know if the pursuit of more caused the wretchedness, but the connection between misery and money was scalded in my brain-as well as the need to find out if there was more to being alive than being rich and sleeping with your best friend’s wife or husband.

All this served to (again, for me) humanize a woman who, in real life, I would have nothing to do with. We wouldn’t be in the same social circles. We’re not in the same age group. Yet now, thanks to her candidness and humanness, she feel real. Which made the rest of the book an easier pill to swallow. I love her honesty. I love her openness.  She knows she’s putting herself out there for criticism, but (again, it feels like) she is sincere in her wish to help others, not just anyone affected by such fraud, but those, like me, who live paycheck to paycheck. And that makes this a book anyone can read.

Also? I love the way she compares her situation to food and overeating. I can SO identify with the thought that overspending is the same as overeating and I hope hope HOPE I can apply many of her thoughts to my own financial and other consuming parts of my life.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are most definitely my own.”

Join the conversation. Follow #BHBC on Twitter for more or visit the BlogHer Book Club for more indepth discussion.

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Sea Change: A Novel by Jeremy Page

November 17, 2011 Books 5

I don’t quite know what I want to say about this novel. I enjoyed it. And I didn’t.

Let’s start with what it’s about, shall we? Then we’ll get down to it.

The book starts with an idyllic picnic. Guy and his adorable daughter Freya are walking through a field admiring all the gorgeous nature around them, Guy’s wife and Freya’s mother Judy lounging under a tree with a book of poetry. Freya is precocious, in a charming, not precious, way, with her four-year-old’s curiosity about things and her clear adoration of her father; an adoration that is obviously mutual. The sweet details of a baby’s breath that smells malty, laundered cotton dresses and a child’s happiness serve to bring the reader immediately closer to this obviously delightful child.

So, when what happens so quickly in the first 18 pages happens, the reader (if they are not a cold-hearted shrew) is heartbroken and looking for answers. The next chapter starts up 5 years later, with Guy, alone, and drifting in a cold sea in an old barge. He’s making it through his days by writing in a journal at night, writing of how things could have been if that terrible thing had not happened.

And here lies the heart of my problem with this book. While I was delighted with the way Page can turn a phrase, the book is borderline poetic, and am in love with the slow, meandering way he took to unfold this story of Guy and how he learns to live with that “heartbreaking thing”, I can’t help but feel manipulated a little bit.

And I mean manipulated like Nicolas Sparks or Jodi Picoult manipulated.

I can take sad. I can take tragic. I can’t take writing that feels like the clear intent is to make me sad. I need resolution. I need the feeling that this is sad for a reason more important that just making me cry; which is how the two Nicolas Sparks I managed to choke down made me feel. I loved Jodi Picoult until the final chapter of My Sisters Keeper. Now THAT was manipulation.

Now, this could just be me. I wasn’t really in the mood for a book this depressing. I do love Jeremy Page’s writing enough to look up his first novel, Salt. His writing is gorgeous. Witness:

This is his moment, Guy knows, and he reaches out into the thick, nothingness between him and the giant ship and he asks for her, he asks whether she’s here with him, with him now. You are, aren’t you, he says and his voice sounds like two voices- one, so full of acceptance, the other, so afraid. On no, he says, oh God not now. And then he grabs the top of the wheelhouse, bracing pathetically, as the cliff edges of the container ship overhang, bear down, then slide enormously alongside the Flood in an impenetrable solid shadow.

And that’s just picking a page at random. You can pick any page at random and find just lovely ways of putting things, the kind of writing I could eat like dessert. I wish this novel had found me at the right time. I’m almost certain it would have made a difference.

This was a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own. Thanks to Penguin for supplying my copy of this book.

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Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore

November 3, 2011 Books 4

Okay, y’all need to tell me something. Why on EARTH did I quit reading Historical Fiction? It took reading Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore to remind me. And oh, what a way to be reminded.

Theodora was, if you were like me and really not sure, the wife of Justinian, the Byzantine emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Justinina was commonly known as Justinian the Great, and ruled from 527 to 565. A Roman historian by the name of Procopius wrote The Wars of Justinian, in which her beauty and piety were much praised. Later, he wrote another book about the couple, called Secret History, where he basically the beloved couple to proverbial shreds. Stella Duffy has taken these two Theodora’s and merged them into a stunningly well written and engaging book on the life and adventures of Theodora. And what a lovely conflicted, perfectly flawed, and powerfully strong woman she has drawn from these brief sketches of a woman who lived almost 1500 years ago.

Theodora, of documented fact and of Duffy’s novel, was born into humble beginnings. The Theodora of Duffy’s novel is precocious and shrewd from a very early age. Here I will divert from historical fact and talk only about the novel. By the age of 5, Theodora had lost her father to death and her mother to remarriage and a new family. To give her daughter(s, Theodora was the middle child between Comito and Anastasia) the only help she could, their mother delivered them into the performing life of the stage as dancers, actress, and, eventually, whores. There Theodora thrived from the attention she got from her audience. Okay, mainly the attention of men. Though not attractive, Theodora knew how to work her audience and made them love her. She learned very young the power she had over men and she exploited it to for her own interests.

And exploit them she did.

How? Well now, don’t you think you should read the novel to see how?

Stella Duffy, my dear, where have you been all my life? I felt the same way reading Theodora as I did when I read my first Sarah Waters, my first Emma Donoghue, my first, oh, any book that grabbed me by the hair on my brunette head. I love a good character. I adore a great character. And my friends, I adore Theodora. Duffy has written a fantastic character here, multifaceted, strong, yet not without her flaws and vulnerabilities. Her Theodora recognizes her strengths, her weaknesses, how to get what she needs and what she wants. Which Theodora is true? The sainted Empress Theodora of the Orthodox Church? The power hungry ambitious Theodora of Procopius’s Secret History? Or the combination of the two in Duffy’s Theodora? No one really knows for sure, obviously, but I prefer to think of her as something like Duffy’s Theodora, a character you can’t miss meeting.

Interested in learning more? Have you read this book too and are anxious to discuss it with someone? Want to read an excerpt to see if this book is for you? The book discussion of this book launched today over at the BlogHer book club, so come on over and join us! You’ll be glad you did!

I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

 

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