Review: Unbound, by Steph Jagger

About the book, Unbound Unbound

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (January 24, 2017)

A young woman follows winter across five continents on a physical and spiritual journey that tests her body and soul, in this transformative memoir, full of heart and courage, that speaks to the adventurousness in all of us.

Steph Jagger had always been a force of nature. Dissatisfied with the passive, limited roles she saw for women growing up, she emulated the men in her life—chasing success, climbing the corporate ladder, ticking the boxes, playing by the rules of a masculine ideal. She was accomplished. She was living “The Dream.” But it wasn’t her dream.

Then the universe caught her attention with a sign: Raise Restraining Device. Steph had seen this ski lift sign on countless occasions in the past, but the familiar words suddenly became a personal call to shake off the life she had built in a search for something different, something more.

Steph soon decided to walk away from the success and security she had worked long and hard to obtain. She quit her job, took a second mortgage on her house, sold everything except her ski equipment and her laptop, and bought a bundle of plane tickets. For the next year, she followed winter across North and South America, Asia, Europe, and New Zealand—and up and down the mountains of nine countries—on a mission to ski four million vertical feet in a year.

What hiking was for Cheryl Strayed, skiing became for Steph: a crucible in which to crack open her life and get to the very center of herself. But she would have to break herself down—first physically, then emotionally—before she could start to rebuild. And it was through this journey that she came to understand how to be a woman, how to love, and how to live authentically.

Electrifying, heartfelt, and full of humor, Unbound is Steph’s story—an odyssey of courage and self-discovery that, like Wild and Eat, Pray, Love, will inspire readers to remove their own restraining devices and pursue the life they are meant to lead.

Buy, read, and discuss Unbound:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Steph Jagger Steph Jagger

Steph Jagger splits her time between Southern California and British Columbia where she dreams big dreams, writes her heart out, and runs an executive & life coaching practice. She holds a CEC (certified Executive Coach) degree from Royal Roads University and she believes courageous living doesn’t happen with one toe dangling in, but that we jump in, fully submerge, and sit in the juice. Think pickle, not cucumber.

Connect with Steph:

Website | Instagram


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’m not an athlete, and when I play tourist it’s almost always to cities and towns known for art and culture and amazing food. I don’t do rural. I don’t camp. I don’t even like movies where the people are cold, tired, hungry, dirty, or lacking toilet paper for too long. I lived in Colorado for seven years as a kid and never learned to ski (but I was a pretty decent recreational ice skater). My idea of ‘roughing it’ used to be a hotel without room service; now it’s a hotel without wifi. And it’s good that I know this about myself because it keeps me from trying crazy things that would only leave me, and anyone traveling with me, feeling utterly miserable.

Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by stories of people – especially women – who undertake such feats as solo circumnavigations in sailboats (Tania Aebi) or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed), so when I was offered a chance to read and review Unbound, I jumped at the chance, and spent a weekend fully submerged in this memoir of author Steph Jagger’s attempt to ski around the world.

Her writing style is almost conversational, and I really enjoyed that about this book. She isn’t afraid of coarse language, but uses it where it’s appropriate, something I always find really refreshing. She’s also incredibly candid – how many people do you know who would open a memoir with a scene involving puking and raw self-analysis?

As I read Unbound I found that even though the author and I are radically different people, and choose to define success in vastly different ways, I still learned a lot about determinaton, self-reliance, and how each of us must be willing to do the hard work of looking at our worst selves, and using that information to build and become our best.

Oh, and the parts about actual skiing were also great to read, and made me almost – almost – miss winter.

Goes well with: grilled cheese, tomato soup, and Sam Adams Winter Lager.


Tour Stops for Unbound TLC Book Tours - Unbound

Wednesday, January 25th: Cait’s Cozy Corner

Tuesday, January 31st: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, February 2nd: She’s Got Books On Her Mind

Monday, February 6th: Wining Wife

Tuesday, February 7th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, February 8th: Dwell in Possibility

Sunday, February 12th: Readaholic Zone

Tuesday, February 14th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, February 15th: Writing and Running Through Life

Thursday, February 16th: Eliot’s Eats

Monday, February 20th: Book Dilettante

Friday, February 24th: Sara the Introvert

Monday, February 27th: Read Till Dawn

Review: Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

About the book,  Hidden Figures Hidden Figures

• Paperback: 368 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (December 6, 2016)

The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

Buy, read, and discuss Hidden Figures

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author Margot Lee Shetterly Margot Lee Shetterly

Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the women in Hidden Figures. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on women in computing. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Connect with Margot

Website | Twitter


My Thoughts: Melissa A. Bartell

I love biographies, in print and on screen, and I’m a big space nut. Until recently, my favorite space book was A Man on the Moon, by Andrew Chaikin, and its accompanying miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (1995, HBO), but after reading Hidden Figures that book has been edged into second place.

This book biography, it’s history – herstory – it’s about culture and society and the way white and black America are still incredibly different even though they have many similarities, but it’s also a story about math and physics, and how those things help us to create our dreams.

Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden were mathematicians in the early days of NASA’s space program. Without them, John Glenn would never have successfully orbited Earth, and Apollo 13 would never have come home, but those are only two big events in a series of many, many smaller events.

In that first book I read, years ago, there’s an explanation of what it takes to accomplish docking two craft (the orbiter and the LEM) in space. In the HBO miniseries, it’s dramatized by a scene in which one man says to each other, “Okay, you stand in my front yard, and I’ll stand in the back, and I’m going to throw this basketball over the roof and you’re gonna try to hit it with this baseball as it crests.” (I might be paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of the conversation.”

These women, Dorothy, Mary, Katherine and Christine, did the math to make that work.

But they weren’t mere math geeks. And this book shows that. It shows that they had lives and homes and families, and all of the usual conflicts that working woman have when choosing between career and family. It shows their similarities, and their differences, and it does it in a way that – even at it’s ‘mathiest’ – is never boring, never dry.

Hidden Figures is a must-read for women and girls who are in, or interested in, STEM fields, yes, but I’d recommend it to space nuts like me, to feminists, to people who want a better understanding of the civil rights movement, and to people who just enjoy reading biographies, because it’s well crafted, compelling, and so, so human.

There’s a movie based on this book that is opening in select theaters on Christmas Day, and nationwide in January. Read the book before you see the movie.

Trust me on this.

Goes well with massive amounts of coffee and egg salad sandwiches.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, December 6th: Broken Teepee

Wednesday, December 7th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Thursday, December 8th: Dwell in Possibility

Friday, December 9th: G. Jacks Writes

Monday, December 12th: Lit and Life

Tuesday, December 13th: As I turn the pages

Friday, December 16th: Art @ Home

Monday, December 19th: Leigh Kramer

Monday, December 19th: Reading Lark

Tuesday, December 20th: Emerald City Book Review

Tuesday, December 20th: Buried in Print

Wednesday, December 21st: Bibliotica

Thursday, December 22nd: Helen’s Book Blog

Friday, December 23rd: Based on a True Story

Review: Searching for John Hughes, by Jason Diamond

Searching for John HughesAbout the book,  Searching for John Hughes

• Paperback: 304 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (November 29, 2016)

For all fans of John Hughes and his hit films such as National Lampoon’s VacationSixteen Candles, and Home Alone, comes Jason Diamond’s hilarious memoir of growing up obsessed with the iconic filmmaker’s movies—a preoccupation that eventually convinces Diamond he should write Hughes’ biography and travel to New York City on a quest that is as funny as it is hopeless.

For as long as Jason Diamond can remember, he’s been infatuated with John Hughes’ movies. From the outrageous, raunchy antics in National Lampoon’s Vacation to the teenage angst in The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink to the insanely clever and unforgettable Home Alone, Jason could not get enough of Hughes’ films. And so the seed was planted in his mind that it should fall to him to write a biography of his favorite filmmaker. It didn’t matter to Jason that he had no qualifications, training, background, platform, or direction. Thus went the years-long, delusional, earnest, and assiduous quest to reach his goal. But no book came out of these years, and no book will. What he did get was a story that fills the pages of this unconventional, hilarious memoir.

In Searching for John Hughes, Jason tells how a Jewish kid from a broken home in a Chicago suburb—sometimes homeless, always restless—found comfort and connection in the likewise broken lives in the suburban Chicago of John Hughes’ oeuvre. He moved to New York to become a writer. He started to write a book he had no business writing. In the meantime, he brewed coffee and guarded cupcake cafes. All the while, he watched John Hughes movies religiously.

Though his original biography of Hughes has long since been abandoned, Jason has discovered he is a writer through and through. And the adversity of going for broke has now been transformed into wisdom. Or, at least, a really, really good story.

In other words, this is a memoir of growing up. One part big dream, one part big failure, one part John Hughes movies, one part Chicago, and one part New York. It’s a story of what comes after the “Go for it!” part of the command to young creatives to pursue their dreams—no matter how absurd they might seem at first.

Buy, read, and discuss this book

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Jason Diamond Jason Diamond

Jason Diamond is the sports editor at RollingStone.com and founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn. His work has been published by The New York TimesBuzzFeedVultureThe New RepublicThe Paris ReviewPitchforkEsquireVice and many other outlets. He was born in Skokie, Illinois, but currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife, his two cats and his dog named Max.

Connect with Jason

Website | Instagram | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

Like the author of this memoir, Jason Diamond, I grew up on John Hughes movies. Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy were my virtual best friends when I was a teenager, and while I never lived in Chicago or New York, I completely understand the feeling that comes from seeing the place you live depicted in a movie (thank you Kevin Smith for making people aware that Highlands, NJ is a place).

I always feel a bit weird about reviewing memoirs, because I feel like I’m judging the person, and not their story. In this case, I really enjoyed the story – the journey that Jason took from cupcake bouncer to witty and read writer.

I also enjoyed Jason’s writing style. I was completely unfamiliar with his work before I read Searching for John Hughes, but his ‘voice’ is so engaging, with a good balance of wry wit, self-deprecation, and frank observation, that I’m eager to go find his stuff at Rolling Stone and read every word.

Ultimately, this is a memoir that will speak to anyone who is considering a major creative endeavor, who hates their current job and wants to find something fulfilling, or who grew up on movies like Pretty in Pink and wants to recapture the feeling of seeing those films for the first time.

It’s a compelling read, a fast read, and one I’m really glad I got to experience.

Goes well with a cupcake (but please, chocolate, not double vanilla) and a perfect cappuccino.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, November 30th: BookNAround

Thursday, December 1st: Book Chatter

Monday, December 5th: Helen’s Book Blog

Tuesday, December 6th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, December 7th: Cait’s Cozy Corner

Thursday, December 8th: Book by Book

Thursday, December 8th: Bibliotica

Monday, December 12th: Tina Says…

Tuesday, December 13th: Man of La Book

Wednesday, December 14th: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, December 15th: she treads softly

Review: Hound of the Sea, by Garret McNamara (with Karen Karbo)

About the book, Hound of the Sea Hound of the Sea

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (November 15, 2016)

In this thrilling and candid memoir, world record-holding and controversial Big Wave surfer Garrett McNamara chronicles his emotional quest to ride the most formidable waves on earth.

Garrett McNamara—affectionately known as GMac—set the world record for the sport, surfing a seventy-eight-foot wave in Nazaré, Portugal in 2011, a record he smashed two years later at the same break. Propelled by the challenge and promise of bigger, more difficult waves, this adrenaline-fueled loner and polarizing figure travels the globe to ride the most dangerous swells the oceans have to offer, from calving glaciers to hurricane swells.

But what motivates McNamara to go to such extremes—to risk everything for one thrilling ride? Is riding giant waves the ultimate exercise in control or surrender?

Personal and emotional, readers will know GMac as never before, seeing for the first time the personal alongside the professional in an exciting, intimate look at what drives this inventive, iconoclastic man. Surfing awesome giants isn’t just thrill seeking, he explains—it’s about vanquishing fears and defeating obstacles past and present. Surfers and non-surfers alike will embrace McNamara’s story—as they have William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days—and its intimate look at the enigmatic pursuit of riding waves, big and small.

Hound of the Sea is a record of perseverance, passion, and healing. Thoughtful, suspenseful, and spiritually profound, McNamara reveals the beautiful soul of surfing through the eyes of one of its most daring and devoted disciples.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Garrett McNamara Garrett McNamara

Garrett McNamara holds the Guinness record for surfing the world’s largest wave, in addition to garnering numerous first-place wins in professional competitions around the world. He is the first foreigner ever to be awarded the prestigious Vasco de Gama Medal of Honor from the Portuguese Navy. McNamara splits his time between Hawaii, Portugal, and the rest of the world, where he explores with his family.

Connect with Garrett

Website | Facebook


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’m not a surfer, but as someone who was almost born on the beach, I’ve always been fascinated by the sport, and I became even more so a few years ago after reading Susan Casey’s book The Wave, and seeing the movie Chasing Mavericks. I have fond memories of watching the surfers in Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, California. Therefore, when I had the chance to read Hound of the Sea, I jumped at the chance.

I spent a couple of lovely, chilly afternoons immersed – even submerged – in GMac’s story. Not only were the details about surfing fascinating, but his self-analysis of the part of his psyche that drives him to continue raising the difficulty level of his chosen sport.

At times, I felt like I was right there on the board with him, and I would not have been surprised if I had looked up from a chapter to find my hair wet or crusted with salt. At other times I felt his frustration at being out of the water because of injury, or some other circumstance.

As is often the case when I’m reviewing a memoir or (auto)biography, I find myself having to separate my critique of the actual text from my opinion of the person. In this case, I found the book to be well-written and interesting, and I believe even people with zero knowledge of surfing would find it a compelling and informative read.

As well, McNamara as a person is the kind of guy I’d love to sit down and share a pot of tea with, because the whole mindset of pushing to be the best at something intrigues me.

Goes well with grilled sea bass wrapped in seaweed and coconut-infused rice.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, November 16th: Rambling Reviews

Monday, November 21st: Bibliotica

Tuesday, November 22nd: Tina Says…

Monday, November 28th: Rebecca Radish

Thursday, December 1st: Love Life Surf

Friday, December 9th: Surfer Dad

TBD: Back Porchervations

TBD: Sapphire Ng

TBD: Luxury Reading

 

 

 

Introducing: Such Mad Fun: Ambition and Glamour in Hollywood’s Golden Age, by Robin Cutler

 

Glamour, Ambition and Hollywood’s Golden Age: Author and historian Robin Cutler shines in biography of writer Jane Hall Robin Cutler

NEW YORK CITY – Emmy-nominated Robin R. Cutler is known for her ability to bring compelling historical stories to life both on screen and on the page. Following her book about her grandfather, Arizona humorist Dick Wick Hall (The Laughing Desert, 2012), Cutler explores the world of her mother, Jane Hall, a literary prodigy published as a 10-year-old by the L.A. Times. In the masterfully written and researched Such Mad Fun (Sept. 8, 2016), Cutler brings the glamour of yesteryear to life as a newly-orphaned Jane journeys from a mining town in Arizona to Manhattan’s Café Society, and then to work among the bright lights and big stars of Hollywood.

A Kirkus starred review noted: “This portrait of a more literary mass-market America offers much food for reflection on modern culture,” and described Cutler’s book as “a valuable, absorbing contribution to the history of women, golden-age Hollywood and America’s magazine culture of the 1930s and ‘40s.”


About the book, Such Mad Fun: Ambition and Glamour in Hollywood’s Golden Age Such Mad Fun

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: View Tree Press (May 23, 2016)
  • Language: English

“I was a candle on the president’s birthday cake!” On Jan. 30, 1934, Jane Hall was exuberant as she whirled around the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 52nd birthday. For 19-year-old Jane, this ball wasn’t just fun; it was research. At Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Jane wrote the story and the script for the “best social comedy of 1939,” These Glamour Girls, and established a lively camaraderie with F. Scott Fitzgerald, who worked in the office next door to hers. But Jane’s ambition conflicted with the expectations of her family, her friends, and the era in which she lived. Gathered from her mother’s diaries and scores of letters, this coming-of-age story takes us on an unforgettable journey through the 1930s as Jane tries to determine who she’s meant to be.

Buy, read, and discuss Such Mad Fun.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Goodreads


About the author, Robin Cutler Robin Cutler

Cutler holds a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and has been a public historian for more than three decades. She co-produced the Emmy-nominated dramatic series, ROANOAK, for PBS’ American Playhouse. A lover of animals, trees, salted caramel, baseball, PBS and classic films, these days Cutler can be found in New York, in Florida or with her daughters in California.

Connect with Robin.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

Review: Composing Temple Sunrise, by Hassan El-Tayyab

About the book Composing Temple Sunrise Composing Temple Sunrise

  • Paperback: 202 pages
  • Publisher: Poetic Matrix Press (July 15, 2016)

Composing Temple Sunrise is a coming-of-age memoir about a 26-year-old songwriter’s journey across America to find his lost muse.

Triggered by the Great Recession of 2008, Hassan El-Tayyab loses his special education teaching job in Boston and sets out on a cross-country adventure with a woman named Hope Rideout, determined to find his lost muse. His journey brings him to Berkeley, CA, where he befriends a female metal art collective constructing a 37-foot Burning Man art sculpture named “Fishbug.” What follows is a life-changing odyssey through Burning Man that helps Hassan harness his creative spirit, overcome his self-critic, confront his childhood trauma, and realize the healing power of musical expression.

In this candid, inspiring memoir, singer-songwriter Hassan El-Tayyab of the Bay Area’s American Nomad takes us deep into the heart of what it means to chase a creative dream.

After experiencing multiple losses (family, home, love, job, self-confidence) , El-Tayyab sets out on a transcontinental quest that eventually lands him in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. His vivid descriptions capture both the vast, surreal landscapes of the Burning Man festival and the hard practice of making art.

Buy, read, and discuss Composing Temple Sunrise

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Composing Temple Sunrise Website | Goodreads


About the author, Hassan El-Tayyab Hassan El-Tayyab

Hassan El-Tayyab is an award-winning singer/songwriter, author, teacher, and cultural activist currently residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. His critically acclaimed Americana act American Nomad performs regularly at festivals and venues up and down the West Coast and beyond and he teaches music in the Bay Area.

Connect with Hassan

Facebook


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I have to confess: before I read this book I’d never heard of the author or his band American Nomad, nor did I have a clear picture of what Burning Man actually is. I mean, I’d heard of it, of course, who hasn’t? I just didn’t have correct information.

As it turned out, none of that mattered, and I began reading Hassan El-Tayyab’s memoir with no expectations except that I would ‘meet’ a new person within its pages.

I always feel odd about reviewing memoirs, as if I’m critiquing the author’s actual life, and not just the way they chose to depict it on paper (real or virtual).  Forgive me then, for nitpicking. This memoir could have used another pass by a line editor or proof reader. Some of the grammar is a little ‘off.’ Despite that, however, I found myself thoroughly engaged, and I even managed to suppress my grammar-police tendencies.

Composing Temple Sunrise is not an entire book about composing a single song. Rather, it’s the story of the author’s journey from a place of frustration  – having just lost a job that he was good at, though it wasn’t his true calling – and a series of losses that began in childhood, to a place where he could unleash the full force of his creativity.

It is a fascinating study of both the creative process and in general, and El-Tayyab’s personal journey, and how the two intertwine. As a writer, improvisor, amateur musician (I sing, I’ve played the cello since childhood, and I and bought my first guitar last year, but so far, I only know how to tune it), I found everything he wrote about – from undertaking a cross-country road-trip just to do something, to waking up one morning with a whole composition (the song “Temple Sunrise” referred to in the title) in his head – incredibly compelling and truthful.

While I was intrigued by the author’s experiences at Burning Man, and appreciated finally learning about what it really was, I found myself both yearning for that kind of conversion of creative energies, and also recognizing that I, a woman who believes ‘roughing it’ means staying in a hotel that doesn’t have room service or wifi, would not benefit from that specific event.

But it isn’t about me, except in the sense that we, as readers, bring our own experiences and perceptions to every book we begin. It’s about Hassan El-Tayyab, and his journey, and I feel privileged to have shared it with him, even if it was only virtually, and after the fact.

Whether or not you have creative pursuits, Composing Temple Sunrise is a fascinating glimpse at both the artist’s personality, and one artist specifically.

Goes well with vegan pad Thai made with grilled tofu and your favorite craft beer.


Bonus!

Provided to YouTube by CDBaby, here’s the track referenced in the title: “Temple Sunrise”


Tour Stops Poetic Book Tours

Sept. 1: OakTreeReviews (Review)

Sept. 2: The Serial Reader (Review)
Sept. 3: Applied Book Reviews (Review)
Sept. 7: Everything Distils Into Reading (Review)
Sept. 13: The Soapy Violinist (Review)
Sept. 15: Bermudaonion (Guest Post)
Sept. 20: Tea Leaves (Review)
Sept. 23: Write-Read-Life (Review)
Sept. 30: DonnaBookReviews (Review)
Oct. 5: Eva Lucia’s Reviews (Review)
Oct. 6: Bibliotica (Review)
Oct. 11: Eva Lucia’s Reviews (Interview)
Oct. 13: Katherine & Books (Review)
Oct. 17: Margaret Reviews Books (Review)
Oct. 20: Diary of an Eccentric (Guest Post)
Oct. 26: Peeking Between the Pages (Guest Post)
Oct. 27: Rainy Day Reviews (Review)
Nov. 3: Sportochick’s Musings (Review)

Review: The Bitch is Back, edited by Cathi Hanauer

About the book, The Bitch is Back the-bitch-is-back-cover

• Hardcover: 368 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (September 27, 2016)

More than a decade after the New York Times bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House spoke up loud and clear for a generation of young women, nine of the original contributors are back—along with sixteen captivating new voices—sharing their ruminations from an older, stronger, and wiser perspective about love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health, and aging: the critical flash points of women’s lives today.

“Born out of anger,” the essays in The Bitch in the House chronicled the face of womanhood at the beginning of a new millennium. Now those funny, smart, passionate contributors—today less bitter and resentful, and more confident, competent, and content—capture the spirit of postfeminism in this equally provocative, illuminating, and compelling companion anthology.

Having aged into their forties, fifties, and sixties, these “bitches”—bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists—are back . . . and better than ever. In The Bitch Is Back, Cathi Hanauer, Kate Christensen, Sarah Crichton, Debora Spar, Ann Hood, Veronica Chambers, and nineteen other women offer unique views on womanhood and feminism today. Some of the “original bitches” (OBs) revisit their earlier essays to reflect on their previous selves. All reveal how their lives have changed in the intervening years—whether they stayed coupled, left marriages, or had affairs; developed cancer or other physical challenges; coped with partners who strayed, died, or remained faithful; became full-time wage earners or homemakers; opened up their marriages; remained childless or became parents; or experienced other meaningful life transitions.

As a “new wave” of feminists begins to take center stage, this powerful, timely collection sheds a much-needed light on both past and present, offering understanding, compassion, and wisdom for modern women’s lives, all the while pointing toward the exciting possibilities of tomorrow.

Buy, read, and discuss The Bitch is Back

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the editor, Cathi Hanauer cathi-hanauer-ap

Cathi Hanauer is the author of three novels—My Sister’s Bones, Sweet Ruin, and Gone—and is the editor of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Bitch in the House. A former columnist for Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen, she has written for The New York Times, Elle, Self, Real Simple, and other magazines. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband, New York Times “Modern Love” editor Daniel Jones, and their daughter and son.

Connect with Cathi

Website, | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I loved this book. It’s funny and feisty and fierce, but at the same time it’s serious and poignant. Some of the authors included are women whose work I’ve been reading all my life and some are new to me, and even when they were describing situations that were foreign to me I found their words interesting, relevant, and often provocative. These are real women writing about their real lives. They write about marriage and family and being single and being professional and turning your back on what people expect.

They write with honest voices full of wit and wisdom and no small amount of warmth.

And these writings very obviously come from a place where Truth is deeply rooted.

Ordinarily, this is the part of my review where I would pick out a few favorites from the collection of essays and highlight them, but I can’t do that. Why? Because to highlight any of them feels like slighting the rest.

Instead, let me just share my enthusiasm, no – my delight – in the fact that this true stories were from women my age and older. Strong women. Smart women. And, yes, bitchy women, but only in the sense that these women have reclaimed the word ‘bitch’ and made it representative of feminism, personal choice, and self expression in only the best ways. If these women are bitches, then, damn! I want to be a bitch, too.

Essay after essay, I could not stop reading these words. The woman who declared that she was trans after years of marriage and still shares a home and a life with her original wife. Beautiful. The college president owning her fight to stay youthful. I completely get that. The book unwinds, the tales go on, and  – seriously – I read in the bathroom a lot, and my feet fell asleep more than once because I was so engaged in these words.

I’ve found myself enthralled by books before. I’ve found myself completely engaged in stories both fictional and non.

But The Bitch is Back grabbed my attention from the first word of the forward, and never let me waver until I’d sucked the last sentence into my soul.

Read it. I promise. You’ll find yourself nodding you head and smiling and laughing  – and sometimes cursing – only to smile and laugh and nod some more.

Goes well with whatever you love. I chose coffee and a toasted bagel and Greek yogurt with fruit and honey.

 


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, September 27th: Dwell in Possibility

Wednesday, September 28th: G. Jacks Writes

Thursday, September 29th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Monday, October 3rd: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Tuesday, October 4th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, October 5th: Book Hooked Blog

Thursday, October 6th: In Bed with Books

Monday, October 10th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Tuesday, October 11th: Stranded in Chaos

Thursday, October 13th: West Metro Mommy

TBD: Doing Dewey

 

Review: Finding Fontainebleau, by Thad Carhart – with Giveaway

About the book, Finding Fontainebleau Finding Fontainebleau

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (May 17, 2016)

Viking is proud to announce a new memoir from Thad Carhart, author of the beloved bestseller The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, now in its 21st printing, which the San Francisco Chronicle raved would “lure the rustiest plunker back to the piano bench and the most jaded traveler back to Paris.”

FINDING FONTAINEBLEAU (On-sale: May 17, 2016; $27.00; ISBN: 978-0-525-42880-0) recounts the adventures of Carhart and his family—his NATO officer father, his mother, four siblings, and their dog—in the provincial town of Fontainebleau, France, in the 1950s. Dominating life in the town is the beautiful Château of Fontainebleau. Begun in 1137, fifty years before the Louvre and more than five hundred before Versailles, the Château was a home for Marie-Antoinette, François I, and the two Napoleons, among others, all of whom added to its splendors without appreciably destroying the work of their predecessors.

With characteristic warmth and humor, Carhart takes readers along as he and his family experience the pleasures and particularities of French life: learning the codes and rules of a French classroom where wine bottles dispense ink, camping in Italy and Spain, tasting fresh baguettes. Readers see post-war life in France as never before, from the parks and museums of Paris (much less crowded in the 1950s, when you could walk through completely empty galleries in the Louvre) to the quieter joys of a town like Fontainebleau, where everyday citizens have lived on the edges of history since the 12th century and continue to care for their lieux de mémoire—places of memory.

Intertwined with stories of France’s post-war recovery are profiles of the monarchs who resided at Fontainebleau throughout the centuries and left their architectural stamp on the palace and its sizeable grounds. Carhart finds himself drawn back as an adult, eager to rediscover the town of his childhood. FINDING FONTAINEBLEAU imagines a bright future for this important site of French cultural heritage, as Carhart introduces us to the remarkable group of architects, restorers, and curators who care for and refashion the Château’s hundreds of rooms for a new generation of visitors. Guided by Patrick Ponsot, head of the Château’s restoration programs, the author takes us behind the scenes and shows us a side of the Château that tourists never see.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About Thad Carhart Thad Carhart

Twenty-six years ago THAD CARHART moved to Paris with his wife and two infant children. He lives there now, with frequent visits to New York and Northern California. His first book, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, appeared in 2000, published by Random House. Across the Endless River, a historical novel, came out in 2009 with Doubleday.

Connect with Thad

Website | Facebook | Twitter


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I’ve always loved memoirs and over the last several years, I’ve become addicted to memoirs of people living in France. (In truth, this addiction probably started decades ago when I read Peter Mayle’s first book). For some reason, I kept thinking Finding Fontainebleau was a novel, until I finally sat down to read it, and then I was delighted to find out this engaging, sometimes funny, often poignant book was actually a memoir.

I haven’t read any of Thad Carhart’s earlier work, but I found myself completely drawn in by his words, and the way he worked the profiles of historical figures into his personal narrative. I also appreciated the way he balanced historical travelogue with his own experiences in post-war France.

If this review feels short, it’s because memoir doesn’t involve plot or characters, and I always feel as though I’m judging someone’s life, rather than merely a specific piece of work. The book itself is satisfyingly long, and the perfect read for a stormy summer day, where you can let yourself be drawn into the vivid imagery created by Carhart’s words.  (It’s also, minus the very first section, the perfect book for a plane trip.)

I felt like was in a bubble of past-France, as filtered through someone who is living in contemporary France, and I enjoyed the experience so much that when the bubble burst at the end of the book, I was a bit let down.

This is a fascinating, compelling memoir, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Goes well with Nutella and banana crepes, and a cappuccino.


Giveaway Finding Fontainebleau

One lucky reader (no geographic restrictions)  will win a print copy  of this book.

Three ways to enter (one entry per person for each choice, so if you do all three, you’re entered three times).

  1. Find my tweet about this book and retweet it (I’m @Melysse).
  2. Find  my  Facebook post about this book  and like/share it (I’m MissMelysse).
  3. Leave a comment here on this post telling me what foreign country you’d love to spend six-twelve months exploring.

Contest is open until 11:59 PM CDT on Friday, July 22nd.

 

 


Thad Carhart’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, July 6th: I Wish I Lived in a Library

Friday, July 8th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, July 11th: Books on the Table

Tuesday, July 12th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, July 13th: Girls in White Dresses

Thursday, July 14th: Building Bookshelves

Friday, July 15th: Bibliotica

Monday, July 18th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Tuesday, July 19th: The French Village Diaries

Wednesday, July 20th: Quirky Bookworm

Thursday, July 21st: Wordsmithonia

Friday, July 22nd: BookNAround

Monday, July 25th: Back Porchervations

Tuesday, July 26th: An Accidental Blog

Wednesday, July 27th: Lit and Life

Thursday, July 28th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Friday, July 29th: Musings of a Writer and Unabashed Francophile

Review: The Bridge Ladies, by Betsy Lerner

About the book,  The Bridge Ladies The Bridge Ladies

• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (May 3, 2016)

A fifty-year-old Bridge game provides an unexpected way to cross the generational divide between a daughter and her mother. Betsy Lerner takes us on a powerfully personal literary journey, where we learn a little about Bridge and a lot about life.

By turns darkly funny and deeply moving, The Bridge Ladies is the unforgettable story of a hard-won—but never-too-late—bond between mother and daughter.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

HarperCollinsAmazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 


About the author, Betsy Lerner Betsy-Lerner-AP

Betsy Lerner is the author of The Forest for the Trees and Food and Loathing. She is a recipient of the Thomas Wolfe Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize, and the Tony Godwin Prize for Editors, and was selected as one of PEN’s Emerging Writers. Lerner is a partner with the literary agency Dunow, Carlson & Lerner and resides in New Haven, Connecticut.

Connect with Betsy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

I always find it odd to be reviewing a memoir, as if I’m passing judgement on the life lived, rather than the book about the life that was lived. If I disagree with a life choice, does that mean I don’t like the book, or don’t like the person? It’s a difficult position.

But The Bridge Ladies was not a difficult memoir to review, partly because it’s brilliantly written, and partly because it really resonated with me. The ladies in their dressy clothes and pearls, pumps and lipstick, playing cards and sharing food reminded me of my Italian grandmother and my great-aunts and cousins gathered around the table playing cards on hot summer nights. They played Canasta, rather than Bridge, but the echoes are there.

But I digress.

Lerner’s story is, at heart, a mother-daughter story. It’s a candid, funny, sometimes dark, often poignant glimpse into the lives of her mother and her mother’s friends, but it’s also a mirror through which Lerner examines herself. As someone who looks in the mirror most days and hears my own mother’s voice urging me to iron that or change my hair or stand up straighter, I completely understand the need for maternal approval that never entirely goes away, even when you try to rebel against it. As someone whose mother’s friends see her as a completely different person than I do, I also understand the way we sometimes have to step outside ourselves to really comprehend events, ideas, people.

That Lerner’s writing style is incredibly readable, almost conversational, helps suck you into The Bridge Ladies, but she also has a great ear for dialog and a great eye for detail. I could see the way those old women dressed, and I could hear their voices in my head almost as well as I could heart the cards being riffled and shuffled and dealt out.

The thing about memoirs is that even when you know, intellectually, that comparison is unhealthy, you can’t help but measure yourself against the person about whom you’re reading. In my case, I recognized that while her story resonates with me, I’m nothing like Betsy Lerner.

At the same time, though, I am – as all women are – a lot like Betsy Lerner: I still grade myself on the scale of Mom, and at nearly 46 years old, I crave and dread her company, simultaneously. This book made me realize that while my own mother is only 66, time goes by too quickly, and even mother-daughter relationships require a little investment.

This book also made me grateful for the relationship my mother and I actually have – the one where we can talk – and LAUGH – about nearly anything. Other women should be so lucky.

This is, I know, a rather odd review. But here’s the thing. Books should touch us. Stories should make us examine ourselves. The Bridge Ladies did both for me, and I’m betting it will do both for other readers as well.

And if it doesn’t, well, maybe it will at least urge some readers to pick up the phone and call their mothers.

Goes well with strong coffee and Stella D’oro anisette toast.


Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, May 3rd: Raven Haired Girl

Wednesday, May 4th: BookNAround

Thursday, May 5th: Books and Bindings

Friday, May 6th: Books on the Table – author interview

Monday, May 9th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach

Tuesday, May 10th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Wednesday, May 11th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Monday, May 16th: Queen of All She Reads

Tuesday, May 17th: Puddletown Reviews

Wednesday, May 18th: Bibliotica

Thursday, May 19th: West Metro Mommy

Friday, May 20th: Olduvai Reads

Monday, May 23rd: Worth Getting in Bed For

Tuesday, May 24th: I’m Shelf-ish

Wednesday, May 25th: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Thursday, May 26th: The many thoughts of a reader

Friday, May 27th: Life By Kristen

TBD: Lavish Bookshelf

A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles, by Mary Elizabeth Williams

About the book, A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: National Geographic; 1 edition (April 26, 2016)

A wry, witty account of what it is like to face death—and be restored to life.

After being diagnosed in her early 40s with metastatic melanoma—a “rapidly fatal” form of cancer—journalist and mother of two Mary Elizabeth Williams finds herself in a race against the clock. She takes a once-in-a-lifetime chance and joins a clinical trial for immunotherapy, a revolutionary drug regimen that trains the body to vanquish malignant cells. Astonishingly, her cancer disappears entirely in just a few weeks. But at the same time, her best friend embarks on a cancer journey of her own—with very different results. Williams’s experiences as a patient and a medical test subject reveal with stark honesty what it takes to weather disease, the extraordinary new developments that are rewriting the rules of science—and the healing power of human connection.

Buy, read, and discuss this book.

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


About the author, Mary Elizabeth Williams Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior staff writer for award-winning Salon.com whose columns are regularly among the top viewed, commented on, shared, and cited as the best of the week. The “Lab Rat” series on her clinical trial was nominated for the 2012 Online Journalism Award for Commentary, and her essay on receiving a melanoma diagnosis is in the Harper anthology The Moment, an Entertainment Weekly “Must List” pick—alongside essays by Elizabeth Gilbert, Jennifer Egan, and Dave Eggers. She is the author of Gimme Shelter: Ugly Houses, Cruddy Neighborhoods, Fast Talking Brokers, and Toxic Mortgages: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream. A starred Booklist selection,Gimme Shelter was called “poignant and funny” (Kirkus), “a must-read” (New York Daily News), “hilariously evocative” (Time Out Kids) and “compelling” (Publisher’s Weekly). She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

Find out more about her at her website.

 

 


My Thoughts Melissa A. Bartell

When Trish from TLC Book Tours said she wanted to ask me, specifically, about reading this book, I almost said no. I mean, who wants to read another book about some woman they don’t know talking about her cancer. But I’ve been working with TLC for a few years now, and even though we don’t have much direct contact, I’ve noticed that Trish has an unerring knack for matching people and books, so I went against my initial reaction, and said yes.

I’m really glad I did, because it turns out that I knew Mary Elizabeth Williams from her work – Gimme Shelter is amazing, by the way – and her style is to candid and breezy and funny and snarky that I felt like reading her story was listening to one of my best girlfriends describing their experience. She was explicit enough that picturing her tumor, and understanding exactly what was going on, was relatively simply, yet she didn’t subject people to horror-movie levels of gore, and when things were turning darker or too serious, she would inject just enough humor to help lighten the moment without making it seem like there was no jeopardy, or things weren’t that dire.

It’s a tricky edge to ride.

Almost as tricky, I’d wager, as dealing with malignant melanoma while raising two daughters and reconciling with your ex-husband, which are all things Williams was doing.

Now, here’s where I share that I had a good friend – a blog buddy who was brilliant and incisive with words – who died from malignant melanoma a few years ago, just after Christmas. His last blog post describes how bad he really was, and how he and his wife had decided not to tell the kids until after the holidays. This  man was a soldier. He used to send me pictures from places like Kabul, and tell me about the people he encountered. I miss our discussions. I miss his writing. Even though we never met in person – we meant to – I miss him.

So, I knew, going into Williams’ book, that ‘skin cancer’ is a lot more dangerous than people think it is.

And Mary Elizabeth Williams is one lucky woman, with an incredible sense of humor. How can you not appreciate a woman who has to have a vodka tonic and a plate of buttered popovers before her first meeting with an oncologist at Sloan Kettering?

How can you not become thoroughly engaged in a story that includes the author’s honest speculation that the most expensive part of her treatment may be bribing her kids.

How indeed? As far as I can tell, the only way you will not immediately want Mary Elizabeth Williams as your best friend is by not reading this book.

But you should read it. You should read A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles because it’s funny and honest and profoundly human.

And really, fundamentally, even though it’s about this one woman and her one experience, it’s also about all of us, and how we choose to face catastrophes, and accept miracles.

What could be more compelling than that?

Goes well with buttered popovers and hot tea (Lady Grey is my pick), but a vodka tonic is perfectly acceptable as well.


Mary’s Tour Stops TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 26th: Darn Good Lemonade

Wednesday, April 27th: The Discerning Reader

Wednesday, April 27th: Bibliotica

Friday, April 29th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, May 3rd: Stranded in Chaos

Wednesday, May 4th: Back Porchervations

Tuesday, May 10th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 11th: Patient #1

Wednesday, May 18th: Booby and the Beast

Thursday, May 19th: A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 31st: Mel’s Shelves