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Review: Not That Kind of Girl

Recap: Lena Dunham is a woman who has something to say. Like her or not, she uses her platform to proudly proclaim her thoughts and opinions and is willing to use any medium available to do it. Her book of essays is no exception. After years of fictionalizing semi-autobiographical vignettes of women in their twenties on her TV show Girls, she put her pen to the page in this more honestly revealing look at her life to date. She acknowledges that she is young and has so much more to go, and reading her book five years after publication proves as much. In some ways, it’s dated already. Since publication, Dunham and her long-term boyfriend, who is openly written about in several essays, broke up. She also had several major medical emergencies and surgeries and became clean and sober. Her life proves that much of what you think you know in your twenties gets flipped on its head by the time you turn 30.

But as “dated” as the book is in terms of the plot twists of her personal life is how timeless the book is at the same time. She writes openly about losing her virginity, sexual assault, falling in love, falling out of love, breakup with guys, breakups with friends, the power of female friendship, the seemingly always difficult relationship women have with food and their bodies and her experiences with drugs, alcohol, family and the professional working world. Hers is a book and a story and a life that’s relatable for any woman. They’re experiences that, good or bad, that little girls and young women will continue to have for years to come, no matter what generation they fall into.

That may be what makes her book so powerful. This is not some celebrity memoir, dripping with scandal and salacious details of behind-the-scenes hookups and drug problems. Nor is it an opportunity to use her name to announce a political or social do-gooder platform. It’s also not a self-help book, pronouncing herself the knower of all things. It’s simply her story, her life as a person, a woman and nothing else.

Analysis: It’s her honesty that makes the book work, but also her writing. Her simultaneously self-deprecating and ostentatiously prideful humor seeps into every chapter in a way that made me laugh and sometimes shout “Yes! Exactly!” But in darker moments and depictions of assault and disordered eating, my heart hurt. She writes in a matter-of-fact way, not meant to incur sympathy. I respect that.

The book was divided by large sections: Love & Sex, Body, Friendship, Work and Big Picture. Each essay is placed in whatever chapter it fits best thematically. There’s no timeline. Everything’s out of order. Some stories are from college, some as young as when she was two years old. I found myself wondering if she wrote the book all at once or if she pulled from journal entries and essays she wrote in real-time throughout her life. They were just so detailed, it was impressive to me that she would still recall certain nuggets of information and deep emotions from 10, 15, even 20 years earlier.

Some essays were so brief, I was left to wonder what their significance was. But all together, it was a well-structured mess of stories paralleling the well-structured mess she tends to portray on TV, in movies, on red carpets and Instagram: the honest, well-structured mess so many of us are and try to hide, but Lena Dunham does not.

Get Not That Kind of Girl in paperback now for $9.89.

Or on your Kindle for $6.99.

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Review: The Girls in the Picture

Recap: It’s the early 1900’s and Frances Marion isn’t sure what she wants, but she knows what she doesn’t want. She no longer wants to be married to a man she doesn’t live in San Francisco, a city that does nothing for her. So she moves to Los Angeles just as the movie industry starts to develop. She is fixated on somehow being a part of the world of cinema, but isn’t sure how. Until she meets Mary Pickford. And that’s when everything changes. 


The two quickly become best friends. Mary works toward a career in acting, while Frances soon finds herself writing screenplays. In the 1910’s and 1920’s, they are unicorns: women in the film industry. But they have the support of each other to keep working toward their dreams. They promise to never let men get in the way of their friendship. 


But it’s a promise made at too young an age to keep. When Mary falls in love with an already-married actor and Frances finds the perfect husband, Mary and Frances begin judging each other and the choices they’re making. As they stop supporting each other personally, they stop supporting each other professionally too. But will the different directions their lives are taking them ultimately bring them back together?


Analysis: I knew this was a historical fiction novel from the beginning, but didn’t know until midway through the book when author Melanie Benjamin started name-dropping other celebrities that Mary Pickford and Frances Marion were real women, and this was their true story, written in a fictionalized view, making the story all the more interesting. 


But more than anything else, the story is relatable. Every woman goes through ups and downs, even with their closest girlfriends. Every woman goes through ups and downs professionally. It’s a timeless story of women trying to balance friendship, work and love in modern times.


But their story is also timely. Historical fiction has a way of showing us how much and how little things have changed over the years. The film industry has changed immensely since it began in the 1910’s. All movies are “talkies” now, and shot in color and digital and the list goes on and on. But the #MeToo era proves that the painful experiences that women in film face — sexual harassment, pay disparity and lack of respect, power and opportunity — live on even after more than 100 years. 


Both tragic and beautiful, The Girls in the Picture gripped me so deeply, I couldn’t stop talking about it or recommending it to any woman or any fan of movies. 


MVP: Frances. Though stubborn in her ways and often judgemental, she is far more realistic than Mary about her role in the world. That gives her the ability to see clearly and realize when she has to take a step back from certain parts of her life. 

Get The Girls in the Picture in hardcover for $12.08.

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: True Colors

511drsbgj0lRecap: Winona, Aurora and Vivi Ann Grey have been three peas in a pod since childhood, sisters brought especially close together after the death of their mother when they were young. But as they hit their 20s and they started to go their separate ways, tensions grew between them. Winona remained single but excelled in her career. Aurora started a family, acting as the peacekeeper in the family. Vivi Ann remained a beautiful free spirit, inheriting the talents of her mother: riding horses. Vivi Ann is her father’s favorite as he grows increasingly depressed and ornery over the years after the loss of his wife.

But then Vivi Ann meets Dallas, an Indian in their world of cowboys and ranches. Hired as a ranch hand on their farm, Dallas feels immediately connected to Vivi Ann, and she to him. But she’s already engaged to “the perfect man” Luke Connelly, who just so happens to be Winona’s high school crush. Vivi Ann’s decision followed by  a murder in the town that involves her family sends the story off into the stratosphere and the Grey family spiraling .

Analysis: Like other Kristin Hannah books, the story is told through the eyes of each of the sisters, each chapter revolving between points of view, helping to paint a brighter picture of each character. Aurora, the girls’ father and Dallas remain the most underdeveloped as the story really focuses more on the oldest (Winona) and youngest (Vivi Ann) sisters.

After the scene it set initially, the book seems to move in one direction but then makes a stark turn around a third of the way into the book with the murder plot. For a story about sisters who have lost their mom, have a disconnected father and have a stranger enter their lives, it felt a little unnecessary to throw in any more drama. That said, the book really moves initially and slows down in the middle to end. There’s a period in which a long time passes in the book and the story seems to drag because of it, then rushing into a neatly wrapped up ending.

I really enjoyed the book while reading it and loved the story. I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Winona and Vivi Ann too — a sister relationship that no one would understand but sisters. I just wish both the amount of time that passed in the lives of the characters and the literal number of pages it took me to get there were a bit more concise.

MVP: Winona. At times she was pathetic and extremely bitter, but of all the sisters, she still seemed to be the one who most had her life together. She may have been defiant at times, she’s a woman who knew what she wanted.

Get True Colors in paperback for $10.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Carrie Fisher’s Books Selling Like Wildfire

article-1088513-0289ce2d000005dc-747_468x468Just two weeks after her death, Carrie Fisher’s books are selling like wildfire. In fact, they’re selling so many copies, Simon & Schuster has ordered reprints of every one of her books, according to Entertainment Weekly.

“All of them have remained in print, but our supply was wiped out by demand,” said Jonathan Karp, President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster Publishing Group.  Several of them have topped bestseller lists in recent weeks.

Titles that have been reprinted include Fisher’s 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking, her 1987 novel Postcards From the Edge, her 2011 memoir Shockoholic and her 2004 novel The Best Awful. Her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist, also warranted a reprint from its publisher, Blue Rider Press.

Frankly, none of this is a surprise. It’s the same thing we see when a music artist dies and their albums and songs shoot to the top of the charts. It’s heartbreaking to see Fisher go, but lucky for us, her words live on.

 

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Review: The Hopefuls

28007954Recap: It’s one thing to move to Washington, D.C. to support your husband’s work. It’s another to then move to Texas for a year to support him as he runs a campaign for his frenemy. But that’s exactly what Beth does in this scandalous political novel. Beth has always known of Matt’s dream to run for office. But it still comes as a surprise when, after years of living in New York together, he becomes serious about moving to D.C. She follows suit, but hates her new city — too full of pomp, circumstance and pompous politicians and their wives. Not to mention, it’s closer to his family in Maryland, including her mother-in-law with whom she does not get along.

But in due time, Matt and Beth become friends with Jimmy and Asheleigh. Matt and Jimmy work together, and Asheleigh is epitomizes everything a politician’s wife should be. Despite their being complete opposites, Beth and Asheleigh become inseparable, as do Matt and Jimmy. But Jimmy always seems to be one step ahead of Matt in his career, and soon Matt’s friendship also becomes partially built on envy.

After several of Matt’s job prospects fall through, Jimmy asks him to run his campaign for a position available in his and Asheleigh’s home state of Texas. So they all move there, with Beth and Matt taking the Dillons up on their offer to live in their house. One can only imagine the stress, the exhaustion and the changes that develop after months of campaigning. Matt spends little time with Beth. Asheleigh seems distant. Jimmy is aggravated with everyone. But as some relationships sour, others start to bloom anew — and therein lies even more problems than the ones that have to do with politics.

Analysis: Just in time for the 2016 election, The Hopefuls dives into the inner-workings of D.C. politics in the most delectable way. It includes the honest political hard work of The West Wing, the simmering desire of Scandal, and questions about these couples’ pairings a la House of Cards. What makes this a standout is that it’s not about the President, but about some low-level White House employees, trying to make it big. As inundated as pop culture is with political drama — both real and not — we’ve yet to see a story about a person at the start of their political career and not at the peak.

Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dressescover equally the political aspects of the story and their effects on relationships. I love that the story is written from the perspective of Beth, both because she’s a woman in this world and because she’s completely uninterested in the universe of politics. Usually in this kind of story, the women are vicious and want to be a part of the political landscape as much as their significant others. It was a refreshing new angle on what could have been a redundant tale.

The Hopefuls felt like it could have been a sequel to Girls in White Dresses, focusing on one of the characters from that novel. Close’s writing here feels a little more mature, subtle (in a good, smart way) and relevant. The ending here is a little sad, a little lost, but in D.C.’s world of young hopefuls, I imagine there is plenty of sad and lost to go around.

MVP: Beth. Yes, she’s the protagonist and no, she doesn’t always make the best choices, nor does she seem particularly motivated. But she puts up with a lot, and at the end of the day, she’s still the most likable of all the heinous — yet amusing! — characters in this book.

Get The Hopefuls in hardcover for $17.85. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99. 

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‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ ‘Committed’ Author Separates from Husband

liz_03Normally, I wouldn’t blog about gossip-related items, but in this case, it’s the subject of Elizabeth Gilbert’s books. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love and Committed is separating from her husband. Her husband is the man she met on her trip to Bali and the same man she wrote about and called “Felipe” in her memoir.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the author posted about the separation on Facebook, explaining “Because I have shared details of my private life with you all so intimately over the years, I feel the need to share with you this recent change in my personal life…He has been my dear companion for over 12 years, and they have been wonderful years. Our split is very amicable. Our reasons are very personal.”

Much of Committed was about her fascination with marriage and discussion about why we, as modern-day Americans, make such a big deal out of getting married. Her reasons for marrying weren’t want and desire. She married because of obligation. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she and her husband are separating. After all, is that what she really wanted to begin with?

It’s hard to know the answer to that. And it’s hard to write about this and her, knowing that she’s not, in fact, a character, but a real person. All I have to say is I commend her for her openness and honesty. I respect that she announced it and agree that because she wrote about her love and marriage to “Felipe,” it’s only fair she acknowledge her separation from him as well. Their story may be over, but hopefully her stories are not.

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Bryan Cranston To Release Memoir This Fall

“I am the one who knocks” on your…bookshelf? That’s right. Actor Bryan Cranston, who played the infamously beloved Walter White on five seasons of Breaking Bad, is set to release a memoir, A Life in Parts, October 18.

According to Entertainment Weekly, it will includes sections about his most famous roles, including Walter White and the dad on Malcolm in the Middle, as well as sections about his real life.

The best part, though, are the front and back covers of the memoir, which portray Cranston’s uncanny ability to be seemingly friendly and seemingly ferocious. (Truth be told, my fiance and his family ran into Bryan Cranston a few years ago in New York City and said he was extremely friendly.)

Aside from being a big Breaking Bad fan, I have always been fascinated by actors who can vacillate between comedy and drama, as well as those who hit their prime later in life like Cranston did. Coming off one of the most best television series in recent memory, Cranston’s memoir is sure to sell well.

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