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Movie vs. Book: To All the Boys: Always and Forever

In their senior year of high school, Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky are still together and have been going strong for more than a year now. There are no other people interfering in their relationship, but there is one thing that is: college. They have a plan to go away to school together. But as we all know, God laughs as we make our little plans.

In a shocking (or maybe not-so-shocking) twist of events, Lara Jean learns that despite her phenomenal grades and extra-curriculars, she is rejected by the very school that has accepted Peter and offered him a lacrosse scholarship. Initially they are devastated until they devise a new plan: Lara Jean will go to the school where she was accepted and then transfer to Peter’s school sophomore year. But Lara Jean continues to hear the voice of her mother and older sister in her head, telling her never to follow a boy to school. She is torn. And the more she learns about the school where she’s been accepted, the more she falls in love with it, especially after a whirlwind visit there solidifies things.

She keeps all of these feelings a secret from Peter, but he senses it. He separates himself from her, distancing just as prom approaches – as well as Lara Jean’s father’s second wedding – and everything erupts.

It’s a typical high school love story and it checks all the boxes. College! Prom! Senior trip! Wedding! And yet, those tropes work for a reason. Whether you’re currently in high school or an adult looking back at it, you know how big those moments feel as a teenager. Everything is at a monumental magnitude when you’re young – and especially young and in love. Those big moments lend themselves to big feelings, and it’s hard not to understand how both Peter and Lara Jean are feeling about everything going on.

The movie takes some liberties from the book to dramatize the situation even more. The book takes place in Virginia, so Peter is going to UVA, which rejected Lara Jean. Lara Jean plans instead to go to William & Mary. The schools are only a few hours away, which is truly doable even if they stayed long distance for the duration of college. But in the movie, they live in California. So Peter is going to Stanford, while Lara Jean is going to NYU on the other side of the country. Clearly the distance feels far more insurmountable.

The book also includes a section in which Lara Jean’s friend from the nursing home, Stormy, dies. At her funeral, she learns that John Ambrose (from the previous To All the Boys novel) is going to William & Mary, further complicating Peter’s feelings about Lara Jean going there. This is cut from the movie, which is probably for the best. It would be kind of a downer to have a funeral scene dropped in the middle of the movie, not to mention an unnecessary appearance from John Ambrose when Lara Jean clearly loves Peter.

Both movie and book end the same way, which is to say I WON’T SPOIL IT, but Lara Jean and Peter get to have it both ways, no matter how implausible it may seem. The only difference is that in the movie, Lara Jean and Peter ultimately have sex. They do not in the novel, but that never made sense to me. I know the novel is YA, and maybe the author was trying to be PC about it. Not to mention, Lara Jean has always been written as a character who is nervous to do things sexually. But not with Peter. And after more than a year of dating as they’re about to graduate, I don’t many high schoolers who wouldn’t have sex at that point.

Both the book and movie are truly satisfying and much more emotional, fun, full circle and impactful than the second book/movie in the series. What started out as a great premise in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is really tied up in a beautiful bow in Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

Get Always and Forever, Lara Jean in paperback for $5.99.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I Am One.

Recap: Ginger Zee is one of the most recognizable faces in TV news. As the chief meteorologist for ABC News, she appears daily on Good Morning America, travels the country to storm chase and deliver vitally important news about the weather and shares the details of her personal life on Instagram – complete with very adorable photos and videos of her two young sons.

But as she describes in her memoir, it took a while and a windy road for her to get this point. She worked in small markets, wore flip flops her first time on-air and wasn’t entirely sure how to write a script. She dated men who were horrible for her, broke off an engagement and suffered from verbal and emotional abuse. She tried to commit suicide and ultimately checked herself into a facility to get help. All of this was going on “behind the scenes” as she climbs the professional ladder, eventually making it to New York.

She is so delightfully adorable on-air and on social media that it’s hard for viewers to consider the many layers of anxiety and depression that she has managed over the years. And that is exactly why she wrote the book – to show the way things appear on the outside aren’t always the way they appear inside. This book is a thorough study on that, and an encouraging look at what can happen when you recognize the problems in your life and finally decide to get help.

Analysis: Ginger Zee’s story is powerful and necessary to be heard. Especially by young women – in any industry. But as a TV news person myself, I was also enraptured with her tales of job interviews, TV mishaps and ABC Network travels and assignments.

As much as I love her as a person and her anecdotes and found her story to be captivating, the writing itself could have used some work. The Natural Disaster title works perfectly as a representation of what she does for a living and how she describes herself, but the metaphor is used repeatedly throughout the book, to the point where I felt like I was being beat over the head with it. At times, I also found the book confusing in terms of time jumps. There were a few chapters that would go in chronological order and then she would write something like “But wait, let’s go back because this was also happening that entire time.” Maybe she was going for a little whiplash action in her writing just as she felt she was experiencing in her life, and just as one would experience in a real natural disaster. Either way, I sometimes got a little lost keeping track of what happened when because of those time jumps.

All that said, Ginger Zee has a voice and she’s using it to talk about big topics that MATTER. And there’s nothing more that I can do except respect and thank her for that.

Get Natural Disaster in paperback for $16.99.

Or on your Kindle for $14.99.

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Show vs. Book: Little Fires Everywhere

It’s 1997-1998 in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It’s an upper middle class community that upholds the belief that anti-racism is equivalent to colorblindness. That’s where we meet the Richardsons, a white, wealthy family: Bill and Elena and their four children, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy. It’s also where we meet the Warrens, a lower-class family made up of a single mother and her daughter, Mia and Pearl. Elena rents her rental home to Mia and Pearl. That’s how Pearl meets Mood. The two are the same age and quickly become good friends.

The two families begin to intertwine as Mia starts working as a housekeeper for the Richardsons to make a little extra cash and keep her eye on Pearl, who is wooed by the wealth and status of the Richardsons and spends much of her time at their home. As Pearl warms up to Elena, badly wanting that life, so too does Izzy warm up to Mia. Izzy is the black sheep of the Richardson family, the one the others don’t seem to understand. She comes to love Mia and her life and career as an artist and begins to spend time with her as an apprentice.

Another side job of Mia’s is a waitressing job at a Chinese restaurant, where she becomes friendly with her co-worker Bebe Chow. Bebe gave up her baby daughter when she was an infant and left her outside a firehouse. Mia later puts two-and-two together and discovers that Bebe’s daughter has since been adopted by friends of the Richardsons. The intertwining of the Richardsons and Warrens becomes mangled as Mia helps Bebe in a legal battle to win her daughter back from Elena’s good friend. And there is just as much intermingling and mangling happening between Pearl and the Richardson brood.

There are figurative fires sparking everywhere throughout the book, in Mia’s backstory, in Lexie’s current story and so on and so on. They all erupt in a literal fire engulfing the Richardsons’ home, which is used as a framing device bookending the story.

The show takes the bones of the book and portrays all this excellently onscreen with the talent of Reese Witherspoon as Elena Richardson and Kerry Washington as Mia Warren. (Not to mention the phenomenal kids who play the teenaged children.) But the show makes some serious changes, and I actually think most are for the better.

The book is not bad. In fact, it’s freaking great. Its themes around race are centered on Bebe Chow and how she is treated in the justice system as a poor Asian woman compared to the rich, white people. The TV series on Hulu, however, takes race a huge step further by making the Warrens black. Mia and Pearl are never explicitly said to be black in the novel. The mention of Pearl’s frizzy hair is as close as the author gets. By making them black, many more stories lines explicitly touch on race in the series, broadening the themes of the novel beyond wealth and socioeconomic status. The series came out a few months before the death of George Floyd, so it’s impossible to have known how much the series would resonate now, in retrospect, but it certainly does.

In terms of plot, the series adds a lot more backstory for Elena and a few more subplots between the children – which also touch on race. But the biggest change the series makes is the way it unravels all of the secrets the characters are keeping: about abortions, lovers, postpartum depression, childbearing, finances. In the book, many of the secrets remain just that: secrets. While a handful of characters escape Shaker Heights at the end of the novel, so many things are left undiscussed and unaddressed. We, the readers, are left to assume whether or not those conversations ever happen. In the TV series, however, no one can keep their mouth shut! The secrets not only come out but are hurled at other characters like giant fireballs across a room, only building the deep-seeded rage between several people and leading to even more outlandish actions.

When it comes to the massive, literal fire at the end (and technically beginning) of the story, it’s clear in the series that there is a handful of people involved in setting it. It takes the entire series to finally bond these characters together, and when they comes together in a spiteful act of arsonistic rage, it is ridiculously satisfying in a way that the ending of the book isn’t.

Get Little Fires Everywhere in paperback for $8.67.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Movie vs. Book: To All the Boys: P.S.: I Still Love You

The second book in this cute rom com chick lit YA series picks up right where the first left off. Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky have broken up, after a ski trip make-out session spreads rumors about them having done more sexually and Peter doesn’t deny it. It’s been a sad, lonely winter break for Lara Jean. But it’s not long before she and Peter decide to move forward. Peter stands up for Lara Jean regarding the video of them in the hot tub that’s now spreading on social media, making Lara Jean fall even harder for Peter.

But Genevieve. There’s always a Genevieve factor when it comes to Lara Jean and Peter. Lara Jean is convinced Gen is the one who took the video and spread it on social media. Then she and Chris start to see Gen and Peter continuing to spend time together, his arms always wrapped around her. When Lara Jean confronts Peter, he denies anything is going on and simply tells her Gen is dealing with family stuff.

As this is all happening, Lara Jean receives a letter…from John Ambrose McClaren! He was the only other person who received one of Lara Jean’s love letters who she never heard back from, until now. The strike up a pen pal relationship. Then as Lara Jean starts to volunteer at a senior living community and befriends an elderly woman named Stormy, she learns that John Ambrose is Stormy’s grandson. That does nothing but lead to Lara Jean and John Ambrose spending more time together and further confusing Lara Jean about her feelings.

The Netflix movie adaptation of the book automatically starts very differently. After all, the first movie took some of the content from the second book so it could wrap up the hot tub video fiasco in a neat little bow at the end. So all of that drama from the beginning of P.S. I Still Love You, the novel, is eliminated from the movie. It works because the movie is then able to spend much more time on the Lara Jean/John Ambrose/Peter/Genevieve situation.

And yet somehow the slow burn buildup of Lara Jean and John Ambrose’s relationship is more richly explored in the book, so the impact and payoff at the end are much more satisfying. The movie makes it feel like John Ambrose was never really a consideration for Lara Jean, while in the book he very much was.

The movie also took out the tidbit of John Ambrose being Stormy’s grandson. Instead he was a fellow volunteer at the home, and I like this better because a) it allowed for Lara Jean and John Ambrose to spend time together in a way that made sense and b) it also allowed for further diversity casting.

Ultimately the biggest difference may have come at the end. The way Lara Jean learns what Genevieve is going through with her family is completely different from the book, and it’s also handled differently. Both the book and movie have the two girls talking about the situation, ultimately leading to Lara Jean feeling confident in her decision about which boy she wants to date. But in the book, Gen’s family crisis a lot darker, and the conversation between the girls is far more confrontational. The movie cut out some of the risque factor of Gen’s home life, and portrayed a much more emotionally healthy conversation between her and Lara Jean. But I would argue that 16-year-old girls are not that emotionally healthy, and can be very hormonal and angsty. So the book seems to have a more realistic take on this. The book’s version of this conversation also speaks to another very sad, but common teenage rite of passage: breaking up with friends.

When it comes to this one, I loved both the book and movie. The book was better plotted, paced and explored.. But no matter the changes, you can’t help but fall in love with Lana Condor, Noel Centineo and Jordan Fisher on screen.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2020

I’m going to be completely honest with you. This year was an absolute crap year for me when it came to reading. I recognize a global pandemic may have seemed like the perfect opportunity to sit and read a ton, and I’m well aware that many people did that. However, I’m an essential worker and was not home nearly as much as some others this year, and I also felt so completely drained by work and the day-to-day reality of the state of the world that when I was home, I found myself wanting to do nothing more than veg out on the couch watching Netflix. I simply felt I had no more brainpower to expend on reading.

That said, I read far fewer books than I normally do in a year and kept this list a little shorter for that reason.

Another thing. Here’s the disclaimer I include every year. This is not a list of my top picks of books that were published this year (although some were). For that kind of list, I recommend the NYTimes 100 Notable Books of 2020 list. This is a list of my top picks of books I personally read in 2020, regardless of what year they were published. Below that is a complete list of the books I read this year. Enjoy!

8. The Sweeney Sisters – This fictional tale of three wealthy sisters grappling with the death of their famous father and what to do with his legacy was a perfect summer beach read. Light, easy, romantic, a little predictable and still a lot of fun.

7. Living the Sutras – Part yoga textbook and part journal guide, this book breaks down the ancient yoga sutras, detailing the theory and practice of yoga. Each of the 195 sutras go much deeper than “triangle pose!” and in this book, each is accompanied with a little writing prompt, allowing the reader to also go deep and learn about themselves while reading.

6. The Promise of a Pencil – Part memoir/part self-help, Adam Braun shares how he built an incredibly successful charitable organization from the ground up. In doing so, he also shares how he learned to let go of the corporate life he was conditioned to desire, how to be a better leader and human and the importance of leaning into your passion for the betterment of the future.

5. Unbearable Lightness – I never really cared or knew much about Portia de Rossi until I read this book, and now I have incredible respect for her. Her memoir about her battle with an extreme eating disorder and depression is dark, honest, real and compelling. And her ability to write far exceeded my expectations.

4. Universe of Two – This WWII-era historical fiction novel has nothing to do with battle and nothing to do with the Holocaust. What a gift. Instead it centers on the Manhattan Project: one of the engineers involved and the women he was in love with who lived across the country. It’s romantic, educational, beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down.

3. Waiting for the Punch – If you’re a fan of Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, you will love this book. And if you’re not, but have always wondered what the fuss is all about, this book is your perfect way in. The book is divided into themes, and each one includes transcriptions of some of his best, funniest and saddest celebrity interviews. I may have cried more reading this book this year than any other. It is chock full of life lessons and earns its own credit separately from the podcast.

2. Becoming – What more can I say about Michelle Obama’s famous, bestselling memoir that hasn’t already been said? It is superb. It is honest, feminist, political without being too political, uplifting and inspiring. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, and honestly, why have you?

  1. Untamed – Glennon Doyle deserves every bit of praise she received this year for this book. The bestseller struck a serious chord with most of America as Doyle details her honest descriptions of falling in love, parenting, feminism, politics, charity and the importance of being true to yourself and your passions and following through with everyone you want despite the “consequences.” She calls herself on her bullshit. And you’ll read this, crying, calling yourself on yours.

BOOKS I READ IN 2020

The Magnanimous Heart – Narayan Helen Liebenson

The Promise of a Pencil – Adam Braun

Unbearable Lightness – Portia de Rossi

Okay Fine Whatever – Courtenay Hameister

40 Days to Personal Revolution – Baron Baptiste

The Sweeney Sisters – Lian Dolan

Universe of Two – Stephen P. Kiernan

Untamed – Glennon Doyle

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Waiting for the Punch – Marc Maron

Living the Sutras – Kelly DiNardo

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream – Doris Kearns Goodwin

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Review: Becoming

Recap: To us, she is the former First Lady, a woman about whom we already know so much – who Michelle Obama is married to, how many children she has, what her platform was while serving in the White House, where she’s from. Her Wikipedia page tells a lot more – where she went to school, what she got her degree in, where she worked prior to her role as First Lady.

But all that is surface information – interesting, but mostly trivial when it comes to the wealth, insight and warmth a human being has to offer. Michelle Obama’s bestselling memoir Becoming offers a much truer, more authentic view of who Michelle Obama was, is and is…becoming.

The level of detail in which she remembers her life is astonishing. She is full of beautiful and meaningful stories and anecdotes, trials and tribulations that have set her on this path. Stories from her childhood are full of piano lessons, growing up black, strict but loving relatives, her mother getting her out of her second grade class, the guidance counselor who told her she wasn’t “Princeton material.” Stories from adulthood tell the romance of her relationship with President Obama, the loss of her father and close friend, and the struggles she faced with finding her purpose in work, getting pregnant and then managing work, motherhood and her husband’s politics. And then there’s the politics of it all – the criticism and backlash she faced, the lessons she learned, the racism she faced, the platforms she picked and the behind-the-scenes details of life in the White House (they pay for their own groceries!) and some of the biggest events we only know as televised (i.e. On Election Night 2008 when, after President Obama’s win and on the drive to his acceptance speech, with the streets emptied and blocked for their motorcade, one of her daughters said “Dad, I don’t think anyone’s coming to your party.)

Analysis: With this memoir, Michelle Obama paints a picture of herself as the star character in her own fish-out-of-water novel. And for the first time, despite any number of articles and interviews I’ve read, seen or heard, I got it. I got her. I understand the level at which she was swept into a life of “wife of politician.” So focused on her own career and family for so long, she never saw any of this coming. It’s hard to believe that from someone who has been married to the guy who ran the country for eight years, but reading her book, you ultimately reason one critical piece of information: she’s just a woman, like any other. A woman with doubts and fears and questioning about whether she’s doing the right thing. A woman with love for her family and unending support for those she loves. A woman who takes experiences and learns from them, hoping to only learn and grow more with each new chapter.

Becoming is not a “self-help” book, but so many parts of it are so relatable, it’s hard to ignore the insights she has to offer, like this:

This may be the fundamental problem with caring a lot about what others think: It can put you on the established path — the my-isn’t-that-impressive path — and keep you there for a long time. Maybe it stops you from swerving, from ever even considering a swerve, because what you risk losing in terms of other people’s high regard can feel too costly.

In Becoming, Michelle Obama portrays herself as the every woman, but she has lived quite a life because of the ride she’s just so happened to hop on.

Buy Becoming now in hardcover for $11.89.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: Unbearable Lightness

Recap: There’s a voice in Portia de Rossi’s head. There’s a voice telling her she’s disgusting. And fat. And lazy. Ugly. Stupid. Worthless. It’s a voice that’s been there since she was a little girl, pushing her to work harder at everything, including her job, her weight, her sexuality. It’s a voice that’s only grown louder over the years until it becomes a constant and piercing ringing in her ears.

In Unbearable Lightness, actress Portia de Rossi writes honestly about her struggles with an eating disorder, being gay and fame and success. She writes about her young modeling career, her journey from Australia to America, the pull she felt to be “pretty” and “perfect” and “straight” in order to attain success in Hollywood.

She writes about the embarrassment and crying fits while doing fittings for her first big job on “Ally McBeal” and her divorce from her husband, knowing she was in love with women in her life. She opens up about the vomiting after eating Mexican food or ice cream, the incessant cycle of binge and purge, of running up and down the stairs for an hour to eliminate the calories she’d already eaten.

Reading this book, one comes to learn Portia de Rossi was an extremely unhappy woman for a very long time, a woman living in fear, in a state of inner isolation and violence, striving for something more while only allowing herself to feel less.

Analysis: This book came recommended to me by a good friend, and though I don’t know much about Portia de Rossi or her work, I read it anyway. And I’m glad. As someone who overcame an eating disorder years ago, I identified with so many of her disordered thoughts around food. I remembered those days. But the degree to which de Rossi obsessed was on another level that seems unimaginable.

Her ability to access those thoughts directly, to state them plainly without judgement or shame is astounding. Her bluntness and honesty and beautiful, yet dark language are impressive. Not every “celebrity memoir” is necessarily well-written. This one is. She has a poetic way of describing the deranged thoughts coursing through her mind.

The book details her slow and steady declines and culminates in the moment where she needs help. It was an interesting way to end the book, rather than giving us the full rollercoaster ride of worsening and getting better. She offers an epilogue, but it’s written from the voice of so many years later that it’s hard to piece together exactly what the journey was from start to finish. And maybe that was the whole point — to NOT offer glimmers of hope amid shiny stars and rainbows, but to be REAL. And real is not always nice.

Get Unbearable Lightness in paperback now for $16.99.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2019

I couldn’t let the new year (and decade!) begin without my favorite blog edition…my top picks of 2019! Fair warning: this year life really took hold. Suffice to say, I didn’t read nearly as much as I usually do or would like to. But I read enough to select my 10 favorites! This is a list of the best books I personally read, not necessarily books that were released in 2019. For a list of those, here you go.  At the bottom, I’ve also included the complete list of books I read this year.


10. Before We Were Yours – This historical fiction novel showcases the awful beginnings of child adoptions in the United States. Its time jumps and changing narrators add suspense to the story of little Rill, who does everything she can to keep her family in tact when Tennessee Children’s Home Society (a real place in an otherwise made-up story) does everything it can to disrupt that for money.

9. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – It’s the anti-self-help self-help book. The book that tells you it’s not a self-help book and it’s going to tell you all the opposite things from a regular self-help book. And that’s kind of true. Which is why it’s so effective. A lot of my takeaways from this massive bestseller is that author Mark Manson relies on a lot of Buddhist methodology to explain how best to live your life – with the understanding that life is suffering and once we accept that, things can start to be a little better. Prepare for some foul language and real talk truths.

8. Not That Kind of Girl – Writer/director/actress Lena Dunham shares her life in this messy memoir made up of short stories and essays, unveiling the depths of her anxieties, neuroses and mental health issues as well as just being honest about what it is to be a girl and woman in the modern world. Some stories are sad, some are hilarious riots, but all are well-told, vulnerable, and bluntly honest.

7. How to Read Literature Like a Professor – This how-to for making literally any book better is divided into themes and symbols to explain what matters in a story and what it means. Chapters focus on anything and everything from the significance of ill characters in books to Bible references to food and sex and seasons. Most of the examples were from books and literature I haven’t read BUT the writer explains everything so well that it’s not only changed how I understand and appreciate books, it also applies to TV, film and pretty much any creative medium. A true game-changer.

6. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Author Jon Kabat-Zinn book on the power of meditation is a simplistic, effective how-to for those who have been meditating for years and those looking to start a regular practice. He’s science-based, but instead of constantly throwing facts, studies and research at the reader, he shared personal anecdotes and understandable metaphors to make meditation manageable. 

5. Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin does it again, choosing real people in history whose stories have remain mostly untold and telling them, with her own fictionalized dialogue and writing. This one is set in 1940’s Paris during WWII. It tells the story of a real couple, Claude and Blanche Auzello, who lets their marriage waiver as they focus on saving Jews during the Holocaust.

4. The Storyteller’s Secret – This fictional tale about love and love lost starts after modern-day Jaya has another miscarriage and separates from her husband. On a search for connection and answers to life’s questions, she travels to her family’s native India. During the course of the book, her story and her grandmother’s intertwine in a beautiful, heartbreaking and heartwarming way.

3. The Light We Lost – I went back and forth on where to rank this one because I loved it so much. The romance of two young people in NYC during 9/11 continues over the next 13 years. It is gripping, tragic, romantic, sexy. I can’t remember the last time I wanted to finish a book and simultaneously not want it to end so badly.

2. The Girls in the Picture – I was halfway (or more?) through this book before I realized this wasn’t only historical fiction about the beginning of the film industry in America in the early 1900s. It was also historical fiction about a real actress and female screenwriter who were friends. This film story that’s really about friendship and feminism detail the lives and careers of Frances Marion and Mary Pickford in a way that’s fun and dramatic.

1. The Four Agreements – Simple, but not easy. This big-time bestselling nonfiction quick read give you the basics everyone can and should follow to live a better, happier life. There are four agreements you must make with yourself. They sound simple enough, but life makes it really hard to make them easy. This book details the how and why. Once you read it, it is truly life-changing.

BOOKS I’VE READ 2019

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Peronsal Freedom – Miguel Ruiz

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories – B.J. Novak

The Storyteller’s Secret – Sejal Badani

Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong

The Girls in the Picture – Melanie Benjamin

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life – Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Light We Lost – Jill Santopolo

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” – Lena Dunham

Stinky Tofu: A Comedic Novel – Ross Henry Nodell

Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin

Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell

Unqualified – Anna Faris

Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life – Mark Manson

How To Read Literature Like A Professor – Thomas C. Foster

Dead If You Don’t – Peter James

Dietland – Sarai Walker

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Review: Unqualified

Recap: Actress Anna Faris is unqualified to write this book about relationships and relationship advice. There’s no denying that. She’ll tell you that right off the top. Hell, it’s in the title. But she doesn’t care what you think. So she’s doing it anyway. Why? Well, in all honestly it’s at least in some part because her very successful podcast of the same name has garnered such a massive following that she knows she now has the ability to write a book that will sell. But on a less meta and more compassion wavelength, Faris is the kind of woman who battles insecurity like the rest of us and yet overcomes it – at least on the surface level – with a strong sense of “I-don’t-give-a-s***.” It’s taken her until her 30s and 40s – and admittedly so – to care less about what other people think and more about what’s best for her and her family.

That’s what Unqualified is really all about – a mix of stories and anecdotes from her life and the lessons they have taught her. She details the ways her relationships have changed her as a person and the ways fame has tried to do the same. Seventy-percent memoir and 30-percent self-help, Unqualified is a very honest glance into the world of a famous – but not super, uber iconic status famous – person who truly strives to be a better person everyday for her family, her fans and herself.

Analysis: Is Unqualified the best written memoir I’ve ever read? Absolutely not. Faris is not a writer. She is an actress and podcaster. She writes like she talks. As a broadcast journalist, I do the same, but in the beginning of her book I had a hard time taking her seriously because of the lackadaisical manner in which she writes. Here’s the thing: stick it out. It’s worth it.

If you’ve ever listened to Faris’s podcast, some of the anecdotes and things about her will be a little redundant. (We know this, Anna. We’ve heard it before.) But when it comes to her relationships with her exes and even friendships, she gets more honest and real than I ever expect out of a memoir, particularly a celebrity memoir. Was Chris Pratt okay with this? Was her first ex-husband? I’m sure she had clearance, but I was so flabbergasted with her realness, I couldn’t help but wonder.

That honesty is what works here. Faris does not pretend to be a perfect person. (Unqualified, remember?) But she writes what she knows, what she’s learned and hopes that for someone out there who may or may not even realize they need it, her book offers help. For me, it did; by showing me that we are always evolving and there is always room for acceptance and kindness.

Get Unqualified in paperback for $7.99.

Or on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Review: Before We Were Yours

Recap: The location is a hospital in the South. The time is the 1930s. The twins delivered did not fare well. The parents are destroyed.

And now here we are, in present day, following the life of Avery Stafford. The 30-something lawyer is used to living in the limelight of her father and his long political reign. But now he is sick, and she is forced to prepare to take his spot in politics as he also deals with an ongoing scandal involving nursing homes. In visiting her grandmother at one, Avery meets another elderly woman who is completely taken with her. A misplaced bracelet and a curious family photo forces Avery to return to the woman as she itches to learn more about her and whether this woman is somehow connected to her own family.

Now we are back to the 1930s, and Rill Foss is left in charge of her brother and sisters after their parents rushed to the hospital. Living on the river in Tennessee, they are now orphans as their parents never return. They are scooped up and taken in by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, and they face every form of abuse: verbal, physical, sexual. Living in a constant state of fear, Rill feels compelled to take care of her siblings, but there’s only so much a 12-year-old girl can do.

The stories of Rill and Avery intertwine more and more throughout Before We Were Yours in a beautiful and mysterious way, but it’s the fact that this historical fiction novel is based on true events from the real horrors of adoption in the 1930s that make this book so haunting.

Analysis: One of the characters we come to know in the book is the woman who run’s the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Georgia Tann. But Georgia Tann was a real woman, known for having made adoption in the United States an industry and for charging families an exorbitant amount of money for adopting children. These children were bought and sold, practically as a form of slavery and treated traumatically in the process.

Author Lisa Wingate tells this story through the lens of a little girl during the time and through the eyes of a present-day woman who, like many of us, had no idea any of this was happening in the 1930s.

Despite the horrors, Wingate does an excellent job of keeping the reader invested in the characters, curious about what happens next and still manages to offer hope through the love we see shine through her characters. Before We Were Yours takes a bit of time to get into, but once you start to put together the pieces of the puzzle and realize that Rill and Avery and the old woman she meets are all connected, the journey to get there is worth every word.

MVP: Rill. She has been through so much and has been forced to grow up very fast at a very young age. She has no choice. But she does it with vigor and comes out on the other side.

Get Before We Were Yours now in paperback for $10.29.

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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