Tag Archives: book reviews

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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Review: Bhagavad Gita

Recap: It’s one of the most ancient and revered religious texts, and yet I had never heard of it until I started my 500-hour yoga teacher training course. Some of the other trainees were familiar with it from college classes, etc. But somehow it had been overlooked in my literary education, and it’s a shame because Gita is a GEM.

The book is really a long poem, detailing a journey a la The Iliad or The Odyssey. It tells the story of a man, Arjuna, about to lead his men in battle. Right before it all goes down, however, Arjuna has a moment of internal crisis. Is fighting and winning this battle everything he stands for it or does it stand for everything he’s against? Are violence, death, destruction and power really the most important things to him? With these questions, he turns to the man driving his chariot, Krishna. But Krishna isn’t just some lowly chariot driver. He’s actually God — the universe/the almighty force/whatever synonym you want to use — reincarnate.

The rest of the tale is Krishna explaining to Arjuna the meaning of life and the best ways to live that life. These are the questions — and answers — all humans have and seek. These are the crises of mankind, and that hasn’t changed in thousands of years. So what does Arjuna do in the end? Does he fight? Does he back down in an effort to emulate a life of nonviolence? The beauty of Gita is that’s almost not even the point.

Analysis: There are many interpretations, translations and iterations of Bhagavad Gita that have been written over the years. (Just how many years, no one really knows. It’s estimated the story was originally written as early as the fifth century B.C.E. or as late as the first century C.E.) I just so happened to pick up a copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation, and I’m glad I did. Mitchell also translated Tao Te Chang: A New English Version so he clearly has an affinity for this type of thing.

The beauty of this version is his introduction that lays out the story. It’s incredibly helpful so have this classic poem explained in layman’s terms so you’re not flying blind as you read. Otherwise, I could see it being very possible to overlook the God-ness of Krishna and the deeper interpretations of what he’s saying. This translation also includes an Appendix written by Ghandi!

Please take my use of “God” and “religious text” with a grain of salt. This is not the Bible. It is not forcing religion upon anyone. It’s explaining human thinking. You can replace “God” with other words like “the universe,” “a powerful force,” “destiny,” “the divine,” or even just “ME.” Because part of the point of the text is that unlike what many Judeo-Christian religions preach about there being an almighty God to whom we should pray and “be good” for, Gita emphasizes a more Western philosophy that God exists in all of us. There is no big man in the sky that we need to proclaim our love to. We need to recognize there is a godliness within each being on the planet, ourselves included, and proclaim our love to everyone – even ourselves. Take this section said by Krishna to Arjuna, for example:

I am the beginning and the end,

origin and dissolution,

refuge, home, true lover,

womb and imperishable seed.

I am the heat of the sun,

I hold back the rain and release it;

I am death and the deathless,

and all that is or is not.

The moment you replace each “I” with “you,” you recognize the universality of the writing. We are all everything. That’s the thing to understand about the Gita. It’s not just about a man’s dilemma on the battlefield. It’s about all people’s internal dilemma in the world. Eye-opening, mind-blowing and highly recommended.

Get Bhagavad Gita in paperback for $13.49.

Or on your Kindle for $11.99.

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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: Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Recap: LBJ was the 36th President of the United States. I like to say that separately from the fact that he was inaugurated after the assassination of John F. Kennedy because those two facts are often lumped together and LBJ deserves a little more recognition than that. Because he didn’t just step in. He changed America. He took our country through the turmoil and trauma of the 1960s. He signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He put into place legislation that still impact us through the present. He also entered the U.S. into the Vietnam War.

And yet, he was much more than all of this. LBJ was a tall, broad man who loved his wife Lady Bird more than anything. He was awkward at public events, but fantastic negotiating in small groups. He grew up with a deep-seeded fear of paralysis and death only to succumb to a heart attack alone – his worst fear realized. Biographer and author Doris Kearns Goodwin takes us through his entire life, from his parents and the generations before he was born to the last day of his life. She shines a light on everything he did, everything he succeeded in and failed at, and the lasting impact he’s had. She paints LBJ not only as a President, but as a person.

Analysis: Here’s the thing. I have to admit I didn’t know much about LBJ before reading this book. The extent of my knowledge was that he took over after JFK was shot. But after a trip to Austin, Texas last year and a stop at the LBJ Presidential Library, I was fascinated by everything he had done for the Civil Rights movement. Why didn’t that ring a bell? I’d never read a presidential biography before, and LBJ had piqued my interest just enough to encourage me to buy this one.

It took a long time for me to get through it – months! It’s not because it wasn’t a good book. He is a fascinating man with both good qualities and bad. And author Doris Kearns Goodwin was not only close enough with him to know him well, she’s also an excellent writer. Plus, I’m giving myself a little extra grace with how little I read this year – there was a global pandemic after all, and with everything going on in the world, I found that most days, the last thing I wanted to do was read.

The book is simply dense. There is a lot – and I mean a LOT of information – detailing each of his policies, the men he worked with, his childhood, his struggles during Vietnam, his struggles with the Kennedys. Everything you could want to know about the man is in this book. The same thing that makes it dense is the same thing that makes it delicious and fast-moving once you get into it.

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Review: Waiting for the Punch

Recap: Words of wisdom, words for laughter, words for self-love and compassion, words of you’re-not-alone-ness. As comedian and actor Marc Maron has proven with hit hit podcast WTF with Marc Maron, when you wait for punchline — either comedically or dramatically — and you finally hear it, everything changes. Maron has encountered hundreds of these moments on his podcast, talking with fellow comedians and actors as well as musicians, directors and even politicians about their lives and mental states. Something fascinating almost always comes from one of his interviews, something we, as listeners, can take with us as guidance for how to keep going in this crazy world.

Waiting for the Punch compiles and transcribes snippets from many of Maron’s interviews over the years. Each chapter is themed around a specific topic, including growing up, relationships, addiction, mortality, failure and success. Fan favorites like Mel Brooks, Bruce Springsteen and President Barack Obama are sprinkled throughout the book speaking about several topics. Each selection is note-worthy. Some stories are just so wild and crazy, I found myself completely entranced. Some stories made me laugh, others made me sob. I can honestly say I learned something from almost every one.

Analysis: As a huge fan of Maron’s podcast, I never hesitated to buy and read his book. But at some point, I did wonder what it would add if I’d already heard these — or at least some of these — interviews. But reading the book makes its purpose quite clear.

At times people talk so fast, it’s hard to fully take in what they’re saying and allow those words to land before the conversation moves on. Being able to read what they’re saying allows me to gain far more insight from what they are sharing and offering the public. The podcast offers knowledge and conversation. The book offers resonance. Book in hand, I can highlight and save my favorite quotes as true words to live by and return to them again and again without having to search for and re-download a years-old podcast.

There are other great things the book offers. First, Maron introduces each chapter, and it is fantastic (as usual) to hear from him directly on these topics, these guests and his own journey and life lessons. But perhaps my favorite part of the book is the formatting. Not only is each chapter themed topically, but the selections also weave together. For instance, when in one interview Mel Brooks spoke candidly about his friendship with Carl Reiner, the next selection in the book is from Carl Reiner talking candidly about his friendship with Mel Brooks. The next selection was from an interview with Carl Reiner’s son, Rob Reiner who also talked about their friendship. There are many examples of this throughout the book. There’s a science and obvious thought behind which snippets went where.

As it turns out I never had any reason to down Waiting for the Punch. It’s something I can drop into or pick up re-read stories here and there whenever I want, depending on whatever it is I’m in the mood to learn about. I can only hope that Maron continues to put out new editions in the future.

Get Waiting for the Punch in paperback for $15.79.

Or on your Kindle for $7.99.

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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: Universe of Two

Recap: In the time of war with her father and brother serving their country, Brenda remains at home in Chicago with her mother and the organs shop they own. Business is slow and feelings are dulled. Until Charlie walks in. His interest in organs and Brenda excite her in a way other boys haven’t. He’s not the most generically handsome, but there’s something about that Charlie. And Brenda is not the only one who notices.

Charlie stands out professionally as well. After an on-and-off again rocky relationship, Charlie has no choice but to leave for Los Alamos on a top secret mission for which he’s been recruited. His math and engineering skills are simply too good to go to waste.

Universe of Two tells the story of Brenda and Charlie, who much later learns that he’s working to build the detonator for an atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. It’s governmental information he must keep from Brenda. While he keeps his work close to his chest, she keeps her feelings about Charlie close to hers. As times passes, they question their relationship, their work, their purpose and what really matters in life.

Analysis: Universe of Two bridges the gap between a war-focused historical fiction story and a romance story with the precision of the Manhattan Project engineers themselves. Each chapter flips back and forth between Brenda and Charlie as narrators. Where I thought I’d be lost by Charlie’s story and the mathematics of it all, I felt equally compelled by his story as I did Brenda’s. Charlie is suffering through so much guilt and shame about his work, and Brenda is clobbered with loneliness, indecision and pride.

It wasn’t until I finished the book that I learned Charlie’s character is based on a real man, Charles Fisk. This is truly my favorite kind of historical fiction as of late. It makes the story that much better when you know there are at least hints of truth woven throughout it. Author Stephen P. Kiernan also weaves beautiful prose, which really threw me for a “just a fiction novel.” (I’ve been reading so much nonfiction lately and been so inspired by the quotes I’ve pulled from them, I’ve started to question whether fiction could hold up in the same way; as it turns out, it can.) On page one, I was blown away by “It turns out the greatest kinds of strength are hidden, and move slowly, and cannot be stopped by anything until they have changed the world.” Damn.

The ending and epilogue felt a little rushed. The book was so journey-driven that by the end, I wanted more details about the outcome. But maybe I just didn’t want the book to end. And maybe the Kiernan’s point is that life is all about the journey after all.

MVP: Charlie. Brenda is wild and fun and complicated, but she’s often mean. And she knows it. Charlie lack confidence and may not be the most intuitive to say the least, but he is smart and full of love in a humble, soulful way. The reader understands what Brenda saw in him.

Get Universe of Two in hardcover for $27.99.

Or on your Kindle for $14.99.

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Review: The Sweeney Sisters

Recap: The Sweeney sisters are known around Southport, not solely for their seemingly sweet sisterly bond or their beautiful red hair. But as is too often the case in towns based on tradition, they are known for their relation to a man: their father, the great author William Sweeney.

So when William Sweeney dies, and the country, celebrities, literary enthusiasts and the entirely of Southport mourn his loss, the women must come together with a force similar to that of their father’s prose to a) organize his funeral and celebration of life b) go through his things, sell his house and divide the earnings he left behind and c) find the memoir he wrote that he only wanted published after he died.

What they didn’t anticipate adding to that To Do List was d) forming a relationship with the sister they never knew they had, the lovechild their father had with the next door neighbor while he was still married to their mother.

The Sweeney Sisters follows put-together Liza, mad Maggie, tackle-it-all Tricia as they spend the summer coming to terms with their father’s loss by befriending Serena, their next-door-neighbor turned sister. Serena is a journalist, and they worry she may be seeking out salacious details to write a scandalous, bestselling memoir and tarnish their father’s name. It’s unclear if they can trust this new sister and if they ever really knew their father.

Analysis: Summer setting, check. Romantic sex scenes near water, check. Catty women, check. The Sweeney Sisters has all the trappings of a fun summer beach read (which frankly the world could use right now). And yet, it’s fair to say this fun novel goes a little beyond that. Sure, the ending is wrapped up with a perfect, beautiful bow, maybe a little too perfect. And sure, some of the plots were tropes I’ve read in other books.

But the relationships between the sisters feels real. These are women who are very clearly outlined, who are so different and yet so the same, who really know each other and understand why they are the way they are. Adding a fourth sister to the mix could have been done in a generic way (i.e. all the sisters hate her and then learn to love her or all the sisters love her and then realize she’s evil). Instead, it’s a slow burn and each sister has a unique, individual relationship with the new sister, making it less predictable as to how things would all wind up.

Each sister also has her own problems, aside from the death of their father and the entrance of Serena: Liza with her divorce, Maggie without a job or real inspiration for her path in life and Tricia with her difficultly in connecting with others. Between the three of them (four, if you include Serena!), there is some quality for any woman to relate to: loss, failure, fear. It’s book about women coming together to stand on their own without needing a man to help them, and that is something to be revered.

MVP: Maggie. Her ultimate ending is a little too picture perfect for me, but she is so messy and dramatic and fractured, so wild and free and fun. Her journey in the book, connecting with her late mother through art, is one of true awakening in a way that feels authentically sad and beautiful.

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