Tag Archives: nonfiction

Review: And Then I Am Gone: A Walk With Thoreau

61deu6ntxslRecap: A move to the Southern countryside is not cause for Mathias B. Freese to begin thinking about the end of his life — he’s been doing that for years — but it does trigger it. After all, he’s in his seventies, and this will likely be the place where he dies. Freese reflects on how he got to this moment —  where he succeeded and where he stumbled — in his latest memoir. But he also asks the age-old question: What is the point? What is the true meaning of life? His latest book is an experimental dive into the question to which there is no answer. But he continues to ask it anyway. At times he writes of self-awareness. In other moments, he writes just to write, to pass time.

He reflects on the works of literary gods and philosophers to help answer the question. He takes long walks in the woods. He goes to the doctor to try and improve his health — or at least maintain it. He spends time with his new wife decorating and fixing up their new house. In this book he writes about not only a physical journey — his move to Alabama — but also his philosophical, emotional and spiritual journey.

Analysis: To sit and think for long periods about death, life and the meaning of it is beyond undesirable to most — it is sad, worrying and maybe even nauseating. That’s the way it is for Freese too. He does not pretend to be above the rest of us. That said, he still pursues it head-on in a way many wouldn’t have the guts to do. I certainly don’t.

There were moments, in fact, upon reading his memoir when I had to stop because the panicky thoughts of my own mortality were too much to bear. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a recent significant death in my family that has zapped a lot of joy out of me and injected me with a heavy dose of irritability and grief. But mostly, I think anyone would find these topics difficult. What is there but life, right? It is all we have. As Freese points out frequently, we spend so much time thinking about other things — mostly trivial — that we never sit and think about our life on a grander scale.  I identified with Freese and his anxieties, which made his memoir feel all the more moving and important, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.

Get And Then I Am Gone in paperback for $8.95. 

Or on your Kindle for $6.99.

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Review: A Race Like No Other

aracelikenoothercoverRecap: For some, it’s about running for those who can’t. For others, it’s about pushing through all levels of pain. For some, it’s for the vanity. But for all, running a marathon is about proving something to themselves. For those running the New York City Marathon, it’s about doing it on the biggest stage possible. New York Times sports reporter Liz Robbins captures the magic of the New York City Marathon — the diligent training of the athletes both professional and amateur, the difficult 26.2-mile course through the streets of all five boroughs of New York, the unity and generosity of the crowds pushing the athletes along, and the emotional turmoil and inner workings of the runners. Each has a story.

Robbins weaves together  the stories of those who ran the race in 2007. She tells the stories of the professional athletes, including their race history and personal lives and why they’re each hoping to win this race. She also shares the story of an alcoholic woman recently released from jail, hoping to reconnect with her family. She tells the story of a college graduate diagnosed with a rare form of cancer whose brother urged him to run. She also tells the stories of the non-runners — the choir and band leaders who let their players play at certain mile markers every year, the Polish bakers who hand out brownies along the course, the men who paint the blue line of the course leading up to race day. Because when it comes to the New York City Marathon, the crowds are as a vital a player as the runners.

Analysis: Where the New York City Marathon connects everyone in the city that day, Liz Robbins connects all runners everywhere with this detailed, inspiring read about the biggest race in the world. Each chapter details a different mile in the race, and Robbins magically transports us to each and every road, bridge and water station with her writing. You can practically taste the sweat of the runners. She makes it clear that the 26.2 miles run in just over two hours by a professional athlete is same 26.2 miles run by the amateurs who finish in more than five hours. Each mile is beautiful in its own way, whether it be filled with pain, filled with joy, filled with emotion or filled with surprises.

Her ability to take you to mile 17, for instance, and then to Kenya where the professionals train or to mile 20 and then to the hospital where the cancer patient is battling illness to get out and run is seamless. The stories are non-fiction, but they are spell-binding and powerful. Ending with the finish times and mini-epilogues of each runner she’s followed throughout the book will you as breathless as — dare I say it? — a marathon.

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Ballerina Misty Copeland Releases Book

misty-copeland-book-cover-largeMisty Copeland is the first black female ballerina to be named a principal dancer by the American Ballet Theatre. Now she’s adding “author” to her resume.

Copeland has released a new book entitled Ballerina Body, focusing on both the physical and mental strength it takes to better your body in the best way possible. She stresses that it’s not a “dieting” book, instead saying “For me, it was just getting myself into the best shape that it could, but understanding that it’s OK to be different. If you’re talented and gifted enough, it doesn’t matter what you look like.”

It sounds like a mix of self-help, cookbook and memoir. The book includes inspirational words of encouragement, exercises, recipes, and her “secrets” to being strong mentally and physically.

It’s so important for a woman in her position to write a book like this, to inspire girls to care for their bodies the healthy way instead of starving themselves unhealthily, not to mention the volumes it speaks for black girls who may not have ever envisioned a future like Misty Copeland’s.

Get Ballerina Body in hardcover now for $15.59. 

Or on your Kindle for $15.99.

 

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Review: Scrappy Little Nobody

scrappy-little-nobody-9781501117206_lgRecap: Actress and singer Anna Kendrick proves she’s as funny as you think she is in this bestselling memoir about her path to becoming a Tony and Oscar-nominated actress, best known for her role in Pitch Perfect. Like Tina Fey’s BossypantsScrappy Little Nobody reads as if Kendrick is speaking to you with silly lines that you can hear in her voice like “if i saw ‘advanced’ in the corner of a Martha Stewart Living recipe, I’d think, Bring it on, you crazy bitch” or “Player WHAA.”

Her memoir tells her story, including growing up in Maine and becoming an unlikely child star on Broadway, being nominated for a Tony, continuing to work in theater and then movies, dating guys, losing her virginity, meeting celebrities, and being nominated for an Oscar while still not being able to afford food or toilet paper. But it also includes more introspective stories as well, about mourning her grandmother while shooting a movie, about witnessing Drew Barrymore having a “moment” to herself after winning an award, about getting advice from acting legends, about dealing with her anxiety.

Analysis: It’s too much for me to count the number of times I laughed out loud while reading this. She’s witty and silly while still being analytical and finding subtle ways to let the reader into who she really is. She also tells stories in great detail. She described premiere dresses, scenes from movies, references to camera shots during awards shows in such a fun way, I found myself Googling photos and YouTube clips so I could see everything. She wrote the book, knowing that would happen too, specifically when she includes a photo of her stoned at that red carpet and wrote “Here’s a picture of my stoned face, so you don’t have to Google it later.” (How does she know? She just does.)

Scrappy Little Nobody includes all the things a celebrity memoir should: fun facts about shooting her most famous movies and skits — like how she lost her shoe while performing at the Oscars, the complete ridiculousness of being famous — like how she showed up stoned to a red carpet about a brief hospitalization,  what it’s really like to work with Zac Efron (spoiler: every bit as incredible as you think), and the fact that she’s just a real person who often can’t believe her life is her life.

Get Scrappy Little Nobody in paperback for $8.06.

Or on your Kindle for $13.99.

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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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Lara’s Top Picks of 2016

booksIt’s the end of the year, so you know what that means. It’s time for my top book picks of 2016! As always, this is NOT — I repeat, NOT — a list of my favorite books that came out this year. This is a list of my favorite books I read this year, regardless of what year they came out. (And as always, for those of you who want to read a list of the best books that came out this year, I recommend the New York Times’ Notable Books of 2016 list.) That said, there are probably more “new” books on this list than in years past and several books by some of my favorite authors. It’s also worth noting that I struggled picking between my #1 and #2 choices, as they’re both equally fantastic. It’s also the first year my list has included a play! (Any guesses which mega bestseller that might be?) As always, below my top picks list is a list of ALL the books I read this year — a year I happened to slack. Don’t judge me! Read on for some great book suggestions to follow you into 2017, which will hopefully be another great year of books!

10. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Oprah Winfrey picked this read as an Oprah’s Book Club book back in 2005 as a nonfiction memoir about addiction and getting clean, and instead it became controversial after it was determined that the author embellished much of what he had written, but it’s still a gripping read. I believed the narrator’s struggle and enjoyed it with the mindset that it was fiction or “enhanced” nonfiction. Buy it now.

9. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by Kim BarkerIn this actual memoir, Kim Barker delves into the world of journalism in the Middle East. The book feels more like a compilation of vignettes of her experiences that include everything from getting interviews with Middle Eastern warlords to partying hard with other foreign correspondents in a very real depiction. Buy it now.

8. Meet the Regulars by Joshua D. FischerAlso a compilation book, this one profiles random New Yorkers and the bars/coffee shops/restaurants/hangouts they frequent. It works for NYC-lovers who may just be looking for foodie recommendations, but it also works as a subtle study on people, why they like what they like and why they do what they do. Buy it now.

7. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack ThorneIt was not the greatest of the Harry Potter stories; in fact, I found it fairly repetitive and cyclicle from the original novels, but it holds its own and is just plain nice to once again connect with the characters we know and love — and their offspring. Buy it now.

6. The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay. A little bit Water for Elephants and a little bit Little Women, this new historical fiction novel (one of my favorite genres) explores a family of strong women performing as a traveling tumbling act as a means to an end during the early 1900s. It debuted at exactly the right time – a year in which strong females became a focal point. Buy it now.

5. The Tenth Circle by Jodi PicoultThough the ending wasn’t my favorite, I read this story about a rape victim and the death of her alleged rapist on vacation and couldn’t put it down. Its parallels with Dante’s Inferno add another layer of interest making this a page turner in true Jodi Picoult fashion. Buy it now.

4. The Hopefuls by Jennifer CloseIn an election year, this book about how demanding, exhausting, scandalous and ridiculous a political campaign can be was a perfect fit. The novel follows two young couples as one husband runs for political office, and the other husband — who can’t quite hack it as a politician — runs his “friend’s” campaign instead. Buy it now.

3.  Me Before You by Jojo MoyesA young woman is hired to care for a paraplegic who wants nothing more than to end his life. While controversial, the book is also insanely romantic and delves into paralysis in a way other mainstream books haven’t seemed to conquer. In the end, it’s a book about finding yourself and deciding what you want from life. Buy it now.

2. Year of Yes by Shonda RhimesThis memoir/self-help book is everything you could want from both a memoir AND a self-help book. Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder creator/producer/writer Shonda Rhimes writes about her behind-the-scenes experiences working on these shows and the benefits she reaps as a show creator, but also details her hesitance and how forcing herself to say “yes” to everything changed her life. Truly inspiring. Buy it now.

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Two sisters separate in France during WWII, where the Holocaust is gaining momentum. One sister cares for her family, while the other works to save as many people as she can. But the story’s back-and-forth persepective between the sisters as well as the time jump between WWII and modern-day U.S. — where only one sister has survived — makes the saga breathtaking, tear-inducing, and monumentally profound. Buy it now.

A Million Little Pieces – James Frey

Revenge Wears Prada – Lauren Weisberger

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Kim Barker

Allegiant – Veronica Roth

Baggage – S.G. Redling

Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow

The Tumbling Turner Sisters – Juliette Fay

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Sunsets of Tulum -Raymond Avery Bartlett

The Tenth Circle – Jodi Picoult

Meet the Regulars – Joshua D. Fischer

The Hopefuls – Jennifer Close

The End of the Age of Innocence – Alan Price

All the Summer Girls – Meg Donohue

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Losing It – Emma Rathbone

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Review: The End of the Age of Innocence

9780312176778-us-300It wasn’t easy being a woman at the turn of the century, being a woman who couldn’t vote, being a woman through World War I, being a woman through the Great Depression. But that’s what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton did. Not only did she survive, she thrived, writing fascinating literature and doing great journalism. She also made charitable work her main focus through the Great War.

I wouldn’t have known any of this had I not picked up the book The End of the Age of InnocenceEnd of Age is a non-fiction book that details the life of author Edith Wharton — who wrote The Age of Innocence —  during the years of World War I, a particularly exhausting time in her life. As an avid fan of The Age of Innocence, I felt it was only fair that I give the author of my favorite book the attention I felt she deserved, and that’s exactly what happened when I read this book.

Included in it is every detail about her personal and professional life during those years — who she flirted with, who she traveled with, how she wrote about the war for newspapers, and how she fought to keep as many charities running as possible to help those in need during the war. The book also explains how the war years influenced her writing during and afterwards.

The book starts off simply enough, explaining what it’s about to lay out. But the execution does not live up to the introduction. The book is so detailed, it’s almost too detailed. It seemed to name virtually every single person Wharton came into contact with over the years, and the intricate web of people, their roles and accompanying organizations was impossible to maneuver. While the book promised to explain how Wharton’s experienced influenced her writing, it did so in just a few pages at the very end. That was the section that most intrigued me. I looked forward to reading some literary criticism that would dissect the ways in which WWI crept into The Age of Innocence and House of Mirth. Again, the book does that, but without very much detail. The beginning of the book was so dense and boring, I’m not sure it was worth it for the short section at the end to which I had most looked forward. The book is, of course, highly regarded for its in-depth look into Wharton’s life, but it was a little much for my taste.

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