It’s Wednesday, so you know what that means! *drumroll* It’s WWW Wednesday, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. Hello, Sam!
WWW Wednesday is a super fun meme, all about answering three bookish questions.
What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you’ll read next?
(I always read these in the same tone of voice as “What is airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” Just me?)
Let’s get started!
What are you currently reading?
I knew within mere seconds of hearing Dahlia Adler’s interview on an episode of Smart Bitches, Trashy Podcast, that I wanted to read her books. She’s fun and funny and smart and bubbly and outgoing, and I actually sat up from lying down under the covers to put her books on my TBR list (which is no small deal, because sleep is something I take very, very seriously!). Behind the Scenes is one of those books, and I checked out an ebook from my library last night. I didn’t get much time to read it, but what I have read, I love so far!
What did you recently finish reading?
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (review to come; I’m behind on reviews and all things blogging due to being sick). This was…I’m not quite sure. I didn’t care for the structure or the narrator’s voice much, and the whole thing left me feeling like I’m not quite smart enough to understand this book. It didn’t quite work for me, but it was on the list for the Man Booker Prize a few years back, so it obviously worked for others!
I think I’ve mentioned this a time or nine million, but back at the beginning of 2017, I started to read down my atrociously high Goodreads TBR list. Through sheer will and with the aid of multiple libraries, I blew through almost 200 books from the list before I began weeding out books that no longer interested me from there. It was a worthy project, I read a ton of amazing books (and a few…not so amazing ones), but in the process, I basically ignored every other book out there that wasn’t on my list. So I was really surprised when I saw Landline by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Press, 2014) pop up on someone else’s blog. Rainbow Rowell has a book I haven’t heard of? How did I miss that???? (Oh yeah. Reading strictly from my TBR and not having been blogging at the time.) I was so deeply enamored by Fangirl that this book went immediately onto my list.
Georgie McCool has a dilemma. It’s a few days before Christmas; she, her husband, and the kids are supposed to be leaving to spend the holidays with Neal’s mother in Omaha, but Georgie’s dream project, the TV show she and her writing partner Seth have wanted to make happen for years, has a chance of becoming reality. Unfortunately, this reality requires Georgie and Seth to complete multiple scripts within a mere handful of days. Farewell, Christmas. Georgie tries to make Neal understand- this is her dream, what she’s worked for her entire life- but with barely a terse goodbye, he’s gone, and Georgie’s left feeling unsettled.
Plagued by a cell phone whose battery barely lets it function at all, Georgie’s calls to Neal all go unanswered, and despite her attempts to focus on script writing with Seth, not much is getting done. Desperate to make some sort of contact with the husband she fears she’s losing, she calls his mother’s house from her teenage bedroom, using the vintage landline phone she used when she was younger. To her surprise, it’s Neal that answers her: not the Neal of today, but Neal from the Christmas he proposed, back when they were just beginning and his father was still alive. Georgie can’t quite figure out what’s going on- is she crazy? Is it magic?- but whatever it is, it’s clear that this is her last chance to make things right.
Landline is about how complicated life and marriage/relationships can get. It’s about the difficulty in balancing work and family, about sacrifice and identity. Georgie is driven; she works long hours and loves her job, but often comes home tired and doesn’t have much left to give her family, especially her husband. Neal has been the stay-at-home parent since the birth of their first daughter and is a natural in the role, so much so that Georgie feels like a third wheel at times. It’s so, so easy for a couple to lose one another in the jumble of work, children, and regular life stress, and this book does a great job illustrating what a marriage looks like when that happens- bitterness, resentment, feeling left out.
I have to say, I didn’t love Neal. I didn’t find much about him or his personality attractive, and I didn’t quite get the appeal he held for Georgie. I also felt like their relationship was set up to fail right from the start. He hated California but married Georgie knowing that that’s where she’d have to live for her career? I get thinking that it wouldn’t be that bad in the beginning and things changing over time, but he was also hostile towards her partnership with Seth (which predated Georgie’s relationship with Neal) from the start as well. He also gave up his job, albeit one he didn’t like, in order to stay home with their children. Neal seemed to be dead-set on martyring himself, then complaining about the effects of doing so, and I found that aspect of his personality- which made up MOST of his personality- to be entirely disagreeable.
That’s not to say that I didn’t like the book. The premise of a magic telephone that can somehow call the past was great. Georgie’s career as a comedy and television writer was fascinating to me; her partnership with Seth was fun, and how Ms. Rowell portrayed the complexities of maintaining any kind of balance with your spouse once you throw children into the mix was dead-on. It’s hideously difficult, and if both partners aren’t actively working to maintain that connection, it’s as good as nonexistent. But Neal and his disagreeable personality and his dismissal of Georgie’s huge opportunity that had the audacity to come at an inconvenient time? That kind of soured a good portion of the book for me. Neal is no Levi from Fangirl, that’s for sure. (LEVI. *swooooooooooooooooon*)
So I definitely didn’t love this as much as I loved Ms. Rowell’s Fangirl, but those are huge shoes to fill, because I never wanted that book to end. She has two others I haven’t read (I’m not much interested in reading Carry On– not my thing, ironically, considering how much I LOVED Fangirl– but I do want to read Kindred Spirits and Almost Midnight).
Have you read Landline? I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly on Neal. Did you find him to be a more sympathetic character than I did?
I’m a language nut. Been that way ever since my first exposure to other languages on a Brownies trip to the library in second grade. The librarian was showing our troop around the different parts of the library, and as we passed a certain shelf, she pointed out that this was where the foreign language books were kept. ‘Foreign language?’ seven-year-old me thought. ‘That sounds cool.’ (This is where I add that I lived in a very white, very homogeneous small town that had been settled mainly by German and Scandinavian immigrants who farmed and worked on the canal. No one in my life at this point spoke anything other than English.) After the tour, I headed back to that section and started poking through the books, eventually settling on checking out an illustrated French book that taught me to say (as the book wrote it out) OOO SONG LAY TWAH-LET. (Où sont les toilettes, or, where are the toilets? As the person with the smallest bladder in the world, this is an endlessly useful first French phrase). I went on to study multiple languages in school, then married a man whose first language was French (and who can answer my question about the location of the toilets), and picked up a bit of the language of my ancestors when my daughter was young and I was too sleep-deprived to be able to focus on reading. All that to say, when I saw another book blogger post about In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf, first published 2015), about her fascination with and deep dive into the Italian language, I knew I had to read it.
In Other Words is a dual-language book. The left side is Lahiri’s original writing, entirely in Italian; the right side is the translation, done by Ann Goldstein (thus making this a fabulous book for students of Italian, whom I’m sure struggle to find reading material in their target language in the US. Boy, do I feel you *stares in person learning Norwegian*). Lahiri recounts falling in love with Italian, how it gave her a freedom she never felt in the two other languages she spoke (Bengali, the language she shared with her parents, and English, the language that she had to learn when she went to school as a child and the language she wrote her novels in). Language to her had always been charged with meaning, emotion, and tension: Bengali connected her to her parents; English thrust her into the rest of American society. But Italian…Italian had no such ties. Italian just was, and Lahiri was pulled in by it. For twenty years, she studied it here in the US, alone and with tutors, and then she made the leap: with her family, she moved to Rome in order to further her study of the language. (THAT is some seriously impressive commitment, and I’m more than a little jealous.)
So much of this book resonated with me. Her struggles with grammar, with words that resembled and sounded like one another but varied wildly in meaning, with sentences and phrases that, while technically correct, just didn’t sound quite right (a problem for any speaker of a foreign language. I used to tutor English as a second/other language, and there were often times when my student would come up with a sentence that I understood but that wasn’t technically correct. And that, for us, was fine; the goals of our program weren’t academic in nature, just communication-based. I’d let her know the grammatically correct way to say it, but tell her that she would be understood if she said it the way she had. She was such a great student and I miss tutoring). I’ve had these same struggles myself and found myself nodding vigorously. I deeply understood the pull of another language, especially one that isn’t a language spoken anywhere near where you live and with whom you have no one to speak it, her notebooks filled with vocabulary words and scrawls (I have multiple!), how the sound of the language felt like a home she hadn’t known she was missing.
This book is possibly the purest labor of love I’ve ever read, because literally every word was struggled for, fought for, wrestled into her brain by sheer force of will. Any language learned as an adult is hard, hard work, and I so appreciated being able to see Ms. Lahiri’s gorgeous Italian words across from the translated English. If you’re interested in language learning, if you’re wondering what’s possible via dedication and countless hours of studying and hard work, In Other Words is the book for you. (And if you’ve never really looked at Italian before, check this book out. I kept going back and forth between the pages, coming upon a certain English word and going, “Hmm, what’s the Italian word for that?” And I’d switch over to the left side and skim until I found it. So cool!)
In Other Words is a fairly quick read, a book about desire, hard work, and possibility. Read it if you’re interested in language learning, or if you’re looking for inspiration to begin that project you’ve been putting off.
What’s your experience with language learning? Were you forced into language classes as a child or high schooler? Have you attempted to learn another language as an adult? I’d love to hear about it!
Having been forced to resign from her high-powered consultant job after an affair with her boss went sour, Cinnamon Smith is licking her wounds and trying to rebuild her life at her best friend’s B&B in Dunlin Shores, Oregon, a small town whose economy is based around tourism and the yearly cranberry crop. The town is struggling, however, because the cranberry factory is rumored to be closing soon. Nick Mahoney, the B&B’s handyman, understands the stress of this. His single mom sister, whom he helps support, stands to lose her job if the factory closes. Nick does what he can, working as the town’s fix-it man, crafting new parts to fix busted and outdated machinery at the factory, but he carries a heavy secret, one only his sister knows: Nick is dyslexic.
It’s opposites attract for Cinnamon and Nick, who feel an instant attraction from their very first meeting at the B&B. So many things divide them: class, economic status, education, and possibly geography, because Cinnamon’s not planning on staying in Dunlin Shores longterm. She’s a city girl, on the prowl for a man with big brains and a big…wallet to match. But something keeps drawing her back to Nick. When things with the cranberry factory come to a head, Cinnamon may just be the woman who can fix things; she and Nick will have to move beyond their divide to learn to listen and be honest with each other, and maybe fall in the kind of love that lasts while they’re at it.
Just the Way You Are held promise, but it didn’t turn out to be a book that I fell in love with. It did have its positives, so I’ll start there.
*The writing. Ms. Roth’s style is eminently smooth and readable; Just the Way You Are is absolutely a book you could curl up with and devour in one sitting.
*Abby. Abby is Nick’s twelve-year-old niece. She’s a total math whiz and utterly dedicated to studying. She kicks some serious butt in a math competition and I love that. More girls and women into math in fiction, please!
*Dunlin Shores. I’ve never been to Oregon, but I have visited plenty of coastal tourist towns, and Ms. Roth has created a fabulous setting here, from the gorgeous descriptions of the weather (even the driving rain sounded cozy!) to the cutesy, kitschy businesses that tourists flock to. Dunlin Shores sounds like an amazing vacation town.
*Consent and respect. YES. Multiple times, either Nick or Cinnamon slam on the brakes during a sexual situation, and the other party is immediately cool with it (especially Nick). No whining, no manipulation. FIVE STARS ON THIS. And when Cinnamon confesses to Nick about the affair she had with her boss, he’s totally chill about it (which he should be, because it had nothing to do with him and happened before they knew each other).
*Worker Involvement. When Cinnamon begins working to help save the cranberry factory, she turns the generation of new product ideas over to the longtime factory employees, since they know cranberries best. I very much appreciated this attitude; if only all companies listened to their employees like this.
*Nick’s determination. Nick is a stubborn person, and while it also harms him, it can be a helpful quality. He didn’t graduate high school until he was 20 thanks to the reading difficulties caused by his dyslexia, but he did graduate. And when Cinnamon suggests he apply for a patent on something he invented for the cranberry factory, even though he struggles terribly with reading, he works late into the night in order to finish the paperwork. I found this to be both endearing and admirable.
What Didn’t Work
(And keep in mind, this is subjective. What didn’t work for me might very well be something you enjoy!)
*An eyebrow-raising beginning. Cinnamon and Nick have their first encounter in the parking lot of the B&B. After a bit of insta-attraction, he helps her inside, summons Fran (the B&B owner and Cinnamon’s best friend), carries her bags upstairs, then returns, all the while full of seductive looks and flirty grins. And he parts, leaving the two women with this line:
“You two have fun tonight. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, but if you do,” he aimed yet another suggestive look at Cinnamon, “think of me.”
Not only is he saying this to Fran’s best friend (whom he’s just met), he’s saying this in the presence of the woman he’s working for. Nick is self-employed, and to me, that felt deeply unprofessional.
*Zero chemistry.I felt no connection whatsoever between Nick and Cinnamon. The two of them were instantly hot and bothered anytime they were in the same room together, but beyond that, their relationship felt flat to me. This may be because there was a serious lack of depth to their characters, Cinnamon moreso than Nick. Cinnamon’s response to what she’s looking for in a man is, “When I decide to date again, the man I choose will be ambitious like me and earn a big salary.” A while later, she restates this: ‘Nick wasn’t the career-oriented, upwardly mobile, sophisticated male she wanted to share her life with.’ Cinnamon does change her mind, however (long live the romance HEA!), but not in a way that felt as though she’d truly grown, and her superficiality didn’t make her a very sympathetic character. Nick doesn’t fare much better in the growth department; while he does work up the courage to tell Cinnamon about his dyslexia, his relief afterwards is no substitute for organic self-acceptance (Nick does find some new confidence after his patents are accepted, however, so that’s definitely a plus).
*Class issues. The opposites attract, blue collar/white collar divide is played up here big time, and while it’s not an uncommon trope, there were certain parts of this that felt off to me. Dunlin Shores is clearly a working class town, with a large portion of its citizens employed by the cranberry factory. Every last person in town fawns over Cinnamon in an unnatural way, simply because she’s well dressed and had previously been employed as a highly paid consultant (I can’t in good faith say it was because of any aspect of her personality). When she meets Sharon, Nick’s sister, Sharon is flustered when Cinnamon tries to shake her hand ‘the way she probably did all the time in the corporate world.’ I’ve never been part of the corporate world, yet I’ve had occasion to shake hands with people many, many times throughout my life, and I don’t think that’s rare. Afterwards, they realize they each saw one another when Cinnamon was taking her tour of the cranberry factory, and Cinnamon tells her
“I was impressed by how seriously you took your job.” “Thanks for noticing.” For an instant Sharon stood taller.
This bothered me. Why wouldn’t Sharon take her job seriously? She’s a single mother to a twelve-year-old daughter whose needs, beyond food and shelter, include a pricy summer math camp and (one day) college. Her job at the cranberry factory pays the bills and keeps her child fed, and it’s mentioned multiple times throughout the book how terrible it would be if the factory closed and Sharon was unemployed. Of course she’s going to take her job seriously, and the idea that Cinnamon’s compliment felt anything other than patronizing didn’t feel realistic. The issue comes up over and over again, usually in Cinnamon’s refined wardrobe choices, contrasted with the more casually-clad locals, and while I don’t think it was intended as classist, it often comes off that way. For example, a scene where Cinnamon begins consulting work at the cranberry factory:
Dressed in expensive pants and a matching sweater that hinted at her curves, she looked elegant and every inch the professional consultant. Totally out of place among the jeans, lab coats many workers were required to wear, and hair nets. While [Nick], an uneducated handyman, fit right in with his faded jeans and old work shirt.
(I’m going to assume that Cinnamon was standing behind some sort of line painted on the floor, and anyone past that line was required to wear a hairnet, because health code violations are very, very real…) Of course the locals are at work in this scenario; people working on a factory floor (more on this later) aren’t going to be wearing similar clothing to someone whose job deals more in paperwork, phone calls, and emails. Calling attention to their differences in attire seemed especially unnecessary in this instance.
*Gossipy, catty women. For all Cinnamon’s constant talk about the wonderful new friends she’s made in Dunlin Shores and how sad she’ll be to leave them, I found very little appealing about them. Another single mother character, Liz, is portrayed as being over-the-top man-hungry and out to seduce pretty much anything with a penis, but of course she’s got eyes especially for Nick. (Cinnamon refers to Liz as ‘pretty in a dancehall-girl way,’ whatever that means.) When Cinnamon joins Fran at a ladies’ lunch group, the women spend a bit of time gossiping and speaking poorly of Liz.
“See, Liz has a thing for Nick, and everyone knows it. The time when they ran into each other at the post office, Liz did everything possible to seduce him.” Lynn pantomimed sticking her finger down her throat. “Pushing her breasts out, running her hands down her hips, and licking her lips…Ugh. It’s a good thing no kids were around. He ignored her, bless his heart.” “It’s not just Nick,” Fran said. “It’s any available male.”
Liz didn’t seem like a terrible character to me. Lonely, probably, and a little desperate because of it, but it seemed more like she was being penalized for daring to take some initiative in finding a partner (especially in a small town that didn’t seem to be bursting with options). She hadn’t had an easy life, but had worked her way up from being a pregnant teenager to owning a store in Dunlin Shores, and apparently that alone should have been enough for her according to the other women in town. After the women give Cinnamon Liz’s backstory, she at least recognizes Liz’s accomplishments.
“That’s admirable,” Cinnamon said. “Nick says she’s looking for a man to settle down with.” “That can’t be true.” Lynn looked surprised. “She’s been divorced nearly twenty years and loves to flirt. Wonder where he got that idea?” “Maybe she proposed,” Joelle said. The entire table laughed.
Call me crazy, but these don’t seem like wonderful friends, and these comments seem mean-spirited. I’d be wondering what they would say about me behind my back if they’re this quick to gossip in front of someone they just met. (Not to mention that in a later scene, Cinnamon licks her lips in a seductive manner in front of Nick, and I couldn’t help but wonder why it was okay for her to do that, but not Liz.) There’s another scene where, after Cinnamon injures her leg and needs to be seen by the local doctor, while she’s getting stitched up, the office’s receptionist engages in gossip about Cinnamon with Nick and the other local people in the waiting room. I don’t think I need to point out exactly how unprofessional that is.
*Postsex instalove. While it’s one-sided, it only takes one roll in the sack for Cinnamon to blurt out that she loves Nick, whereas moments before they did the deed, she’d still been wondering if she could engage in sex without love, making her sudden admission of love come off as inauthentic and out of place.
*The cranberry factory. This is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up, but the semantics of the phrase ‘cranberry factory’ bothered me. I had a minor obsession with cranberry farming when I was younger (don’t ask, my brain goes to weird places sometimes and I have a head full of mostly useless knowledge. Would you like to hear about the time my obsession with Beatles trivia won my team a trivia contest because I was able to regurgitate facts about the history of the city of Manchester, England? No? I’m not surprised!), and I’d only every heard places where cranberries are turned into juice, etc referred to as a cranberry processing plant or a processing facility, never a factory. ‘Juice factory,’ I could have gotten behind, but cranberry factory sounded wrong. Concerned that this might be a colloquialism and something peculiar to the speech of the cranberry workers of Oregon, and in the interest of being fair and thorough in my review, I contacted the Oregon Cranberry Growers Association with my question. A very pleasant man named Zach fielded my unusual request and confirmed that he too had never heard of it being referred to as a cranberry factory.
This may be nitpicky, but accuracy in fiction is important.
So as much as I was hoping to to enjoy Just the Way You Are, it fell a little flat for me. But reading is subjective and your experience reading this book might be totally different!
Thanks to Ann Roth for sending me a copy of Just the Way You Are to read and review!
It’s Wednesday again, folks! (Although it doesn’t feel like a Wednesday, because Wednesday is usually my grocery shopping day, and I can’t grocery shop today because my daughter is sick. AGAIN. Third time since the last weekend in March. It’s just a virus, but she sounds terrible when she coughs, and we were up most of last night. *yawn*) Let’s get down to business! WWW Wednesday is a superfun bookish meme, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words (hi Sam!), that’s all about answering these three questions:
What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you’ll read next?
Here we go!
What are you currently reading?
Being an insufferable language nerd, when I heard about In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri, I knew I had to read it. She spent twenty years studying Italian and then moved to Italy with her family in order to further her study of the language. She wrote this book entirely in Italian; it was translated into English by a professional. How cool is that??? I just started it yesterday and haven’t had too much time to read (again, daughter is sick!), but I’m liking it so far.
One of these! I don’t often go to the library without a list, and these were what were on my list on my last trip (along with the Jhumpa Lahiri book). I don’t tend to read my library books in any certain order; I know I want to get to all of them, so when I’m done with one, I just tend to pick up the next one in a stack. Of course, sometimes there’ll be one I’m absolutely dying to read and that goes straight to the top. 😉
Anxiety and motherhood? Hey, it’s the place where I live!
I can’t say I know anything about life without anxiety; it’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. While antidepressants helped me deal with depression, they never quite turned off my constant stream of worst-case-scenario-for-absolutely-every-single-moment that my brain offers up on a daily basis. It’s just become something I’ve learned to live with, or, probably more accurately, live alongside, so when Katie Pickworth offered me a copy of her book, Going Doolally: An honest tale of anxiety and motherhood(independently published, 2019), I accepted, because boy, could I ever relate.
Katie Pickworth’s anxiety started early on in life, affecting both her physical health as a child along with her schooling. As an adult, she found that working in television production on shows like Hell’s Kitchen, EastEnders, and I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here made excellent use of her creative thinking and problem-solving skills, but she still struggled mightily in groups of friends and social situations. And motherhood wasn’t any easier; pre-eclampsia forced her into hospital for an early delivery, and postpartum eclampsia saw that she returned there soon afterwards. She filled the days of her son’s first year with classes and playgroups, making the anxiety-related decision to join a playgroup several towns over as insurance in the event she needed to never see anyone from that group ever again. (I can’t believe I never thought of that!) And then, it was time for baby #2.
Ms. Pickworth writes about her anxiety, motherhood, and all the chaos that accompanies both, with brutal honesty and an incredible amount of self-awareness. Quite a few quotes had me laughing and/or nodding vigorously, including these two:
I didn’t know the sperm stays alive for up to five days. Five days? How is that even possible, or not the most disgusting thing you’ve ever heard?
If this is your first child, just think about [the period of time before you give birth] being very precious, because once the baby comes, the things you used to do without question become the lowest priority, and sometimes that really sucks.
Going Doolally is not without issues: I felt as though it could have been better organized; the writing wanders at times, lacking a strong sense of direction and focus; it ends with a series of Facebook updates from her sons’ first years, which felt out of place and not applicable to what the rest of the book was trying to achieve . But where this memoir shines is Ms. Pickworth’s candor about her struggles, and the authenticity of her voice. So many of the things she said, I could relate to, having dealt with similar situations myself. She writes,
There are some with the opinion that when you have young children, the washing up and such chores can wait. The trouble is, when you’re like me, that’s utter bollocks.
SAME. I’m the farthest thing from a neat freak, but I can’t think straight in a room strewn with toys, or relax when I KNOW there are dishes in the sink and people have left items all over the counters. I will work myself into pain (because I also suffer from chronic pain) in order to complete these chores, because otherwise, my anxiety skyrockets.
Ms. Pickworth may not have all the answers, but she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to living with anxiety, and, at 112 pages, this book would make a quick but informative read for any anxiety-sufferer thinking about becoming a parent OR the spouse or partner of someone with anxiety. Trying to explain what we’re feeling and how deeply we struggle isn’t always easy, but Going Doolally does a fantastic job portraying what parenting looks like when you’re eyebrow-deep in your own brain trying to convince you to worry about and fear every. last. thing.
I know it’s important to never give up. I also know it’s important to pick your anxiety battles.
Excellent advice, advice that I definitely need to incorporate into my life.
Huge thanks to Katie Pickworth for providing me a copy of your book to read and review!
It’s here! It’s here! It’s finally here! The last task of the Book Riot 2019 Read Harder Challenge! Can you believe it? Aren’t you thrilled? I’ll finally stop mentioning it! (Mostly. Maybe.) I started this challenge close to the end of February, after the librarian that runs my library’s book discussion group mentioned it and I thought, “You know what? I can probably do that.” And after completing the task of reading a humor book, I’ve done it! I’ve had Yes Please by Amy Poehler (Dey Street Books, 2014) sitting on my shelf for probably about a year, so it was long past time to finally read this book.
Yes Please is part autobiography, part straight talk, and part peek behind the curtain of all the projects Ms. Poehler has worked on (Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation, etc). She recounts her childhood and college years, her move to Chicago to begin her career in comedy (which involved a lot of waitressing at first, like any good career in show business), and how she moved to New York and eventually ended up on SNL. While she doesn’t romanticize her hard work (and the financial help she received from her parents!) and some of the rodent-filled apartments she lived in before finding success as a comedian and actress, her story sounds…kind of awesome. The mid-to-late 90’s sounded like a pretty amazing time to be involved in comedy in Chicago, and I found myself wishing I could’ve been there as well, watching her grow and blossom as a performer.
There are sections of advice in here: drugs not to take, things not to do, things you definitely should do. Although she’s obviously uncomfortable doing it, Amy Poehler isn’t afraid to call herself out for mistakes she’s made in the past. A chapter titled ‘Say Whatever You Want’ discusses a time where Amy should have apologized and didn’t, not until five years had gone by. While the mistake, a fairly ugly joke made at the expense of disabled people, wasn’t entirely her fault, she admits she was wrong to do it and wrong to let her ego get in the way of not apologizing for that long. She could have just as easily left this story out instead of memorializing it for all eternity in the pages of her book, but not only does this further humanize her, it provides a great lesson for all of us: don’t let your pride get in the way of making things right. I really admire her for including this story.
I’ve never watched Parks and Recreation (although reading this made me want to!), so I had a hard time getting into the sections of the book about that, but I was a huge SNL fan during her years on the show, so it was a lot of fun to read stories of her relationship with Tina Fey and Seth Meyers. (Nothing in the book about Mean Girls, though; I would’ve loved to read about her playing Regina George’s mom!) And I remember seeing commercials on Comedy Central back in the day for the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Amy’s improv/sketch comedy group. I never watched the show, so I hadn’t realized until reading this that Amy Poehler was part of the group. How did I miss that???
While I enjoyed this, I did find that it kind of jumped around and went back and forth in time, to the point where it was kind of jarring. There were definitely funny parts- it’s Amy Poehler, how could there not be?- but though I liked the book, I didn’t really *love* it. I did love, however, the parts where she talked about her sons, pregnancy, and motherhood. She’s very real about everything, talking about how difficult it is, how your love for your children is practically enough to rip your chest open, and how she probably had some postpartum depression after the birth of her second son. We need more of this kind of honesty from women with such huge voices, and I was glad she included these glimpses into her personal life.
Something I deeply admire Ms. Poehler for is her organization, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, which helps boost the intelligence, opportunities, and successes of and for young women. I first came across this years ago, when friends of mine liked the org’s posts on Facebook and they showed up in my feed. Holy crap, I like Amy Poehler even more, I thought, and I immediately clicked the ‘like’ button on the page. You can too– they’re also on Twitter!- and you should.
Have you read this? Are you an Amy Poehler fan? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
When Macy’s mom dies when Macy is only 10, she leaves behind a list of advice that will help her husband raise their daughter. One of these pieces of advice prompts him to buy a mildewy vacation house in California wine country, and it’s there that Macy meets Elliot, the gangly, awkward, bookish boy next door who will become her everything. The two forge a friendship based on literature and honesty, and Macy finds Elliot is the one person she can just be with. He doesn’t act weird because her mom died, and while he doesn’t always know exactly what to say, he always knows exactly how to listen. As they grow and mature, what started out as friendship shifts into something stronger, something they both understand is timeless, but the reader is already privy to the truth: thanks to Macy’s narration and the alternating timelines, we know that as an adult, Macy, now a doctor and deeply hurt, hasn’t seen or spoken to Elliot in eleven years, and she’s engaged to someone else.
Love and Other Words examines how a friendship can blossom into love and then fall to pieces before either party has a chance to understand why or how, and the aftermath of such a painful destruction. For a story that’s abundant with grief in each of the two timelines, Christina Lauren still manages to imbue the story with a sense of hope, healing, discovering the means in oneself to let go of the past and fall in love with life- and with someone else- once again.
This was a deep, lovely read. Macy and Elliot as teenagers are beyond adorable- Elliot is the boy next door every book nerd wishes they had when they were younger. The two spend their days holed up in Macy’s library, reading quietly and sharing books, and nothing would have made me happier as a teenager to have a friend like that (sadly, I read alone on my front porch and in my room; none of the boys that lived near me were readers). Their awkward-but-brutally honest conversations are both funny and charming, and multiple times I laughed out loud at their blundering attempts at more mature discussion. Take, for example, the following dialogue:
“Why are you staring at me?” he asked. “I was…not.” He let out a short, dry sound of disbelief. “Okay.” Stretching his neck, he looked down. “You’re still staring.” “I’m just wondering how it works,” I asked. “How what works?” “When you…” I made a telling gesture with my hand. “With guys and the…you know?” He raised his eyebrows, waiting. I could see the moment he knew what I was talking about. His pupils dilated so fast his eyes looked black. “You’re asking me how dicks work?”
Even if you weren’t that curious as a teenager, how amazing would it have been to have a friendship that comfortable, where you could be that open with each other? Christina Lauren has (have? I’m never sure what verb form one uses with a writing duo. Third person singular? Plural? Possibly English is just stupid for this task) a gift for writing strong female/male friendships that confront any sexual tension in engaging and believable ways. Macy and Elliot are fine examples of this, but this has rung true for all of the couples and platonic friends in all of their books that I’ve read.
Adult Macy is driven by her work and closed off to deep emotion, something that becomes more understandable and heartbreaking as the reader learns more of her backstory. The one issue I have with this story is the speed at which the ending comes. There’s a major revelation towards the end, one that makes everything Macy has been through and done make sense, and it’s something that I think would have required more time for Elliot to process than he actually took. There would have been some strong emotions to work through, particularly from a character who feels things so deeply as Elliot does, and so I was left feeling as though I were being shoved out the door after having attended a warm party with friends.
Despite that, Love and Other Words is a deeply heartfelt story of two people with a once-enviable friendship who fall in love, lose everything in an instant, and find each other years later. It’s grieving, it’s pain, it’s self-awareness and learning and coming back to a place of honesty after far too much time away. It fits in well with the other Christina Lauren novels I’ve read; while it lacks their usual dual narrative (something I always enjoy), the alternating timeline by a single narrator gives the book a similar feel. I so enjoyed reading this book, just like everything else I’ve read from this amazing duo. And with that, I’ve completed the 2019 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge! Yay me!
Is there an author that you’ll read pretty much anything they write? Christina Lauren is one of those authors for me; who are yours?
In the past, I haven’t been the biggest ‘must read everything from that author!!!1!1!!!ELEVEN!!!’ kind of person. I like to spread my literary love around, see what’s out there, experience new-to-me authors as often as I can. While I love backlist, there’s always the fear of running out of backlist (*cue morbid screams*), because then what would I do? Wait until the next book comes out? WHAT KIND OF PATIENCE DO YOU THINK I HAVE??? But at this point in my life, it’s safe to say that Jennifer Crusie is a heavy favorite. Peeking in at her list of books on Goodreads, I’ve read eight of them, and I’m not sure I can say that about any other author (possibly Stephen King, but that’s reaching back into my childhood and teen years). So when my next task from the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge was a book in the backlist of a favorite author, Jennifer Crusie was the first author who came to mind, and I grabbed a copy of Welcome to Temptation (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2004) from my library.
Sophie is not loving the town she and her sister are rolling into. Small towns in general aren’t her thing, and they’re (grudgingly) here in Temptation, Ohio to shoot an audition film for Temptation’s most (only) famous resident, actress Clea Whipple. The drama starts with a bang, literally, when Sophie gets into a fender bender with a jerky town council member. Everyone’s okay, but when Sophie meets the town mayor, stupidly-hot-with-no-right-to-be Phin Tucker, she knows she’s in big, big trouble.
The film crew’s presence in this family-values town causes more uproar than they initially bargained for, and Sophie’s plans to film and run are dashed to the ground when the movie evolves into something a little dirtier, as does her budding relationship with Phin Tucker. Sophie had no plans on getting involved with anyone, especially not a town boy, but Phin? Irresistible beyond measure. When Clea’s ex turns up dead, the gossip mill works overtime to make half of Temptation seem guilty, and this movie- exactly what kind of movie is it?- isn’t helping matters. It just goes to show you that small towns don’t mean small drama.
Murder (maybe?). Adultery. Politics. Financial intrigue. Fame. Love. Lust. Revenge. Big dreams. Complicated sibling relationships. While there’s a lot going on in this book, Jennifer Crusie weaves each element of the story into a seamless tapestry. I did initially struggle to keep the large cast of characters straight, but I think that was more due to my daughter’s chattering (she really likes to hear herself talk and basically narrates her entire day; my son was the same way, but he was content to listen to the sound of his own voice and didn’t require answers every three seconds the way my daughter does) than it was the book itself, because once it was bedtime and things were a little quieter, I settled easily into the book and had no issues.
I feel like Jennifer Crusie is Christina Lauren’s super cool big sister; while their styles are different, their characters all engage in such easy, witty banter that I don’t think I’ve ever read either author without laughing out loud at least once in the book. Take, for example, this conversation Sophie and Phin have one night, not long before their first romantic interlude, about Julie Ann, a character in an old Appalachian song Phin’s grandmother used to sing him to sleep with:
“She fell in love with a bear?” “No, a bear ate her.” Phin rolled his head to look at her. “Appalachia is not big on silly love songs.” “A bear ate her.” Sophie shook her head. “Leave it to you to think that’s romantic.” “The song’s beautiful.” Phin looked back at the stars. “It ends with her ghost wearing a crown of sorrow. Very romantic.” “Dead women are not romantic,” Sophie said flatly. “Okay, she’s not dead,” Phin said. “The bear ate her and she came her brains out.”
I laughed so hard, I scared the cats.
There was a joke or two early in the book that I felt didn’t necessarily age well, but otherwise, this is a fun, funny, complex-but-not-complicated romance novel. While the characters move quickly in their relationship- Sophie and Phin are together for only a number of weeks before they start planning for their future- unlike the couple in Nicholas Sparks’s Every Breath, I had no problem believing in their immediate connection and in their chemistry, because the two of them are positively swimming in it, and it’s nearly enough to light every page on fire (again, this is also something that Christina Lauren excels at, and was SO good in the book I’ll have a review for next). The sex scenes are steamier than a five-jet shower fueled by twenty hot water tanks (they’re graphic, but not what I would consider explicit, so if you’re a more fade-to-black romance lover, Jennifer Crusie’s books may not be for you) . And when it comes to the non-romantic parts of the story, Ms. Crusie keeps the reader drawn in with the same witty banter that matches up with everything we would have wanted to say in that situation…but wouldn’t have thought of until later that night, after we’d gotten home and crawled into bed. Nothing is too heavy, and even something like a possible murder is still treated as something that’s just a little ridiculous.
Suffice it to say, Welcome to Temptation further fueled my love for Jennifer Crusie, and I’m looking forward to reading more from her in the future. I haven’t read any of her collaborations with Bob Mayer, so if you have, I’d love to hear your impressions of those books, especially. But if you’ve read any of hers, let’s talk! What have you read and loved?
Who would? Stacks upon stacks of previously loved literature for a low, low price. There’s nothing better than perusing dusty stacks of books, looking for a treasure or twenty, and know that you’ll be able to haul a ton of them home without breaking the bank. Used book sale? I’m in. I’ll be there. Putting it in my calendar now.
This past weekend was one such sale. A women’s education nonprofit holds used book sales every few months around here. “Do you want to sign up for our emails, to know when our next sale will be?” the charming lady who took my money asked me at the previous sale. YOU BET I DID. I signed up immediately, and when the email hit my inbox, letting me know that there would be a sale on May 4th, I slapped that baby in my calendar and then showed up as soon as the sale opened on the second day. The second day, you see, is bag sale day. Everything you can cram into a bag for ten dollars…but if you’re on their email list and show them the email, you get a discount: everything you can cram into a bag for seven dollars.
So what followed me home this weekend? First, a picture; then, a story.
There’s a bigger story here, one that’s so wacky, I can barely believe it.
You might not be able to tell from what I’ve read so far this year, but I love a good romance novel (I recently finished reading Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation; she’s been one of my favorite authors for ages). I love watching a couple get together, I love one person pursuing another, I love romance tropes, I love happily-ever-afters. All of this started with the stack of books my mother kept stashed in the coat closet, and which I began raiding when I was about twelve years old. Recently, Book Riot had an article titled ‘The Books That Turned Us On to Romance,’ and that, along with my love of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and their amazing podcast, brought to mind yet again the nameless book from that closet stash that introduced me to my love of the genre.
I’d thought of this book many times over the years, but I could never remember the title. I’ve known about Smart Bitches, Trashy Books’s Help a Bitch Out feature, which helps romance readers remember those forgotten titles via crowdsourcing, but I feared I didn’t have enough information for them (I mean, I was twelve when I read this, so my memory is pretty fuzzy), and I didn’t want to be disappointed if no one knew what I was talking about. Here’s what I had: there was a character named Dulcy who was a pretty heinous bitch, but she wasn’t the main character; it took place during the Spanish-American war; one of the male characters, at least at one point, had some sort of involvement with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders; a vague detail about a sex scene that could have happened in basically any historical romance.
And that was it. Not much to go on there, huh?
So this unnamed book had been rolling around my brain lately, moreso than it usually had over the years. It wasn’t anything I was actively considering when I was at the book sale: I started at the YA and kids sections, stopped by the cookbooks, browsed the romance novels, hit up the classic fiction section, perused the mysteries and general fiction, then made the loop again.
And there, sitting on top of the paperback romance novels, that I had somehow missed in my first go-around, was a book that looked…familiar.
Was that it?
Was THAT my book?
I flipped through it briefly, very briefly, because I was running out of time (I had two more errands to run and only an hour left). I thought it *might* be it, but I wasn’t entirely certain, but for seven bucks a bag, I could afford to take a chance. Into the bag it went, and I’d figure it out when I got home.
And later on that afternoon, once I got a chance, I opened the book and flipped through it. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.
YOU GUYS. I found it! I found the book that got me into romance, all on my own! THE BOOK GODS AND GODDESSES HAVE SMILED UPON ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now, I am FULLY prepared for this book to be absolutely terrible and problematic as hell. Obviously, my tastes have changed and matured after twenty-six years of heavy reading; this book was published in 1982 and romance (and what romance readers are willing to tolerate in their books) has changed substantially. And just read that blurb from Goodreads:
SHE WAS TORN FROM THE ARMS OF LOVE AND IMPRISONED IN THE HOT EMBRACE OF PASSION…
Sultry Tampa, crossroad for gallant soldiers of the Spanish-American War, was the beloved home of young Jessica Manning. Her elegance and delicate beauty entranced the most valiant men, but fate gave her the most ruthless–hot-blooded Brill Kroger. Ignited by selfish passion, Brill abducted Jessica, then swept his anguished prize on a blazing seaward quest for Aztec gold. Through it all, Jessica dung to one aching wish–a return to her glowing moments of surrender in the strong arms of dashing Rough Rider Lieutenant Neil Dancer. Neil’s heart burned wildly for his lost Jessica, and his fury now drove him to pledge his very life to rekindle the flames of their glorious love.
OH MY GOD, is that not awful???????? (Including the typo of ‘dung’ for ‘clung,’ which comes straight from the Goodreads blurb. My back cover reads ‘clung,’ fortunately.) I’m in love. I’ve got, of course, a stack of books to read before I get to this, but I’m absolutely going to read it and review the crap out of it for all of you. I feel more giddy than one of those puppies that wags its tail so hard, it pees a little. This is BEYOND exciting!
Have you ever spent years wondering about a book you lost track of, only to have it just pop up seemingly out of nowhere? I don’t know that I’ll ever get over how seamlessly this reappeared back in my life. Serendipity at its finest. 🙂