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review 2018-09-07 23:11
Who runs the world?
Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World - Palmieri, Jennifer

Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World by Jennifer Palmieri is an empowering voice for women. It's written as a letter to the future female President of the United States (if you couldn't figure that out from the title). To give some background, Palmieri served as the White House Director of Communications under President Obama and then afterwards as the Director of Communications for the Clinton presidential campaign in 2016. Therefore, the reader will not be surprised that a large chunk of this book is devoted to behind the scenes of that campaign and its aftermath on herself and the country (from her point-of-view). From this standpoint alone, the book is interesting as we are seeing an event through the eyes of someone who actually experienced it from the inside. The overarching purpose of this book is to give advice and encouragement to women in any and every type of environment. Palmieri seeks to embolden women to allow for vulnerability and use the strengths that have historically been seen as weaknesses to launch yourself to the top. She emphasizes the importance of sticking up for yourself so that your voice is heard especially when yours is the only female voice in the room. (Did I mention this is quite a pro-female book? It is and I love that.) Remember: We cannot play by the same rules as men and we shouldn't have to. Personally, despite its shortness I think this is a necessary book for all peoples to read regardless of gender (but ladies ya'll should really try to seek this one out). I especially liked the book recommendations scattered throughout. :-D A solid 8/10 for me.

 

What's Up Next: Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me by Condoleezza Rice

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Star Trek Destiny #2: Mere Mortals by David Mack

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-09-04 00:09
A demanding mystery recommended to writers and lovers of complex stories.
The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair - Joël Dicker

I’m not sure if it was the cover (the old cover) of this book, or the title, the fact that wherever I went (Spain, the UK, France) I saw the same book in airports and bookshops, or a combination of all that together with the blurb of the book but I had been curious about this novel for a long time and, eventually, I got around to reading it.

The book and its author has received many accolades and awards, and it is one of those books that manages to combine a gripping story (a mystery that keeps wrongfooting investigators and readers alike) with an interesting narrator and a clever way of telling the story that becomes a part of the action and almost a character in its own right.

The book is divided into Three Parts (Part One: Writer’s Disease, Part Two: Writer’s Cure, Part Three: Writer’s Paradise), a Prologue, and Epilogue, a first scene and acknowledgements at the end. In brief, this novel is the story of the writing of a book, the book we have in our hands (we assume) by Marcus Goldman, also known as Marcus the Magnificent (you’ll have to read the book to know more about that, but let’s say that from a very young age, Marcus had been a man with a sense of his own destiny and had realised that there are ways of gaining fame and attracting everybody’s attention that are not all to do with hard work or talent). In part one, after an intriguing initial scene, we meet Marcus –who became famous after publishing his first book– suffering from writer’s block. Almost two years have passed since the publication of his novel (this is 2008), and he is desperate as his publisher has given him a deadline. To try and get out of the situation he goes to visit his writing teacher, Harry Quebert, whom he met at Burrows University, that he attended between 1998 and 2002. He lives in Somerset, Maine, and is happy to see him. While he is there, Marcus makes a discovery about Harry’s life, and as the novel progresses, we learn that there are many more secrets and mysteries hidden behind the letters and pictures he finds. A fifteen-year-old girl, Nola Kellerman, disappeared in 1975 and when her body is discovered in Harry’s property, all hell breaks loose.

The novel, although seemingly divided into the period before the writing of the novel, the actual writing of it, and its publication, keeps jumping backwards and forwards in time, sometimes through the narration of one of the characters (we go back to 1975, there are fragments where we learn more about Marcus’s relationship with Harry during university and in the in-between years, and we also travel to 1985 and to 1969), sometimes through letters and documents, sometimes we get to listen to recordings of interviews, or we get summaries of reports. There are also other written documents referred to throughout the book, the most important, The Origin of Evil, the novel that turned Harry into a famous writer, which everybody refers to as a masterpiece, and that he happened to write in Somerset, in 1975. Marcus narrates the story in first-person, but the fragments that are either written by others, or part of his novel, are written in the third person. And there are false starts (as Marcus and later Gahalowood, a cranky but likeable sergeant, uncover new information, the notes and the book gets reframed and rewritten), draft versions, false endings, plenty of misunderstandings and intentional misdirection as well. We get different versions of events, but we also get alternative versions of characters, particularly of Nola, who at times appears as a Lolita, a seductress who could manipulate all adults around her, while at others she is an innocent victim of family and lusty men, or a muse intent on inspiriting a masterpiece, or perhaps just a young scared girl trying to find happiness. Nothing is what it seems to be, when we consider both the plot and the characters, and even the basic things we think we know for a fact might require reconsideration.

It is perhaps not evident at the beginning, but each chapter starts with writing advice, that later we understand consists of thirty-one points Harry offers Marcus, starting from number thirty-one and going up the list. As a writer, I feel that most of the points are very insightful, and although most are not terribly personal, some, that we see given in context later on, help us get a sense of who the characters are, and we come to realise that all the advice is pertinent to the story as well. The book follows its own advice, and it piles layer after layer of story and meaning (like Russian dolls), increasing and releasing the tension as explanation after explanation is given and eventually rejected, and as our expectations and trashed time and again.

The characters are well drawn and even some of the seemingly minor characters end up amazing us when we get to know them better (and believe me, we do). There are surprises, as I said, there is humour (mostly provided by the publisher and by Marcus’s mother, perhaps both these characters are less well drawn and caricature-like, but they are not part of Somerset and the story but instead interfere and distract the writer from his task), there are are many touching moments and those are not limited to the main protagonists either (even the least likeable characters get their spot in the limelight). Despite the repetitions and the jumps in time, the book is not difficult to follow, although it is not easy to keep all the clues in mind and guessing who did what is not simple. Of course, that is the beauty of complex mysteries. I have not read the original version, but I cannot fault the translation into English, and I kept highlighting sentences and paragraphs, some to do with writing, but some with the story.

At times readers will be almost shouting, aligning themselves with the editor, demanding that the book gets finished and there is an end to the story, but the author keeps going, pushing the sense of frustration and the patience of the reader, looping the loop once more. It’s a tour-de-force. As Harry says: Books are like life, Marcus. They never really end. Having said all that, I enjoyed the ending, even if at some points it felt as if I was watching one of those horror movies with monsters in them, where you think they are dead, but no, they keep coming. Here, the different explanations, suspects, and red herrings keep coming as well, but I loved the actual ending (even if some of the details and the explanations stretched a bit the suspension of disbelief, but I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers).

I recommend this novel to lovers of mysteries looking for a long and involving read that requires your full attention and is fairly demanding, especially if you don’t mind complex narratives and jumps backward and forward in time. I also recommend it to writers who love novels about writers, for the plot, for the format, and for the advice (most of which will make you nod and smile). This book made me think about many other stories: Lolita, Beauty and the Beast, Cyrano de Bergerac… Although the book is not overtly sexually graphic, here goes a word of warning as it does discuss a relationship between an adult male and a young girl, and there are instances of violence and brutal assaults that could be upsetting. The book depicts a world where white men occupy the main active (and alive) roles (Marcus is Jewish and that plays a major part in the jokes about his mother’s behaviour) and in no way challenges gender or diversity prejudices either, but some of the characters offer insightful comments and have positive attitudes.

I thought I would leave you with a couple of quotations, especially dedicated to writers and readers:

You know what a publisher is? He’s a failed writer whose father was rich enough that he’s able to appropriate other people’s talents.

A good book, Marcus, is judged not by its last words but by the cumulative effect of all the words that have preceded them. About half a second after finishing your book, after reading the very last word, the reader should be overwhelmed by a particular feeling. For a moment he should think only of what he has just read; he should look at the cover and smile a little sadly because he is already missing all the characters. A good book, Marcus, is a book you are sorry to have finished.

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review 2018-08-10 19:57
Short and packed with useful advice. Because being polite has never hurt anyone.
The Little Blue Book for Authors: Essential Manners for the Modern Author - Gisela Hausmann

I have read and reviewed two of Gisela Hausmann’s books from her little books collection before and enjoyed enormously her no-nonsense attitude and the easy-to-use format. These are books that, as the author explains, should take a short time to read (she aims for less than 90 minutes, and I don’t think I’ve gone over 30 minutes for any of them), and the advice offered should be easy to implement, so that anybody who’ve just read one of them could apply what they’ve learned, rather than having to go through a lengthy process, take a course, or make a huge investment. (With regards to this last issue, that does not mean there is no cost involved at all, as in this book she emphasises the importance of finding an editor and states that is much more useful investing your hard-earned cash on that than spending money on things like tools to automatize marketing or on exchanging reviews with other authors).

This book will be appreciated by authors and reviewers alike. I had to smile at her examples of some of the e-mails she has received asking for book reviews. As a book reviewer, I’ve had similar experiences (authors sending an unsolicited copy of the book, without even bothering to find your name, and stating they read your blog, although you’ve never seen them there and from the content of the letter is evident they haven’t) and I can’t but agree with her recommendations to authors. (Although I am an author, other than in my own books and the blog, I rarely approach reviewers directly, but I’ll try and make sure I remember her advice in the future). I really liked her suggestion that we should try to introduce our book as if we were preparing the book for a date, making sure to try and choose the right partner and find the points of connection between our book and the possible date (reviewer). As she puts it:

A creative, exciting, funny, and unique “dating profile” will attract “matching” readers to start a relationship made in “book heaven.”

The author covers etiquette as pertains to various social media as well (Facebook and Twitter) and the etiquette of blogging. Her advice might not suit everybody and I suspect some of her tips might be more or less useful depending on the readership and genre of the author, but I have personally concluded that we must remain true to ourselves, and not just adopt passing fashions because they seem to work for somebody else, and I am with her on the importance of adhering to proper etiquette. (It might seem unnecessary to some people, but I can’t imagine many people will take offence to being treated politely).

This is another solid offering in a series of books for authors that has become one of my favourites, and I recommend it to authors with little time to waste (all of them, I guess) who prefer realistic advice to pie-in-the-sky promises, and who don’t mind some straight-talking (or writing). If you check the sample of the book and like what you read, it is worth following the author as she runs regular promotions and offers of her back catalogue.

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review 2018-06-23 15:55
Is Death owned by Big Business?
The American Way of Death Revisited - Jessica Mitford

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford blew my freaking mind. There's no other way to say it. I took 4 pages of notes after finishing it and then bought my own copy so that I could reference back to it. As you might have guessed from the title this is another book about death culture and funeral practices in the United States. (Here are 3 more on the topic: Caitlin Doughty 1 & 2 and Bess Lovejoy.) Mitford gives a comprehensive look at the funeral industry in America up to the last update of her book in 1997. (A small portion of the book compares the US outlook on death with the UK and there is a stark difference.) She does not shy away from making her points about the injustices committed by those working in the funeral industry. She discusses the methods employed by everyone from funeral home directors to gravestone manufacturers. This book was a definite eyeopener in terms of what is actually legal when it comes to the handling of the dead. (Spoiler alert: pretty much everything.) 

Alas, poor Yorick! How surprised he would be to see how his counterpart of today is whisked off to a funeral parlor and is in short order sprayed, sliced, pierced, pickled, trussed, trimmed, creamed, waxed, painted, rouged, and neatly dressed - transformed from common corpse into a Beautiful Memory Picture. This process is known in the trade as embalming and restorative art, and is so universally employed in the United States and Canada that for years the funeral director did it routinely, without consulting corpse or kin. He regards as eccentric those few who are hardy enough to suggest that it might be dispensed with yet no law requires embalming, no religious doctrine commends it, nor is it dictated by considerations of health, sanitation, or even of personal daintiness. In no part of the world but in North America is it widely used. The purpose of embalming is to make the corpse presentable for viewing in a suitably costly container; and here too the funeral director routinely, without first consulting the family, prepares the body for public display. - pg 43

I include this lengthy quote (and another in a moment) to illustrate the importance of being educated about what your rights are both as the deceased and as the loved one making the arrangements after death. Mitford includes accounts of deliberate fraud by members of the funeral industry against the grieving. (Many funeral homes even include in their pricing grief counseling!) The frauds range from offering 'package deals' with no options for opting out, non-disclosed fees prior to invoicing, refusal to provide itemized statements for services, or inflation on pre-need arrangements (example: plots purchased well before death). I think this is a book that every single person should read because it discusses in depth a topic which is considered taboo in our country but until it is talked about openly and frankly as Mitford does the funeral industry under its many guises will continue to take advantage of the average consumer. Know your rights, people! 10/10

 

And speaking of rights I'd like to leave you with this bit of advice from the last chapter of Mitford's book:

Send a friend to two or more mortuaries to obtain their general price lists and casket prices. Ask for the cost of direct cremation, including transportation costs and crematory fees. Likewise, for the cost of immediate burial. Pay no money in advance. If death has not yet occurred and you wish to pay in installments, do so by setting up a Totten Trust, naming yourself or a relative or close friend as beneficiary. Remember, above all, that many funeral homes have a "no-walk" policy, which means simply that if and when you start to walk out, the fee will come down, down, down until a level acceptable to you is reached. - pg 274

 

 

What's Up Next: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Condoleezza Rice: A memoir of my extraordinary, ordinary family and me by Condoleezza Rice

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-06-19 18:47
Friendly advice
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar - Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed is a collection of the letters and responses that were printed in the advice column, "Dear Sugar", from The Rumpus. The topics range from love and marriage, cheating, identity (sexual and otherwise), parenting, relationships with parents/children, grief, and abuse. Strayed does not pull her punches and she doesn't apologize for it either. She somewhat softens the blows of her blunt advice and observations with endearments like 'sweet pea' and 'honey bun' but instead of sounding condescending it feels like it could be delivered by a trusted confidant. Lest you think that she gives this advice from a rather standoffish perspective it is often conveyed through her own personal experiences and struggles. When the column was originally written her identity was unknown which makes the intimacy and the rawness of the letter writers and her response to them such a unique and wonderful thing. If you've ever experienced turmoil in any area of your life (and you'd have to because that's just a natural part of things) then reading such real, honest advice delivered with love and respect is a welcome breath of fresh air. I laughed, cried, and goggled with incredulity while reading this book. It's an excellent palate cleanser if you're in a book reading rut or a great way to kick start your summer reading adventure. ;-) 10/10

 

The inner flap contains some great quotes. [Source: Cook, Wine, & Thinker!]

 

What's Up Next: The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Condoleezza Rice: A memoir of my extraordinary, ordinary family and me by Condoleezza Rice

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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