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review 2018-07-13 07:12
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Why Not Me? - Mindy Kaling

From the author of the beloved New York Times bestselling book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and the creator and star of The Mindy Project comes a collection of essays that are as hilarious and insightful as they are deeply personal. In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.

Amazon.com

 

 

Really thought I would dig this one more, as I DO find Kaling funny in her movie and tv roles, but something just didn’t work for me here. It wasn’t gawd awful or anything that bad, but I was surprised to find that I did not laugh out loud once. Not. Once. Even though I could count at least half a dozen mentions of her pointing out that she was a comedy writer. All I could think was one of my favorite lines from Finding Nemo: “You know, for a clown fish, he’s not that funny.” And at times I felt like she went a little heavy-handed with the self-deprecation… to the point of being irritating. Additionally, I found myself cringing a bit at some of the people she refers to as friends.

 

I did finish it, as it is an easy read and it is mildly interesting in a “skimming People magazine in the waiting room” kind of way, but about the only bit where I was honestly invested was the portion where she writes this whole scenario for “alternate Mindy” – the Mindy she imagines if she hadn’t found fame, the Mindy who teaches Latin at a private school in NYC. That whole bit is done in a blend of work emails, text messages and IMs and she actually does make a pretty entertaining story there. I would’ve happily read a whole novel with those characters!

 

A couple things I did appreciate or relate to: I give props to Kaling for her work ethic. Regardless of what I think of this book, I can’t knock her dedication to her job, as she lays out an average day for her readers, a day that she says typically runs from 5:30am one day to 12:30 am the next… over and over again. You have to give a nod to that.

Also nice to know it’s not just me that worries if some Uber drivers are secretly serial killers.

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review 2018-05-07 16:11
Forgiveness In The First Degree (True Crime Account) by Rondol Hammer & Phillip Robinson, with Margot Starbuck
Forgiveness In The First Degree - Rondol Hammer,Phillip Robinson,Margot Starbuck

The gun was never supposed to go off. When a drug dealer assured twenty-nine-year-old Ron Hammer and his brother-in-law that they could make some quick easy money, they were intrigued. He promised them that when a local grocer delivered a bag of money to his store to cash Friday paychecks, they only needed to show him a gun and he d hand over the bag. But high on meth and dulled by liquor, they ended up in a scuffle with their target, and the gun accidentally fired. And when Phillip Robinson rushed from the shelves he d been stocking to investigate the commotion at the front of the store, he saw his father lying on the sidewalk, dying. The lives of Ron Hammer and Phillip Robinson, whose paths should only have ever crossed at the grocery checkout line, became inextricably linked by one foolish decision that would shatter a web of lives. Over three decades the two men came to discover not only that they both needed to be set free, but that in God s unlikely economy of redemption their liberation was bound up with one another. Like the famous prodigal son and his dutiful older brother, the moving story of Phillip Robinson and Rondol Hammer reveals how two men wrestling with law and grace discover unlikely redemption. 

~from back cover

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This book discusses the topics of attempted suicide, murder and otherwise extreme violence (mainly in the form of prison stories that describe scenes of eyes being gouged out and ears bitten off)

 

In 1986, twenty-seven year old auto mechanic & Vietnam veteran Ron Hammer, high on meth, carries out armed robbery at a local grocery store. In the process, Ron unintentionally kills the father of the store's assistant manager, Phillip Robinson. Hammer, along with his brother-in-law / robbery accomplice / fellow meth addict, flees the scene with the money. Though he evades escape for a time, Ron is eventually caught and sent to prison. The prison sentence forces him to quit meth cold turkey. It is also there in prison that he finds religion, leading him to the decision to approach the Robinson family with his honest apology for his irreversible actions. 

 

Though at the time of Ron's initial attempt at apology Phillip is a practicing Christian and aspiring pastor, the road to forgiving Ron proves to be a decades long journey. It is not until 1994 that Phillip finds himself ready to honestly hear Ron out on the topic of forgiveness. Once at that place, though, Phillip discovers the blessing that comes in the form of an emotional weight lifted he didn't even entirely realize he was carrying!

 

The format of this book alternates between Ron's point of view of the events, and then Phillip's. As far as the flow of the writing itself, I found Ron's portions of the story more compelling. When it came to Phillip's portions... him losing his father in such a violent way is undeniably tragic, but from a sheer matter of reading enjoyment, something about Phillip's portions came off as more boring and preachy. Not surprising, I suppose, as Phillip IS a preacher, but I'm just sharing the truth of my reading experience. 

 

Still, this story is an important one to be shared because look at the message it presents: a man finds it in his heart to bestow honest forgiveness on the man who murdered his father. If a person can do that, it makes any other seemingly "unforgiveable" dealbreaker-type situation easily traversable, doesn't it? There are also takeaways from the perspective of Ron: one can come back from a life thrown into a tailspin via drug addiction and go on to have a powerful testimony of a life bound to help others out of their emotional mires. The book definitely gives you material to think on. 

 

NOTE: This book does give spoilers for the film The Outlaw Josie Wales and Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables

 

FTC Disclaimer:  Blue Ridge CWC and FaithHappenings Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-05-07 11:16
Love Him Anyway (memoir) by Abby Banks
Love Him Anyway - Abby Banks

One night can change everything. Abby Banks put her healthy, happy infant son to sleep, but when she awoke the next morning, she felt as though she was living a nightmare. Her son, Wyatt, was paralyzed. There was no fall, no accident, no warning. A rare autoimmune disease attacked his spinal cord, and there was no cure. In an instant, all her hopes and dreams for him were wiped away. The life she envisioned for her family was gone, and she was frozen by the fear of a future she never imagined. As she struggled to come to grips with her son's devastating diagnosis and difficult rehabilitation, she found true hope in making a simple choice, a choice to love anyway-to love her son, the life she did not plan, and the God of hope, who is faithful even when the healing does not come. In Love Him Anyway, Abby shares her family's journey from heartbreak to triumph and reminds us that hope and joy can be found in life's hardest places.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In this Christian-based, medical themed memoir, author Abby Banks writes of the years she and her husband spent praying and pushing through infertility struggles, eventually having two children via invitro methods. So when pregnancy #3 came along by natural means, the couple felt both shocked and blessed. Some months after their son, Wyatt, was born, the Banks put him to bed one night only to find the shock of their lives the next morning. Overnight, Wyatt seemed to have developed noticeable, unnatural mobility issues. Rushing him to the hospital, the first doctor brushed off the child's condition as a matter of "simply fatigue and dehydration". 

 

Feeling unsettled with this diagnosis, the Bankses pursue a second opinion. In comes a veteran nurse who, with a quick visual examination, dismisses the "simply dehydration" opinion and calls for further tests. Good thing, because a second doctor brings the truth out: Wyatt (still an infant, remember) had developed paralysis due to a rare autoimmune disease attacking his spinal column. To add to the strain of this moment, Abby Banks was receiving this news during the time she herself was being treated for thyroid cancer!

 

Now, when I first looked at this book -- took in the synopsis, considered the title -- I was a little confused and disturbed. My mind was thinking, "well, YEAH, should be kind of a given that any decent human would love their child no matter what... so what's with the title? Is this one of those stories where I'm expected to applaud someone for them doing what they should do naturally?" I realize that may come off harsh, but I'm an honest reviewer, one that has to make note of whatever rings odd or confusing in my mind as I'm reading so that I can hopefully make sense of it further on in the book... so, yes, these kind of thoughts / questions run through my mind as I'm mentally making notes to later work into a review. Let me just state now then, that my confusion on this matter was quickly cleared up over a few different points.

 

Firstly, I gather that the idea for the title came from a moment shortly after Abby and her husband are given the news that Wyatt would likely only have about a 33% chance of recovery from his condition, so the odds were high that he would remain wheelchair-dependent for much, if not all, of his life. When Abby and Jason try to explain to Wyatt's siblings, their elder son, Jay, responds, "We're just going to love him anyway." Abby shares her own reflections on their new reality with these words:

 

"I could drown myself in a sea of anger because life hasn't turned out the way I planned, but I know that life is a gift, and I want to fight to make ours amazing, no matter what it looks like... I cried for Wyatt and for the innocence and wisdom in Jay's precious answer. He was right. When we don't know what to do next and are crippled by fear, we love. We love until the fear is gone. When we can find no answers and can't make sense of the situations in our life, we love. Love will always be the right answer. When our faith is weak and hope is hard to find, love will carry us through."

 

Banks emphasises throughout the whole book that throughout this challenging journey, she wants to always strive to find purpose in the pain. Optimism and humor are a noticeable constant within Abby & Jason's story, which you have to admire, considering the horrifically bad luck this family has been put through! But that pursuit of the joyful seems to have been been passed on to Wyatt, as numerous times throughout this memoir Abby notes her son wearing a beaming smile throughout a slew of procedures, treatments and grim diagnoses.

 

Our nurse told us that it looked like an episode of House. The doctors and residents were searching for answers in books and running through every possibility, but they couldn't find an answer. Nothing made sense. Why would a seven-month-old simply stop moving? He was healthy. There was no fever, and he was still smiling. 

 

One aspect of this book that didn't sit quite right with me: Abby's obsession with her social media appearance -- multiple references to her consuming disappointment (to the point of being driven to tears) of not being able to create Pinterest / Instagram worthy parties, posting video of Wyatt's physical therapy on a local news channel's FB page, hoping it will get the most likes so their story can be featured on the news broadcast on tv.... these sorts of things were distracting me from the main focus of this book. I also didn't entirely agree with her stance on teaching her children that "feelings are not truth and feelings would fail them." In some cases maybe, but it's hardly a universal truth. In some life situations, it proves beneficial to choose your wild spirit, instinctual heart over your logical mind. 

 

That bit said, let me close on a strong positive note. Banks does have some quite empowering lines throughout her story here, one being: "God may not have moved the mountain but he moved me." In the closing chapters especially, Banks leaves the reader with some great, inspiring words. One of my favorites came from the chapter "What God Has Joined" where she focuses on how her marriage has transformed over the years, particularly with the challenges of Wyatt's condition. At one point, she writes, "I don't like the fire, but I like what it turns me into." Empowering words to plant into the hearts of all readers! 

 

FTC Disclaimer:  Blue Ridge CWC and Ambassador International kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-04-14 01:29
The Complete Maus (25th Anniversary Ed.) by Art Spiegelman | Holocaust Remembrance Week
The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times).
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Inspired by the Holocaust experience of his own parents, cartoonist Art Spiegelman writes and illustrates this Pulitzer Prize wining story of a grown son, also a cartoonist (yes, this one is in the meta / semi-autobio style) who sits down with his father, Vladek  Spiegelman, to record Vladek's story with the intent to publish it. Perhaps to soften some of the more violent aspects of Vladek's story, the tale is told anthropomorphically-- Nazi soldiers are portrayed as big, burly cats, Jewish prisoners are mice, and one African-American man is illustrated as a black dog. 

 

 

Vladek starts with the story of meeting his wife, Anja, and their years together as newlyweds prior to the war. In 1938, Anja develops post-partum depression and is taken to a sanitarium in Czechoslovakia where she experiences, for the first time, full-force anti-Semitism. From there, the war story of Anja and Vladek only gets more painful. Even Anja's millionaire parents couldn't buy her safety. Once captured, Vladek explains that he was able to get some leniency with the Germans because even though his family was Polish, he could speak and write in German, so the Nazis found him useful. 

 

This special anniversary edition features the entire story, Vols 1 & 2, together in one book. As I mentioned before, the story does dip in and out of meta style storytelling. Towards the middle of the book, there is a kind of mini-comic insert where author Art Spiegelman tells the real life tragic story of his own mother's suicide. This book as a whole is not for the faint of heart. There are illustrations of mice with nooses around their necks, descriptions of children being picked up by their legs and swung into brick walls to stop them from crying / screaming (the noise giving away the location of those in hiding). Near the end of Vol. 2 there is also pretty detailed description of the interiors of the gas chambers. This edition also features one color map (the rest of the book is done in black and white) that shows the full layout of the Auschwitz camp. 

 

 

 

Blended with the Holocaust theme, Spiegelman also brings in a modern day father-son relationship story of a grown man honestly trying to make the effort to finally, hopefully, understand the father who has always slightly confounded him. There are some tense life truths brought to the table during these scenes but it provided a relatable, poignant layer to the whole experience that I came to really appreciate. 

 

If you're now reading this thinking, "Man, there is no way I could get through anything that dark," Spiegelman might have had such readers in mind because he does offer moments of levity as well. There's the somewhat scary but also creepy-humorous story of Lucia, the woman who went Stage 5 Clinger on Vladek when he became interested in someone else.

 

 

 

 

Old man Vladek is also dad-funny during his conversations with his son, saying things like "famous like that one guy".... I don't know though, there were a few moments there where old Vladek was coming off as pretty strongly racist himself... so it left me with mixed feelings about him. 

 

I'm glad I finally took the opportunity to experience this epic graphic novel I've heard so much about over the years. The story is a tough one to take, but important to hear. Truthfully though, I'm not sure it's one I see myself revisiting, at least not any time soon. 

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review 2018-03-28 22:37
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop - Lewis Buzbee

In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore-the smell and touch of books, the joy of getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers. He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through the Weekly Reader in grade school. Woven throughout is a fascinating historical account of the bookseller trade-from the great Alexandria library to Sylvia Beach's famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. Rich with anecdotes, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is the perfect choice for those who relish the enduring pleasures of spending an afternoon finding just the right book.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Bibliophiles, gather! Lovers of books about books, this one is for you! Lewis Buzzbee writes a book-centric memoir detailing his lifelong adoration of the printed word and some of his best memories working many years as a bookseller. Along the way, he also shares book-related historical tidbits regarding famous writers and bookshops around the world. For instance, there is mention of how books in the Middle Ages were often made with covers made of large slabs of wood, sometimes covered in leather. Pre-printing press books were expensive to create, so they were intentionally made heavy to deter thieves! 

 

So, have your notepads ready as you read through this one, as you're likely to get some titles added to that ever-growing tbr of yours!

 

A great book will never go out of style -- books go with every outfit. 

 

Buzbee's love of books started at the age of 15, with what became regular visits to his local B. Dalton bookstore and many pre-Scholastic Book Fair days spent with the Scholastic Weekly Reader. This was a magazine full of puzzles, articles, and of course, order forms for books. Instead of the book carts coming to the school, students could order and have the books sent to their homes. To me, this sounded less exciting than my memories of book fair days at school, but it's what he had at the time, I guess. During this portion, Buzbee also touches upon the "real reader" discussion (ie. what makes a person considered "well-read") and his teenage embarrassment at his mother's love of Gothic romances and his father's preference for men's magazines full of adventure stories & travel articles. Buzbee himself describes finding a love for classics early on, notably the works of John Steinbeck, with all the descriptions of oak and manzanita forests. 

 

For those who are afflicted with book lust, those for whom reading us more than information or escape, the road to our passion is quite simple, paved merely by the presence of printed matter. It's a common story; fill in your own blanks: I was _____ years old when I happened upon a novel called ________, and within six months I had read every other book by the writer known as _________.

 

Love bookshop history? There's one great story in here regarding the famous Shakespeare & Company and how they came to publish James Joyce's doorstop of a novel, Ulysses. James Joyce estimated that roughly 1/3 of the book was written on typset proofs. And shop owner Sylvia Beach must have had the patience of a saint! She spent nearly a year just getting the manuscript right for the printing process, THEN Joyce insists that the covers had to be the EXACT colors of the Greek flag -- white font on blue paper, to suit the "Homeric nature of the novel". All this WHILE she was in the process of moving the shop's location! The shop -- in name only -- is still in operation today. Beach's store officially closed after WW2, but George Whitman (illegitimate grandson of poet Walt Whitman), with a collection of 1,000+ books, revived the location, originally calling it Le Mistral but later brought back the name Shakespeare & Co in honor of Beach. For those who love doing bookshop tours (crawls? lol) Buzbee includes a list of his personal favorite shops around the world (and explains why they're his favorites). 

 

While this is the journey of one specific booklover, as well as a bit of a history of bookshops and bookmaking, this book, at times, speaks as an ode to book SELLING more than anything... not surprisingly, really, what with the author being a retired bookseller! For anyone curious, he breaks down the math behind those "closeout books" sales we readers love. Turns out, the author gets ZERO royalties from remainder-marked books. Buzbee writes of the fun of being able to get just the right book to the right person at the perfect time in that person's life...sometimes through orchestrated opportunity, other times via pure serendipity. He also argues that there should be a mandatory two years of retail service duty assigned to everyone and I can't say that I disagree! As he says, "sales for sturdy shoes would skyrocket!" 

 

"The greatest benefit to my little plan would be in the creation of a truly kinder and gentler nation. Imagine that every American citizen had at one time worked in retail, and you might glimpse the possibility of a future in which all of us, participating in our national pastime, shopping, would have more patience. We would understand that items are sometimes out of stock and life does continue, that service without a smile is still service, that getting rid of your small change is not one of life's more laudable goals, nor is cashing out a speed trial. I'm going to let you in on a little secret about working retail. If you think we're grumpy, maybe even pissed off, and seem like we don't want to be there half the time -- you're right."

 

Oh, and the stories about shrink wrap pranks brought back memories for me! 

 

Either way, it makes for fun reading when he shares which books proved to have the most impact on him throughout the course of his life.  With the book's closing pages, Buzbee shares his stance on the whole topic of online vs brick & mortar bookshops / indy sellers vs superstores / ebooks vs print books.. and where he sees things going in the future. 

 

Altogether, this book is worthy of at least one flip-through from any and all book lovers because Buzbee covers -- even if just a bit -- nearly every aspect of book culture you could want information on. Break this one out on a lazy Sunday or a rainy day in and curl up for some bibliophile bonding time! 

 

___________

 

EXTRAS

 

* Interview clip with an elderly Sylvia Beach where she talks about her days of working to get James Joyce's work published

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