Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb
Stevie’s mother battled schizophrenia. Though Stevie’s grandparents took care of Stevie and her sister Sunshine (and tried to care for their mother, who refused to take her meds and had been hideously abused when sent to a facility to care for people with mental illness) and praised and loved Stevie, the fact she couldn’t save her younger sister and her mother from the mother’s voices in her head telling her to drown herself and her children has haunted her since that terrible day when she was ten years old. Her mother succeeded in killing herself and Sunshine. The way Stevie “dealt” with it was by eating and eating and eating.
After her grandparents died, Stevie was shipped off to live with her Aunt Janet and Uncle Herbert. I didn’t understand why Janet’s self-esteem was so low she’d marry such a horrible, homophobic man like Herbert, who berated his own children, Polly and Lance, as well as Stevie. I understood why Janet stayed for a while—her ongoing battle with alcoholism made Herbert’s threats that he’d get custody of the kids a legit risk—until they were eighteen. Once they were adults, I guess she stayed because she’d been so emotionally beaten down by him she didn’t have the strength to leave. On the outside, Polly and Lance are successful. Polly is a popular news anchor, but she’s battled anorexia since she was 13 years old. Lance made millions through his entrepreneurship, but he is a wreck—he can’t talk to women, so he can’t fulfill his dream of falling in love, getting married, and having children.
When she was thirty-two, Stevie had a heart attack from being so overweight, so she got barometric surgery. After losing 170 pounds, she got a second cosmetic surgery to tighten up all the loose skin and gets her breasts lifted.
We meet Stevie after she’s had this work done, but she’s still trying to work out the demons of her past.
My favorite character by far in this book is Zena, a woman Stevie works with. Stevie is a legal secretary, who works for the awesome Cherie, and the straight-up evil Crystal.
It takes a long time for Stevie to stop being friends with overweight Eileen, who is also absolutely horrid and keeps telling Stevie she cheated to get thin—even though she got thin to save her life.
The characters in this book are either pure evil or have horrible self-esteem, and it’s hard to root for characters who don’t do anything to help themselves for a long time. Eventually they do, but this is a slow-paced book and it takes forever for the characters (with the exceptions of Zena and Cherie, which is why they are the best characters in the book) to get there.
I wish Lamb had cut out a lot of the parts of the book where Stevie is a little kid dealing with her schizophrenic mother. We got the point, and the Stevie of today was more interesting than Stevie as a powerless little kid.
Root, Petal, Thorn by Ella Joy Olsen
It begins in the present day with Ivy, who is mourning the death of her husband, who was killed in a car accident. As part of trying to deal with her pain, she finishes the house renovation projects she had been working on alongside her husband. This leads to small discoveries about the people who lived in the house before them.
As readers, we go back in time through the first and second world wars and the Great Depression. We also go through the sixties, but that women’s story is more about her battle with manic-depressive disorder and not about what was going on in society as a whole.
The stories of the different women were engaging for a variety of reasons. Once I started a chapter from one of the women’s points of view, I was completely lost in her story and was sad when I had to start a new chapter—but then I’d promptly get engrossed in this other woman’s tale.
The book is set in Salt Lake City, which is obviously heavily Mormon, so the women who live in the house in 1913 (sisters Clara and Emmeline) are Mormon. The practice of polygamy had been outlawed, but it was still practiced by some members (who should have then been excommunicated). Emmeline’s love interest comes from a family that is known for practicing polygamy, but Nathaniel assures her that he doesn’t share his father’s views. He goes off to his two-year mission and asks her to wait for him, but war overseas puts an obstacle in their plans to marry.
I found all of the women’s stories compelling, and have to say the ending took me by surprise—in a good way.
I definitely recommend this book. It’s unique and beautifully told.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I enjoyed this book. I’d like to say that I had strong feelings about it one way or another—that I really loved it or found a bunch of flaws to critique—but all I can say is that it is fun and touching at moments.
The premise is that Alice gets a concussion while at spin class one day and when she comes to, she thinks it’s 1998 and she’s pregnant with her first child. When others explain to her that it’s 2008 and she has three children and a whole slew of other stuff has happened in those ten years, she can’t believe it. She has to believe it because in those ten years she’s gotten skinny, become a gym nut, lives in a fancy house with a pool, and drives a vehicle called an “SUV,” something she didn’t know about ten years ago.
The story isn’t that you get to do a do over in life—that whole, “if I knew then what I know now” sort of thing, but that she gets a fresh perspective on how she was living when she forgets a decade of her life. (I’m trying not to give anything away or spoil anything).
Maybe because I read this as an ebook so the presentation might have been more jumbled than if I’d read a book book, but at first I got really confused when things started being written about from the sister, Elisabeth’s, perspective, and also the letters from Frannie. (Frannie is Elisabeth and Alice’s honorary grandmother—a next-door neighbor who took care of them like a grandma). I would have left out Frannie’s letters to her dead fiancé (he died right before they could marry), but once I figured out what was going on, I liked the switch from the two sisters alternating points of view.
This is a fun book, but not one of my favorites that I’ve read recently.
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
I really enjoyed this book. It could have been filled with gore, but instead, even though you know from the start that Tessa woke up almost dead next to a dead girl in pile of dead girls’ bones, and has (obviously) been haunted by that and everything that followed it for the next seventeen years, this is a psychological thriller throughout and blessedly free of grisly details.
It goes back and forth between Tessie in 1995 and Tessa seventeen years later. As a teenager with amnesia and a bought “hysterical blindness,” she was dealing with a sketchy psychologist and a trial where a man is sent to death row. She is a key witness despite the fact that the hours between when she went for a run and then ended up discovered in a pile of bones are completed gone from her memory. She’s the star witness because she is the only survivor of what are called the Black-Eyed Susans since the bodies were found in a field of them (a kind of flower).
Today, she is the single mother of a teenage daughter, still troubled by her past but thriving anyway until a lawyer comes to Tessa to ask if she’ll undergo hypnosis to see if she can remember those lost hours. Is it possible that Tessie put the wrong man on death row? Tessa is willing to talk to a lawyer and a forensic scientist and review her past to see what she can remember.
This is a gripping read. I didn’t love the ending quite as much as hoped for reasons I can’t go into without giving everything away. While the modern-day Tessa questions her sanity at times, she seems actually more together than a lot of people I know—she’s a very caring, concerned mother, for one thing. I highly recommend this.Read More
30 First Dates by Stacey Wiedower
I had more fun with this book than I was expecting. Wiedower was smart in that she had Erin not simply go on 30 First Dates before her 30th birthday, but combine than with a list of 30 bucket-list type things to cross off, too. Some of the bucket list items she did on dates, others she did with her girlfriends, like go to Paris with her friend and roommate, Sherri. In Paris, they did meet some men.
Erin starts a blog about her experience, and it quickly gains tons of followers, in part because she used to date a guy named Noah, who is dating a bestselling author, who had been dating a famous actor named Colin Marks. When the author, Amelia, breaks things off with Colin to go back to Noah, it’s a tabloid sensation, and what Erin’s role may have been in helping Noah and Amelia get together, and therefore America’s sweethearts end things, makes Erin’s blog big news. The blog becomes bigger news after getting coverage in other media, including TV.
You can figure out the gist of how things are going to end in chapter one. Another flaw with the book is that I could never figure out why Erin stayed friends with her very self-centered friend Hilary, who slept with a man Erin was dating. Hilary is no longer a close friend, but Erin is still the maid of honor in her wedding, despite the fact that Hilary had cheated on her fiancé more than once. Also, I thought there were a lot of opportunities for humor that just weren’t here. Obviously, humor is not Wiedower’s style, but I feel like it’s been a long time since I’ve found a book of fiction that makes me laugh out loud. I keep having to turn to nonfiction to laugh so hard I fall off the couch. What’s going on, publishing industry? We readers like to laugh *and* cry.Read More
The Unsung Hero by Suzanne Brockmann
Suzanne Brockmann is a such a gifted writer. I’d enjoyed her other Troubleshooter books and decided to go back and read the book that started off the series. There are essentially three romances happening at the same time, interwoven to come together for the climatic ending.
Navy SEAL Tom Paoletti returns to the small town where he grew up to recover from an accident that left him in a coma for weeks. He’s still battling dizziness, and when he thinks he sees a terrorist known as the Merchant, he isn’t sure if he is going crazy and seeing things or if he needs to stop a terrorist attack. While recovering at home, he finds an old flame, Kelly Ashton, who is now a divorced pediatrician who is at home to take care of her dying father, Charles. In high school when they flirted, she was underage and thus off limits to him. He resisted back then but broke her heart when he took off for the Navy—she didn’t understand that it was her age that kept him from making a move. Now that they’re adults, they keep things strictly sexual—she doesn’t want him to break her heart again, and, if he can’t heal in the thirty days the Navy has given him, he’ll be unemployed. Plus, if he is a little crazy, that doesn’t exactly make him prime boyfriend material. Brockmann creates sex scenes that are actually sexy and not sleazy—no easy feat.
The other romance story line that I loved was between eighteen-year-old Mallory and a geeky college kid who draws comic books. Mallory had a rough childhood that gives her a tough attitude. Combined with her supersized bust, people assume things about her. David initially wanted to use her as a model for his superhero comic book, but over time, they get over their prejudices and fall for one another.
The other romance happened during WWII, when Charles and Joe Paoletti fought together and fell in love with the same woman. Charles and Joe are still friends, although they fight constantly. That story line was less interesting to me than the ones that unfolded over the course of the novel.
This book had less of the suspense than what I remembered from the other Troubleshooter books and much more romance. I missed the heavy suspense element, but this is still a fun book, and I definitely recommend the series. I’m looking forward to going through the books again, this time in order.Read More
Stephen Colbert: Beyond Truthiness by Bruce Watson
Nonfiction > Humor
I bought this off Bookbub without actually paying attention to what I was buying. It’s a book about Stephen Colbert, not by him, whoops. But I’m fascinated by people who can write sketch and perform improv, and indeed, much of Colbert’s history with Second City and the Second City philosophy toward comedy that has churned out many stars of TV sitcoms and blockbuster movies reminded me of autobiographies I’ve read about my idols Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
Also, as a communications major who has always made at least part of my living in media, it was interesting to be reminded of the impact of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and subsequently The Colbert Report had on our culture. Initially, pundits worried that fake news would turn us into an even bigger nation of uninformed idiots than we already are, but instead it was found that fans of those shows were actually more informed than other people—for us to get the jokes, we had to understand what the “real” news was.
This is a fast read and if you’re a fan of Colbert, you will enjoy learning about how he became the character Stephen Colbert and who he is when he’s not on stage.
Housebroken: Admissions of an Untidy Life by Laurie Notaro
Nonfiction > Humor
As usual, Notaro’s books will make you chuckle. I’ve been a long-time fan of hers. Her chapters on being a slob make me feel like we are kindred spirits, and, in this case, a little better about myself because even I’m not *that* bad. When she’s given a book that promises that becoming a tidy person will transform her life, she can’t help but heap hilarious derision on the writer and all people who are tidy. “Tidy is a vegan and that will be the first thing you know about her.”
Not every chapter is a laugh-fest. I don’t understand why a couple chapters were suddenly devoted to recipes—it made me feel like she was padding the book to get a high enough word count to constitute a book. I’m sure for women who have the patience to make their own cheese and cook meals that take hours to prepare, these recipes might come in helpful, but I’m not one of these women. (See the part on how I don’t qualify as “tidy”: If I don’t have time to live in an immaculate home, I’m certainly not going to make a bunch of meals that require dishes to further swell the amount of things I should probably clean).
Available: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Hookups, Love and Brunch by Matteson Perry
Nonfiction > Humor
Everyone who has ever done the online dating thing has stories to tell. The ones that are worth recounting are inevitably horrible dates with crazy people, although the truth is that most online dates are just like job interviews except you focus on personal stuff and you might occasionally be asked about favorite sex positions, which is atypical of the job interviews I’ve been on.
In Available, Matteson Perry takes a year off from serial monogamy, hoping to date and have sex with as many women as is feasible without hurting anyone’s feelings. At the start of the book, he’s not sure about what he thinks about marriage since his parents’ divorce, but the way he’s approached relationships so far has just not been working for him: “What makes movies magical is not that incredible things happen in them; incredible things happen in real life, too. No, what makes them magical is they end after the incredible thing happens.”
What made Matteson Perry’s book different from other books about doing tons of dating is 1) It’s told from a man’s perspective (I’ve read other books, nonfiction and fiction, from a female perspective), and 2), he is really funny, getting me to chuckle out loud several times. One particularly funny scene is when he ignores several red flags with a woman and takes her home. They have such aggressive sex that she leaves him with hickeys all over his body—the night before he’s meeting his family for a beach vacation. His ensuing attempts at doing online research on rapid hickey removal is hilarious.
This is a light, fun book. I recommend it both to people who are getting back into dating after a long relationship and to people who are in a long-term relationship (so you can remember that dating stinks, and you should try to work things out if possible).