Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist~★★★★★

Author: Edward Baptist
Title: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and Making of American Capitalism
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: Basic Books
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution—the nation’s original sin, perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America’s later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy.
As historian Edward Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told, the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy. Until the Civil War, Baptist explains, the most important American economic innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.
Told through intimate slave narratives, plantation records, newspapers, and the words of politicians, entrepreneurs, and escaped slaves, The Half Has Never Been Told offers a radical new interpretation of American history. It forces readers to reckon with the violence at the root of American supremacy, but also with the survival and resistance that brought about slavery’s end—and created a culture that sustains America’s deepest dreams of freedom."

Taryn's Review: This book is powerful. This book is challenging. This book should replace everything you thought you knew about slavery in the United States. As a person who works in public history, I am always looking for books to help me expand what I know and find new ways to reach my audience, but when I picked up this book, I had no idea the impact it would have on me personally.

There is a lot of misinformation about slavery in the United States and I confront it daily in my interactions with the public. The topic can be uncomfortable for some people, and more often than not, the discussions that arise with the public tend to be simplistic...not because the public can't handle the truth, but because the basis on which they build their understanding is normally fundamentally flawed with bad and wrong information. I can only help change that foundation with  willing participants and there are some participants that are very unwilling to believe that what they know may not be true. If you are not well-versed in United States history beyond your high-school and college textbooks, let your preconceived ideas about slavery leave your mind as you begin reading Edward Baptist's monograph. Baptist is a scholar (with a doctorate degree in history) who meticulously researched this work and generated a powerful argument. This book will provide you with a fantastic understanding of the different types of slavery that made the United States as powerful as it was (and is).

The book also had a lot of difficult and upsetting stories that needed told and need to be read. The problem with slavery is that it isn't talked about enough, and oftentimes when it is, it has been minimized and marginalized to the point that people can have the impression that there ever existed such a thing as a "good" slave owner. Primary records from the enslaved persons themselves are rare, but Baptist used what was available and inserted prose to give life to stories that weren't recorded. I read a review where someone bashed Baptist for this, but personally I don't think he injected anything that wasn't happening. For academics, we know the implied and what other conditions were at play, but Baptist's skill at writing them out only created a richer, deeper connection with the subjects and it is time we start feeling that compassion that has so long been removed from the institution of slavery. If prose is what's needed to help people understand the depth of suffering involved in slavery, I support Baptist's use of prose.

Don't read this book if you are completely convinced that you already know everything about slavery in the United States because the stories and the thesis will be lost on you. Read this book if you want your mind opened to the complexities and real-life conditions that impacted an entire race people. Read this book if you want to build a comprehensive, cohesive foundation of American history that doesn't omit the role that slavery, slave owners, slave traders, and the enslaved had on shaping the nation. Read this book because it will break your heart and open your eyes to how the history you've learned has neglected to tell you the entire story. Read this book to help you understand why this subject isn't talked about the same way other historical events are and to ask yourself why this is, and how you can be a part of the changing history narrative on what we expect and perceive from our collective history as Americans.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr~★★★1/2

Author: Anthony Doerr
Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio; read by Zach Appelman
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge."

Taryn's Review: Initially I heard about this book through rave online reviews, so I immediately added myself to my library's wait-list. The wait time was much, much longer for the printed book (no, I don't have an e-reader...yet!), so I opted to wait for the audio book to become available. Once it was my turn to check out the book, I was a little intimidated by the size...13 discs, many of which ended up being over an hour of spoken audio. I knew I had a time crunch since I wouldn't be able to renew the audio book, so I made listening to the audio book a priority during my daily commute.

I know I'm the anomaly with my rating, but let me preface by saying that I did not hate the book. In fact, I enjoyed many parts of the book and some of the characters. That said, I am a language-lover. Great use of vocabulary strung together just perfectly is my weakness. This book was wordy, but I rarely felt like the passages or words were truly beautiful in the context of the book. Oftentimes I felt like certain words were unneeded, or that other words were chosen during a search for synonyms to substitute for more widely recognized words. For me, an example of a beautifully-written work was Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, and using it as my guideline, All the Light We Cannot See paled in literary comparison.

There was also a part in the book where I questioned why exactly Marie-Laure was hiding the jewel; the author even had Marie-Laure ask herself this question, but Marie-Laure did not answer herself. Given the circumstances and Marie-Laure's ultimate fate for the jewel, I don't understand why the scenario even happened. One could argue because her father protected the jewel, but what harm would it have been to Marie-Laure to preserve her life for something her father would find less valuable than his daughter?

For me, Werner was the star of the book. His insights, his growth, and his recognitions were all powerful and emotional. I wanted more Werner and less Marie-Laure as the book progressed forward. The undercurrent of fate and destiny in Werner's story was also moving...was Werner's fate sealed the moment he found the broken radio in the trashcan? Did the war interrupt Werner's future, or did the commanders that sent young Werner into the field determine his life course? Was Werner supposed to meet Marie-Laure, and if so, for what purpose?

The more I listened, the more I wanted to skip Marie-Laure's chapters and stay with Werner's story. The heavy writing style also weighed down the book, and it often felt clunky to my ears. I will admit there was a flood of relief when the book was finally finished and I knew I wouldn't have to dedicate anymore time to the story. The ending of the book, and I mean the very ending, seemed incredibly blunt considered the amount of time I invested in the book. As I said, I do not hate this book, but I'm not in the camp that found this book to be amazing or rave-worthy. It's an interesting woven story of two people whose lives were disrupted by WWII and how the war impacted their futures.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg~★★★★★

Author: Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
Title: Modern Romance
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher: Penguin Audio; read by Aziz Ansari
Genre: Non-fiction

Audio Book Cover: "At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?
Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?” 
But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.
For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.
In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world."

Taryn's Review: I love Aziz Ansari. After I moved to Nashville, the first purchase I made was a ticket to see his stand-up show that was coming to town. That said, this book wasn't initially on my radar. I knew he had released a book and I knew the title, but I really didn't know much else. After reading some comments online about how much everyone had enjoyed his book, I knew I had to give it a go.

I chose the audio book version so I could listen to it on my drive to-and-from work. I was a bit skeptical at first when Ansari admitted that he himself had never used an online dating site or app, but it's clear that Ansari and Klinenberg put a lot of work into their study to really understand online dating and modern romance. This is an incredibly data heavy book, which ran the risk of going dry, but Ansari injected humor into all the right places.

Laughs and smiles were frequent while I listened to this book. Ansari even made me feel so much more normal as the book went on, especially with his chapter on texts/messages that guys send to women (spoiler alert: they suck 90% of the time or don't respond at all). I learned so much from this book but also felt oddly comforted knowing that others experience similar issues with the online dating world. Unlike Love @ First Click, Ansari and Klinenberg do a lot of discussing about app-based dating sites like Tinder, including its history and evolution.

I also have to say I loved the way the book opened by Ansari discussing a "ghosting" experience with someone he had hooked up with. Ghosting is when someone suddenly stops all form of communication without explanation. It's confusing, it's hard to understand, and it sucks when it happens to you. I don't like that it happened to him (or anyone), but I appreciate that he added it into the book since it's something a lot of his readers have experienced as well. Ultimately, I can support Ansari's championing to think of online dating as "online introductions" that might lead to friendship or dating. That said, I'm totally envious that he asked for his current girlfriend's number in person after meeting her. In my circle of friends, that doesn't happen too often and I'm assuming fear of rejection is the reason, which Ansari does cover in the book, but the lack of real-life communication leads us all back to online sites and apps.

If you have an interest in the online dating world, check out this book. The data is awesomely interesting. Ansari and Klinenberg note that their study focused primarily on heterosexual relationships, so the book's center is on male/female relationships. And when you're done reading the book, check out Ansari's new series on Netflix called Master of None because it's great, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty~★★★★

Author: Liane Moriarty
Title: Big Little Lies
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Penguin Audio, unabridged edition; read by Caroline Lee
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Pirriwee Public’s annual school Trivia Night has ended in a shocking riot. One parent is dead. The school principal is horrified. As police investigate what appears to have been a tragic accident, signs begin to indicate that this devastating death might have been cold-blooded murder. 
In this thought-provoking novel, number-one New York Times–bestselling author Liane Moriarty deftly explores the reality of parenting and playground politics, ex-husbands and ex-wives, and fractured families.  And in her pitch-perfect way, she shows us the truth about what really goes on behind closed suburban doors."

Taryn's Review: I had this audio book sitting in my passenger seat until it was removed by a friend who was accompanying me to brunch. The friend was excited to see the audio book, exclaiming that he had read all of Liane Moriarty's books in succession because he found them to be so great. It's a good thing he said this because I wasn't loving the beginning of the book; I even had contemplated quitting, especially since the audio book was thirteen discs long! His compliments made me decide to continue with the book and I'm glad I did.

The initial "mommy wars" that set up the book were of no interest to me. However, as I kept listening, more complex issues came to the surface to revive my interest in the book. Liane Moriarty was very masterful in the way that she crafted the story with each chapter bringing the reader closer to the infamous "Trivia Night," which was the scene where all hell broke loose, as the the reader was told. The question was what exact hell broke loose?  As the Trivia Night crept closer, my mind was unsure of which parent would lose his or her life.

For as funny as the book was in places, it was also heavily steeped in issues: infidelity, betrayals, bullying, violence, and eventual death. The main characters of Madeline, Jane, and Celeste each struggled in some way with the issues and as their issues were revealed, I found myself becoming very attached to each character and hoping it wasn't one of them that would perish at Trivia Night. I was fairly engrossed in the book by disc three and I enjoyed the building anticipation of discovering what exactly happened on Trivia Night. I felt a variety of emotions throughout the book from big laughs at funny quips to tear-filled eyes during emotional interactions. And a revelation of Jane's struggle was a complete surprise to me and literally had me aghast.

Some of the parent drama was too involved for me at times. I just didn't care about Kindergarten parents fawning over their special snowflakes and my interest definitely waned in those parts. Madeline's story line between her ex-husband and her daughter also felt overplayed. I think Madeline made some poignant thoughts about what she was experiencing, but it seemed like so much energy was devoted to their relationships when it wasn't necessary. And I'm still not sure why there was the inclusion of Madeline's daughter's "project" to help Amnesty International. It added nothing to the book for me and could have been completely removed, shortening the book and keeping the reader focused on the more important issues at hand.

I'll definitely read a Moriarty book again, no doubt. Big Little Lies was picked up by HBO in May 2015 for a limited-series and it was announced that Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon had signed on to the project. I don't know if the women are signed on to act in the series or do something behind the scenes, but either way I'll probably watch it. It really was a wonderful, engrossing read and I plan to add more Moriarty books to my to-be-read list.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Love @ First Click by Laurie Davis~★★★★

Author: Laurie Davis
Title: Love @ First Click
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "One in five relationships starts on an online dating site, but little straightforward guidance exists for users. Enter digital dating whisperer Laurie Davis . . . 
In a world where we communicate as much via texts as we do through body language, this book empowers readers to log on and double click for love, taking them through the journey all online daters face—from choosing the right site, creating a profile, and navigating dates, to logging off with their perfect match. 
Love @ First Click is every online dater’s guide to exploring the web with no-fail techniques. For example, uploading the right photos can attract someone who might otherwise pass you over. Setting a time limit on the first meet-up can leave your date excited to see you again. And the phrasing in your date’s thank-you text after dinner can uncover how your click mate really feels about you. Whether you’re a digital dating vet or virgin, this is the ultimate guide to online dating that will take your online crush to offline love."

Taryn's Review: I had just told a friend that I was done with online dating for the rest of the year when I saw this book on display at the library and I knew I had to read it. I've done my fair share of online dating, so I was curious as to what kind of advice Laurie Davis would have for newbies to the online dating world or for veterans like me

Given the publishing date of the book, I'm assuming that it was written in the years 2011-2012. Because of that, the book focused mainly on developing and using an online profile for sites like,, and others of similar format. In 2015, most veteran online daters can tell you that those sites aren't the "hot" dating sites anymore; mobile apps have changed the dating scene and most people use Tinder or other app-based sites now.

So even though the book was designed with the notion that one would be filling out an online profile, Davis offered good advice that can be carried through to the short profile spaces of online dating apps (and most of the dating sites have compatible apps so if you make an online profile, it will still be seen on their apps). She made really good points that I found helpful from the initial creation of a profile all the way to meeting in person with a match. This is a great book for people who might be new to the world of online dating and a lot of the tips can help people avoid pitfalls.

The weakest point of the book for me is that I didn't find Davis to be the strongest of writers and at times a few of her tips felt contradictory to other given tips. There was a point in the book where Davis suggested wearing minimal makeup in pictures, and that annoyed me as someone who loves her makeup; I felt she was suggesting that "natural" looking women were preferable on online dating sites. But after getting better acquainted with Davis's writing style, I think what she was saying was  that if you don't normally wear a lot of makeup in everyday life, don't post lots pictures with you wearing heavy makeup since that wouldn't give a real feel of who you are day-to-day.

I really would love to hear Davis's perspective of using apps like Tinder since they are a different feel than Match, OKC, and the like. The navigation is different and the user profile setup is much different. Also, in her book Davis encouraged readers to not share personal information which she felt included first names. A lot of dating apps now automatically share your first name, so again, even in the short time frame that the book's been out, a lot of has changed in the online dating world. If you're brand new to online dating, give the book a go. If you're a veteran online dater, it's still a great book for some pointers on how to keep a fresh profile.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay~★★★

Author: Deborah McKinlay
Title: That Part Was True
Release Date: February 10, 2015 (hardback was released February 4, 2014)
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Fiction

Book Cover: "When Eve Petworth writes to Jackson Cooper to praise a scene in one of his books, they discover a mutual love of cookery and food. Their friendship blossoms against the backdrop of Jackson's colorful, but ultimately unsatisfying, love life and Eve's tense relationship with her soon-to-be married daughter. As each of them offers, from behind the veils of semi-anonymity and distance, wise and increasingly affectionate counsel to the other, they both begin to confront their problems and plan a celebratory meeting in Paris--a meeting that Eve fears can never happen."

Taryn's Review: This is the second book that kept me occupied while I rocked on a boat during Hurricane Joaquin. I found it in the ship's library and liked the cute cover, and I also wanted a book that I could zip through without too much effort.

Eve Petworth and her story were much more interesting to me than Jackson Cooper's story line. In fact, Cooper was rather unlikable overall. He came off so pompously at times and his "writer's block" situation garnered no sympathy from me. Eve was the real character of interest, as the book revealed she had been left by her ex-husband when their daughter was just an infant and forced to live with her mother, who was overbearing, critical, and harsh toward Eve. Eve never felt good enough and this often manifested through panic attacks and anxiety that would cause her to avoid situations.

Honestly, the book's downfall was how much was crammed into such a small book. I think the situation with Izzy, Eve's daughter, could have been pared down and more time could have been devoted to Eve. A big question I had that was never answered was where did Eve (or her mother) get all that money to where they never had to work? It might not seem like an important detail, but I think when one delves into the character background to explain their behaviors, it is really important. Did Eve ever have to work? What kind of schools did she attend? Did she ever plan on a career or was it understood she would stay home? I think the last question is important given how she ended up with her ex-husband.

I wish we would have only seen the book through the eyes of Eve rather than including Jackson and Izzy.  I really liked Eve and wanted to know more about her, but too much time was spent on the other two characters who I never found myself interested in knowing.

I read this book really quickly and had a clear sense of the scenes, so credit to McKinlay for her precise writing ability. Ultimately the book was pleasant enough but the story was flat at times. If I'm ever in the market for a quick, easy read I might pick up a McKinlay book again if it were available, but I wouldn't seek it out.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso~★★★

Author: Sophia Amoruso
Title: #Girlboss
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Portfolio
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "The first thing Sophia Amoruso sold online wasn’t fashion—it was a stolen book. She spent her teens hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and dumpster diving. By twenty-two, she had resigned herself to employment, but was still broke, directionless, and working a mediocre day job she’d taken for the health insurance.
It was there that Sophia decided to start selling vintage clothes on eBay. Eight years later, she is the founder, CEO, and creative director of Nasty Gal, a $100 million plus online fashion retailer with more than 350 employees. Sophia’s never been a typical CEO, or a typical anything, and she’s written #GIRLBOSS for outsiders (and insiders) seeking a unique path to success, even when that path is winding as all hell and lined with naysayers.
#GIRLBOSS includes Sophia’s story, yet is infinitely bigger than Sophia. It’s deeply personal yet universal. Filled with brazen wake-up calls ('You are not a special snowflake'), cunning and frank observations ('Failure is your invention'), and behind-the-scenes stories from Nasty Gal’s meteoric rise, #GIRLBOSS covers a lot of ground. It proves that being successful isn’t about how popular you were in high school or where you went to college (if you went to college). Rather, success is about trusting your instincts and following your gut, knowing which rules to follow and which to break.
A #GIRLBOSS takes her life seriously without taking herself too seriously. She takes chances and takes responsibility on her own terms. She knows when to throw punches and when to roll with them. When to button up and when to let her freak flag fly.
As Sophia writes, 'I have three pieces of advice I want you to remember: Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t let The Man get to you. OK? Cool.  Then let’s do this.'"

Taryn's Review: Recently I took a cruise to celebrate my 30th birthday and I only brought a few magazines with me since I figured I'd be too busy vacationing to dedicate time to a book. Hurricane Joaquin threw a wrench in that plan and I found myself with an additional day at sea, having to skip our final stop in Turks and Caicos. The waves were pretty treacherous and television reception was spotty; I became desperate for a book. After asking around, I discovered our ship had a small library of books that I'm fairly certain was comprised of books left behind by previous cruisers. There were only about 30 books to chose from in the library, most of which appeared to be very political non-fiction reads. When I saw this title, I grabbed it and exhaled a sigh of relief. Entertainment! Sophia Amoruso looked pretty fierce on the cover, so I was excited to read what sort of advice she offered the world. I admit that I was not familiar with her company, NastyGal, before picking up the book. I know I had seen the logo before, but I couldn't have placed what exactly the company was or what it sold.

Amoruso's book is a mix of biography and advice on various aspects of life. That said, let me go ahead and say this: Amoruso is not a strong writer. The book read more like a stream of consciousness when talking to a friend rather than a well thought-out reading. The book felt jumpy in parts and some sections felt misplaced. But in this case, Amoruso's weakness may serve as a strength to the audience that would most benefit from the book: teenagers, mostly teen girls. Amoruso's war cries of female power, female leadership, and female domination were great to read, but not incredibly inspiring to my 30 year-old-self since her mode of communication came off with a juvenile aura. Amoruso often discussed her struggles with school and how that struggle shouldn't have been perceived as a personal deficit, which I completely agree with, but I'm not the audience that needs to hear that since I'm long past my school days (and to be honest, I loved school).

Amoruso's book created more questions for me than the amount of advice/answers it provided. If anything, the book can be a fun tool for encouraging young women to follow their dreams, especially since Amoruso pointed out that "being lost" can lead to valuable insight. Other than that, I didn't find the book incredibly useful as an adult woman. Amoruso should be admired for her willingness to learn and conquer new challenges as her business grew, but she also came off as rather cold when she had an employee sell new, very nice office chairs that had been purchased for NastyGal's new offices without consulting her; Amoruso felt her staff hadn't earned/didn't deserve such a luxury as amazing office chairs yet and this act would teach them they had to earn such niceties.

Her business advice didn't offer anything new. She was quick to give stats on how many businesses start each year and how many fail, but not really asking why hers was a success. Ultimately, Amoruso not only used but mastered the tools available to her on the internet before the internet became the monster it is today, but she continued to grow and adapt to the changing climate of internet buying and selling along with internet customer service. She took critique well and changed whatever wasn't working without taking it as a personal failure. She took advantage of a sweet spot that had opened thanks to the world wide web and combined her interests to make what would become a power-house of a retailer. Amoruso's drive, determination, and spirit are great. But for someone who is looking how to operationally start a business, look elsewhere for advice. And honestly, I disagree with her advice of "Don't grow up." The idea of not growing up implies one should stay stagnantly young, but as the saying goes, "Youth is often wasted on the young." Better advice might be to grow up, but stay youthful in what drives your passions, your hopes, your desires, and your dreams. Being a grown up gives you the tools to make those wants  a reality, which is why being a grown up can be pretty awesome. And one could argue that Amoruso didn't really succeed until she grew up in her realization of responsibilities, tackled them head on, which led to her success. When Amoruso hit a wall, she found a way to build a ladder or scale it. She also worked more hours in a week than most people work in a month to make her site a success.

So, in short, read the book as a light-hearted memoir of a company that surpassed expectations thanks to a leader who was willing to dedicate time, energy, and creativity into her brand. Then give it to a teen girl to use as a bit inspiration as she figures out what drives her own dreams and passions in life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell~★★★

Author: Suzanne Rindell
Title: The Other Typist
Release Date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Penguin Audio, unabridged edition; read by Gretchen Mol
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Rose Baker seals men's fates. With a few strokes of the keys that sit before her, she can send a person away for life in prison. A typist in a New York City Police Department precinct, Rose is like a high priestess. Confessions are her job. It is 1923, and while she may hear every detail about shootings, knifings, and murders, as soon as she leaves the interrogation room she is once again the weaker sex, best suited for filing and making coffee. 
This is a new era for women, and New York City is a confusing place for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. All around her women bob their hair short, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. But prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear, searching for the nurturing companionship that eluded her in childhood. 
When glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under her spell. As the two women navigate between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night  and their work at the station by day, Rose is drawn fully to Odalie's high-stakes world. And soon her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover." 

Taryn's Review: I found something oddly alluring about the cover of this audio book, perhaps keeping in step with my recent fascination of the 1920s. I had previously picked up the book and decided against it, so when I found myself holding it yet again the library, I gave it a go.

Rose was very no-nonsense, direct, and calculated. Rose told the story from her own perspective, looking back on her life thus far; she mainly focused on the last year of her life, however, with her bosom buddy, Odalie. Throughout the storytelling, Rose gave clues to her own whereabouts as she told the reader about her adventures with the ever-adored Odalie. The two women became inseparable.

Odalie was a fascinating character and the lies that she conjured up were really intriguing, giving her an air of mystery. Although Rose recognized that Odalie was not truthful, Rose chose to ignore the behavior out of the fear of losing her best friend. It was during the breakdown of Rose and Odalie's friendship when I really began to disconnect from the book. It felt odd and some of Rose's actions didn't fit with what the reader had understood to be the essence of Rose. When a crime was committed and Rose was brought in for questioning, the events that unfolded felt like a complete breakage from Rose and her normal demeanor.

If you google this book title, one question that repeatedly comes up in discussion is what really happened at the end of the book? I don't mind books that leave endings open for interpretation, but for this book it felt annoying. Rose had told the readers all along where she was then living throughout her long story, finally telling the readers why she was there, and then nothing but confusion was presented and the book closed. I wish the Epilogue would have been the final chapter and that the actual Epilogue would have been written from the perspective of Rose's "interviewer" in her new dwelling.

Rindell's writing style for Rose's character was a bit dry at times. Sometimes I wanted to hit fast forward on the audio book. When the book ended, it had an ending that felt reminiscent to a popular cult movie in the 2000s that I won't mention for fear of spoilers. In the cult film there were elements of closure, where in The Other Typist the ending felt completely loose and unsatisfying. I think this was unnecessary because there were characters in the book who could have given some clarity to the situation of Rose (whereas in the cult movie, one could argue only the main character saw what he perceived to be the delusional truth).

I'd most likely give a Rindell book a go if it had strong reviews, but if not, I'd pass. Her writing wasn't strong enough to keep me delighted with the story, and a story that leaves me feeling frustrated due to its ambiguity isn't an ideal read for me. Gretchen Mol did a good job reading as Rose and I had no complaints about her voice/reading skills/acting.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Single by Judy Ford~★★★

Author: Judy Ford
Title: Single: The Art of Being Satisfied, Fulfilled, and Independent
Release Date: September 1, 2004
Publisher: Adams Media
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Single is...
...not a condition to be's just as natural as being part of a couple. Its wisdom is contagious. Its message is powerful.
...a one-of-a-kind book that speaks a universal language to single women everywhere.
...a sometimes funny, sometimes, touching, and always uplifing collection of true-life experiences and practical wisdom that helps you celebrate your single status.
Single is about upholding the most enduring relationship of all: the one we have with ourselves."

Taryn's Review: As a single girl, I don't mind reading books about singledom. In fact...I enjoy it. I think there are so many great books that help people really get in touch with themselves. However, those books are sometimes overlooked because they involve words like "single" or "self-help." Anyone remember Charlotte on Sex and the City and her fear of buying a self-help book in the store? She ended up buying the book online to avoid "humiliation." I have no shame in my game or toward anyone else who loves a good, insightful read!

Something relateable about this book was the fact that the author, Judy Ford, has a personal connection to the mistakes people make during their single years and the trials of being single in a world designed for couples. Ford was widowed at a young age and rebounded from her grief by jumping into a turbulent marriage that ended in divorce, leaving Ford as a single mother without support from her ex-husband. I think this book would be a great gift for someone who was widowed, single parents, widowed single parents, etc. For me as a divorced but childless young woman, it wasn't as connective to my situation. I ended up skipping parts of the book that were devoted to single parents throughout the various stages of their dating lives. 

Ford strove to bring comfort to the reader and to help readers find the joys in their new life situation, but something I hadn't gleaned from the book blurb was that Ford would occasionally relate emotions and feelings back to God. I'm not religious so this wasn't helpful to me, and had the book indicated that it had religious undertones, I probably wouldn't have picked it up in the first place. For example, each section had a "Try This" element. Some suggested activities included, "Take the leap from 'God is punishing me' to 'God is working with me,'" and "Take the leap and keep on praying, 'Dear God, help me to accept love as it is given even though it may not come in the package I requested.'" I am not saying that this book was filled to the brim with religious suggestions, but the ones that were included felt rather assumptive. 

I can't say that I gained any new insightful or helpful material from this book, but it wasn't unpleasant. I grew bored in places where the book didn't fit my situation, but it could be helpful for someone who is experiencing those specific life changes. Some of the suggested activities are good for personal growth, but if you're an avid reader of this genre, you'll probably find them to be redundant. Also, the book was written in 2004 so there is little (if any from what I can remember) information about being single alongside the world wide web. We singles know how much the internet has changed the dating game, so if that is an aspect you are looking for in this type of work, look elsewhere.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty~★★★★

Author: Laura Moriarty
Title: The Chaperone
Release Date: July 5, 2012
Publisher: Penguin Audio, read by Elizabeth McGovern
Genre: Fiction

Audiobook Cover: "Only a few years before becoming a famous actress, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita to make it big in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle is a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip. She has no idea what she's in for: young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob and bangs, is known for her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will change their lives forever. 
For Cora, New York holds the promise of self-discovery, and even as she does her best to watch Louise in a strange and bustling city, she embarks on her own mission. While what she finds isn't what she anticipated, it liberates her in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of the summer, Cora's eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive." 

Taryn's Review: This book was much more about Cora Carlisle than it ever was about Louise Brooks, although I am glad for the mention of Louise; to be honest, I'd not heard of her before listening to this book! I love when books inspire you to learn more about other subjects, and this book definitely gave the reader lots of subjects to think about. I've even already watched a portion from a BBC documentary on the life of Louise Brooks!

Laura Moriarty did a great job highlighting the complex tangles of etiquette that Cora Carlisle found herself navigating throughout her lifetime. Cora, as many people do, understood her life within those strict confinements and sought to teach Louise a lesson about why those rules were so important. Interestingly, those same rules were turned around on Cora and she found herself questioning the world in which she lived and why it was so important for her to live a certain way.

The book began slowly, but once Cora and Louise set out for New York City, I was hooked. Cora's background was explained via flashbacks during their train ride and throughout the trip. Cora's desire to go to New York City was to gain an explanation for her childhood, but I did wonder why Cora couldn't have made the trip with her husband at any other time in her life...why did it take Louise needing a chaperone for Cora to finally go to New York City? I understood that Cora would not have went alone (as she initially saw women without companions on the street as "immoral" women), but her husband Allen was rather wealthy, so taking a trip to the city wouldn't have been impractical given their economic standing. Without giving away spoilers, I saw many other reviewers question why Cora acted so hastily in New York City. From my perspective, Cora had no choice but to act hastily. She had limited time in New York and when she recognized that she had the chance to live a life in Wichita that made her happy, she took it. Her reasoning for the new life situation was a great alibi that no one in Kansas would be able to question, and it gave her a comfort that would had never arisen for her in Wichita.

Elizabeth McGovern (aka Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey) read the book and what an excellent job she did. I was thoroughly impressed with McGovern's skillful reading/acting. In one particular scene, McGovern beautifully narrated between the pain in Cora's hysterical voice and Allen's unapologetic, practiced speech. I may have shed a few tears during that interaction.

While I really enjoyed this book, the scope in which the book undertook seemed too long. The story continued long after Cora's return from her 1922 summer in New York City all the way though the 1970s. I can see how Moriarty wanted to show how drastically the world around Cora changed in those years, but in this case, the book should have closed much earlier, maybe on the train ride back to Kansas. I think it would have made an excellent sequel to continue Cora's life story after her NYC trip, and it also would have allowed for more details through the passing years both individually and socially for Cora.

Laura Moriarty put out an engaging book and I was delighted to listen to it each day (Elizabeth McGovern deserves praise for keeping me interested, too!). It's definitely a book that will capture your attention and keep you guessing what will happen next! The story also touched on topics that were very captivating and thought-provoking, and such sensitive subjects never felt forced thanks to Moriarty's skillful writing ability. I believe this is her 4th novel, so I will definitely not hesitate to read another Moriarty work.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles~★★★★★

Author: Amor Towles
Title: Rules of Civility
Release Date: July 26, 2011, read by Rebecca Lowman
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its starting consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast -- rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. 
Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets. 
Listeners will quickly fall under the spell of this sophisticated and entertaining novel with its sparkling depiction of New York's social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, its finely crafted unfolding of the unforeseen, and its immensely appealing heroine---a character you will not soon forget." 

Taryn's Review: Let me begin by saying I was completely swept off my feet by this book. It completely engrossed me due to its gorgeous and perfect vocabulary, captivating characters, and great story line. That said, this book will not be for all readers. The story was built up slowly and that alone will be unappealing to some readers. This isn't a story with a grand "AHA!" moment, but it's beautifully reflective about how odd and mystifying life can be and how certain interactions shape the rest of our lives. It is a very wordy novel versus having lots of actions, so that will also be a deterrent for some readers.

Katey Kontent was the main character of this book, and she is now one of my favorite literary characters. The book was centered on Katey recalling the year 1938 after seeing a photograph of an old friend in a photo gallery in the 1960s. As Katey reflected on that fateful year, author Amor Towles shared with the readers that Katey was intellectual, independent, and bold. Katey was witty with a dry sense of humor and she had a sharp tongue that could leave cuts on its recipient. Katey lived life and took risks, even when they hurt her. Amor Towles is so very talented, and I was blown away by how in love I was with his dialogue for his characters and his immaculate setting descriptions. Each character felt so real thanks to Towles and their interactions were some of my favorite parts of the book, especially between Katey and her friend Eve (Evelyn) Ross. Towles also worked in phrases and word choices that would have been popular in the late 1930s, again giving the a book livelihood that so many stories lack.

I listened to this book during my commute to and from work and I cannot sing enough praises of Rebecca Lowman and her amazing narration skills. She was the perfect Katey Kontent, and she was just as wonderful when it came to voicing the other characters in the story. Listening to Lowman narrate was absolutely my pleasure.

This book easily could have veered off, crashed, and burned at any point, but under the skillful hand of Towles, it never felt unbelievable or questionable. I am so excited to say that this book is one of my favorite reads to date. Again, I know this book won't be for everyone with its love-it-or-hate-it quality, but I am firmly in the love-it camp and I cannot wait for Towles's next novel to be published. I highly suggest listening to this story as well. There were many nights I sat in my car in my home's parking lot because I couldn't bear the thought of having to wait until the next day to know how the chapter ended!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan~★★★★

Author: Kevin Kwan
Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.
When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should--and should not--marry. Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider's look at the Asian JetSet; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich."

Taryn's Review: This is the kind of book you dream of having for summer reading. Drama, intrigue, laughs, and romance all wrapped into one excellent novel that you can enjoy without too much brain effort. Kevin Kwan delivered a great book that made me excited about learning what was in store for the characters.

Kwan divided the book into chapters that focused on a handful of people and the chapters jumped from person-to-person. I think this added great suspension to the story since I as the reader was able to return to each individual's life and focus solely on that person. I also loved the footnotes that Kwan included about the words, food, and culture of the different people and their backgrounds throughout the book; although the book was a fictional work, the realities of culture that Kwan included made it feel very real and sparked a curiosity in me to learn more in the future. The book read in reality show-style format, but I mean that in the best way. The issues the characters faced are of the first-world sort by asking how does one rectify money of new with traditions of old? Kwan painted a graphic picture of what one definitely shouldn't do!

Their were an assortment of characters to meet and I truly enjoyed reading about all of them, from the snobby mothers to the arrogant cousins to the down-to-earth Nick and Rachel. This book easily could have been forgettable, but Kwan's strong writing gives it a backbone against the sort of predictability that so often ruins fun novels.

Why not 5 stars then? There were a few times when I felt like story lines wrapped up a little too cleanly or just weren't believable. In the grand scheme of the book, that feeling didn't happen a lot, thankfully. Overall I really enjoyed the book and I definitely plan to read his next book China Rich Girlfriends. This book had the glitz, glam, and drama that so many reality shows have but doesn't induce the same feeling of shame you get after watching those shows.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott~★★

Author: Kate Alcott
Title: The Daring Ladies of Lowell
Release Date: February 25, 2014, read by Cassandra Campbell
Publisher: Random House Audio
Genre: Non-fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Eager to escape life on her family's farm, Alice Barrow moves to Lowell in 1832 and throws herself into the hard work demanded of "the mill girls." In spite of the long hours, she discovers a vibrant new life and a true friend - a saucy, strong-willed girl name Lovey Cornell.
But conditions at the factory become increasingly dangerous, and Alice finds the courage to represent the workers and their grievances. Although mill owner, Hiram Fiske, pays no heed, Alice attracts the attention of his eldest son, the handsome and reserved Samuel Fiske. Their mutual attraction is intense, tempting Alice to dream of a different future for herself.
This dream is shattered when Lovey is found strangled to death. A sensational trial follows, bringing all the unrest that's brewing to the surface. Alice finds herself torn between her commitment to the girls in the mill and her blossoming relationship with Samuel. Based on the actual murder of a mill girl and the subsequent trial in 1833, The Daring Ladies of Lowell brilliantly captures a transitional moment in America's history while also exploring the complex nature of love, loyalty, and the enduring power of friendship."

Taryn's Review: Historical fiction is always a genre that either really impresses me or makes me cringe. There are examples of great historical fictions that really capture the tone of the period and there are historical fictions that are down-right awful and not at all historical. I remembered seeing this book some time ago and wanting to read it, especially since the book was set in the time period of history I study. Would the book meet my standard for good historical fiction?

The answer was, sadly, no. This book frustrated me for a number of reasons. Firstly, most of the characters in this book were flat and one-dimensional. The only complex character was Lovey and she was killed off rather quickly. Alice was also extremely atypical for any woman who lived in New England in the 1830s. I can guarantee you no one, man or woman, would promptly announce that he or she was non-religious as Alice did within her first few hours at the mill. Alice was very progressive and liberal with little-to-no explanation as to why she thought these ideas (or how, in reality, those ideas would have gotten Alice in a lot of trouble). When Alice and Samuel Fiske were together, their dialogues caused me to roll my eyes; their interactions were so, so trite and predictable in a pathetic way.

The language used by the characters was incorrect at times and not on par with language usage of the early to mid-1800s. Also, during the trial of the man accused of killing Lovey, Alice repeatedly talked of wanting the man to spend the rest of his life in prison. In 1833 in Massachusetts if one was convicted of murder, one would be put to death, and it wasn't until 1852 when Massachusetts limited the death penalty to first-degree murder cases. Also, the Lowell Offering publication was not in print during the setting of this novel, but Alcott took the "creative liberty" to bump up the newsletter's birth to accommodate her story.

The narrator of this book was also an issue. She tended to over-enunciate the letter s. For example, very time she said the name "Fiske" it came out as "Fissssssske," and this was incredibly distracting.

I was interested in reading Alcott's book The Dressmaker, but honestly, after listening to this book, I have no desire whatsoever to listen or read another Alcott book. To me, this book didn't capture the complexities, realities, or spirit that the mill girls of Lowell had to navigate in their actual worlds.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Bees by Laline Paull~★★1/2

Author: Laline Paull
Title: The Bees
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Ecco
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all—daring to challenge the Queen’s fertility—enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society—and lead her to unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees gives us a dazzling young heroine and will change forever the way you look at the world outside your window."

Taryn's Review: This book was hailed by Amazon as being in the same vein as one of my all-time favorite books, The Handmaid's Tale, so I was really jazzed about reading this book. I didn't even care what it was about since it was compared to my favorite book ever!

I was disappointed by this book. I was bored with this book. I didn't really understand this book at numerous points throughout the story. Initially, the idea of taking the complex world of bees and their hives and turning the inner working of their world into a novel seemed like a cool idea. This book's attempt, which in some moments interesting, was mostly perplexing to me. There was a huge religious overtone to the novel that seemed confusing because the bees actually have a chapel, have a version of the Lord's Prayer, and repeatedly chant the phrase, "Accept, obey, and serve." They are supposedly very regimented and intolerant toward bees that do not conform to their specific castes, yet Flora 717 was spared with no real reasoning for the mercy given to her.

Again, the concept was alluring, but the story did not hold up for me. I was so ready for this book to be over yet it kept going on and on. The only reason I actually finished it was because I'd already invested so much time in it that I figured I might as well see how it ended, and was yet again disappointed. I don't think Paull is a bad writer by any means, but this story felt messy, disjointed, and lacked the ability to captivate me. The Handmaid's Tale left me desiring more of the story as I was utterly engrossed in the narrative and when the story was finished, it had impacted me deeply. This book had none of the amazingness that is The Handmaid's Tale.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Vacationers by Emma Straub~★★★★

Author: Emma Straub
Title: The Vacationers
Release Date: May 29, 2014
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has just graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also assure an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. It promises nothing short of perfection. 
But the problems of home are not so easily left behind: Sylvia's brother, Bobby, brings the older girlfriend his mother has never liked, and Franny's best friend, Charles, and his husband have their own problems to work out while simultaneously playing peacekeepers for the Posts. Over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated. 
This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to reveal and those we try to hid, of the ways we tear one another down and build one another up again, and the bonds that bring us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole. The Vacationers is irresistibly funny and enchantingly warm as it shows us the wonderful, messy truth about family, friendship, and love."  

Taryn's Review: Going into this book, I didn't realize it would center around infidelity. Not exactly an ideal theme for relaxed reading, as the cover lured me to believe, but surprisingly I found this book to be a real page-turner for me.

Emma Straub is a strong writer. At moments I found myself completely focused on the story and couldn't want to read more of the book. I stayed up too late to keep reading just one more chapter! I appreciate that messiness that was in this book; this wasn't a perfect family vacation in any way. These were people dealing with some heavy issues in a gorgeous setting. I loved Franny and Charles's interactions and I can think a few times were I laughed out loud at a witty comment Charles made. Sylvia was a little bit overly angsty at moments, but nonetheless entertaining. Bobby and Carmen weren't as interesting as the other characters, but not terrible, either. Jim was my least favorite character, mostly because I'm not sure I felt like he was remorseful for what he did but more so that he was homesick for the way his life was before his infidelity. Lawrence was a fun side character to have around.

I loved this book...until the ending. This book felt really raw at times, yet the ending felt completely wrong and was sufficiently sugarcoated for a happily-ever-after. I don't think this book needed that type of ending and I was so disappointed. Perhaps a glimmer of hope amidst the brokenness that things might be alright would have felt more natural than what Straub offered the readers.

Straub has a talent for writing and that really carried the book into another level more me, but damn it sucked to be completely shocked at how much I hated the ending of the book and how rushed it felt. However, I will definitely pick up another book by Straub despite the lackluster ending of this book.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen~★★

Author: Sarah Pekkanen
Title: Skipping a Beat
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Genre: Fiction

Book Cover: "Julia Dunhill, a thirtysomething party planner, seems to have it all: Married to her high school sweetheart and living in a gorgeous home in Washington, D.C., she imagines her future unfolding very much as it has for the past few years, since she and her husband, Michael, successfully launched their companies. There will be dinner parties to attend, operas to dress up for, and weddings and benefits to organize for her growing list of clients. There will be shopping sprees with her best friend, Isabelle, and inevitably those last five pounds to shed. In her darker moments, she worries that her marriage has dissolved from a true partnership into a facade, but she convinces herself it's due to the intensity of their careers and fast-paced lifestyle. 
So as she arranges the molten chocolate cupcakes for the annual opera benefit, how can she know that her carefully constructed world is about to fall apart? That her husband will stand up from the head of the table in his company's boardroom, open his mouth to speak, and crash to the carpeted floor . . . all in the amount of time it will take her to walk across a ballroom floor just a few miles away. Four minutes and eight seconds after his cardiac arrest, a portable defibrillator jump-starts Michael's heart. But in those lost minutes he becomes a different man, with an altered perspective on the rarefied life they've been living and a determination to regain the true intimacy they once shared. Now it is up to Julia to decide: Is it worth upending her comfortable world to try to find her way back to the husband she once adored, or should she walk away from this new Michael, who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his change of heart?"

Taryn's Review: It's summer time (at least it feels like it here in the South) and that means I'm ready for summer reading! For me, summer tends to bring out my desire to indulge in chic-lit, romances, and all of those other delicious books that can be easily devoured next to a pool or stretched out on a blanket. This year I did a quick online search to find some suggestions for what should be on my summer reading list, and when this book came up on one of the lists, I went for it without much thought.

I think the book initially had a great "hook" and I was absolutely drawn in. However, I found my interest quickly wane as the chapters went on. Julia came off as a money-hungry, shallow person and was really unlikeable. She apparently also had no capability to use a well-known form of interaction toward her husband known as "verbal communication." Julia would immediately fly off the handle when Michael would bring up his life changes  and Julia would fail to ask basic questions like, "What is your plan for the future, financially?" or "How will these changes directly affect my ability to pay bills?" or any other form of question that a sane person would ask. Julia instead ran off to cry to her trust-fund friend Isabelle, who only reinforced Julia's nonsense.

There were moments in this book were I literally rolled my eyes, which is a shame because the premise itself was interesting. That said, this book could be the poster-book for every cliche that I loathe in books, especially the bit where Michael "had a feeling" that he only had a short time left on Earth after his brush with death and all the following predictability that came with that storyline.

I read this book quickly but was rather annoyed with it by the end. After I closed the book, I literally said, "Come ON!" in a very Gob Bluth-esque way. If you've agreed with my book blog on most other book reviews, you'll want to skip this one. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Back of the Big House by John Michael Vlach~★★★★

Author: John Michael Vlach
Title: Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery
Release Date: May 28, 1993
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "Behind the 'Big Houses' of the antebellum South existed a different world, socially and architecturally, where slaves lived and worked. John Michael Vlach explores the structures and spaces that formed the slaves' environment. Through photographs and the words of former slaves, he portrays the plantation landscape from the slaves' own point of view. 
The plantation landscape was chiefly the creation of slaveholders, but Vlach argues convincingly that slaves imbued this landscape with their own meanings. Their subtle acts of appropriation constituted one of the more effective strategies of slave resistance and one that provided a locus for the formation of a distinctive African American culture in the South.
Because slaves generally were not always closely supervised in the areas assigned to them. Vlach shows that they were able to create their own spaces right under the noses of their owners, spaces whose very existence undercut the slaveholders' claims of absolute control. Where the planters sited their houses and outbuildings and the types of buildings they chose to construct were decisions affected by their involvement with the institution of slavery and ultimately, by the slave themselves. 
Vlach has chosen more than 200 photographs and drawings from the Historic American Buildings Survey, a federal agency that has recorded structures on almost 300 sites across fourteen southern states since the 1930s. This archive has been mined many times for its images of the planters' residences but rarely for those of slave dwellings. In a dramatic photographic tour, Vlach leads readers through kitchens, smokehouses, dairies, barns and stables, and overseers' houses, finally reaching the slave quarters. 
At the same time that the first HABS teams were recording old buildings, representatives of the Federal Writers' Project were interviewing former slaves to record their life experiences. To evoke a firsthand sense of what it was like to live and work back of the Big House, Vlach matches excerpts from these moving testimonies to photographs and drawings of particular types of structures. Although the slave dwellings are mostly gone and the former slaves are now dead, this book transports readers back into antebellum times and provides an unprecedented view of life as a plantation slave."

Taryn's Review: Working at an historic site often reminds me that refreshing my memory on topics I discuss daily is never a bad thing. I wanted to add to my knowledge of antebellum buildings that would have been on a plantation other than the main home, and a quick Google search pulled up this book.

I think this is a great resource for any antebellum historic home site that interprets slavery to have in its library. While the book isn't necessarily presenting new scholarship, it is reviewing it from an incredibly important perspective that is often overlooked in the narrative of plantation histories. I really hadn't thought much about many of the other buildings that Vlach discussed, so the book served a great purpose to me and my understanding of sites where enslaved people worked.

Vlach cited one of the best quotes I've ever read regarding slavery. The quote is by novelist Ralph W. Ellison and it read that "any people who could undergo such dismemberment and resuscitate itself, and endure until it could take the initiative in achieving its own freedom is obviously more than the sum of its brutalization." What a great reminder that when the discussion of slavery is brought up, it needs to be discussed also that enslaved people survived in abominable conditions yet they maintained culture, oral history, and relationships...enslaved people were so much more than the condition put upon them. We must remember this and discuss it in our narratives and interpretations.

The photographs in the book are great, but a part of me would love to see a new edition put out with pictures that have been edited with new technologies that enhance the landscape and buildings. I once saw where technology helped a site take photographs of homes on the prairies and allowed the site to see into the home; previously where all was seen was a darkened window was now illuminated to see the interior of the home! Some of the floor plans could probably be made clearer as well with updated lines on some sort of software.

I thoroughly appreciated this book and the way it expanded my own interpretation of plantations in the antebellum South. Definitely a great refresher for those who are well-versed on the subject, yet still important enough to keep on the bookshelf as a quick reference guide. The photographs personified the discussion, which might also be the reason the book was easier to connect with than others books on the issue. The book is a great history resource but it could also be a great read for a non-history person who has an interest in the topic.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler~★★★★★

Author: Amy Poehler
Title: Yes Please
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: HarperAudio
Genre: Non-fiction

Audio Book Cover: "In a perfect world...we'd get to hang out with Amy Poehler, watching dumb movies, listening to music, and swapping tales about our coworkers and difficult childhoods. Because in a perfect world, we'd all be friends with Amy---someone who seems so fun, full of interesting stories, tells great jokes, and offers plenty of advice and wisdom (the useful kind, not the annoying kind you didn't ask for, anyway). Unfortunately, between her Golden Globe-winning role on Parks and Recreation, her work as a producer and director, her place as one of the most beloved SNL alumni and cofounder of the Upright Citizens' Brigade, her involvement with the website Smart Girls at the Party, and her other gig as the mom of two young sons, she's not available for movie night. 
Luckily we have the next best thing: Yes Please, Amy's hilarious and candid book. A collection of stories, thoughts, ideas, lists, and haikus from the mind of one of our most beloved entertainers, Yes Please offers Amy's thoughts on everything from her 'too safe' childhood outside of Boston to her early days in New York City, her ideas about Hollywood and 'the biz,' the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a 'face for wigs.' Yes Please is chock-full of words, and wisdom, to live by.  

Taryn's Review: I have always enjoyed Amy Poehler's work. I liked her on SNL, but I loved her on her show, Parks and Recreation. Recently I became obsessed with the hit show Broad City on Comedy Central and was surprised to see Poehler listed as Executive Producer on the show. The comedy on Broad City is very different from Parks and Rec, so my intrigue of Poehler was definitely up. When her book came out, I opted to listen to the audio version since I love hearing celebrities read their own books.

This book was a treat to listen to. I laughed out loud while listening to this book. I cried while listening to this book. I felt inspired while listening to this book. A part of me wonders if I shouldn't just keep this book on loop in my car because I loved it so very much. Poehler was candid, witty, funny, honest, heartfelt, and humble. She admitted to some mistakes she has made in her career and I was awed that she was willing to share those mistakes with the public. Another gem in this book was when she had guests like Seth Meyers and Mike Schur on to read/discuss the book with her. It was fun to hear Poehler interact with her friends and genuinely laugh and crack jokes with them.

Poehler covered so much in her book: her early years, her teen years, her college years, career from beginning to present, marriage and divorce, her children, and life advice. It was packed full, yet it never felt overwhelming. Listening to her book was truly a pleasure. While I really enjoyed Poehler's equally famous friend Tina Fey's book Bossypants, Poehler's book was definitely my favorite of the two.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho~★★★

Author: Paulo Coelho
Title: The Alchemist
Release Date: First released in 1988; this edition released April 25, 1993.
Publisher: HarperOne
Genre: Fiction

Book Cover: "Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts." 

Taryn's Review: I have heard rave reviews about this book for many years, but for some reason or another it never made its way onto my to-be-read list. I recently joined a book club and this was our first selection, so I was pretty excited to get started!

I don't want to say that this book was disappointing or a letdown, but it wasn't rave-worthy in my opinion. It's a simple story and there was no doubt Coelho's strong religious background played a role in the themes throughout the book. I expected my world to be rocked, my perspective broadened, and a host of emotions to over my soul based on what others have told me about this book, but none of that happened.

The lessons in the story are simple: be brave, follow your dreams, and obstacles may actually be teaching moments. The story focused on Santiago (also called the Boy) discovering his Personal Legend, along with the people he meets and the places he goes during his journey. Santiago could have lived his life being a shepherd, safely tucked away in the lands he knew so well, but the discoveries he made changed his life because he was courageous enough to venture into the unknowns.

This was a sweet, simple, and short book, but not earth-shatteringly amazing for me. I don't think it is a "must-read" and I think there are far better books out there about finding oneself away from the comforts of the life he or she knows. Not disappointing, but not inspirational either.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain~★★★★

Author: Paula McLain
Title: The Paris Wife
Release Date: November 27, 2012
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Fiction

Book Cover: "Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old  who has all but given up on love and happiness---until she meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group---the fabled "Lost Generation"---that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest struggles to find the voice that will become The Sun Also Rises, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her role as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage---a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they've fought so hard for. 
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley." 

Taryn's Review: As I began this book, I knew it wouldn't have a happy ending for Hemingway and Hadley as spouses from my previous readings. McLain, through Hadley, shared this knowledge very early in the book, so while reading one knows that terrible times are head for Hemingway and Hadley. Things seemed so damn good between the two characters that the question begs to be can things go amiss if love holds the two together?

The thing about love is that isn't a guarantee of fidelity in every relationship. Hemingway hurts Hadley, and it was sad to read how very maliciously he did it under the guise of being oh-so-hard-for-him, too, as he ran off to meet his mistress down the hall of a hotel.

Hadley's character was complex to me in the sense that I'm not sure she realized how very lopsided her relationship with Hemingway was from the beginning. It was always about Ernest, never Hadley. Sure, Ernest made her feel special at times, but he also made her feel awful. His ego always seemed to need inflating and if Hadley didn't do to his satisfaction, he simply found someone who would. It's a shame that Hadley was the one to see Hemingway through from impoverished wanna-be-published author to a literary star, yet he threw her away for the first shiny, pretty thing to give him attention.

I looked up Hadley after reading this book and it seems that McLain did a good job of sticking to the facts in her historical fiction, which I really appreciate. This is an example of good historical fiction!

Despite my love of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, I first learned about how volatile and horrible he could be toward women when I read about his relationship with Martha Gellhorn in Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th-Century Women Writers. It makes me wonder if Hadley ever experienced some of the abuse that Gellhorn did.

Overall, I really enjoyed passing the time with this book. McLain is a pleasant writer and I would have no issues with picking up another book of hers to read. She presented the story in such a way that it retains its truths without being overdone by the fictional elements.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Single Woman by Mandy Hale~★★★1/2

Author: Mandy Hale
Title: The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "Mandy Hale knows the single life because she's living it. And 500,000 Twitter followers enjoy her wisdom on the joys, the possibilities, and the humorous pitfalls of being a single woman. 'Stop inviting people who don't celebrate you to your party!'; 'Love shouldn't require Windex to be clear. It either is or it isn't.'; 'Stop looking for a hero, and become one instead.'
The Single Woman will remind you that life's too short to be waiting for Prince Charming to rescue you. After all, the real fairy tale is designing a life that's so amazing that you don't want to be rescued from it at all."

Taryn's Review:  One day as I was googling quotes for something that has now escaped my mind, this book came up a few times in my search. I looked at the title and thought, "Well...I'm single. I'll give this book a go." A quick library request had this book in my hands just a few days later; I was excited to jump into it and see what exactly Mandy Hale had to say about being a single woman in today's world.

This book was not what I had anticipated it to be. My lack of research regarding this book was evident because I had no idea that the content of the book was heavy with Christian-influence. For people who are Christians, I'm sure the religious aspect of the book won't be an issue, but I'm not one who was looking for God and Jesus in my quest for advice/inspiration regarding singledom. There are a few Biblical quotes scattered throughout the book and Hale often reminded the reader that God has a larger plan than the eye can see and a bright future ahead for the single gals. There are plenty of readers who will connect to that message, but for myself, it wasn't an area that I anticipated or honestly even wanted in this type of book.

I'd say this book is best for the newly single ladies who have a Christian-oriented foundation. When you open the book, there is a gift page with fillable blanks for someone to give the book as a gift, and after reading it, I think the book's purpose is to be a gift for the broken-hearted woman who has found herself reeling from a breakup. The idea of being comfortable, even proud, of singledom is something I applaud Hale for advocating. The book is simple, sweet, and short, which is perfect for someone who is hurting. Sometimes Hale rhymed in her content, which I guess was intentional but it felt a little cheesy to me. I think her advice was motivational, yet it still seemed slightly elementary, but for the newly single, that's probably best since many women might be reading the book with foggy post-breakup brain.

For ladies like myself who have been single for a while, I don't think this book offered up anything new or life-changing. Most of us who have been on the single train for a while are comfortable with our status and even, dare I say it, proud of our accomplishments as single women. While I'm no stranger to self-help books and have a non-secret love of them, I wouldn't necessarily pass this book along unless I had a Christian friend who was struggling after a breakup. Honestly, one of my favorite self-help books is The Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly and I'd recommend that book to anyone in any stage of life. Kelly's book is one that I return to occasionally and feel completely in awe and totally inspired each time I read it, but the same is not to be said of Hale's book for me. The Single Woman will be great for some readers, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas~★★★★

Author: Matthew Thomas
Title: We Are Not Ourselves
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "Born in 1941 in Woodside, Queens, and raised playing caretaker to her drinking Irish parents, Eileen Tumulty always dreamed of a better life, away from her turbulent upbringing. When she meets Ed Leary, a research scientist whose bearing is nothing like that of the men she's known, Eileen thinks she's found a man to deliver her to the cosmopolitan existence she desires.
After they marry, Eileen encourages Ed to want more---a higher-profile job, more prominent associates, a finer house in a better neighborhood---but as the years pass it becomes clear his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. Even as the Learys finally glimpse a rise in their station, to the grand house Eileen has always coveted, an inescapable darkness enters their lives. Eileen, Ed, and their son, Connell, try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of their future.
Through the Learys, Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American twentieth century; the promise of immigration, domestic bliss, and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a powerfully affecting novel about resilience in the face of disappointment and the redemptive power of love. It also a reminder that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats. 
Vast in scope, heroic in character, masterful in style, We Are Not Ourselves is a testament to our greatest desires and our greatest frailties, and a message of hope perfect for our times." 

Taryn's Review: Sometimes after I read a book, I immediately know how many stars I plan to rate it here on my blog. This book was more of a challenge to rate. I finished it a few days ago and spent some time really thinking about the story that I had read.

A surprise for me after finishing this book was how strongly I related to some of the themes in the story. There were definitely times I saw myself (or my old self, anyway) in Eileen. Her constant push to be better, have more, her eyes always looking ahead toward the future, was completely a feeling that I could relate to and used to mirror in my own life. Much like Eileen, it took some major life changes for me to realize that I was missing out on the present. There are so many times you want to reach through the pages and shake Eileen and yell, "Relax! You are missing what is right in front of you!"

Ed was harder for me to relate to, yet after some reflection I wondered if also he missed the present by being too engrossed in only one aspect of his life. While there was no doubt that Ed adored his son Connell, Ed's career as a scientist/professor was his major focus, much to the chagrin of Eileen; not because he dedicated most of his time to it, but Eileen craved for Ed to use it as a catalyst to be the best, work at the top school, and bring in the big money for the family. Ed was not interested in the status that Eileen craved, but no doubt his passions for academia caused him to detract time from his private life. 

The present moment of life thrusted itself upon Ed and Eileen when Ed was diagnosed with an incurable illness. The lesson here was that suddenly Ed and Eileen both recognize the countdown clock ticking away time...time that they thought was guaranteed to come. How many moments were wasted, how many moments were lost, how many moments were missed?

I didn't expect Eileen and Ed to be haunting characters, but I continue to think about their story and the themes that ran through their lives. They are very honest and relatable characters. Connell was less interesting to me. Not that he didn't have his struggles, but I was more drawn to Ed and Eileen. The length of the book is intimidating...620 pages! It probably could have been whittled down (personally I would have lessened Connell's role in the book), but I'm glad I read it. I think Eileen and Ed were portrayed very well and so true to a fashion that many of us emulate today. In fact, the reflection of the characters' flaws are so pronounced in ourselves that it might be hard for the reader to even realize the connection, but when one does the book really is meaningful. Great debut novel by Matthew Thomas.