I Feel Bad About My Neck

Finished I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.

The woman who brought us When Harry Met Sally . . ., Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Bewitched, and the author of best sellers Heartburn, Scribble Scribble, and Crazy Salad, discusses everything–from how much she hates her purse to how much time she spends attempting to stop the clock: the hair dye, the treadmill, the lotions and creams that promise to slow the aging process but never do. Oh, and she can’t stand the way her neck looks. But her dermatologist tells her there’s no quick fix for that.

Ephron chronicles her life as an obsessed cook, passionate city dweller, and hapless parent. She recounts her anything-but-glamorous days as a White House intern during the JFK years (“I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House that the President did not make a pass at”) and shares how she fell in and out of love with Bill Clinton–from a distance, of course. But mostly she speaks frankly and uproariously about life as a woman of a certain age.

Utterly courageous, wickedly funny, and unexpectedly moving in its truth telling, I Feel Bad About My Neck is a book of wisdom, advice, and laugh-out-loud moments, a scrumptious, irresistible treat.”

This is exactly what I wanted Wallflower at the Orgy to be. It’s literally laugh-out-loud funny (sorry, fellow commuters!) and while I don’t particularly mind my neck (although my time is coming), the chapter on her purse could’ve literally been my story, too.

Her movies are some of my most favorite and her wit and warmth shines through every page of this collection, too.

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Wallflower at the Orgy

Finished Wallflower at the Orgy by Nora Ephron.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From her Academy Award—nominated screenplays to her bestselling fiction and essays, Nora Ephron is one of America’s most gifted, prolific, and versatile writers. In this classic collection of magazine articles, Ephron does what she does best: embrace American culture with love, cynicism, and unmatched wit. From tracking down the beginnings of the self-help movement to dressing down the fashion world’s most powerful publication to capturing a glimpse of a legendary movie in the making, these timeless pieces tap into our enduring obsessions with celebrity, food, romance, clothes, entertainment, and sex. Whether casting her ingenious eye on renowned director Mike Nichols, Cosmopolitan magazine founder Helen Gurley Brown—or herself, as she chronicles her own beauty makeover—Ephron deftly weaves her journalistic skill with the intimate style of an essayist and the incomparable talent of a great storyteller.”

This is such a fun collection of essays. It’s as smart as I’d expect something from Nora Ephron but it wasn’t as personal as I had hoped. (I think her other two essay collections will more than make up for it.)

I love her movies so much and it was really great to spend time with her again.

Betty Before X

Finished Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A powerful middle-grade novel about the childhood activism of Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife, written by their daughter.

In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.

Collaborating with novelist Renée Watson, Ilyasah Shabazz illuminates four poignant years in her mother’s childhood, painting a beautiful and inspiring portrait of a girl overcoming the challenges of self-acceptance and belonging that will resonate with young readers today.”

I don’t know very much about Malcolm X and I knew even less about his wife. This tells about her early life and the way that she became an activist herself. I loved seeing her realize the power that she had.

Her childhood wasn’t great (she lived with her aunt until she died and then went to live with her mom, stepfather and younger siblings). Her mom didn’t seem particularly fond of any of her kids, but definitely liked Betty the least. She eventually goes to live elsewhere and that’s when she really becomes an activist. (She was always interested before, but it wasn’t something her mom encouraged.)

I definitely want to learn more about Betty Shabazz. I very much enjoyed this glimpse into her early life.

Highly recommended.

For Alison

Finished For Alison by Andy Parker. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Amazon):

A father’s account of the story that captivated America, the murder of his daughter, reporter Alison Parker, on live television, and his inspiring fight for commonsense gun laws in the aftermath.

On August 26, 2015, Emmy Award–winning twenty-four-year-old reporter Alison Parker was murdered on live television, along with her colleague, photojournalist Adam Ward. Their interviewee was also shot, but survived. People watching at home heard the gunshots, and the gunman’s video of the murder, which he uploaded to Facebook, would spread over the internet like wildfire.

In the wake of his daughter’s murder, Andy Parker became a national advocate for commonsense gun safety legislation. The night of the murder, with his emotions still raw, he went on Fox News and vowed to do “whatever it takes to end gun violence in America. Today he is a media go-to each time a shooting rocks the national consciousness, and has worked with a range of other crusaders, like Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Lenny Pozner, whose son was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School and brought suit against Alex Jones and Infowars, who claimed the shooting was staged. In For Alison, Parker shares his work as a powerhouse battling gun violence and gives a plan for commonsense gun legislation that all sides should agree on. He calls out the NRA-backed politicians blocking the legislation, shares his fight against “truthers,” who claim Alison’s murder was fabricated, and reveals what’s ahead in his fight to do whatever it takes to stop gun violence.

Parker’s story is one of great loss, but also resilience, determination, and a call to action. Senator Tim Kaine, also a fierce advocate for commonsense gun laws, contributes a moving foreword.”

One of the most famous lines in The Shawshank Redemption is “Get busy living or get busy dying.” The easiest way to describe this book is that Andy Parker took that quote and turned it into “Get busy fighting or get busy dying.”

You know who Alison Parker is. She and her cameraman (or “photog,” for a fun bit of TV news lingo) Adam Ward were murdered on live television. Now, almost four years later, her father has turned that senseless tragedy into a crusade.

This is a hard book to read. You can feel his heartbreaking grief and his fury on every page. There’s every chance that it will make you cry. At the same time, though, it’s a book about hope, specifically the hope that we will be able to pass common-sense gun control laws. (For example, mandatory background checks with no loopholes and limiting the amount of rounds.)

The most powerful aspect of this is Alison herself. We hear stories about her childhood and her adult life, and it’s so clear that this is a lady who would’ve made the hugest difference in the world. She had such a clear sense of joy and purpose that would’ve changed the world. That makes her murder all the more tragic; we will never see what she would have done. We’re seeing what’s done in her name, however, and that’s still worth a great deal. To paraphrase Cheryl Strayed, “it will never be okay” that Alison’s not here. No matter what comes next, it’s not worth her loss. I feel so grateful to get to see more of her as a person and not as a news story. (In the interest of full disclosure, though, we have a friend in common and, while I never met her, I have already gotten some sense of her. This book is obviously a much better, more complete view.)

This is an amazing book about the worst thing that could possibly happen and a book about turning tragedy into purpose. We all need to get busy fighting, not just for Alison but because any of us could be next.

Highly, highly recommended.

Why We Lie

Finished Why We Lie by Amy Impellizzeri. I received a copy for review. This post originally ran in December 2018.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Rising star politician and lawyer, Jude Birch, is clearly keeping secrets about his past from his wife, Aby Boyle. And Aby worries that Jude’s relationship with his campaign manager, Laila Rogers, is more complicated that he has let on. Jude has been the bystander victim of a seemingly gang-related shooting, but as the secrets Jude and Laila have kept since law school begin to unravel – with the help of a zealous news reporter and the Capitol Police – Aby is forced to consider that Jude might not have been an unintended victim of the shooting after all.

Meanwhile, Aby’s own secrets are revealed, despite her best efforts to clamp a lid down on a past marked by abuse and lies, and even a false accusation that still haunts her.

Unpredictable and unexpected, WHY WE LIE is a contemporary political thriller that examines the real life consequences of those who tell the truth about abuse and those who don’t, and asks the question: is the truth always worth the cost?”

There is a lot packed into this slim novel (under 250 pages). It’s a political thriller mixed with a regular thriller and a thought-provoking concept. It’s perfect for book clubs, because there’s a lot to discuss.

Aby is a complicated and unreliable narrator. Even so, I liked her and rooted for her throughout the book. She’s done a lot of things and most of them were forgivable and understandable. One was understandable but not really forgivable. To say more is a spoiler.

You need to read this book. It’s timely but it’s also suited for every time. Highly recommended.

Harbor Me

Finished Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Jacqueline Woodson’s first middle-grade novel since National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students share their stories.

It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat—by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them—everything from Esteban’s father’s deportation and Haley’s father’s incarceration to Amari’s fears of racial profiling and Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.”

I love everything about this book. It reminded me of a sort of middlegrade Breakfast Club, but over a longer span of time. That’s a little simplistic, of course, but it was the vibe. I love everything I’ve read of Jacqueline Woodson’s, and she has such a backlog that I know that I have so many more great books ahead. (I like being late to the party with prolific authors.)

This book completely broke my heart in parts (these kids are so young and they have so many things to be afraid of, and all their fears are founded.

I can’t even talk about this book without sounding like a crazy person. It feels like actual magic. I love books about friendship and growth and this is the best example of both that I’ve read in ages.

Highly recommended.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Finished The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. I received a copy for review. (Yes, I’m behind.)

Summary (from Goodreads):

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions…”

So this is basically what would happen if the events in Buffy were told by random Sunnydale students. There’s something going on in the town (teenagers are dying and there’s weird blue light that appears at night, and I don’t even want to get into freakish deer behavior and super creepy cops) but as interesting as all that is, Mikey and his friends are seniors and about to graduate. He may finally ask out his crush and there’s all this other stuff…life is more important than bizarre events centered around people he barely knows.

I also love that this touches on mental health. Mikey’s clearly got some major OCD going on (which he eventually seeks help for and there are some great conversations centering around mental health). I also love how much this book focuses on friendship. It’s also set in the weird time where everything that’s happening is exciting but also sad. People are about to go their separate ways and there’s no guarantee they’ll all stay friends. (I’m still in touch with some of my high school friends but not all of them, and none of us are as close as we were.)

This is such a great book. I love every Patrick Ness book I’ve read, but there are a lot more waiting. Highly recommended.

That’s Not What I Heard

Finished That’s Not What I Heard by Stephanie Kate Strohm.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“What did you hear?

Kimberly Landis-Lilley and Teddy Lin are over. Yes, the Kim and Teddy broke up.

At least that’s what Phil Spooner thinks he overheard and then told Jess Howard, Kim’s best friend. Something about Teddy not liking Kim’s Instas? Or was it that Teddy is moving to Italy and didn’t want to do long distance? Or that Kim slid into someone else’s DMs?

Jess told her boyfriend, Elvis, that he needs to be on Kim’s side. Especially if he wants to keep her as his girlfriend. But Elvis is also Teddy’s best friend.

Now, Kim’s run out of school for the day. Jess is furious. Elvis is confused. And half the lunch period won’t talk to Teddy. Even the teachers have taken sides.

William Henry Harrison High will never be the same again!”

This is over-the-top ridiculous in the best possible way. When Kim and Teddy broke up, it took the other students by surprise. Not surprisingly, they start to take sides. What is surprising? So do the teachers. And the two sides become increasingly angry and also vocal about their alliance. (People who are on Teddy’s side wear teddy bear ears. In public. Every day.)

And the reason for the breakup? Well. Let’s just say that rumors start immediately (and inaccurately) and they become increasingly outlandish.

I can’t even guess how many times I laughed out loud at this book. It’s just an incredibly fun book, as I’ve come to expect from Stephanie Kate Strohm. Recommended.

A Good Kind of Trouble

Finished A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Ramee. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)

But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?

Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.

Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.”

I love this middlegrade so much! Shayla reminds me a lot of me as a kid: quiet, almost desperate not to get in trouble and sticking close to a group of friends. But, like a lot of us learn, she starts to see that maybe there are things that are worse than getting in trouble. It’s important to care about things and to talk about things that matter, even if they make people uncomfortable.

This is about social justice but it’s also about starting to navigate a new school with new people and having friends start acting differently. It’s something that I think most girls can relate to, regardless of how politically involved they may or may not be.

I loved everything about this book. Highly recommended.

Run Away

Finished Run Away by Harlan Coben. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A perfect family is shattered in RUN AWAY, the new thriller from the master of domestic suspense, Harlan Coben.

You’ve lost your daughter.

She’s addicted to drugs and to an abusive boyfriend. And she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to be found.

Then, by chance, you see her playing guitar in Central Park. But she’s not the girl you remember. This woman is living on the edge, frightened, and clearly in trouble.

You don’t stop to think. You approach her, beg her to come home.

She runs. 

And you do the only thing a parent can do: you follow her into a dark and dangerous world you never knew existed. Before you know it, both your family and your life are on the line. And in order to protect your daughter from the evils of that world, you must face them head on.”

This is such an insane story and I couldn’t stop reading. There are a lot of things going on, and every aspect was intense and gripping. I cared most about Simon and Ingrid trying to find their daughter, Paige, but everything was fantastic.

I know most families are now connected to the opioid epidemic in one way or another, and that’s really driven home here. We don’t get much of a sense of Paige before she became addicted to drugs, but we see how it’s affected the family and how desperate her parents are to get her back.

The ending may feel a little rushed but that’s the only problem I had. (Now to wait for his next book.)