Book Review, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Educated by Tara Westover ~ Book Review

Educated Book

Random House
Release Date: February 20, 2018
Genre: Memoir
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

I am going to start off this review by addressing the half a star (err cookie) that I knocked off my rating. The only reason this memoir wasn’t a full five out of five for me is because of my own personal discomfort when reading about the violence and abuse Tara was subjected to. Her experiences are, of course, the essence of the book. The stories are told in a matter of fact and straightforward manner, but the descriptions of injuries and accidents were hard for me to swallow. That’s my problem, and not a problem with the writing or the book as a whole. That being said, this was an incredible book. I doubt there is much I can get down in a review that hasn’t been said already, but I’ll do my best.

Educated is a memoir about a girl growing up in rural Idaho. She is raised Mormon, with a father who is convinced the government is inherently evil, and the End Days are imminent. He works hard to try to prepare his family for the impending end of life as they know it, making sure they have access to weapons and water. For an income, he scraps metal, and employs his children as his team in this dangerous endeavor. The kids do not go to school. The education system is understood to be a means of government control. Most of the children don’t even have birth certificates, and, at least for a while, there is no record of their existence.

That thought in and of itself terrified me. If there’s no record that you are a person, no one external from your life is able to look out for you. Tara doesn’t even know her own birthdate, nor do her parents. One by one, Tara and her siblings become curious about education. Tara and several of her brothers take it upon themselves to study for the ACTs and enroll themselves in college. Despite not having any formal education until she steps into a college classroom for the first time, Tara becomes committed to her education. To me, the narrative read as if she were so starved for knowledge that she couldn’t get enough of it. She wanted to make up for the years when she had so little, and learn it all.

Cookie Bars with Educated Book

This is a story of incredible triumph as Tara studies abroad in England, and goes on to receive her PhD. There is an endless push and pull between her education and her family. The unbelievable abuse and closed-mindedness of her family, and her mother’s inability to stand up for herself were relentless. I kept hoping for Tara to see it, to see that she could walk away.

The writing in this memoir is elegant and straightforward. It is not meant to elicit pity, it simply outlines Tara’s life thus far. Almost as amazing as this book, were these Congo Bars. I made this particular batch with mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s, instead of the baking melts called for in the recipe, and it is definitely a swap I will be making again in the future.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl ~ Book Review

Save Me the Plums

Random House
Genre: Memoir
Release Date: April 2, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

To say that Ruth Reichl’s career trajectory is impressive is an understatement (at least coming from the point of view of an avid reader and writer). Her memoir illustrates the myriad of ways that Gourmet magazine has played a role in her life, beginning in childhood, when she idolized the pages of her Grandmother’s copies. As a burgeoning writer, she visited the magazine’s office to pitch an article idea, but was sorely rejected. From there, she takes the reader through her time working as a restaurant critic. Her experiences there, and at the L.A. Times, are woven into small flashbacks. When she is eventually offered the role at Gourmet, Ruth is skeptical. The magazine as she sees it at the time, is no longer that which she adored as a child, it has become predictable, and she isn’t sure she has the means to make the types of major changes it would need to make it successful again. The fact is, she has no such experience. 

Nonetheless, when faced with an offer for a salary six times what she currently making,  along with a driver and yearly clothing allowance (how is that a real thing?!), Ruth takes the plunge. The rest of the book chronicles the ups and downs that Ruth, and Gourmet face. Her palpable fear when faced with her new staff for the first time gave me major secondhand embarrassment. Ruth jumps the gun, trying to please her new colleagues by agreeing to start her new job three months early, while finishing up her current job. Ruth’s people-pleasing qualities were all too relatable.

The ebbs and flows in Ruth’s experience at Gourmet were remarkable. I ate up every detail (pun intended) from the ultimate success of David Foster Wallace’s game changing article on the ethics of human eating habits, to the unexpected outrage that followed the decision to put a cupcake-covered cake on the front of the magazine. The struggle with keeping a constant staff was especially eye-opening, as was the insight into the way that Condé  Nast runs, seemingly swapping around upper management from publication to publication with little warning or explanation. Those segments of the memoir were disheartening, and I could feel Ruth’s frustration.

I also loved the way Ruth tied her family life into writing that was primarily career oriented. Her son’s relationship to food was interesting, and especially how much he longed for his mom to stay home and cook for him. This was a unique contrast to my childhood experience of longing for a chance to eat at restaurants.

The descriptions of food throughout this memoir were, of course, mouthwatering. It’s obvious that Reichl has spent much of her life writing about food: she knows exactly how to make her words succulent and enticing.  Overall, this book was, in and of itself, a delicious treat. It far surpassed my expectations, especially as an ARC I received, and did not seek out for myself.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Becoming by Michelle Obama ~ Book Review

Becoming book with Venetian Cookies

Crown Publishing Group
Release Date: November 13, 2018
Genre: Autobiography
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪

Where do I even begin with this book? To say that the former First Lady is an inspiration would be a vast understatement. Through every facet of her life thus far, Michelle Obama has illustrated incredible drive and commitment to causes and experiences she is passionate about. Becoming walks us through her life, illuminating key events, moments, experiences, and people that have influenced her in some way. Not once does she come across as conceited, or as if she is trying to display her accomplishments, but the impressive nature of them shines through regardless. 

From her childhood, growing up in an extension of her Aunt and Uncle’s home, Michelle was constantly striving for more. She listened to her Aunt’s piano students fumbling through their practices confident that she could do what they were doing, but even better. Upon beginning her own lessons, she tried to excel further in her songbook than was expected of her, resulting in a strict life lesson on following rules. She utilizes the disparity between her Aunt’s battered piano keys, and those of the shiny new recital piano as a beautiful depiction of the way that privilege, or lack thereof, can affect the performance of an individual in different settings and circumstances.

Throughout her autobiography, Michelle offers insight into her non-linear career path, and her internal conflict as she struggled to decide how and when to make changes in her life. Her dedication to pursuing a law degree, and practicing law  only to ultimately realize it was not what she wanted, gave me immense relief. If even Michelle Obama didn’t have her life figured out from the get go, surely I’ll be okay, too. I also thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the development and growth of her relationship with Barack, and the way that his political pursuits affected their family. I had never given much thought to how moving into the White House would cause familial upheaval, especially with young children involved.

The entire section on life in the White House, and the adjustments Michelle had to make was extremely thought provoking. The lack of freedom that came with that sort of lifestyle, from not being able to go out for a casual date night, to not being able to take her daughter on tours of college campuses, showed life as the First Family with an unexpectedly melancholy lens.

The response to the ending, will, I’m sure, have a different effect on different readers, but I found it heart-wrenching and powerful. Every bit of this book fascinated me, and only left me wanting to know more about this incredible woman. I’ve found that the more I like a book, the shorter my review tends to be, and that seems to be a case here yet again. Perhaps it’s because I think that instead of spending more time reading my take on the writing, you should go and read the actual book itself.

(Also pictured, homemade Venetians! It’s a family recipe, but this one looks similar)

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My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪

Book Review, Humor, Memoir, Nonfiction

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper ~ Book Review

My Squirrel Days with Cupcake

Scribner
Genre: Nonfiction, Comedy, Memoir
Release Date: October 9, 2018
My Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

I was initially drawn to Ellie Kemper’s memoir because of the title. Having grown up surrounded by forest in New Hampshire, I took one look at the cover and thought, “Were those years, in fact, MY squirrel days?” Once the idea was planted in my mind, I realized that is exactly how I would classify my entire childhood (and maybe a little bit into the present? Who can say really). In any case, I knew I had to read this, plus, I love Ellie* in both The Office and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually laughed out loud while reading a book before. I loved both of Mindy Kaling’s memoirs, and it’s been a while since I read them, so there may have been a chuckle or two going on while I perused those, but nothing earth shattering. My Squirrel Days had me consistently giggling to myself. Each essay that Kemper includes in her book is a precious nugget of humor that made me A. Want to meet her, B. Never want to stop reading, and C. laugh until I cried. (I refrained from this last one as much as possible because I wouldn’t want to soil the pages of such a fantastic read with my tears).

In addition to being funny, I found a number of these stories relatable beyond Ellie and my mutual childhood interest in squirrels. For instance, Ellie includes an entire story focused on her “fervent devotion to the sign-off “Best,” which I too, refuse to waver from at the end of every work email I have ever sent. Ellie’s also not afraid to make fun of herself. One of my absolute favorite stories she includes, towards the end of the book, centers around her being a little bit of a Hollywood diva. My favorite line from this segment is inserted here for your enjoyment:

“I don’t have a thong,” I said softly, my chin quivering. “I need to wear a thong underneath my Jeggings so there won’t be any underwear seams showing, but my thong isn’t here.

Celebrities, they’re just like us. (Okay so maybe not all of the stories are that relatable).

With all the praise I’ve been aggressively throwing at this book, you may be wondering ‘Why only four stars then? What about the fifth?’ This guy got four stars for a couple of reasons. First off, it was too short. I know that kind of seems like a cop out “too much of a good thing” and all that, but really, this was a very short collection of stories. I guess it was probably on par with the length of most celebrity memoirs, but I was still disappointed with how quickly I whipped through it. The acknowledgments took up quite a few pages at the end, so I didn’t even realize my reading was about to be cut short when Ellie announced that she wanted to end her memoir with the word “pants,” and then proceeded to do so.

Additionally, I’m used to reading narratives with a little more grit, stories that are heftier, so flying through essays about thongs and lentils seemed a little, I don’t know, too easy? I felt like I needed to be reading something else concurrently in order to really be reading something, but I sped through the book so quickly that I didn’t even have a chance (see point number one about how short it was).

All in all, Ellie Kemper’s writing was delightful, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for her. If you’re looking for a fun light read, or just need a good laugh, I would highly recommend grabbing a copy of My Squirrel Days (and maybe a cupcake to go along with it).

*Referring to her by first name only may give off the impression that I know her — I don’t — including her full name was just getting repetitive.

My Book Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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