Book Review, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur ~ Book Review

Wild Game with Brownies

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Memoir
Release Date: October 15, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

The setting of this story intoxicated me. Brodeur’s descriptions came alive through her writing. I could feel the salty humidity of summers on Cape Cod, hear the sound of the ocean on a summer night, and vividly imagine sitting, stuffed full of exquisite food, tipsy on red wine, perfectly content in a hot breeze. These are the prose that drew me into Wild Game. What followed was Adrienne’s story of her relationship with her mother, Malabar, who used Adrienne as a pawn in her affair.

Starting at age fourteen, Adrienne is privy to her mother’s every trist with a close family friend, Ben. Malabar treats Adrienne as her closest confidant, and has her daughter help orchestrate times for her to be alone with her lover. Not once does she seem to consider the detrimental effect this may have on Adrienne. As a teenager, Adrienne thinks it’s all very exciting. She basks in being her mom’s chosen confidant. As she gets older, she struggles when those around her tell her that her relationship with her mom is toxic. Adrienne is so blinded by her mother’s glamour, and intoxicated by her seemingly thrilling and secretive life, that it takes her a long time to understand the terrible toll her mom’s secret had on her own life.

It was incredibly shocking reading about the dinner parties with spouses who were secretly sleeping together. Even more disturbing was Ben and Malabar’s plan to wait until their spouses, each with severe illnesses, died, and then to be together. It was hard to understand how their secret was sustained for so many years, but that clearly would not have been the case without Adrienne’s help.

I wanted to shake Adrienne through a lot of this book to get her to see clearly how awfully her mom treated her. Malabar’s utter selfishness is proven again and again, and it was painful to witness how blinded Adrienne to the one-sided nature of their relationship. In addition to the repetitive nature of Malabar’s actions, much of this memoir felt repetitious. Despite the speed at which it sucked me in, I found that the later chapters seemed drawn out, with Ben and Malabar nearly getting caught, and then making it through, over and over again. Unfortunately, this caused me to largely lose interest by the end of the book.

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

Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan ~ Book Review

Good Boy with Brownies

Celadon Books
Genre: Memoir
Release Date: April 21, 2020 (Thank you to Celadon Books and BookishFirst for the ARC)
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

This book far and away exceeded my expectations. Jennifer Boylan’s writing is truly enjoyable to read. Not just clear and eloquent, enjoyable! Her humor and wit are wonderfully woven into the prose and snuck up on me. Boylan is a master at incorporating pithy quips and flippant cultural references into the midst of musings on her past.

The premise of this book was extremely unique. I know that Boylan has other memoirs, but this is the first I had read of her. The setup for this particular book included outlining her life through a timeline composed of the dogs she’s had. You might think that by dog number seven, it would be repetitive to hear another set of canine descriptors, but each dog was such a unique character, that this was not the case.

Boylan creates a web of relationships to each dog. They are more than just timeline benchmarks, they are parts of her family — however her family may be defined at any given time. Mother, father, sister, wife, each have a different relationship to, and take on, each dog. It shocked me how many strange and extremely disobedient dogs Boylan’s experienced over the years.

Beyond the canine aspect of this book, there is, of course, Boylan’s life story. Boylan wonderfully details a childhood as a boy, reacting and interacting with his sister and parents, and the fear surrounding transitioning to being female. Boylan narrates, in a very straightforward manner, all of her experiences, and the real, raw, emotional reactions around her. It was especially interesting hearing about her reaction to finding out that her son also identified as transgender. The scenes towards the end of the book with Boylan and her wife spending time with their children and friends were so incredibly well written. They were infused with painful emotion, but the outward actions reflected a joyful, supportive family.

I definitely recommend this book. If Boylan’s writing has not been on your radar before, it should be now!

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

Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl ~ Book Review

Comfort Me with Apples and Cheese Board

Random House
Genre: Nonfiction (Food Writing)
Release Date: April 10, 2001
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

I read Ruth Reichl’s most recent memoir, Save Me the Plums, prior to this one, and adored it. I think it may have set my expectations a little too high. Comfort me with Apples was a very personal memoir (I get that that is essentially what all memoirs amount to, but I think I was expecting it to be more directly career focused). Much of the story chronicles Reichl’s time cheating on her husband with different men she meets through work. Their love affairs are described in a rather unemotional manner, and it was hard for me to connect with the lack of empathy being depicted. 

It’s always interesting for me to see how people’s careers shift, change, and grow, and I find food writing especially fascinating. Comfort me with Apples details Reichl’s different jobs, of course, which kept me reading. The characters she introduces are just that, characters. It was wonderful to read about such caricature-esque people who she encounters in her industry. 

The book is punctuated with recipes. I really enjoyed the way these were incorporated to directly relate to phases of Reichl’s life. Typically, she added in recipes that she was making frequently during the period being written about. Cooking acted as an emotional response to events in her life throughout the book, so including the recipes tied together career, and life in an interesting and accessible manner. Although I haven’t tried any of the recipes myself, I like knowing that they’re there for me to reference, should I feel the need to comfort myself with apples in the near future.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
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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

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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