Review | You’re Not Doing It Right

You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations by Michael Ian Black

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Comedian Michael Ian Black’s first memoir is hilarious and surprisingly poignant.  I love his brand of humor and from his writing he strikes me as the kind of friend you’d describe as, “Great guy, kind of a dick, but great.”
We all have that friend we love to death but think they can be kind of dick but really they’re just honest.  And honesty is exactly what Black brings to the table in his collection of essays.

Black covers his childhood with a brother and special needs sister, his parents divorce, his mother realizing she’s a lesbian, and the sudden and unexpected death of his dad who he didn’t have a great relationship with.  He shares it all with humor but surprised me with some really candid and honest thoughts.

Then, there’s his wife Martha.  He shares how their relationship began, their decision to move in together (she basically bullied her way in), their marriage (her idea), and eventually the birth of their two children (again, all her idea).

I related to the chapters on marriage and parenthood so much.  Black wasn’t afraid to share the raw truths that no one ever wants to talk about and share in such a way that I laughed several times in the school line to pick up my daughter.

“Occasionally, I see an article in the newspaper about parents who abuse their children. Before I had a child, I used to think, How could this happen? Now, I find myself wondering why it doesn’t happen more often. Why aren’t parents throwing their kids into Dumpsters every day? And why, God, why do people have more than one? Because after you’ve done this once, there can be no possible excuse for doing it again. The thought occurs to me that if parenthood is this hard for everybody, infanticide would be as common as public urination. The human species would have died out long ago. Therefore, our experience cannot be common. Clearly there is something wrong with him. Maybe our kid is a lemon.”

I could’ve written that paragraph myself.  I felt the exact same way after my daughter was born.  (But I was smarter, I really couldn’t find an excuse to have a second child.)

He discusses honestly the strain parenting put on his marriage and that he and Martha attended counseling to get through some of the toughest parts.  He admits to being a dick and saying hurtful things.

Then there were the surprisingly profound and brutally honest thoughts he shared.

After his son called him the best dad ever:

“Doesn’t he know how much I resented him when he was a baby, crying in the night? Or, now that he’s older, doesn’t he notice when I’m so immersed on the computer that I don’t listen to the stories he tells me about his day? Doesn’t he know that I am sometimes glad to be far away from him and his sister and his mother, all by myself, in a hotel room where nobody needs me for anything?”

His thoughts on parenting:

“There is no word for feeling nostalgic about the future, but that’s what a parent’s tears often are, a nostalgia for something that has not yet occurred. They have the pain of hope, the helplessness of hope, and finally, the surrender to hope. That’s what parenthood is, ultimately, the hope of casting a message in a glass bottle into the sea with no sense of where it will end up. We have no control, none of us.”

(I should mention that quote is taken from a chapter where he talks in great detail about how much he hates the band Creed but the song “With Arms Wide Open” changed his life.)

And the final chapter, which turned into somewhat of a love letter to Martha:

“Time moves in peculiar ways. Fast and slow at the same time. When I look at you, I don’t see whatever imperfections you see. Our faces are just geography. They tell us the story of who we are and who we used to be.  I see you as I’ve always known you: I see you at twenty-five and thirty and forty-two … I love the story your face tells me because I love you.
That is the real gift of marriage, I think. When people about about ‘growing old together,’ what they are really talking about is the desire to see somebody all the way through, to connect your life with somebody in such a deep way that the word old loses whatever scary power it might have had on us alone.”

This was a great memoir with a perfect mix of humor and honesty that pretty much everyone can relate to in some way.
I recommend this to readers who enjoy autobiography/memoir, humor, and contemporary essays.

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Review | Gimme Some Sugar

Gimme Some Sugar by Molly Harper

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I am not a romance reader at all but the Southern Eclectic series is so charming I can’t help but return to the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop.

“Most people had nightmares about mortuaries. They didn’t spend Christmas in one. But he was proud that the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop was a Lake Sackett institution. Or the McCready’s belonged in an institution. It was a thin line.” *

I reviewed book two, Ain’t She a Peach?, here on Roots & Reads last year.

Book one, Sweet Tea and Sympathy, followed the story of Margot and her place within the hilariously dysfunctional McCready family as well as her romance with elementary school principal Kyle Archer.

Book two, Ain’t She A Peach?, introduced us to Frankie, the funeral home embalmer/county coroner who fell in love with new sheriff Eric Linden.

In the third installment of the series, Lucy Brewer leaves behind city living in Texas after the sudden death of her husband to return to her hometown of Lake Sackett, Georgia with her young son Sam.

Lucy’s working hard to open her own bake shop, Gimme Some Sugar, though her overbearing mother-in-law Evie seems to be working against her.  Evie seems to think Lucy should be lying in bed grieving instead of starting a business.  Not to mention the fact Lucy has put Sam in a preschool instead of letting his grandmother watch him while Lucy works. It’s safe to say Lucy and Evie do not see eye to eye on anything, which causes a lot of friction.

It isn’t long before Lucy reconnects with Duffy McCready, the boy she fell in love with as a kid.  They were best friends through high school until everything changed.  Duffy never had the guts to ask out Lucy and after getting his prom date pregnant, he did the honorable thing and married her right after graduation.  Lucy decided to marry her high school beau Wayne and follow him to Texas.

No one knows that Lucy’s marriage to Wayne essentially ended long before he died unexpectedly and yet she feels guilty at the thought of moving on so quickly.

Duffy offers to help Lucy out by building cabinetry for her bakery but soon their easy friendship is complicated by their history.  Their budding romance has Duffy’s ex-wife and Lucy’s mother-in-law determined to ruin their second chance.

Molly Harper has created such a genuine cast of characters; the Southern charm and humor is so entertaining and I fall back into this quirky small town and laugh out loud with every book.

What I love about this series is that the romance is not lovey dovey and is secondary to the character-driven story that follows the McCready family.  Gimme Some Sugar is lighthearted and fun and another cozy read in the series.  While I enjoy starting a series from the beginning, each book has enough brief back story that you can pick up anywhere without feeling lost.

Thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Gimme Some Sugar is scheduled for release on April 2, 2019.

*Quote included is from a digital advance readers copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Josephine Baker’s Last Dance

Josephine Baker’s Last Dance by Sherry Jones

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I must say I didn’t know very much about Josephine Baker.  It wasn’t until I read the short children’s picture book biography in the Little People, Big Dreams series to my daughter that I learned she wasn’t just an entertainer but a woman who fought for Civil Rights equality and joined the French Resistance to destroy Hitler during World War II.

The short children’s biography was so brief and yet I was fascinated!  When I found Josephine Baker’s Last Dance on NetGalley earlier this year, I absolutely had to request it.

This book brings to life Baker’s most monumental moments, beginning in childhood when her mother hired her out as a servant to white people in St. Louis.  She suffered abuse not only at the hands of the people she served but also her own mother and step-father.

With an unstable home life, Josephine found herself living and sleeping with men when she was still a child.  Her love of music inspires her to perform and she begins touring with all black revues as a dancer.  She eventually makes her way to Paris, where she finds that segregation does not exist.

Josephine’s career explodes; she becomes the first black woman to dance nude on the Paris stage and the first to lead a movie and star in an opera.  Along the way she falls in love often and has a fierce sexual appetite, taking lovers in most cities she tours.

When Hitler gains control in Germany, Josephine will not forget the Nazis who scared her in Berlin and vows to bring them down.  She’s given the opportunity a few years later when she’s recruited in to the French Resistance; collecting important information from the government officials who occupy her night clubs and hope to seduce her.

Disgusted with segregation in America, Josephine refused to return to her home country to many years.  When she does return on tour, she is shocked to find nothing has changed and eventually chooses to dedicate her life to fighting prejudice.

Josephine Baker’s life was a whirlwind — there are so many daring and thrilling things she did in her life from a troubled teen searching for affection she didn’t receive at home, to flirtatious showgirl, to government spy, to Civil Rights activist!

The amount of fame Baker had in Europe was astonishing.  She was the sweetheart of Paris who could do no wrong for a time and I can only compare it to the stardom of modern day pop stars like Britney Spears in the early 2000’s.

Powerfully written, at times brazen and always unapologetically truthful like the woman herself, Sherry Jones has documented both the triumphs and tragedies of Josephine Baker, the bold woman who was ahead of her time in every way.

Thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Josephine Baker’s Last Dance is scheduled for release on December 4, 2018.

 

Review | Are You Sleeping

Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

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Poppy Parnell creates a media frenzy when she airs her podcast Reconsidered, discussing a thirteen year old murder case.  Suddenly everyone is discussing Chuck Buhrman’s murder and questioning if his convicted killer, teen next door neighbor Warren Cave, is actually guilty.  There were only two pieces of evidence that put the young man behind bars:  his fingerprints were found in the Buhrman home …and the victim’s daughter, Lanie, testified she witnessed the murder and it was Warren in the kitchen holding the gun (which was never found).

Lanie and her twin sister Josie haven’t spoken in ten years.  Josie has done her best to run away from her past and bury the pain of her father’s murder followed by the abandonment by her mother.  Her mom’s sister, aunt A, raised the twins after she left abruptly for California.
The family had many secrets, which are revealed throughout the novel, and we read excerpts from the Reconsidered podcast as well as tweets and Reddit threads to learn about the case against Warren Cave that cast doubt on his guilt.

The podcast sets a chain of events in motion for the dysfunctional family that lead to tragedy and also the suspicion that Lanie hasn’t been honest about what she witnessed the night her father was murdered.
With the world watching and reacting via social media, Josie and Lanie have to come to terms with their past and all its secrets.

An entertaining mystery with several layers of family dysfunction, I enjoyed how the story unfolded from both Josie’s point of view and through social media posts.  That said, the story itself was fairly predictable and the “twisty psychological thriller” description is overused these days.

Are You Sleeping is a tale of confronting your fears and your past to take control of your future told through America’s latest obsession with true crime.  It was recently picked up by Apple to be developed as a drama series starring Octavia Spencer, with many more well known names now attached.

Review | Ain’t She a Peach?

Ain’t She a Peach? by Molly Harper

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Ain’t She a Peach? is the second story in the Southern Eclectic series that takes readers back to the small town of Lake Sackett, Georgia. We return to McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop (how’s that for convenient one stop shopping?) and follow the story of Frankie, the 28 year old goth/nerd/Southern girl who works as the funeral home embalmer and county coroner.

Frankie is trying her best to be an adult in a close knit family (read: everyone’s up in each other’s business) while still living at home with her parents, keeping an eye on her arch nemesis (a teenage boy set on breaking into the funeral home on Halloween), and figuring out her attraction to new sheriff Eric Linden.

Those who loved the first book in the series, Sweet Tea and Sympathy, will love to see Margot’s story continue alongside Frankie’s. Filled with southern charm, funny one-liners, and a cute romance this is another cozy read.  If you haven’t read the first book, you’ll still be able to enjoy this one without feeling lost.
I’m not a romance reader by any means, but this contemporary romance is full of entertaining characters and the love interest is more of a secondary plot without the lovey-dovey stuff, so this is a fun lighthearted read that can be read in a couple hours.

Thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Ain’t She a Peach? is scheduled for release on June 12, 2018.

Review | The Myth of Perpetual Summer

The Myth of Perpetual Summer by Susan Crandall

“Gran says family traditions are what give meaning to life.  But that’s not it.  The family itself, if we accept it for what it is and not condemn it for what it is not, can be the fiber that weaves a rope that pulls us out of ourselves, and into a world where we’re willing to take an emotional risk.”

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Susan Crandall’s latest novel is a coming of age story set in the sixties, following the James family through small town gossip and dangerous accusations.  Tallulah James’s parents have a passionate but unpredictable relationship that often takes precedence over their children.  Her father suffers from erratic behavior and whispers around town suggests he inherited this trait from his uncle George who disappeared years ago and has since been erased from the family.  Her mother’s parenting could be construed as raising “free range” children but the obvious lack of apathy leaves Tallulah responsible for her younger siblings, twins Dharma and Walden.  The only stability in her life seems to come from her grandmother and older brother Griffin.

When Griffin is accused of a violent crime, the family begins to crumble under the weight of rumors and soon another tragedy breaks the tenuous bond that held them together.

Tallulah leaves behind the wake of tragedy in Lamoyne, Mississippi for sunny California and its myth of perpetual summer.  The emotional scars from her parent’s dysfunctional relationship carries in to her own relationships in the years that she’s gone but she manages to create a life for herself without any contact with her family who has no idea where she is.
Several years after she left them behind, she’s called home when younger brother Walden is accused of murder.

After arriving back in Lamoyne, Tallulah realizes the lives she imagined for the people she left behind didn’t follow the courses she expected.  She relies on her brother Griffin’s best friend Ross to fill in the parts of the story she’s missed in an attempt to figure out what has gone wrong and to save Walden from a certain fate in a culture still reeling from the Manson cult.

The Myth of Perpetual Summer is the tale of a young woman carrying a burden of memories of her dysfunctional family and the mental illness that was never allowed to be discussed or confronted.  Major events of the time, including civil rights most notably, provide an undercurrent of emotion and affect Tallulah in several ways throughout the novel.

Thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Myth of Perpetual Summer is scheduled for release on June 19, 2018.

*The quote included is from an advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon publication.