Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: Love Warrior

Happy Pride! While we're still feeling the after-effects of this past weekend's festivities in Washington, I felt inspired to post about a recent read, by an LGBTQ author. Here's the thing though: despite the fact that this memoir came out last year, she didn't necessarily identify herself in that fashion yet. You'll see what I mean... 

Glennon Doyle Melton is a successful blogger and author, who found her voice in the popular "mommy" sphere of the internet, discussing her children and her faith with readers across the world. However, they haven't necessarily seen this side of her yet: delving deep into the story of her eating disorder, alcoholism, addictive personality, and a rocky relationship with her then-husband, Love Warrior gives Melton a platform to explore the sides of her life that aren't as camera-ready as what she puts on her blog.

This book was awarded the distinction of being Oprah's 2016 Book Club Selection for notable nonfiction, and was a nominee for Best Nonfiction Memoir and Autobiography on Goodreads that same year.  Her previous book Carry On, Warrior, was a New York Times Bestseller, as was this one, and her blog has enjoyed popularity for years now. But the reason I knew about this book, of course, is because she's a fellow Sigma Kappa (She's actually spoken at one of our national conferences before!). Essentially, it was a sure gamble I'd like this book, even before I'd cracked it open.

And when I did, it was like I couldn't close it again. I read this book nearly one sitting, because I absolutely couldn't put it down! Half of that is probably due to the incredibly emotional nature of Glennon's source material - from bulimia and self-image issues, to marital problems and loss of faith in religion, and the growing pains of a growing family - but it's also due to her empathetic and enrapturing style of writing. It's one thing to speak of tragedy, but its quite another to make your reader sympathetic to that pain, instead of ostracizing them from it. Glennon openly admits she's not your perfect role model, but when alcoholism, abortion, and a second unwanted pregnancy align when your author was only a few years older than you are now, you can't help but feel for her.

As you might be able to tell from my previous descriptions, one of the most interesting perspectives in the memoir, are those on faith and religion... In this way, her writing is once again, very personal, and founded in a confluence of varying ideological families, from traditional Christianity, to yoga, to something that is uniquely hers. It's interesting to watch these perspectives intersect and unfold, from an epiphany standing at the feet of a statue of Mary, to a greater understanding of her place in the universe through radical meditation.

(Because of all of this, I definitely don't invite you to read any of the comments sections on her blog, Momastery. All Glennon is doing is looking for her own kind of healing, and people can be so vitriolic.)

Of course, I have to offer up the disclaimer that I include in nearly every review I write of a memoir, that some of it sounded a little overly dramatic and self-involved, like most memoirs are wont to do. But even where it does, it fits the scheme of the book: Glennon is trying to find herself in the midst of her own life, so if it sounds like she's focusing inwards, it's because she has every reason to be doing so.

However, like I mentioned in the intro, I identified it as being written by an LGBTQ author. Reading this book now is a little more difficult to do, due to the context of where Melton is now: her attempts at rekindling a loving marriage with Craig ring a little less true, because they ended up separating again before the book was even published, for good this time... and as of Mother's Day, 2017, she's happily married to soccer star Abby Wambach!

Take a peek at the couples' Instagrams: not only are their wedding photos totally adorable, but its clear that Abby's embracing her unconventional role in Melton's life. Abby even posted a photo of Craig on Father's Day, making it clear that even the family got a little bigger, it certainly didn't lose any love (they even play on the same co-ed soccer team!).

Still, beyond the author's personal life - beyond the very personal accounts of her life in her memoir - this book is an engrossing read, that led me to dog-ear some of the pages to come back to later when I need them. I'm especially excited to see what another book from Glennon might look like, now that her life looks a little different than when she wrote this one!

Final Verdict: An enthralling and emotional remembrance of this popular author's life, and a testimony to the power of self-love and personal healing, Love Warrior is a quick, moving read, that will inspire you, no matter your own religious background.

Have you read any of Glennon Doyle Melton's works before? What do you think of her and Abby's wedding pictures? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer 2017: Challenges, Book Club, and a little Bingo

Happy Summer Solstice, everyone! Today officially marks the end of a temperamental, busy Spring, and the onset of a jam-packed, beautiful Summer (aka, one of the best reasons to live in the PNW!).

This means that for the time being, my younger siblings are out of school, our daily schedules are clear for fun, and unless I find some way to occupy my time, I'm going to totally lose it.

So, like I do every summer, I'm giving myself a bit of a challenge - or three, or four - to make sure that I'm spending this downtime in the most productive manner. From library challenges to Goodreads Challenges, to even some other challenges you might not expect, I've got a plan to help make this summer one for the books... literally!

goodreads challenge 2017

First of all, I'm still on track for this year's Goodreads goal. As you might remember, I altered my Challenge a little bit for 2017 to give myself more room to read the kinds of books I actually want to read, which don't always find their place in a speed-reading stack of 75 books a year. So, while I'm making my steady way towards 50 great titles, I'm still trying to be a little more conscious of what I'm consuming, and how. 

For instance, I've been going to the library quite a bit in the first half of this year, and while that's a great way of getting new titles that I like, it's not doing a lot to help alleviate the number of books still sitting on my TBR bookshelves (yeah, bookshelves). 

I'd also like to do a better job switching up the kinds of books I'm reading. So far, there's been a fair amount of YA and Memoirs - like there always is with me -  but I'd still like to try swinging for a few more hefty tomes this year, which will be perfect for these drowsy summer afternoons. I've got everything from Edith Wharton to medical nonfiction sitting in my TBR, so it's only fair that I give those kinds of reads as much of a chance as I do the easier stuff. 

library book bingo challenges

But speaking of libraries, you won't be surprised to find that I'm taking part in the Seattle Libraries Summer Book Bingo again this year. What you might be surprised by, is that I'm taking part in the Tacoma Public Libraries Book Bingo, as well! 

I know, I hear you: it sounds like a lot. 

However, both library branches have their own systems for completion that make taking part in both doable: for instance, whereas Seattle's Bingo has each square representing a book, Tacoma's has other options, like "attending a library event," or "reading for 60 minutes straight." The kinds of books each promotes are also different, because while there are some overlaps - like science fiction novels, or novels by a person of color - there are others that get pretty specific, like Seattle's "a book from the year one of your parents was born," or Tacoma's "a book set in the Middle East." Taking part in both is primarily an exercise in pushing my bookish boundaries, and I know that while I won't be making a blackout on either card, it will help me get to more interesting reads this summer. 

For instance, take a peek at some of the books I have lined up to fill those spots so far: the Ariel poetry collection from Sylvia Plath, Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the first installment of the Saga comic book series, Helen Oyeyemi's Boy Snow Bird, and even an old favorite, Annie Dillard's An American Childhood, which I'm actually reading right now! 

And, of course, I'm rereading Twilight

Wait, what!? 

the twilight family book club

Image result for into the twilight
Find the podcast on Soundcloud HERE!
So, funny story: back during my time at UW in Seattle, in classes required for completion of the English major, I met this really cool girl, named Ally. While Ally went on to move to Portland,  we still follow each other on social media... which is how I found out late last year, that she had started a podcast with one of her friends, Cody, called Into the Twilight. 

Every week, these two hilarious co-hosts read and recap a two-chapter segment of - you guessed it - the Twilight series. While Cody hasn't ever read the books before, and is only tangentially aware of what goes on in the series, Ally is a super-fan with a significant awareness of some of its fictional foibles, with an academic background perfect for picking them apart on air.

Because I have such a bad track record with keeping up with podcasts - and, um, Twilight? - I put off actually listening to it... that is, until earlier this month, when a short family trip to Portland gave me more than enough time in a car to commit to the series. After only a few episodes, I was completely hooked, and quickly pissing off the other inhabitants of the van with how much I was giggling.

In an attempt to actually persuade myself to get my butt to the gym, I'm only listening while I'm on the treadmill, which is why, despite their hilarity, I'm only in the mid-teens of the episodes already produced. However, in the midst of losing my breath partially from cardio and partially because I can't stop laughing, I made a surprising decision: I wanted to go back and reread those books, too! 

I proposed the idea to my 21-year-old sister, as to whether she wanted to casually book-club some of the series with me this summer, and she immediately accepted, without follow-up questions (to clarify: Rainier is Delaney's favorite type of beer specifically because Charlie Swan drinks it, and on a thrift store trip a year or two ago, purchased a "Bella + Edward Forever" shirt that she still wears in public). When I mentioned it to my other two younger siblings - my 17-year-old sister and 15-turning-16-in-August-year-old brother - they surprised me by wanting in, as well.

So, thanks to Ally, I now have a new incentive to die laughing at the gym, as well as a family book club for the summer!

and, of course, other stuff

So, even though I've got three separate bookish focuses for my time this summer, they're not the only parts of my life worth focusing on. Of course, we've got plenty of family vacations to look forward to - kicked off by our first-out-of-three camping trip this weekend, while some family membs take a break on Saturday to go up to Seattle Pride! - and August is bisected by vacations in Disneyland and Sun River, OR.

While some of my siblings are occupied by their own summer courses - from college classes, to driving school - I'm trying to take a class or two of my own from what's offered online (And if you have any recommendations for courses you enjoyed, please let me know!). 

There's plenty else, too, from revitalizing my resume and LinkedIn in a continuation of my efforts to get a real-person job instead of freelancing, ticking off a few activities in a bucket list full of summer favorites, and maybe even taking part in Camp NaNo for the month of July. Plus, let's not forget that later this Summer, I get to celebrate my 7th (!!!) blog birthday with Playing in the Pages! 

So, for right now, I think I'm okay. There's plenty to get started on, of course... but all I really want to do, is curl up in our hammock with a glass of lemonade, and a really good book! 

What are some of your most anticipated reads for Summer 2017? Are you taking part in any fun reading challenges? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: The Magicians

It's hard for me to believe it took me a little less than two months to read this book... I got about 50 pages in, but couldn't get invested, so I let it sit for a while, and even considered just returning it to my shelves for later this year. But ultimately I decided to give it another shot... and absolutely soared through the rest of the book!

Lev Grossman's international bestseller and first installment of the Magicians trilogy, The Magicians follows Quentin Coldwater, an unassuming and depressed high school grad, who suddenly finds his childhood beliefs realized when he's brought into the world of Brakebills, a school for magic users. There, he finds that the fantastical fictional adventures he craved in his youth might not be as far-off as he had always envisioned... and that it might house dangers more menacing than he ever would have guessed. With Quentin and his friends coping with more than just secondary education, but relationships, friendship, and the existence of forces beyond their control, they're going to have to stick by each other if they're going to navigate this new territory, not to mention get out of it all alive.

Like I mentioned before, getting into this book was a little bit of an exercise for me. I had originally included it in my experiment with Book Speed-Dating a couple of months ago, and immediately planned to read it soon... but when I did, I found myself getting bored, to the point where I nearly DNF'd about 50 pages in. I let it stew for about another month, and didn't feel too inspired to pick it up, which nearly led me to remove its bookmark and put it back on the TBR shelf, but I decided I wasn't going to let it go without giving it my very best try.

Only a few days later, I had completely finished the book, and immediately planned for procuring a copy of its sequel. So, a little bit of an exercise in patience and perseverance.

I think the main factor of this irritation, was that it takes a little while to get going. And it's not just the beginning of the novel: I feel like there are some pacing issues throughout the rest of the book, as well, mainly factored into its divisions into Parts throughout its body.

Going alongside that, there were segments of the book that just moved along too quickly, and didn't feel like there was closure on elements of the novel that I would have liked to have seen a little more focus on. One of those particular points, of course, was of Quentin's life at Brakebills, which - despite the descriptions on both the book's official blurb, as well as it's marketing strategy summed up by the phrase "grown-up Harry Potter" - was fairly short, as perhaps only the first half of the book summarized his few brief years there.

This was a bit of a bummer for me, because as someone who's spent a lot of time attending schools that look fairly magical from the outside - see Stadium High School in Tacoma, or the University of Washington in Seattle - I'd like to have heard more about the inner workings of a real one.

Because I mentioned the Hogwarts send-up, I feel like I need to address that point, as well: yes, the book pays homage to elements of Harry Potter, as it also does for the Chronicles of Narnia series, in a way that is very deliberately evocative and more than a little tongue-in-cheek. However, while the worlds of Brakebills and Fillory owe a lot of creative inspiration from those fictional juggernauts, the counterpoints never felt like they were retreading any overly familiar material in a way that was cliche, or heavy-handed. It still managed to keep it new, by integrating systems of magic that were really comprehensive, and was one of the best portrayals of urban fantasy I've read in a while, especially when integrated with elements of high fantasy, as well.

Another thing Grossman did quite well, was write Quentin's depression in a way that informed his character and impacted his relationship and progression with other characters, with truth and realism behind it. It's not made too much of an explicit plot point, but it does serve as an implicit character trait, and explains much of his relationship with the idea of magic and the escapism of Fillory. It was probably one of my favorite stylistic and character choices throughout the novel.

Another favorite character choice, was that it would be nearly impossible to pick my favorite character. The answer is not "Because they're all my favorite!" but more along the lines of "Because they're all kind of jerks a lot of the time!" Neither Quentin, nor friends like Alice, Penny, Elliot or Janet, are very good people... in the case of black and white characters, there all fairly among the spectrum of determinedly dark grey, and that provides some pretty unique shading to their interactions. It's a loyal group of fairly self-serving people, and those conflicts that arise are so firmly entrenched with their own deficits, that the plot - a urban-high fantasy hyrbid with monsters and magical schools - remains incredibly character-driven, at its core, which seems like a pretty impressive feat to me.

(And, because I'd feel bad if I recommended it without mentioning, there's quite a bit of sex in it. Yeah, I know, but it something I feel like I needed to bring up, because it's never just sex, but sex in the weirdly semi-uncomfortable way that seems unique to almost the entire male fantasy writer canon - Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin - so it's not like it's anything too out of the ordinary. I just skipped through those parts, honestly.)

Final Verdict: Beyond minor pacing issues, a lack of magical school syllabus, and maybe a little bit of awkward romantic interaction, this book was an absolute favorite of mine this year. I'm already looking forward to reading the sequel, The Magician King, sometime later this summer, and I've still got this mental teeter-totter argument going on with myself about whether investing in a Hulu account is something I'm willing to consider as doable, specifically for the sake of watching the SyFy show, which I've heard praised by nearly everyone I know who's watched it.

Have you read this series yet? Are you a fan of the SyFy show? What would you be willing to do to attend a magic college? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

News and Things: May Favorites

No, you do not have to tell me this post is approximately a week late. I know, okay? I know. And I've been trying. Really hard!

With everything from my younger siblings wrapping up their respective school years, to a weekend trip to Portland (Powells!), to working on a newsletter for the University of Washington Tacoma's Institute of Technology, I've been a little too busy to upload this admittedly lengthy post.

So I woke up before 7am this morning to make sure it got done! Because sometimes, the only thing you need is a little earlier of an alarm clock... and, of course, to have finished up all of those other projects that were preventing me from getting to this part.

Regardless, May is over, June is here, and it's only getting better. In the past month, there have been some News, and there have been some Things. Without further ado, here's May's installment of "News and Things"!

A few years ago, my younger sister and I both realized we had developed a fascination with the same serial killer: the prolific and menacing H. H. Holmes, the figure at the heart of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City. So of course, when news broke earlier last month that his body was going to be exhumed in Chicago, she was the first person I sent the article to!

No matter how many Oscar-caliber stars you jam into one Twitter photo, it's nothing compared to the sheer star power of one Nevada teen who just really wanted some nuggets. Wendy's has committed to their promise of one year of free chicken nuggets in exchange for 18 million retweets... and in a world of viral marketing, I feel like that's a fine trade off!

It's one kind of heartbreak to have your valuables stolen... and it's quite another if it includes a handwritten Harry Potter prequel vignette, straight from J. K. Rowling herself.

Whether you're on the side that seeks to free information for public use, or to restrict literary obtainment as much within the grounds of copyright as possible (both are fair arguments), the elimination of the massive Google Books library marks a significant moment for both. 

Also courtesy of The Atlantic, is a story about one family's modern-day slave, which went viral on my Facebook feed. The idea that there are still countries of the world that engage in slave labor is a harsh reality, when added to the fact that America has always been a country of immigrants... a large population of which were brought over in pain, and unable to ever return home.

So, yeah, I'm a Nancy Drew fan. Did you know that the idea of the girl detective has been around since the first World War? In a culture where Middle Grade reading is still pretty ridiculously pink, I'd like to remind everyone that young female readers have never needed their books dumbed down for them (and that boys read girl detective books, too!).

If we've got any vegetarians in the audience, you probably shouldn't watch this video. But this Bon Appetit breakdown of every single cut of meat from a full side of steer had me aghast from start to finish. The amount of material that is fully used - to the very odds and ends of the fat, which even have their own value - is remarkable... and a great argument to purchase cuts from hometown butchers, instead of wasteful mass-market meats.

Another year, another set of graduates making their way out of universities around the world. Cup of Jo talks about some of her favorite moments from celebrity-given commencement speeches this year, and even includes some old favorites from years past, as well.

In my ever-present quest for snacks that don't make me feel so bogged down, I recently stumbled upon the versatile and delicious world of roasted chickpeas. This Pinterest favorite is incredibly easy and completely customizable... I like to underbake mine a little bit so they're still a little crunchy, but still a little dense. Yum! 

Guess who's got two thumbs and is definitely jumping on board the kombucha crazy train? Me! I don't think I'll ever get to the point of brewing the confusing concoction myself, but I'm more than happy to pick up some of the Brew Dr. Kombucha's Superberry flavor as an afternoon pick-me-up. 

We've always had overripe bananas on-hand at my house, but up until this point, I've not had any really great banana bread recipes to use them in. Until I ditched the idea of banana bread, and started making cute little banana bundts instead! 

Rounding out my personal list of monthly food favorites, has to include my recent artichoke episode. After getting interested in them while watching one of my favorite YouTuber's "What I Eat in a Day" video, I decided to try my hand at the prickly snacks myself, picking up a set of 4 globe artichokes and accompanying garlic spread from Trader Joe's. Long story short: my world will never be the same! 

Saturday Night Live recently wrapped what I think has been one of their most politically charged seasons yet, involving brilliant celebrity cameos, jaw-dropping impersonations, and not one, but two renditions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." The Hollywood Reporter sat down with some of the show's shining stars, to find how the whole circus came together. 

Well, we're officially a PNW family: two of my younger siblings and I are now all the owners of identical Starbucks venti clear tumblers. The only way to make sure we're not mixing them up, is with the addition of these fantastic plastic straws! 

I've recently been diversifying my podcast listening habits, and have absolutely found a friend in Pod Save America. A political podcast hosted by White House familiars from the Obama administration, this liberal, hilarious take down of all of Tr*mp's recent antics has been a lifesaver this past month. 

And of course, I'd be absolutely remiss without giving a shoutout to the absolute awesomeness that is our backyard right now. With the advent of warm Spring weather again - the literal only bright side to the nightmare hellscape that our current President is confident in resigning us to - we've been able to pull out the grill multiple times this month already. So, we're all gonna roast, but at least we can roast some veggie kabobs first. 

What have been some of your favorite News and Things this past month? What are you looking forward to in June? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy-ish Steps

I'm almost a full year graduated from the University of Washington Seattle, and I'm ashamed to admit, I don't know how much "adulting" I've done in the past 12 months. Sure, I pay my student loans on time, and I know how to run a load of laundry and do the dishes, but ask me to define what a 401K is, and I'd just stare back at you blankly. Thank goodness for Kelly Williams Brown, to give us all the low down on how to grow up! 

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy-ish Steps, by Kelly Williams Brown, is a guide for twenty-somethings - or God forbid, older - on exactly how to act your age. Written at the age of 27, Brown tackled her tome on Millenial self-accountability while also working as a journalist, and openly admits throughout the book that she's not exactly a paragon of Grown-Up life, either. Still, this primer on everything from finances, to friendship, can help you get there, at least part of the way.

I was honestly super surprised at how much I enjoyed this book... what I originally thought was going to be a kind of novelty, gag-gift type breakdown of being a functioning human, was actually a comprehensive and informative pseudo-book-of-manners-slash-operating-manual covering a diverse range of issues, such as what is really required for a new apartment, how to make basic kitchen recipes, how to handle yourself in an emergency, and how to handle your friends, family, neighbors, and others in just general, daily life.

The scope stretched pretty far, and contained actual nuggets of wisdom that I'm going to be needing throughout my twenties, especially when it comes to things like the chapter on Finances, which broke down elements of personal money issues that I had genuinely not thought of before.

Does it sound like a lot of this might be common sense, or advice you might already know? Then maybe consider the fact that without opportunities for that kind of learned behavior, people in their twenties might not get too many other examples of how to deal with balancing a budget, learn how to entertain guests, or keep their apartment clean, and plants, living. We don't get Home Ec classes in high school any more; chances are your early adulthood years were pretty fraught with misunderstandings, too.

An actual anecdote of how the contents of this book applied to my early-twenties life encapsulate one of such "common sense" examples: within the scope of the past year, both of my younger sisters have gotten into pretty harrowing car accidents... and neither fully understood the correct order of operations as to how to deal with that on-scene. Sure, you're taught how to drive, but you don't get insurance policies explained to you until you've probably already barreled through one. Having the steps of how to properly document car damage listed out, no matter how common sense they may be to others, is reassuring and affirming in reader abilities to successfully deal with that kind of situation, no matter how great of a driver you are.

Of course, there was some stuff I couldn't have cared less about, too. Chapters on navigating love in your Twenties, as well as how to choose, keep, and drop your friends, came off as very obvious and maybe more than a little off-the-shoulder.

But while Brown's cavalier, expletive-laced directions might rub some parents the wrong way, the fact of the matter is, it makes the book more approachable, interesting, and engaging. It feels like the reader is getting advice from an older, more mature friend, who knows how to do things like get hired for an office job without having a full work wardrobe already hanging in the closet, which is someone I think we all need.

I actually want to pick up a copy of this one for myself - I had rented it out from the library - because despite the somewhat cringe-inducing title, this book is one that I can conceivably see myself using in the future. If you've got a graduate to buy for this year - despite whether it's a young woman or young man entering into the precarious next stages of their lives - this is definitely a purchase you should consider, and one they'd probably thank you for.

Brown also released a modern book on manners just this past April, and I know I'd love a copy of that, too.

Final Verdict: Tackling the troubles of navigating an iffy entry into adulthood - without ever sounding too preachy or mom-ish - Brown is able to translate the difficulties of first-time ownership of your own Life with humor, scope, and understanding.

Would a self-help guide for adult life have made a difference in your twenties? What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about growing up? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Recommended Reads: Reality TV

So, if you're in any way connected to entertainment publications, a functioning Twitter account, or a culture-vulture lady in between the ages of 16 and 96 - or, God help you, all of the above - you know exactly what last night was: the premiere episode of Rachel's season of The Bachelorette!

I've been anticipating last night since Rachel became one of my personal front-runners early into Nick's season of The Bachelor earlier this year. She's charismatic, intelligent, gorgeous, and incredibly funny... the perfect lady for America to walk alongside, as she picks out both her own Prince Charming, as well as the next hunk of man candy to cast in the subsequent installment of the hit franchise!

(My favorite article published in anticipation of the new season, is a data breakdown by FiveThirtyEight, charting how best to predict which suitors will make it to the final rounds of competition. It's been pretty helpful in determining how to structure my Bachelorette Fantasy League! And yes, of course there's a Fantasy League... ABC is owned by the same company as ESPN!)

Still, if TV itself helps rot your brain, reality TV can be like dousing the entire thing in lighter fluid and striking a match. As we all disappear into the fire and drama of a new season of hot summer programming, it's important to remember that it's a good thing - a great thing, even! - to pick up a book every once in a while, instead. And yes, of course those books can be about reality TV, too!

Here are some of my personal favorite hits from some of my reality franchise favorites. Pink, but not precious, these lovely ladies with glam gams and spray tans are here to spice up your summer beach reads! And you don't even have to wait for Monday nights to get the scoop.

23215469Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny, Holly Madison

One of the most throwback picks on this list, the gossip from this tell-all - courtesy of one of the most famous Playboy bunnies of all time - isn't just for rabbit ears only. Going behind the scenes of Madison's time on E!'s Girls Next Door, this memoir shades out the greater insanity of the iconic early '00s show, giving context to some of its most notable TV moments, and illuminating more of the insidious darkness of their production.

My sister read the book before I did, and in a moment of curiosity, went back and re-watched some of the episodes we had viewed for the first time, back when the show was on the air and we were in middle school. Apparently, Holly's words ring true: while the dusty and dark mansion Madison describes seems so far away from its bubblegum depiction on the show, there's an element of falsity that permeates the whole setup... and you can even see it in their dialogue.

You'll also be happy to know that Madison also wrote the book herself: those manicured fingers certainly know how to type, too! Not only was Holly one of the show's stars and a cover model, but she also maneuvered her fame into long-term stints as an editor of the iconic magazine. She's no Stein, or Steinbeck, but she's an accomplished career woman who turned her own circumstances around, and now has the book deal, the bestseller status, and a sequel, to prove it!

4758093The L.A. Candy series, Lauren Conrad

Can I be honest for a second? I don't think there's anyone who can turn a fluffy MTV reality show into a multimedia fashion and entertainment empire quite like Lauren Conrad. Between her lifestyle website, fashion brands, home goods line, and bestselling books - as well as adorable husband and soon-to-be baby! - I think she's found that yes, the rest is still unwritten... but she wants to be the one who's holding the pen.

She got her start straight off the series with these sweet little New York Times bestsellers, following the fictional lives of a group of friends living in L.A., and the camera crews that follow them, too, on a reality show documenting their not-so-real lives. Of course, I feel weird about using the word "fictional" to describe any of it, because as anyone who have seen more than three episodes of Lauren's shows - MTV's Laguna Beach and The Hills - can tell you, it's barely concealing the truth. (Backstabbing costars! The awkward dating scene! Near-sociopathic producers!)

Those longing to get a little more perspective on Conrad's early years should definitely pick up a copy... and, of course, her nonfiction books Style, Beauty and Celebration are all excellent, too.

25986991It's Not Okay: Turning Heartbreak into Happily Never After, Andi Dorfman

Absolutely no citizen of Bachelor Nation was shocked when Andi Dorfman announced to the world that she would be penning a tell-all tome of her time on the hit ABC series. As one of the Bachelor franchises' most no-nonsense contestants, and one of the Bachelorette franchises' most vocal stars, Andi has a TV habit of voicing her displeasure... and she's not about to stop doing it now.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, the title comes from a now iconic Bachelor moment, when then-Bach Juan Pablo Galavis attempted to subdue the frustrated Andi by telling her, "It's okay," after she confronted him about his self-absorbed and narcissistic behavior the night before, in the Fantasy Suite. She dumped him then and there, and came back for Round Two as the Bachelorette, eventually bestowing Josh Murray with her final rose. Still, things weren't all "okay": it was only a matter of time before the ring was back in Neil Lane's pocket, leaving Andi with a lot of relationship drama to fill a book with. 

Dorfman tears into her Bachelor surroundings with the barest veneer of nondisclosure, but anyone who watched her seasons - let alone someone who watched her seasons with her entire sorority providing commentary - would know exactly who she's talking about when she mentions a few key exes. While this may come off across as a little vindictive, once you've been on national television, I think the boundaries get a little blurry as to what is and isn't appropriate to spill the beans on... and once a dude has copped to your hookup in front of a million viewers, I think it's alright to call him out for being a bit of a jerk.

And let's be real for a moment: if you're looking for more good-natured Bachelor reflections, go read Sean Lowe's For the Right Reasons (I've yet to myself, so tell me if you like it!).

Well, I think that sums up some of my more blatantly bad reality TV habits. What shows do you like to watch? Got any recommendations for reality TV reads yourself? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review: The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation

It's no secret that celebrity memoirs are often one of my favorite sources of reading material. It's equally apparent, when looking at my reading habits and frequent recommendations, that there's nothing better in my book, than the book of a very funny lady. The best of both were combined in this surprisingly moving and equally hilarious account by Melissa Rivers, of her life with her comedy star mother, Joan. 

I was always a big fan of Joan Rivers, and would often watch Fashion Police not for any of the actual sartorial commentary, but just because her humor made up such a significant part of it. This remembrance of her, told by her daughter Melissa, contains so much of that spark of irrepressible humor that was so quintessentially Joan. Funny, loving, and laced with enough struggle between strong personalities to remind you of your own relationship with your parents, I really enjoyed reading about Melissa's fond memories of her mother. And just in time for Mother's Day!

Melissa described her efforts in writing this book, were primarily to create something that would make her mother laugh. As such, the book is sprinkled throughout with not only the late Rivers' original style of humor, but also an attempt at replicating it by her daughter. 

The effect of this is sweet, but still a little odd. In the relationship, Melissa was always the straight man - something she openly cops to in the book - so to see her attempt to take on her mother's comedy mantle is a little difficult, because the humor doesn't exactly transfer. However, I don't think it was her trying to start a new kind of career in comedy, it was definitely in honor of Joan.

The style of humor itself, being Joan's, was almost kind of retro. In today's humor environment of shock comics on television and the movies, political satire blowing up in response to the current insane political climate, and whatever the hell kind of humor we're getting from the Internet - especially YouTube - Mrs. Rivers' kind of comedy, with a straightforward format, a diagram-able buildup to a punchline, and tongue-in-cheek meanness, comes off as quietly nostalgic. No one tells jokes like these anymore... and maybe that's because Joan Rivers isn't around to tell them.

The look into her personal life was sweet and hilarious. Joan Rivers was exactly the person you saw on screen when she was back at home: a workaholic who exaggerated the truth and didn't suffer fools kindly, this sharp broad was also a terrible driver, a stickler for manners with the kind of deadpan sarcasm that could flatten a bus, who loved junk food and jewelry, and hated sports. She lived unapologetically as herself, and that personal bravery has clearly made an impact on her daughter.

The one thing that threw me a little bit, were the repeated jokes within the book of how Melissa is now out of a job, and hopes to work for various influential people in Hollywood, often to the point of being a little subservient about it. On one hand, this is just like her mother's often self-deprecating style - one of the reason Joan dealt criticisms so openly, was because she paved the way by mocking herself first - but it was still a little sad: so much of Melissa's life and career was shaped around that of bolstering her mother's, so now she's having to manage her own way with Joan gone.

By the time I reached the end, I thought I could have read this in one afternoon, had I been less busy. Well-organized, and constructed in a pattern that makes sense, the overall story of the two's relationship is incredibly easy to read, and  Rivers' passion for grammar makes for a book that just flows easily.

Final Verdict: This remembrance of a comedy legend would have been just the kind of thing Joan Rivers would have loved. A humorous, caring reflection on the life of one of America's original funny ladies, by someone who absolutely knew her best, fans of hers should take an afternoon to indulge in this quick read.

What is your favorite celebrity memoir, of either themselves, or another? Who's your favorite celebrity mother-daughter pair? Let me know, in the comments below!