taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #44: Call Me Cockroach by Leigh Byrne

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Cannonball Read V: Book #44/52
Published: 2013
Pages: 236

Genre: Memoir

This book is a follow-up of the excellent memoir, Call Me Tuesday by Leigh Byrne. She grew up in a very abusive home and her childhood was chronicled in her first book. The only thing I didn’t like about Call Me Tuesday was the sort of abrupt ending. I wanted to know what happened to “Tuesday” (or Leigh)and how her childhood abuse effected her late teens and adult life.

Call Me Cockroach follows her life after she leaves her home to live with her aunt. However, Tuesday ends up back in an abusive relationship by marrying a guy she barely knows at a very young age. She’s also still dealing with her mother, who seems to brush all of the past abuse behind her. Her mother also only abused Tuesday and not her brothers and she never did really get answers as to why. I was also heartbroken to learn that she has little to no relationships with any of her brothers. I can’t imagine how painful it would be to have your entire family basically refuse to acknowledge what she went through as a child nor offer any explanation.

Read the rest in my blog.

sonk’s #CBR5 Review #48: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

It’s pretty unusual, I think, for books with a lot of buzz to live up to the hype. Or really, for books that are more literary to gain mainstream popularity. There are some, of course–books like Freedom by Jonathan Franzen come to mind–but generally I find that the books that everyone seems to be reading aren’t that appealing to me. Wild is absolutely one of those books–it’s popular for a reason, because it’s spectacular.

Read the rest of my review here.

The Mama’s #CBR5 Review #66: Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil by John Berendt

midnightI first read Midnight about ten years ago, maybe more, but two recent trips to Savannah prompted a re-read. We’re all familiar (either through the book or Clint Eastwood’s film) of the story of Jim Williams, Danny Hansford, and the incomparable Lady Chablis, but with each reading (and each visit), I fall in love with this odd little city a bit more.

For the uninitiated, Berendt’s tale begins with him meeting Jim Williams, an antique dealer, to interview him for a piece in a magazine. While in Savannah, Berendt becomes intrigued with the city, falling in love with it, and eventually renting a small apartment in the historic district. He meets several of the city’s movers and shakers, and quite a few of its less prominent citizens. Fast forward a few years, and Danny Handford is dead, Jim Williams is on trial, and the entire town is abuzz.

Savannah is a strange, beautiful, wonderful place. It’s ancient by American standards, settled in 1733, and at times it gives the air that it hasn’t changed much. Berendt captures the magic of the city, painting not just each character with perfect, vivid strokes, but painting the town as well.

Lady Astor is rumored to have remarked about Savannah that the city is “like a beautiful woman with a dirty face”. I’ve always thought a little dirt kept things interesting. Berendt captures Savannah, her beauty, and her flaws with simple, lyrical perfection.

(And for those wondering, Lady Chablis is still performing once a month, and she is every bit as fierce and fabulous as she was in the film.)

Read more here…

The Mama’s #CBR5 Review #63: Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless

chanelIn this heartbreakingly funny memoir, Wendy Lawless details her childhood with her mother, a woman whose picture belongs in the dictionary next to the word narcissist. And the word addict. And substance abuser. And, quite possibly, the word horrible.

Lawless’ mother personifies self-indulgence. She whisks Wendy and her sister from trailer parks to New York City to London and back again, cutting their father out of their lives, and wreaking havoc on two very impressionable teenage girls. Swanning about in her blue pegnoir set (and I could just picture the marabou mules that I’m sure went with it), stinking of cigarettes and too much perfume, her mother tells the girls that if they weren’t pretty, she would have left them years ago. Two stories in particular stood out to me. In one, Lawless tells her mother that she has a crush on their lawn boy, and the next day, watches as she dons a halter top and short shorts and seduces the lawn boy in a tent in the back yard. The lawn boy is never heard from again. In another, it is her younger sister’s high school graduation day. Lawless receives a phone call from the school principal, asking her to “get down to the school right now”. When she arrives, her mother has driven her car across the lawn, up to the stage on the football field, and, dressed in her pale blue nightie, she is stumbling about the school grounds. When Lawless arrives, her mother hops in her car, drives off, and isn’t heard from for several days, when she arrives back home as though nothing has happened.

Lawless is a smart, funny writer with a wickedly sharp wit. There’s the old adage about how you can either laugh or cry, and she’s chosen to laugh, and to make us laugh as well. This memoir is horrifyingly sad, but Lawless never allows you to feel sorry for her. She is a survivor, and she has not only survived, but she has thrived.

Read more here…

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #43: Shirley Jones: A Memoir by Shirley Jones with Wendy Leigh

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When I found out that this is Banned Book Week, I was sorry that I hadn’t chosen a known banned book to review. A memoir by America’s musical sweetheart seemed like pretty tame fare, the opposite of a banned book. But then…

Jack [Cassidy] was my sexual Svengali. He taught me everything about sex, and he taught me how to masturbate and never be ashamed about doing it…. I still masturbate…. I just use Vaseline and my finger. And my fantasies.

Well, “Come on, get happy,” Mrs. Partridge! This memoir by Shirley Jones is sure to upset the prudish and squeamish everywhere. Given her bluntness and honesty about her sex life and troubled marriage to Jack Cassidy, fans who remember her as Laurey in Oklahoma! or Marian the Librarian in The Music Man or Mrs. Partridge of The Partridge Family are sure to be scandalized. I found it to be a funny and fascinating look at Jones’ life and career. I’ve always been a fan and even though I was surprised by her detailed descriptions of her very active sex life and her willingness to put up with the shenanigans of Jack Cassidy (whom she calls a “sex god’), I still find her to be delightful and a pretty tough gal.

Jones was born and raised in Smithton, PA, not far from Pittsburgh. She was an only child and, by her own account, quite willful. Whatever she was told to do, she would feel compelled to do the opposite and endured frequent paddlings as a result. Her musical talent became evident at a young age and her parents encouraged and supported its development, but Jones says her real goal in life had been to become a veterinarian. Upon graduation from high school, Jones and her parents traveled to New York for a vacation when fate struck and she had the opportunity to audition for Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was while on a European tour of Oklahoma! that Jones met Jack Cassidy. Everyone warned her that he was a Lothario and married to boot, and that she should be careful, but she fell in love and maintained a lifelong passion and regard for this man. This must be one of those “you had to be there” things, because the guy sounds like a selfish, self-absorbed asshole. He left his wife and son David (Keith Partridge!) for Jones, and then cheated on her in an open and serial manner. He also seems to have been jealous and resentful of her success. Yet, Jones understands and forgives him as he ignores and hurts his children, overspends, and philanders. The only time she gets upset is when he brings one of his girlfriends to the same restaurant where she is dining

For the most part, Jones remained a one-man woman. For the most part. She describes herself and Cassidy (and her children, including stepson David) as “highly sexed,” which I take to mean that they like it and need it more than the average person. She admits to one affair and the occasional passionate kissing of other men (usually co-stars) while married to Cassidy. Jones divorced Cassidy after a series of events that threatened the safety of their children. Cassidy seems to have had a breakdown (perhaps related to alcohol and drug abuse) and suffered from delusions. He died in December 1974 after falling asleep on a couch with a lit cigarette, which caused a fatal fire.

Jones’ memoir is mostly chronological, often following the big breaks in her career: Oklahoma!, Elmer Gantry, The Music Man, etc. But she does, within chapters, jump forward or backward to complete an anecdote. Given my interest in particular shows, like The Music Man, I was glad she left none of her big career moments out but would have liked more details about the other stars and productions themselves. It’s been a while, though, and her focus is really on herself (as it should be), so this is forgiven. I learned some stuff I never knew, like she turned down the role of Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch and Jack Cassidy turned down the role of Ted Baxter in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Plus, she has lots of anecdotes about people I hadn’t realized she knew: Sinatra, Brando, Sammy Davis, Jr. One of the impressions I was left with is that there was a lot of porn, drugs, alcohol and “swinging” going on in Hollywood in the 1960s. Jones had a front row seat and seems to have enjoyed the ride. Another interesting aside — she and her second husband Marty Ingels dared to cross Oprah Winfrey when she tried to stiff them for appearing on her show. They got their money, and also successfully sued the National Enquirer.

Shirley Jones is a tough cookie and probably a hoot and a half to hang out with. This is a fun read if you’ve enjoyed her career and aren’t a prude.

pyrajane’s review #27: Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott

FairylandThe title of this caught my eye because I thought it was about fairy tale faeries.  Then I learned it was about THE GAYS!!! and read the blurb and decided it sounded interesting.  I didn’t know anything about Alysia Abbott or her father Steve and was interested to learn more about growing up in the heart of the gay scene in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s.  I like memoirs because it’s interesting to see what you have in common with a person and how you relate to them even if their story is completely different than yours.

Alysia Abbott’s story is extra completely different than mine, but of course  I still found lots to relate with.  After her father died, she read through his massive  collection of journals and created a beautiful work.  This is her story, but she has her father’s words to fill in parts she doesn’t remember, as well as being able to get his side of the story for what she does remember.  It feels like the two of them are writing the book together, and it’s beautiful.

Alysia’s parents (Steve and Barbara) met in 1968 at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  Steve told Barbara he was bisexual and she thought it was great.  The two of them moved in together and later decided to get married so they could furnish the apartment with wedding gifts and get cash from her parents.  They continued their open relationship and Steve found that he was empowered by having a wife.  He could be openly gay and people were sort of OK with it because clearly he liked women enough to marry and have sex with one.  And Barbara wasn’t bothered by the boyfriends, even if friends thought she was crazy.

Barbara gets pregnant with Alysia and wants the baby while Steve is panicked and doesn’t think it’s a good idea.  By this time in their relationship Barbara was jealous of Steve’s younger boyfriend and was going to have the baby with or without him around.  She does, and by the time Alysia is three, Barbara is in a relationship with a drug addict named Wolf.  She begins using heavily and Steve slowly finds himself as the only safe caretaker for his daughter.  Wolf is arrested out of state, Barbara goes to bail him out and on the way home she is killed in a car accident.

Steve is suddenly completely alone with a toddler.  He doesn’t fit in with his in-laws and his boyfriend has left him, unable to deal with the seriousness of the situation.  Less than a year after Barbara’s death, Steve packs the car and drives to San Francisco to build a life for himself and his daughter.

Once he gets to San Francisco, he is fully out as a gay man.  He already did come out while in Atlanta, but now he felt fully free to be who he was and to be able to work creatively in his own world.  He was part of the gay art scene and in places created it.  He was a writer and an artist and he surrounded himself with creative people.  The Castro was coming into power and Harvey Milk was starting his campaigns.  It was where Steve needed to be.

But he also needed to be a father and he struggled with this constantly.  He wanted to be a better person, to be healthy and clean and calm so he could be the best father for Alysia, but he was also lonely and wanted someone to love him.  It’s heartbreaking to read the longing in his own words, wanting desperately for someone to share his life with him and Alysia.  He seems to be constantly falling in love, but over and over he picks young men who aren’t interested in relationships, and especially aren’t interested in becoming a father.  He seems himself as a mentor to these young men and surrounds himself with other artists, hoping to guide them and help them find their own voices.  As an editor and creator of his own magazine, he does help them.  He goes on to run workshops and weekend retreats and poetry readings and much more with other artists, many of them gay, but the whole time he’s searching and longing for a partner.  I wanted him to find someone his own age who maybe had similar experiences, but that wasn’t the scene in the Castro District.  He was surrounded by young men, even referring to them as boys sometimes.  These were who he was falling in love with, and it wasn’t going to work, no matter how hard he tried.

Read much more over on my blog.  I’m really glad I read this.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #23: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

french milk - Lucy Knisley
A few years ago, a friend recommended I check out Lucy Knisley’s work and it was something that went in my mental bank for after then. Which turned into now, since my library had a copy and I’ve been on the hunt for some good graphic novels. This one is not your typical story-based graphic novel, but more of a travel diary told through narration, photos, and illustrations by the author.

In January of 2007, the Lucy and her mom spent a month in Paris to celebrate her mom’s 50th birthday and get some good mother/daughter bonding in. (Man, I want to go to Paris to celebrate a big birthday like that. I’d love to go with my sister, because that would be AWESOME.) Since the author is also an artist, she decided to keep a journal of her time just before and in Paris. The title of the book (reference to actual milk that Lucy almost obsessive feelings for, but that doesn’t really show up until near the end of the book) should be a clear indication that there would be a heavy emphasis on food and drink. Much of the entries recorded what the Lucy and her mom ate and drank, and where they did so.

The entries that weren’t focused on food and drink talked about the shopping they did at boutiques and flea markets they hit, the art museums (oh god, I want to visit Paris for the museums alone!) they went to (and Lucy includes sketches of her favorite works of art, which was cool in that meta way), and in general their experiences while there. Peppered throughout all this were some photos that either Lucy or her mom took, some background of various important friends and family, and the artist’s general struggle as she grows and figures out her place in the world while taking a holiday abroad.

Fans of travel journals, Paris, art, and food will more than likely appreciate Lucy’s fun style and interesting take on the city and it’s offerings (including, of course, French milk). I know I did.

Mrs Smith Reads Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, #CBR5, Review #18

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MAKE ME SOME BASKETTI!

I really should have written this review as soon as I finished the book, which was about two weeks ago. I laughed, out loud, several times; mostly in bed, at night, just as my husband was falling asleep. I did read one passage to him, and he laughed too. He remarked that Jenny Lawson sounds exactly like the type of writer who could make me laugh out loud, in bed, at night, and wake up my husband. She is.

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened is a pretty funny and mostly true story of Jenny Lawson’s completely normal and uneventful childhood. Almost none of her childhood was normal and her agent and editor must have thought it was pretty eventful too, since—well, they published her book. Lots of people have read it, and almost everybody loves it. It is quite funny, which I already stated above.

Lawson (AKA The Bloggess) is pretty inspirational to me. I know most days when I’m feeling really miserable about how out of control my life is, I remember that lots of some people with challenging and unfortunate life experiences go on to write inspiring and very well received books about how they navigated adversity with pluck and a sense of humor. And then I feel better.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 50: Try the Morgue by Eva Maria Staal

Goodreads: “Ten years ago, “Eva Maria Staal” kept a gun in her purse. It was a present from her boss, Jimmy Liu, the international arms dealer extraordinaire with a taste for high-class male escorts. Together, Jimmy and his devoted assistant traveled the world’s most dangerous hotspots, closing deals with ruthless warlords and corrupt generals, and trading Stinger missiles in Karachi, AK-47s in Chechnya, and hollow-point bullets in Islamabad. But burdened by her conscience, Eva Maria finally got out, married an optometrist, and had a baby. Now, assailed with memories of her secret life, she must reconcile her suburban present with a repressed but ineradicable past, one that blasts a hole so deep she doesn’t know how to love her own daughter. Writing with a knowing intelligence only an insider could provide, this pseudonymous author has created a debut with remarkable intensity that examines the razor-thin line separating those who are drowned from those who are saved.”

This was a gripping, intense book that I am not sure how to classify. It’s probably fict-ish, a mostly-memoir with creative license. The shocking, blase nature of the global underground arms trade is laid bare, and it’s horrifying and mesmerizing.

I can’t really critique the story (not that I would, because I enjoyed it) since it seems so based in truth and experience. I do wish, though, that I had a little more insight into the author/narrator’s motives. The novel starts in media res and outside of what seems like a loyalty (or just obligation?) to her boss, I never got a great idea of how Staal found herself in the arms trade or what was really keeping her there. Staal must have expected a curiosity, not only about the trade, but also about the people in it, so the dispassionate way she wrote can be a bit unsatisfying — we want to know what drives someone like her to such amoral, destructive work.

The only other criticism I have is regarding the linearity — I have no preference for a linear timeline at all, but if one is going to jump about, it should be pretty clear where in the narrative we are at any given point. In this book, there were definitely chapter openings where I wasn’t certain when the conversation was taking place or who she was referencing. When this happened it does eventually become clear, but I was caught flipping pages a bit to try to catch on. Overall, this was a very quick and fascinating read on a topic I know very little about. I’d love to know more about the author’s story and in a way wish this book were longer, but it seems she shared about as much as she was willing to so I have to accept what I got.

pyrajane’s review #25: Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities by Chris Kluwe

Beautifully Unique SparkleponiesI didn’t know who Chris Kluwe was until his wrote his amazing piece for Deadspin that many know as Lustful Cockmonsters.  Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. wrote an open letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti asking him to force his players to shut up about civil rights.  Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo spoke out in favor of gay marriage and Burns decided he should use his position to try and silence free speech.  It was disgusting.

Kluwe’s response was beautiful.  Click that title up there and read it if you haven’t.  I respect a man who uses “Holy fucking shitballs” when making an informed argument.

As his response exploded all over the internet, I found his twitter account (@ChrisWarcraft) and found out he was in a band AND was a gamer.  Holy shit, this guy was awesome.  NFL punter AND a nerd?  Fuck yeah.

When I found out he was writing a book I was super excited.  Here’s a guy who is smart, loves to read, plays games, and has a realistic understanding of how an NFL career works.  I heard him on a few podcasts and he’s really funny and clearly does his research about things that are important to him.  I especially like his attitude about the NFL and how it doesn’t last forever and you better have backup plans.

I really wanted to love this book, but it was just a solid OK.  He chose a few pieces that had already been published and I agreed with those choices.  For a few of them he added commentary or quick notes about things that have changed since the original publication.

Read more about what I liked but why I was mostly sad over on my blog.