REVIEW: THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE…, BY GLORIA STEINEM

For decades—and especially now, in these times of crisis—people around the world have found guidance, humor, and unity in Gloria Steinem’s gift for creating quotes that offer hope and inspire action. From her early days as a journalist and feminist activist, Steinem’s words have helped generations to empower themselves and work together.

Covering topics from relationships (“Many are looking for the right person. Too few are trying to be the right person.”) to the patriarchy (“Men are liked better when they win. Women are liked better when they lose. This is how the patriarchy is enforced every day.”) and activism (“Revolutions, like trees, grow from the bottom up.”), this is the definitive collection of Steinem’s words on what matters most. Steinem sees quotes as “the poetry of everyday life,” so she also has included a few favorites from friends, including bell hooks, Flo Kennedy, and Michelle Obama, in this book that will make you want to laugh, march, and create some quotes of your own. In fact, at the end of the book, there’s a special space for readers to add their own quotes and others they’ve found inspiring.

The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off! is both timeless and timely. It is a gift of hope from Steinem to readers, and a book to share with friends.

 

My Thoughts: Whenever I read a book by Gloria Steinem, I feel inspired, motivated, but even more, I feel understood. My first knowledge of her came when I was in college, and by then, I had already been exposed to other Second Wave Feminists, like Betty Friedan, but what Gloria brought to us was a sense of belonging, of being heard, and of connecting. We enjoyed talking circles like our
consciousness-raising groups and the process of listening and speaking out. We were finding our voices for perhaps the first times in our lives.

I always recommend Steinem’s work, but The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off is more than a series of essays or thoughts: the quotes are also cleverly illustrated in such a way to make the reader smile. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: CARRIE FISHER: A LIFE ON THE EDGE, BY SHEILA WELLER

 

Weller traces Fisher’s life from her Hollywood royalty roots to her untimely and shattering death after Christmas 2016. Her mother was the spunky and adorable Debbie Reynolds; her father, the heartthrob crooner Eddie Fisher. When Eddie ran off with Elizabeth Taylor, the scandal thrust little Carrie Frances into a bizarre spotlight, gifting her with an irony and an aplomb that would resonate throughout her life.

We follow Fisher’s acting career, from her debut in Shampoo, the hit movie that defined mid-1970s Hollywood, to her seizing of the plum female role in Star Wars, which catapulted her to instant fame. We explore her long, complex relationship with Paul Simon and her relatively peaceful years with the talent agent Bryan Lourd. We witness her startling leap―on the heels of a near-fatal overdose―from actress to highly praised, bestselling author, the Dorothy Parker of her place and time.

Weller sympathetically reveals the conditions that Fisher lived with: serious bipolar disorder and an inherited drug addiction. Still, despite crises and overdoses, her life’s work―as an actor, a novelist and memoirist, a script doctor, a hostess, and a friend―was prodigious and unique. As one of her best friends said, “I almost wish the expression ‘one of a kind’ didn’t exist, because it applies to Carrie in a deeper way than it applies to others.”

Sourced by friends, colleagues, and witnesses to all stages of Fisher’s life, Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge is an empathic and even-handed portrayal of a woman who―as Princess Leia, but mostly as herself―was a feminist heroine, one who died at a time when we need her blazing, healing honesty more than ever.

My Thoughts: As a fan of Carrie Fisher’s books, screenplays, and documentaries, I couldn’t wait to dive into A Life on the Edge. I was not disappointed. I learned new details about her life, her friends, and her work, not to mention how she peeled back “the edifice of her glamour…insisting we meet the messy, funny, flawed woman underneath….” thus becoming her own legend.

Throughout the book, and with the mention of other parts of her celebrated, yet vulnerable and troubled life, I felt even more connected to her. After her death, I watched her One Woman Show Wishful Drinking again, along with Bright Lights, a documentary that reveals so much of the unique relationship between Carrie and Debbie. Yes, they had issues and troubling times, but always they were connected in such a deep way that it was not surprising to those who knew them well that Debbie died one day after her daughter. They could not be separated, even in death.

In one of her letters to the mother of a dying friend, Carrie wrote: “There’s a chance that there’s peace at the end of the march. Peace and companionship with old friends, waiting eagerly for your arrival. Yes, you will be missed. But the best of those who love you will always carry a part of you …You exist as a soft smile…in the midst of a fond memory.”

Carrie’s work, and how she conveyed herself as someone “famous for just being herself,” will keep her alive for those of us who will hang onto the brightness in her as we continue to read and view her works. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: TOUCHED BY THE SUN, BY CARLY SIMON

 

Carly Simon and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis made an unlikely pair―Carly, a free and artistic spirit still reeling from her recent divorce, searching for meaning, new love, and an anchor; and Jackie, one of the most celebrated, meticulous, unknowable women in American history.

Nonetheless, over the next decade their lives merged in inextricable and complex ways, and they forged a connection deeper than either could ever have foreseen. The time they spent together–―lingering lunches and creative collaborations, nights out on the town and movie dates―brought a welcome lightness and comfort to their days, but their conversations often veered into more profound territory as they helped each other navigate the shifting waters of life lived, publicly, in the wake of great love and great loss.

An intimate, vulnerable, and insightful portrait of the bond that grew between two iconic and starkly different American women, Carly Simon’s Touched by the Sun is a chronicle, in loving detail, of the late friendship she and Jackie shared. It is a meditation on the ways someone can unexpectedly enter our lives and change its course, as well as a celebration of kinship in all its many forms.

 

My Thoughts: I was caught up in the author’s thoughts about her relationship with Jackie in Touched by the Sun. I discovered a few tidbits about Jackie in Carly Simon’s narrative, but more than anything, I could see who Jackie was from Carly’s perspective.

If I was hoping for more layers about Jackie, however, I did not find them in this book. I was glad to see Jackie from Carly’s point of view, and this glimpse of Jackie and their friendship was a treasure because I do admire Carly Simon, and enjoyed her thoughts and feelings. Therefore, I kept reading until the very last page. 3.5 stars.

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REVIEW: ONE LITTLE SECRET, BY CATE HOLAHAN

 

Everyone has a secret. For some, it’s worth dying to protect. For others, it’s worth killing.

The glass beach house was supposed to be the getaway that Susan needed. Eager to help her transplanted family set down roots in their new town—and desperate for some kid-free conversation—she invites her new neighbors to join in on a week-long sublet with her and her workaholic husband.

Over the course of the first evening, liquor loosens inhibitions and lips. The three couples begin picking up on the others’ marital tensions and work frustrations, as well as revealing their own. But someone says too much. And the next morning one of the women is discovered dead on the private beach.

Town detective Gabby Watkins must figure out who permanently silenced the deceased. As she investigates, she learns that everyone in the glass house was hiding something that could tie them to the murder, and that the biggest secrets of all are often in plain sight for anyone willing to look.

 

My Thoughts: As the couples gather in the beach house, prepared to enjoy their getaway, it isn’t long until their lives are upended by the murder of one of them.

Alternating narrators tell the stories in One Little Secret: from Gabby, the detective, working on a sexual assault case and now a murder, to the individual spouses who have to hide their secrets.

I felt such compassion for Jenny, whose abusive husband has a lot to protect, as well. And then Susan must cover for her husband, just in case he has more to hide than she knows.

Going back and forth between the story tellers and what they each stood to lose, I was unable to accurately figure out who had done the final deeds. A 4.5 star read.

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REVIEW: TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE, BY SUSAN ISAACS

 

Just a few years ago, Corie Geller was busting terrorists as an agent for the FBI. But at thirty-five, she traded in her badge for the stability of marriage and motherhood. Now Corie is married to the brilliant and remarkably handsome Judge Josh Geller and is the adoptive mother of his lovely 14-year-old daughter. Between cooking meals and playing chauffeur, Corie scouts Arabic fiction for a few literary agencies and, on Wednesdays, has lunch with her fellow Shorehaven freelancers at a so-so French restaurant. Life is, as they say, fine.

But at her weekly lunches, Corie senses that something’s off. Pete Delaney, a milquetoast package designer, always shows up early, sits in the same spot (often with a different phone in hand), and keeps one eye on the Jeep he parks in the lot across the street. Corie intuitively feels that Pete is hiding something—and as someone who is accustomed to keeping her FBI past from her new neighbors, she should know. But does Pete really have a shady alternate life, or is Corie just imagining things, desperate to add some spark to her humdrum suburban existence? She decides that the only way to find out is to dust off her FBI toolkit and take a deep dive into Pete Delaney’s affairs.

 

My Thoughts: I enjoyed the interesting thought processes of our first-person narrator, Corie; I also liked how she was able to hide her history with the FBI and seemingly settle into suburban life.

We follow along as her fascination with Pete Delaney became an obsession, but she very skillfully wended her way through the trail that ultimately led to answers.

Before the fast-paced culmination of Takes One To Know One, the story was a little bit tedious, but because I enjoy the author and also liked the character of Corie, I kept plugging away. In the end, I was biting my nails as the intensity ratcheted up exponentially. This one earned 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: LADIES WHO PUNCH, BY RAMIN SETOODEH

 

When Barbara Walters launched The View, network executives told her that hosting it would tar-nish her reputation. Instead, within ten years, she’d revolutionized morning TV and made house-hold names of her co-hosts: Joy Behar, Star Jones, Meredith Vieira and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. But the daily chatfest didn’t just comment on the news. It became the news. And the headlines barely scratched the surface.

Based on unprecedented access, including stunning interviews with nearly every host, award-winning journalist Ramin Setoodeh takes you backstage where the stars really spoke their minds. Barbara struggled to maintain control of it all, a modern-day Lear with her media-savvy daugh-ters. You’ll read about how so many co-hosts had a tough time fitting in, suffered humiliations at the table, then pushed themselves away, feeling betrayed―one nearly quitting during a commer-cial. Meanwhile, the director was being driven insane, especially by Rosie.

Setoodeh uncovers the truth about Star’s weight loss and wedding madness. Rosie’s feud with Trump. Whoopi’s toxic relationship with Rosie. Barbara’s difficulty stepping away. Plus, all the unseen hugs, snubs, tears―and one dead rodent.

Ladies Who Punch shows why The View can be mimicked and mocked, but it can never be matched.

My Thoughts: I knew that Ladies Who Punch would be delightful, with previously unknown tidbits coming to light as I rapidly turned the pages. Some of the chatter had been on the news from time to time over the years, like Star’s weight loss, her bridezilla actions before her wedding, and how she literally turned the show into her one-woman show.

I have read Barbara’s book Audition and knew how she worked hard to achieve what other women had not, and how much she had to give up along the way. Quoting from my review of that book, I wrote about “her efforts to achieve recognition in a journalistic world that often overlooked women; the competitive moments; her occasional mistakes along the way—all shared with candor, humor, and insight. Her awesome and inspiring climb to a success that has included not only the famous interviews, but the numerous shows she has hosted, from the Today show, 20/20, the Specials…and now The View.” Of course, as I read the perspectives of the other members of the show and saw how, even though they looked up to Barbara, they were also sometimes intimidated by her, I had to enlarge my perspective to include their struggles.

Rosie’s effect on the show turned things upside down in a short time. She went from someone who had great ideas that led to soaring ratings to someone who was in one conflict or another with her cohosts. She went from buddy moments with Elisabeth to tear-filled conflicts.

The show, launched in 1997, went through a revolving door of cohosts to something more settled down…once Whoopi Goldberg arrived. She seemed to bring just the right measure of sanity to the mix, although some protested her tendency to take over at times. Then the revolving door began again after the 2016 election. Despite being called “a petri dish of vicious feuds,” the show has lasted…and lasted. I loved reading about the behind-the-scenes moments and I give this book 5 stars.

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REVIEW: QUEEN MERYL, BY ERIN CARLSON

 

Meryl Streep is the most celebrated actress of our time. She’s a chameleon who disappears fully into each character she plays. She never tackles the same role twice. Instead, she leverages her rarified platform to channel a range of dynamic, complicated women–Joanna Kramer, Karen Silkwood, Julia Child, Margaret Thatcher, Katharine Graham–rather than limit herself to marginal roles for which other actresses must settle: Supportive Wife. Supportive Mother. Supportive Yet Utterly Disposable Love Interest. Streep will have none of that.

The once-awkward, frizzy-haired suburban teen blossomed into a rising ingénue on the stage at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama. She came of age during the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s, and has worn her activism on her sleeve even when it was unfashionable. When she reached 40, the age when many leading ladies fade away, Streep plunged forward, taking her pick of parts that interested her and winning a pile of awards along the way. Mean-while, she remained an unlikely box-office draw, her clout even managing to grow with age: The Devil Wears Prada, starring Streep as the Anna Wintour avatar Miranda Priestly, scored $326 million worldwide.

Journalist and author Erin Carlson documents all of Streep’s Oscars, accents, causes, memes, friendships, and feuds; also exploring the “off-brand” forays into action-adventure (The River Wild) and musicals (Mamma Mia!), and how Streep managed to sneak her feminism into each character. In the spirit of nontraditional bestsellers like Notorious RBG and The Tao of Bill Murray, Queen Meryl is illustrated by artist Justin Teodoro and filled with fascinating lists and side-bars, delivering joy in homage to its unique and brilliant subject.

My Thoughts: To describe Queen Meryl as an ode to an amazing actor and person would be an understatement. While there were some details of occasional movies or experiences that I might call slightly tedious, the overall experience of reading about Meryl Streep was something to truly enjoy.

To add to my delight were the drawings that accompanied each chapter.

My enjoyment of her movies, most of which I’ve seen, was enhanced by some personal touches, like how she starred with her toddler daughter Mamie in Heartburn, then her daughter as an adult in Evening, and finally in Ricki and the Flash. I may have missed a few appearances. Personal favorites also included the movie Silkwood and The Devil Wears Prada. Who can deny how Meryl immerses herself fully into her roles?

If you are a fan of the actor, or even some of her personal beliefs about the industry or life in general, you will probably enjoy this book which I give 5 stars.

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REVIEW: INSIDE OUT, BY DEMI MOORE

 

For decades, Demi Moore has been synonymous with celebrity. From iconic film roles to high-profile relationships, Moore has never been far from the spotlight―or the headlines.

Even as Demi was becoming the highest paid actress in Hollywood, however, she was always outrunning her past, just one step ahead of the doubts and insecurities that defined her childhood. Throughout her rise to fame and during some of the most pivotal moments of her life, Demi battled addiction, body image issues, and childhood trauma that would follow her for years―all while juggling a skyrocketing career and at times negative public perception. As her success grew, Demi found herself questioning if she belonged in Hollywood, if she was a good mother, a good actress―and, always, if she was simply good enough.

As much as her story is about adversity, it is also about tremendous resilience. In this deeply candid and reflective memoir, Demi pulls back the curtain and opens up about her career and personal life―laying bare her tumultuous relationship with her mother, her marriages, her struggles balancing stardom with raising a family, and her journey toward open heartedness. Inside Out is a story of survival, success, and surrender―a wrenchingly honest portrayal of one woman’s at once ordinary and iconic life.

My Thoughts: Demi’s tumultuous journey is one I’ve read about in occasional magazine pieces, so I enjoyed the opportunity to follow her story told in her own voice in this memoir, Inside Out.

I had already been aware that her childhood was fraught with abuse, abandonment, addictions, and the low self-esteem that explains a lot about some of her actions and her choices. Her in-depth exploration that led to her current feelings of peace and self-acceptance was insightful and truly rewarding.

Some believe that celebrity status offers its own rewards, but the glaring exposure that accompanies these so-called gifts can chip away at any feelings of bliss and comfort.

I enjoyed learning more about Demi’s family life and how she and Bruce Willis co-parent from small-town Hailey, Idaho, where their family compound offers a place to retreat. Her story spotlights her life with all its flaws and vulnerabilities, bringing everything out into the open, from the “inside out.” 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE NANNY, BY GILLY MACMILLAN

 

When her beloved nanny, Hannah, left without a trace in the summer of 1988, seven-year-old Jocelyn Holt was devastated. Haunted by the loss, Jo grew up bitter and distant, and eventually left her parents and Lake Hall, their faded aristocratic home, behind.

Thirty years later, Jo returns to the house and is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her mother. But when human remains are accidentally uncovered in a lake on the estate, Jo begins to question everything she thought she knew.

Then an unexpected visitor knocks on the door and Jo’s world is destroyed again. Desperate to piece together the gaping holes in her memory, Jo must uncover who her nanny really was, why she left, and if she can trust her own mother…

My Thoughts: Alternating narrators and flip-flops between the past and present take us on our journey in The Nanny. Just when we think we’ve figured out who to believe, or who is the most reliable narrator, one of them adds a twist to the stories they tell, offering another dimension. Soon we don’t know who, if anyone, to trust.

As we follow the paths exposed by each character, we learn more and more of their secrets. In the end, will the darkest secrets tell us who we can trust and who to avoid?

I enjoyed traipsing along with the characters, guessing about what we will learn next. By the time we turn the final pages, we will be stunned by how the tale concludes. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE TESTAMENTS, BY MARGARET ATWOOD

 

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

My Thoughts: As I began reading The Testaments, I was captivated immediately by the alternating voices: witnesses and a person who would soon become known to us as someone plotting the downfall of Gilead. A feat that would require great strength, wisdom, and cunning. I was rooting loudly as I read.

The young witnesses would soon make us aware of their connections to others we met in Gilead, back when we saw how a Handmaiden would help the Gilead destruction begin.

Would our double agent surprise us with her actions? Would we fear for what might happen to her if discovered? Or would we, like others, realize the extent of her involvement only when historic symposiums revealed much of what she had accomplished, many years later? A brilliant futuristic exploration that had me rapidly turning pages. 5 stars.

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