REVIEW: LIFE IN PIECES, BY DAWN O’PORTER

From reflections on grief and identity, bad hair and parenting, sleep and spirituality, to the things we can control and the things we cannot, Dawn has been doing a lot of thinking about life in lockdown. Mostly from a cupboard. Discover the daily diaries that track the journey – for a hilarious, heartbreaking and highly entertaining glimpse into the new normal.

‘There’s been a lot of well-meaning but mad advice on how to contend with the strangest period of human history any of us has ever lived through. Dawn O’Porter redresses the balance by telling it as it really has been: holding out for 5pm to crack open the tequila’ Mark Watson

As soon as I began reading Life in Pieces, I was smiling and sometimes laughing at her view of 2020. Unlike her, I am not a mother of small children, but a senior citizen; however, having been in that role, I could definitely imagine how the year would play out from her perspective.

Her occasional jabs at those in charge in this strange new world particularly resonated with me. None of us are happy to learn that politics has played such a role in how events unfolded for us.

Now I am just hoping to make it through the year…and beyond, if necessary, but it is great to read books like this one along the way.

I like her description of events: “I am speaking to my family more. I am working on my marriage more. I am nesting, organizing, preparing for disaster, making sure that, if the world goes to shit, we will survive. I am loving harder than I’ve ever loved in my life. I was alone with my grief, but now the whole world is grieving too. A solidarity that we can’t deny.”

I love when a book pulls it all together so nicely, reminding us that, in the midst of uncertainty and chaos, there is a silver lining. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: TOO MUCH & NEVER ENOUGH, BY MARY L. TRUMP, PH.D.

In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, New York, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

A firsthand witness to countless holiday meals and interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for regifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.

Numerous pundits, armchair psychologists, and journalists have sought to parse Donald J. Trump’s lethal flaws. Mary L. Trump has the education, insight, and intimate familiarity needed to reveal what makes Donald, and the rest of her clan, tick. She alone can recount this fascinating, unnerving saga, not just because of her insider’s perspective but also because she is the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families.


From the very first page of Too Much and Never Enough, the author spoke to us from her position inside the family, as well as by way of her clinical training.We learn how Donald Trump was taught by his father that lying is okay and admitting that you are wrong is a sign of weakness. We also see how his arrogance is a defense against abandonment (by his mother) and an antidote to his lack of self-esteem.Why do so many with access to him now, in his position, enable him? Their futures are directly dependent on his success and favor.The author talks about his response (or lack thereof) to Covid-19 and how it underscores his need to minimize negativity at all costs. Fear, the equivalent of weakness in his family, is as unacceptable to him now as it was when he was three years old.

The toxic positivity that his father deployed within the family is the very same thing now driving the man who has placed the country and the democracy in danger. Let us not be complicit in the destruction by ignoring it.

A great read that kept me turning pages and earned 5 stars.

Read for the Nonfiction Challenge. –#2020ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: HUNGRY HEART, BY JENNIFER WEINER

Jennifer Weiner is many things: a bestselling author, a Twitter phenomenon, and an “unlikely feminist enforcer” (The New Yorker). She’s also a mom, a daughter, and a sister, a clumsy yogini, and a reality-TV devotee. In this “unflinching look at her own experiences” (Entertainment Weekly), Jennifer fashions tales of modern-day womanhood as uproariously funny and moving as the best of Nora Ephron and Tina Fey.

No subject is off-limits in these intimate and honest essays: sex, weight, envy, money, her mother’s coming out of the closet, her estranged father’s death. From lonely adolescence to hearing her six-year-old daughter say the F word—fat—for the first time, Jen dives into the heart of female experience, with the wit and candor that have endeared her to readers all over the world.

 

I waited a long time before reading Hungry Heart; (I purchased the book in January 2016). I waited because that’s what we sometimes do to our books to be read, and a nonfiction title occasionally gets ignored for a while. I love her writing and kept reading her fiction along the way.

Just as her fiction grabs me, so did her memoir, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages while she told her story. She is a great storyteller, as we know, and I liked how she approached each topic, not necessarily in chronological order, but in just the right order to leave the most impact. Her college and writing life came first, and I couldn’t wait to learn about how she created Good in Bed and In Her Shoes, not to mention her subsequent titles. I also enjoyed learning about the pieces she wrote for magazines and her time working as a journalist.

Her marriage and childbirth stories came along at the right time, too, and eventually, other climactic moments showed up near the end: details about her father’s abandonment, hoarding, and horrific death, and the emotional losses created by his behavior.Early on we watch as she grapples with her food and weight issues, and later we smile as she shares her social media experiences, including some tweet storms.

Even her special pets get their time in the spotlight. Throughout, her humorous and sometimes snarky voice shines through, making me want to keep going. A book that earned 5 stars from me.#2020ReadNonFic

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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.

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.

 

 

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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CURL UP WITH NONFICTION…

Even though I am not officially participating in Nonfiction November, I already have many books from that category, and I’ve been eagerly adding to that stack.

On November 12, I’ll be receiving my pre-ordered copy of Carrie Fisher:  A Life on the Edge, by Sheila Weller.

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.

This morning I read a review of the upcoming release that reminded me of how much I miss this iconic writer/actor/spokesperson.

I have read her books, watched her one-woman show Wishful Drinking, and seen some of the documentaries released since her death.  She and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, were jointly and singularly impressive.  I love that they lived on the same property, with their issues overwhelmed by their mutual adoration.

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Do you love nonfiction, even when it is not November?  Which books are your favorites?  For me, memoirs of impressive celebrities/authors are at the top of the list.

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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. Meanwhile, 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 sidebars, delivering joy in homage to its unique and brilliant subject.

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.

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: WHAT HAPPENED, BY HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON

 

In this “candid and blackly funny” (The New York Times) memoir, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. She takes us inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules.

“At her most emotionally raw” (People), Hillary describes what it was like to run against Donald Trump, the mistakes she made, how she has coped with a shocking and devastating loss, and how she found the strength to pick herself back up afterward. She tells readers what it took to get back on her feet—the rituals, relationships, and reading that got her through, and what the experience has taught her about life. In this “feminist manifesto” (The New York Times), she speaks to the challenges of being a strong woman in the public eye, the criticism over her voice, age, and appearance, and the double standard confronting women in politics.

Offering a “bracing… guide to our political arena” (The Washington Post), What Happened lays out how the 2016 election was marked by an unprecedented assault on our democracy by a foreign adversary. By analyzing the evidence and connecting the dots, Hillary shows just how dangerous the forces are that shaped the outcome, and why Americans need to understand them to protect our values and our democracy in the future.

 

My Thoughts: What Happened offered a glimpse into the campaign and her life leading up to it; a look at HRC’s reaction afterwards; and some solutions about how to move forward despite the negative ramifications for the election.

HRC showed us that forces at work have played on people’s fears and anger, and how a candidate who provokes the darkest thoughts and feelings can appeal to those who are searching for ways to release those emotions.

Clinton also discussed in depth how the timing of the email controversy, which had turned out not to compromise security in any way, had gained so much importance in the media and critically affected how people viewed her actions. Comey’s announcement of continuing the investigation after he had initially closed it made the whole thing worse. And then, when he backtracked, that fact had little effect. By the same token, Comey’s failure to bring out the Russian interference in a timely matter allowed the election to proceed without giving the voters information that might have made a difference.

I came away from the book with an enhanced frustration about how we access information, and how we decide what and whom to believe when there are so many conflicting voices out there. Especially when there appears to be a concerted effort by some to make it harder for citizens to distinguish between truth and lies.

An excellent book that took me a few weeks to read, since I perused just a few chapters at a time. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: IN PIECES, BY SALLY FIELD

 

One of the most celebrated, beloved, and enduring actors of our time, Sally Field has an infectious charm that has captivated the nation for more than five decades, beginning with her first TV role at the age of seventeen. From Gidget’s sweet-faced “girl next door” to the dazzling complexity of Sybil to the Academy Award-worthy ferocity and depth of Norma Rae and Mary Todd Lincoln, Field has stunned audiences time and time again with her artistic range and emotional acuity. Yet there is one character who always remained hidden: the shy and anxious little girl within.

With raw honesty and the fresh, pitch-perfect prose of a natural-born writer, and with all the humility and authenticity her fans have come to expect, Field brings readers behind-the-scenes for not only the highs and lows of her star-studded early career in Hollywood, but deep into the truth of her lifelong relationships—including her complicated love for her own mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring and important account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

My Thoughts: A fan of Sally Field since her early days on TV, I felt immediately drawn to her first person narrative, beginning with her family history of matriarchal women whose lives were an example of love, connections, flaws and strength.

Her struggles as a child, dealing with the twisted relationship with her stepfather, resonated with me, having read about some of these experiences in part, but which I learned in depth In Pieces.

Her beginnings as an actor were not easy, and she had to persist to finally discover her niche. And when she did find her place as an actor, a woman, and she revealed how she finally connected to her seemingly elusive mother, I could relax and enjoy learning about her life and her work, and how memorable it would all be in the end. 5 stars.

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