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.

***

REVIEW: GROWING UP FISHER, BY JOELY FISHER

 

Actress, director, entertainer Joely Fisher invites readers backstage, into the intimate world of her career and family with this touching, down-to-earth memoir filled with incredible, candid stories about her life, her famous parents, and how the loss of her unlikely hero, sister Carrie Fisher, ignited the writer in her.

Growing up in an iconic Hollywood Dynasty, Joely Fisher knew a show business career was her destiny. The product of world-famous crooner Eddie Fisher and ’60s sex kitten Connie Stevens, she struggled with her own identity and place in the world on the way to a decades-long career as an acclaimed actress, singer, and director.

Now, Joely shares her unconventional coming of age and stories of the family members and co-stars dearest to her heart, while stripping bare her own misadventures. In Growing Up Fisher, she recalls the beautifully bizarre twist of fate by which she spent a good part of her childhood next door to Debbie Reynolds. She speaks frankly about the realities of Hollywood—the fame and fortune, the constant scrutiny. Throughout, she celebrates the anomaly of a two-decade marriage in the entertainment industry, and the joys and challenges of parenting five children, while dishing on what it takes to survive and thrive in the unrelenting glow of celebrity. She speaks frankly about how the loss of her sister Carrie Fisher became a source of artistic inspiration.

Fisher’s memoir, with never-before-seen photos, will break and warm your heart.

 

My Thoughts: As a fan of Connie Stevens from the 60s, before she married Eddie Fisher, I was also hooked on their beautiful little family. I enjoyed seeing their two daughters who were approximately the same ages as my first two sons. I followed stories of them over the years, but then lost track.

Next, Joely Fisher’s movies and TV appearances caught my eye, as I was also a fan of her older sister Carrie. It was fascinating to me how Debbie Reynolds and Connie Stevens lived next door to each other on the beach at one point, and co-parented their children at times. Like a big blended family, abandoned by the father. Later in her life, Joely reconnected with Eddie, but she was the one who made the first moves. In the end, they were closer than she had thought possible.

Sharing what Growing up Fisher was like, with Eddie gone and Connie as the perky matriarch, I settled in to enjoy the moments and the memories. The photos were great, and I enjoyed learning more about their primary home on Delfern Drive, in Holmby Hills; a home in which they lived…when they didn’t. As money got tight at times, they would lease the home out and live elsewhere, returning when finances were better. At one point, Connie leased the home to the production crew that filmed Carrie Fisher’s movie Postcards from the Edge, and I loved learning this fact that was previously unknown to me.

The story was told in a back and forth fashion, following along to topics like The Fishbowl; Oh My Papa; The Courtship of Eddie’s Daughter; The Apple Doesn’t Fall Apart Very Far from the Tree; Blind Trust; Home; and After Thoughts…to name a few. An enjoyable read: 4 stars.

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REVIEW: MY GIRLS, BY TODD FISHER

 

A revelatory and touching tribute to the lives of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds written by the person who knew them best, Todd Fisher’s poignant memoir is filled with moving stories of growing up among Hollywood royalty and illustrated with never-before-seen photos and memorabilia.

In December 2016, the world was shaken by the sudden deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, two unspeakable losses that occurred in less than twenty-four hours. The stunned public turned for solace to Debbie’s only remaining child, Todd Fisher, who somehow retained his grace and composure under the glare of the media spotlight as he struggled with his own overwhelming grief.

The son of “America’s Sweethearts” Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Todd grew up amid the glamorous wealth and pretense of Hollywood. Thanks to his funny, loving, no-nonsense mother, Todd remained down to earth, his own man, but always close to his cherished mom, and to his sister through her meteoric rise to stardom and her struggle with demons that never diminished her humor, talent, or spirit.

Now, Todd shares his heart and his memories of Debbie and Carrie with deeply personal stories from his earliest years to those last unfathomable days. His book, part memoir, part homage, celebrates their legacies through a more intimate, poignant, and often hilarious portrait of these two remarkable women than has ever been revealed before.

With thirty-two pages of never-before-seen photos and memorabilia from his family’s private archives, Todd’s book is a love letter to a sister and a mother, and a gift to countless fans who are mourning the deaths of these two unforgettable stars.

My Thoughts: As a big fan of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and their books and movies, I was eager to read My Girls…and enjoy the numerous photos, many never seen before.

I enjoyed Todd Fisher’s narrative voice, which should not have been surprising, given his family origins. He very creatively added to the stories I have already heard with some of his own…and anecdotally shared more of Carrie’s and Debbie’s, fresh with his perspective.

My plan was to pick up the book, read a few chapters and look at the photos…and then set it aside for another time. Instead I was glued to the pages all day, ignoring the thriller I had started earlier.

I liked that Todd and his “girls” had a great philosophy they had gleaned from Debbie’s parents: “There is no such word as can’t.” Refusing to give up came to be their strength, as there were so many obstacles to overcome along the way, from Debbie’s efforts to overcome financial difficulties caused by her second and third husbands, and Carrie’s constant battles against addiction and the effects of her bipolar disorder. Each of them was there for the others, making the battles winnable. A loving tribute that spotlights a Hollywood family, warts and all, this story earned 5 stars.

***

BOOK REVIEW: I AM I AM I AM, BY MAGGIE O’FARRELL

 

I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O’Farrell’s astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path. And, most terrifying of all, an ongoing, daily struggle to protect her daughter–for whom this book was written–from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life’s myriad dangers.

Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O’Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.

My Thoughts: From a brilliant writer comes this beautiful memoir that kept me turning pages and astonished at everything coming forth. I Am I Am I Am reads like fiction, as surely these life moments could not possibly be real.

The author’s own near misses with death are revealed in an anecdotal style, going back and forth in time in a non-linear fashion, and each sequence of events reveals the intensity of those moments in an unforgettable narrative.

From grave illnesses to dreadful accidents, from challenges in her pregnancies to the horrific life-threatening condition of one of her daughters, we are astounded by the overwhelming odds she has faced. But instead of a “poor me” reaction, she gives us her gratitude and the overwhelming fortune she has had to still be alive, and for her daughter to have come through these experiences, also a survivor.

A memorable story that reminds us of all of life’s blessings, even in the face of adversities. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: TRUE STORIES FROM AN UNRELIABLE EYEWITNESS, BY CHRISTINE LAHTI

 

A fiercely intelligent, hilarious, and deeply feminist collection of interrelated personal stories from Academy, Emmy, and Golden Globe Award–winning actress and director Christine Lahti.

For decades, actress and director Christine Lahti has captivated the hearts and minds of her audience through iconic roles in Chicago Hope, Running on Empty, Housekeeping, And Justice for All, Swing Shift, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, God of Carnage, and The Blacklist. Now, in True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness, this acclaimed performer channels her creativity inward to share her own story for the first time on the page.

In this poignant essay collection, Lahti focuses on three major periods of her life: her child-hood, her early journey as an actress and activist, and the realities of her life as a middle-aged woman in Hollywood today. Lahti’s comical and self-deprecating voice shines through in stories such as “Kidnapped” and “Shit Happens,” and she takes a boldly honest look at the painful fissures in her family in pieces such as “Mama Mia” and “Running on Empty.” Taken together, the collection illuminates watershed moments in Lahti’s life, revealing her struggle to maintain integrity, fight her need for perfection, and remain true to her feminist inclinations.

My Thoughts: As a fan of the actress, I’ve enjoyed her humor and her down-to-earth and realistic portrayals of characters I’ve been able to relate to.

In True Stories From an Unreliable Eyewitness, Lahti described how memory is subjective, and that events are sifted through our personal filters. Individual family members would thus have very different memories of events they shared. I had seen this occur in my own family, with siblings experiencing quite different versions of events.

As she talks about growing up in Michigan in the 1950s, I felt a kinship with that picture perfect upbringing that could hide a multitude of frustrations, anxieties, and the quest for perfection.

Topics ranged from the counter-culture to aging, and in each stage of her life, she described her struggles to achieve her goals. In all parts of her journey, she has tried to find her authentic self, and fight against the demands of the male directors who expected sexual favors from female performers, and how sometimes she had to turn down roles that would erode her self-respect.

Back and forth in time, the author takes us along on her journey, sharing heart-felt moments and traumatic family episodes that could destroy someone without her strength and determination.

An engaging book that kept me interested throughout, I am awarding 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: MY LIFE TO LIVE, BY AGNES NIXON

 

Before there was Erica Kane, Adam Chandler, or Victoria Lord, there was Agnes Nixon, a young girl who dreamed up stories for paper dolls. Those tales she imagined–ones filled with ambitions, rivalries, and romances–would soon parallel her own path to success. In a memoir filled with as much drama as the soaps she penned, Nixon shares her journey from Nashville to New York City, as she overcomes the loss of her fiancé in World War II, a father intent on crushing her writing dreams, and the jealousy of her male colleagues on her way to becoming one of the most successful names in television.

While fans will delight in Nixon’s own incredible life, they will also love her behind-the-scenes insight into her most popular shows. Inside, she shares the inspiration for Erica Kane and how she cast Susan Lucci in the role; an excerpt from the never-before-seen All My Children story bible; entertaining anecdotes about her shows’ beloved casts and special guests, including Carol Burnett, Kelly Ripa, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffett; and more.

But My Life to Live is also a portrait of a pioneer. Driven to use her ratings power for good, Nixon fought and broke network taboos by wrestling with controversial social issues ranging from women’s health, interracial relationships, and the Vietnam War to drug addiction, LGBT rights, and AIDS. By infusing her characters with sensitivity, humor, and humanity, she enabled millions to examine an opposite point of view. And long before Shonda Rhimes launched a golden age of female showrunners, Agnes Nixon positioned ABC to become the media giant it is today. She is a true television legend, and her candid and inspiring glimpse behind the curtain of the television industry will charm soap fans and story lovers alike.

My Thoughts: I became a fan of “soap operas” in the 1960s when I first had some time at home in the daytime. Guiding Light was one of my favorites, and Agnes Nixon was a writer on that soap for a while.

One Life to Live, another of her creations, was one I first saw in the 1970s, and then again just before the show went off the air. By the time it was canceled, I was hooked. And happy to hear that it would go online, along with All My Children, which I had just started watching. But that happy dream did not last long.

She has, rightly, been touted as the Queen of Soaps, and reading how she came to write for soaps in a world dominated by men was definitely engaging.

Her own life could have been a soap drama, with losses and conflicts, not to mention seeing racism up close and personal in her hometown. Using what she knew and what she had lived in her stories, and bringing social relevance to daytime, would be her trademark. It was how she captured the love of the fans. A memoir that drew me in from the first pages, My Life to Live earned 5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: TALKING AS FAST AS I CAN, BY LAUREN GRAHAM

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can.


My Thoughts: I was probably one of the last people to come to the Gilmore Girls party, but once I discovered the show on Netflix, I couldn’t stop watching. The term “binge watching” completely describes my experience.

Before I found myself a real fan of this show, I had already discovered Lauren Graham in movies and on Parenthood.

Now, in Talking as Fast as I Can, I liked discovering her personal take on her movies, TV shows, and relationships. Her self-deprecating voice kept me smiling, even as I felt like someone who was having a conversation with her.

I liked learning how she came to start writing, and enjoyed her descriptions of her writing process, which included tidbits from someone whose process became part of her writing style.

But my favorite moments were the peeks behind the scenes on the sets, especially the ones related to the Gilmore Girls reboot. Special moments involved the connections with the cast who felt like family, and the emotions they experienced as they wrapped up the show. As a reader, I felt like I was part of it all. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: UNSINKABLE, BY DEBBIE REYNOLDS

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A story of a star from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Unsinkable brings us the inspirational tale of Debbie Reynolds, a woman who rose above the adversities that life offered…and soared. She truly excelled at finding the bright spots in her life, even though she was betrayed by the men she married.

Her children, Carrie and Todd Fisher, are truly the lights of her life, and despite Carrie’s struggles with mental health issues and addiction, she, too, has managed to turn darkness into humor and creative accomplishments.

There are also the stories of friendships, torn and mended, like the one between Debbie and Elizabeth Taylor. After Eddie Fisher left Debbie for Elizabeth, there would naturally be a rift between the two, but Debbie forgave Elizabeth and the two became friends and colleagues again, in a movie Carrie produced, These Old Broads. Debbie, Elizabeth, Shirley MacLaine, and Joan Collins portrayed former stars reuniting when one of their movies becomes a cult hit.

Debbie’s efforts to create a museum for her astonishing collection of movie memorabilia, like costumes from films that spanned decades, became a pursuit that would lead her to explore many venues. When all efforts failed, she bravely did something she had never imagined she would do.

Surviving a career that began with the studio system, facing betrayal and financial upheavals, and still finding a way to keep her sense of humor and grace is a testament to Debbie’s spirit. A fascinating story that kept me intrigued throughout. 4 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

REVIEW: BORN WITH TEETH: A MEMOIR, BY KATE MULGREW

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The first daughter of Joan and Thomas Mulgrew came into the world with four tiny baby teeth, and while the parents were amazed and crowed over her beauty, the friends and neighbors in Dubuque, Iowa, worried that being so proud of her looks would bring nothing good.

Eventually, however, the tiny teeth were removed by the doctor, and the baby grew normally, developing a zest for solid food.

Thus began the life of Kate Mulgrew, who was followed by several more babies, until the family eventually moved to a larger house in the country, one they came to call Derby Grange.

Born with Teeth is a memoir, but it reads like a fictional story at times, and I held my breath, wondering what would unfold next. Not having read much about this actress before this book, I was drawn into the story of how she came to attend Stella Adler’s Studio of Acting as a teenager; how she starred in various productions through the workshop; and eventually joined a soap opera called Ryan’s Hope. While on that show, she fell in love with a young man…and got pregnant. The pregnancy was written into the show, but sadly, afterwards, she gave up the baby, a girl, for adoption. This loss would follow her throughout the years.

Theater was her first love, but she came to appreciate television production, and went on to be a part of another TV show called HeartBeat, in which she starred as a doctor. I remember this show, and enjoyed watching her perform.

Love came along, too, and two beautiful sons. But the marriage would not survive….and she escaped to Ireland to heal. Where she met her true soul mate. But would that relationship survive, with all the obstacles that stood in their way?

Meanwhile, her biggest show yet was about to come. Star Trek: Voyager would come to be one remembered by most people. The show was on for seven seasons.

Now she is a wonderful star in Orange Is the New Black, where she inhabits the role of Red as only she can.

Would Kate eventually find the happiness and love she longed for? Would her life settle into something peaceful? Turning the pages was a very satisfying experience for me, as I wanted to find the answers, too, and I enjoyed her writing style, which felt as though we were having a conversation. Then, in the final, suspenseful chapters, I felt a wonderful satisfaction about the events that unfolded. 5 stars.