Book Review: Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and ScientologyTroublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
Publisher: Ballentine Books
Release Date: November 3, 2015
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.
That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.
Indoctrinated into the church as a child while living with her mother and sister in New York, Remini eventually moved to Los Angeles, where her dreams of becoming an actress and advancing Scientology’s causes grew increasingly intertwined. As an adult, she found the success she’d worked so hard for, and with it a prominent place in the hierarchy of celebrity Scientologists alongside people such as Tom Cruise, Scientology’s most high-profile adherent. Remini spent time directly with Cruise and was included among the guests at his 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes.
But when she began to raise questions about some of the church’s actions, she found herself a target. In the end, she was declared by the church to be a threat to their organization and therefore a “Suppressive Person,” and as a result, all of her fellow parishioners—including members of her own family—were told to disconnect from her. Forever.
Bold, brash, and bravely confessional, Troublemaker chronicles Leah Remini’s remarkable journey toward emotional and spiritual freedom, both for herself and for her family. This is a memoir designed to reveal the hard-won truths of a life lived honestly—from an author unafraid of the consequences.

Troublemaker is a combination of two of my reading loves – celebrity tell-all memoirs and books about religious cults. I know Leah primarily from King of Queens and before this book came out, I didn’t even realize she had been a Scientologist. Her story is unique because unlike most, if not all of the other celebrity Scientologists, she was raised in the church. Even Tom Cruise, poster boy for Scientology, is a convert. Leah’s childhood experiences in the church are horrifying but as a child she was helpless and couldn’t leave. As time went on, she became more and more indoctrinated.

Leah is as brash and outspoken as her character Carrie on King of Queens. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything and isn’t afraid to name names and tell it like it is. I loved getting the inside scoop on Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes, among other things.

Troublemaker was highly satisfying as both a celebrity tell-all and former cult-member tell-all memoir.

Book Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Modern RomanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Release Date: June 16, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?” 

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

I fell in love with Aziz after watching his Netflix series Master of None. When I heard he had written a book, I knew I had to get it. Modern Romance is different from the kind of book most comedians write. It’s not a memoir or his stand-up routines re-hashed in book form. He and sociologist Eric Klinenberg have written a well-written study of dating in today’s world. Aziz’s humor makes what would have been a dry non-fiction book hilarious. I listened to the audio version – Aziz narrates it himself. Listening to his delivery made it even funnier. This book is for everyone. If you are in the dating pool, you will feel validated. If you are married, like me, you will be SO glad that you aren’t in today’s dating world. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Paperback Release Date: August 6, 2013
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

In the memoir Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan details her struggle to get an accurate diagnosis for why she has suddenly been having symptom that resemble mental illness or signs of a stroke. She leaves the reader guessing as to what the correct diagnosis might be until the last third of the book. So many times I was tempted to flip ahead to see what it was!

Susannah’s story is surprisingly detailed given that she cannot remember a lot of the events that happened in her “month of madness”. Luckily, she is a journalist and was skilled at interviewing her family, friends and doctors about what happened.

One of the most important take-ways from this book is to be your own advocate in your health care. As a frequent patient myself, I heartily second that. Never be afraid to question your doctor and do your own research.

I definitely recommend this book.


Book Review: The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White HouseThe Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Paperback Release Date: March 8, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family.

These dedicated professionals maintain the six-floor mansion’s 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases, and prepare everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners. Over the course of the day, they gather in the lower level’s basement kitchen to share stories, trade secrets, forge lifelong friendships, and sometimes even fall in love.

Combining incredible first-person anecdotes from extensive interviews with scores of White House staff members—many speaking for the first time—with archival research, Kate Andersen Brower tells their story. She reveals the intimacy between the First Family and the people who serve them, as well as tension that has shaken the staff over the decades. From the housekeeper and engineer who fell in love while serving President Reagan to Jackie Kennedy’s private moment of grief with a beloved staffer after her husband’s assassination to the tumultuous days surrounding President Nixon’s resignation and President Clinton’s impeachment battle, The Residence is full of surprising and moving details that illuminate day-to-day life at the White House.

I love to get the behind the scenes scoop on most everything so I was very excited to read a book about what goes on behind closed doors at the White House. This book offered some scoop but not enough. The problem is that the people who work or have worked at the White House have so much darn discretion! Because of this, the book could get repetitive because the author didn’t have that much information to work with. I still enjoyed the little bit of scoop that I did get. If you are like me, then this book is worth reading.


Book Review: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

At the Edge of the OrchardAt the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: March 15, 2016
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

It’s clear reading this book that’s well-researched. One of the characters that comes to visit James and Sadie and sell apple seedlings and saplings to them is John Chapman. You might know him as Johnny Appleseed. Her portrayal of him and his personality is how he really was (according to Google at least).Plant collector William Lobb plays a key role in the second half of the book. I hadn’t heard of him bust he is a real life person as well.

The author weaves in a lot of information about plants and trees throughout the book. While I appreciated her thoroughness, I found this book to move along too slowly for me. There wasn’t a central conflict and the plot seemed to meander here and there. I loved The Girl With the Pearl Earring, also written by Chevalier. I’m not going to give up on her but this book was a miss.

(I received a complementary copy of this book for review.)


AW Teen YA Author Twitter Chat!

Join 10 YA authors from AW Teen on Wednesday, April 6th at 8 pm CST for a Twitter chat and giveaway! You can tweet your questions and follow along using the hashtag #AWTeen.

Book Review: Perfectly Broken by Robert Burke Warren

Perfectly BrokenPerfectly Broken by Robert Burke Warren
Publisher: Story Plant
Release Date: March 8, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

His rock star days may be behind him, but stay-at-home dad Grant Kelly’s life is getting more interesting by the day. It’s the beginning of the post 9/11 era, and he and his wife and four-year-old son have traded a New York City apartment for a Catskills farmhouse, where ghosts from the past, worries for the future, and temptations in the present converge to bring about drastic changes in their marriage, their friendships, and their family. A gorgeously nuanced novel with unforgettable characters, Perfectly Broken is a story of human frailty, the endurance of the heart, and the power and possibility of forgiveness.

I chose this book because I was told that if I liked Jonathan Tropper then I would like this book. That held true, although Robert Burke Warren definitely has his own voice and is not a Tropper copycat.

Perfectly Broken is an apt title for this book. Every character in it is broken in some way. Told in first person by Grant, it’s the story of a group of people who have been friends since the 90s. Some, like Grant’s friend Paul have made it big. Grant has not. He quit his band and tried for a solo career that never took off. Now he’s a stay-at-home dad to son Evan. He and his wife Beth have moved into a vacant house that their friends own to save money. Grant can’t help but wonder why Paul got to become a famous musician and he didn’t.

The characters in this book are relatable, yet so frustrating. Some of the choices they make are outstandingly bad. Even so, I was rooting for them to wake up and get it together. I loved the 90s flashbacks. I’m the same age as Grant and his friends and so I was listening to a lot of the same music and stuff that they were. It was fun to take a little trip back to my college days through Grant.

This is a great book about a group of friends struggling to be grown-ups. A few surprises are thrown in along the way that kept it really interesting. I look forward to seeing what the author comes up with next.

tlc tour hostThank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book. Check out the other tour stops:

Tuesday, March 8th: Vox Libris
Wednesday, March 9th: Becklist
Thursday, March 10th: I’m Shelf-ish
Monday, March 14th: Worth Getting in Bed For
Tuesday, March 15th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Thursday, March 17th: she treads softly
Friday, March 18th: Art @ Home
Monday, March 21st: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts
Tuesday, March 22nd: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, March 23rd: An Unconventional Librarian
Thursday, March 24th: The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness
Monday, March 28th: Everyday I Write the Book
Tuesday, March 29th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, March 30th: The Book Chick
Thursday, March 31st: Chaos is a Friend of Mine
Monday, April 4th: bookchickdi
TBD: BoundbyWords

Have You Seen My Mojo?

skull-999959_1280I know I’ve been MIA for the past few weeks. I have a long list of excuses: Selling my house and moving to a crappy rental house while my husband and I are waiting for our new house to be built. Becoming addicted to vlogbrothers videos and obsessively watching all of them starting with Brotherhood 2.0 from 2007, being hospitalized for pneumonia twice (I’m actually writing this from the hospital.) and entering the working world as a substitute teacher. But the heart of the matter is that I’ve lost my mojo. Blogging fell way down on my list of priorities. I’m still reading but not at the pace that I used to.

I’ve been thinking about how I can get my mojo back, assuming I even want to. I’ve never been a prolific blogger – I average about two posts a week. But even so, sometimes writing a review is more work than fun for me. I like getting books from publishers – I’ve discovered a lot of my favorite authors that way. But on the other hand, I have a lot of books on my TBR list that I want to read. They aren’t the latest hot books though and it feels like in the book blogging world, the focus is on reviewing the latest and greatest.

The reason I started book blogging in the first place is that I wanted to start writing reviews  of the books I read to help me remember what the were about. I have a terrible memory and I figured writing a review of a book would help me remember why I did or didn’t like it. When recommending a book to someone, I wanted to be able to say something other than, “I know I loved it but I can’t remember what it was about.”

In the end, I want to want to keep blogging. Fellow bloggers, have you ever lost your mojo? What did you do to get it back?

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Audiobook Release Date: June 26, 2014
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Everything I Never told you is a spot on title for this book. The book opens with the death of Lydia Lee, the oldest daughter of Marilyn and James Lee. Trying to ascertain whether her death was due to murder or suicide is actually a small part of this story. The larger part is exploring each member of the Lee family and the secrets they keep from each other. You can’t help but think how things would have turned out if they had just been honest with each other about their feelings.

The characters in this book are not particularly likeable but I don’t think that’s a requirement for a good book. I was really mad at some of them, especially Lydia’s mom. Actually, her dad made me angry much of the time too. The book moves back and forth from the time after Lydia’s death and how the family is dealing with it, to stories of what life was like for Lydia and her family before her death. Even though Lydia is dead from the beginning, her character is well-developed. All of the other characters are too and the motivations for their actions are clear.

Ng’s prose is beautiful and poetic. I listened to the audio version of this book. The narrator’s soft, gentle voice was perfect for the flow of this book. I know this is an odd criticism, but it’s a little too much at times, with beautiful metaphors crafted for the most mundane things. However, that is my only criticism of this book.

Everything I Never Told You was well deservedly on several best of lists of 2014. I highly recommend it.


Book Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's EndChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Publisher: Audible Studios
Originally Published: 1953
Audible Release Date: October 28, 2008
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

The Overlords appeared suddenly over every city – intellectually, technologically, and militarily superior to humankind. Benevolent, they made few demands: unify earth, eliminate poverty, and end war. With little rebellion, humankind agreed, and a golden age began.
But at what cost? With the advent of peace, man ceases to strive for creative greatness, and a malaise settles over the human race. To those who resist, it becomes evident that the Overlords have an agenda of their own.
As civilization approaches the crossroads, will the Overlords spell the end for humankind…or the beginning?

BONUS AUDIO: Includes an exclusive introduction by Hugo Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, who explains why this novel, written in the 1950s, is still relevant today.

Childhood’s End was first published in 1953 so I assume that present day in the novel is around 1953. The Overlord’s have taken over the earth but not in the way one thinks of aliens taking over the earth. They have brought peace and prosperity to the world. That’s a good thing, right? Maybe not. Clarke hypothesizes that a world without conflict, where humans have everything they need, can, over time, become a world without creativity. After the Overlords have been ruling the Earth for 50 years, approximately the year 2003, Clarke has predicted a world that is eerily like ours in some ways. One of the things that stood out to me was when it was mentioned that humans now had so much leisure time they were watching up to THREE HOURS of television today. As if that was astounding. In real life, it was reported that in 2014 the average American watched FIVE hours of TV every day. And I’m guessing most American’s aren’t too worried about it.

There’s more to the future of humanity that increased television viewing hours. What is the ultimate purpose of the Overlords and why did they choose Earth to inhabit and reform? What does the far off future look like for humans? The answers to these questions are what makes Childhood’s End such a great work of science fiction.

Several characters in the audiobook had accents and the narrator read all of them very well. I enjoyed listening to him.

(I received a complementary copy of this audiobook for review.)