A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Walk in the Woods

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Title: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Premise:

This is a humorous memoir about Bill’s quest to hike the Appalachian Trail, a good portion of it with his friend Katz.  Additionally, Bill shares his observations and opinions on topics which are pertinent to the story, such as, the National Parks Service, invasive species, conservation, mining, etc.

My thoughts:

It would not be an understatement to say that I LOVED this book!  It wasn’t a page-turner that I just couldn’t put down, but more like an old friend that I would return to for shared jokes and just to appreciate being together.  I wanted to savor my time with this book.  Bill’s wry humor really suits me and I appreciate the way he uses it to draw attention to and poke at issues he cares about.  Sometimes it’s more effective to criticize something through sardonic humor than by railing against it in an angry tirade.

When I picked up the book, I didn’t really think it would be all that exciting.  How can you make an exceptionally long walk entertaining?  Well, Bill figured it out and delivered beautifully.  His comedic timing is like strawberries and whipped cream: perfect.  Let me state again that I am in love with his writing style and I look forward to reading more of his works.  How can I have gone so long without reading any of his books?

The last thing I wanted to comment on was how Bill brought little nuggets of history into his story.  I love history when it’s presented in an engaging manner, and Bill incorporated it seamlessly.  I was particularly intrigued by the opulent hotels which once existed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the sad history of the town of Centralia in Pennsylvania.  I had previously studied Centralia when I was on a kick about ghost towns, and it is a haunting setting to be sure.  If you’ve never heard of it, do a bit of research.  It’s fascinating.

I recommend A Walk in the Woods to adults and mature teenagers who enjoy a humorous adventure story.  If you like wry humor, you’ll especially appreciate Bryson’s writing.

A couple of favorite quotes:

“’Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror.’  When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it’s time to watch your step.”  (p. 63-64)

“The forest we walked through now was really just a strapping adolescent.  In 1890, a railroad man from Cincinnati named Henry C. Bagley came to this part of Georgia, saw the stately white pines and poplars, and was so moved by their towering majesty and abundance that he decided to chop them all down.  They were worth a lot of money.”  (p. 68)

Possible Objections:

  • a decent amount of swearing

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas by Pénélope Bagieu

California Dreamin'.jpg

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A special thank-you to :01 First Second and Goodreads for providing me with an ARC to review!

Title: California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas by Pénélope Bagieu

Premise:

Explore Ellen Cohen’s (Cass Elliot’s) artistic development before she became a part of The Mamas & the Papas.  Cass’s larger than life personality and talent take her to some very interesting places, but it isn’t until she joins with her now famous bandmates that she truly experiences the fame she’s been seeking since she was a child.

My thoughts:

The format of this book is very interesting.  It’s an adult graphic novel, not in the sense that it’s full of garbage, but because it’s an adult-oriented story.  Through Bagieu’s whimsical illustrations, we follow Cass from her early years growing up in a Jewish home in Baltimore, when she dreams of someday becoming a superstar.  At a young age Cass decides to leave home and strike out on her own to see if she can make a go of her dream in New York City.

This takes her to some interesting places and she encounters a lot of unique characters.  Though Cass performs with several different groups, she doesn’t get a big break until she hooks up with her final bandmates — Denny Doherty, and John and Michelle Phillips.  Unfortunately, their success was not to be long-lived because of in-fighting, jealousy, and a weird love triangle sort of thing.  Really, it was rather tragic that a group that had such a unique and cohesive sound should implode quite so spectacularly.

But really, the focus of this book is on Mama Cass and her journey to stardom, along with the final painful moments when her dreams seemed to have fallen completely apart.  Though the book necessarily left out a lot of details because of its format, I think it was successful in conveying Cass’s personality, her hopes and dreams, and who she really was as a person.  This was a really nice book for letting readers get to know Cass a little better and more fully appreciate her life.

I recommend California Dreamin’ to adult fans of The Mamas & The Papas.  It’s fun to look at the early years of Cass’s development, but because of the language and drug use, I can’t recommend it to younger readers.

Possible Objections:

  • lots of bad language
  • a bit of cartoon nudity (fairly tame)
  • some drug use
  • a couple of homophobic slurs

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

When You Find Out the World is Against You Book Giveaway — OPEN

When the World is Against You.jpg

My Bookshelf Giveaway: When You Find Out the World is Against You: and Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments by Kelly Oxford

Read my review here

Enter by following the link below.  It’s open internationally to participants 18 years and older and will end on June 30, 2017.  The winner will be announced on my blog and contacted through email.  Good luck!

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When You Find Out the World is Against You Book Giveaway — CLOSED

My Bookshelf Giveaway: When You Find Out the World is Against You: and Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments by Kelly Oxford

Read my review here

Enter by following the link below.  It’s open internationally to participants 18 years and older and will end on June 30, 2017.  The winner will be announced on my blog and contacted through email.  Good luck!

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When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments by Kelly Oxford

The World is Against You

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A special thank-you to Dey Street Books and Goodreads for providing an ARC for me to review!

Title: When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments by Kelly Oxford

Premise:

This book is a memoir detailing a variety of especially awkward and/or funny episodes from Kelly’s life.  The stories run the gamut from childhood social gaffes to raising her own children, divorce to sexual assault.  Whatever the circumstances, Kelly’s keen observations, wit and humor shine through to help give perspective to each story.

My thoughts:

There were parts of the book which were very entertaining and I found myself getting quite wrapped up in them (like when Kelly went to camp!).  There were a couple of chapters, however, which kind of fell flat for me.  For some reason they didn’t pull me in and didn’t seem to add a lot of value to the book.

With that being said though, overall I enjoyed the book very much.  I read through it fairly quickly and it was easy to digest each chapter as a separate anecdote.  Some of Kelly’s antics are so socially awkward that it’s difficult to read about them.  The story about her husband and the guy he meets in the gym comes immediately to mind.  Yikes!!!  I’m too embarrassed to even tell you what it’s about online–you’ll have to read it for yourself.

Probably the chapter I appreciated most was the last one about Kelly’s reaction to the Trump and Billy Bush recording when they were talking about sexually assaulting women.  I had to psych myself up to the read the chapter after I skimmed it and saw all of the tweets by other women who had experienced sexual assault.  It was right before bed and I put the book down, deciding that I had better wait to read that chapter until the morning when I’d have the whole day to process it and work through the unhappy feelings before trying to go to sleep.  The way that Kelly helped so many women to feel connected and heard was amazing!  Quite frankly, I think it was necessary at the time, especially since the behavior and language of those men was being justified by so many.  For all of the women who’ve been on the receiving end inappropriate behavior or language, it’s like a slap in the face seeing it brushed off as “locker room talk”.  So on behalf of all of the women who were feeling marginalized by that recording and the ensuing justification of it, thank you Kelly for putting yourself out there to start the conversation on healthy attitudes towards women.

I recommend When You Find Out the World Is Against You to adults who like funny and/or awkward memoirs.  Kelly is an entertaining lady and you just might enjoy exploring some of her more memorable socially awkward moments.

A Favorite quote:

“The loudest drunks are groups of sober teenage girls.  They think all their jokes are hilarious.  All their drama is the biggest deal in the whole wide world.”  (p. 259-260)

Possible Objections:

  • lots of swear words (not used offensively, but sprinkled generously as potpourri)
  • explicit talk about sexual stuff (particularly in reference to sexual assault)
  • a bit of drug use

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Ugly by Robert Hoge

Ugly

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Title: Ugly by Robert Hoge

Premise:

Robert was born with some major birth defects (a growth in the middle of his face and deformed legs) because of a medication his mother took while he was in utero.  His life is a tale of resilience and the quest to fit in in a world that too often judges people based on appearance.  Though the cards are stacked against him, Robert comes of age as a well-adjusted young adult, demonstrating to all that a person’s looks don’t define who they are as a person.

My thoughts:

Thank you to smile rac for recommending this book!

Wow–what a refreshing and well-timed book!  There is so much talk nowadays about acceptance and mainstreaming children with special needs, but that was not the case back when Robert was a child.  It was even a fight for him to be accepted into his own home!

Robert’s memoir is poignant and entertaining at the same time.  His wry humor helps take the edge off of some very painful experiences and helps the reader to identify with the human behind the hurt.  The narrative is detailed enough to keep the attention of older readers, but simple enough that it’s still accessible to a younger audience.  I appreciate that Robert left out offensive language, etc. which would have been questionable for the younger crowd.

The surgery which doctors performed on Robert’s face took place during the early days of craniofacial surgery.  Truly he underwent a groundbreaking surgery which helped pave the way for so many after him.  I thought that was pretty interesting, though I don’t know that he feels particularly heroic for doctors having experimented on his face when he really had no say in the matter.  I’m not sure how I would feel about that, if I were in his place.

For any child or parent who has a friend or family member with special needs, this is an especially important read.  When you feel different it can be very cathartic to hear from others who have gone through the same experiences.  It leaves you feeling a little less alone, a little more hopeful, and a whole lot more understood.  I highly recommend Ugly to all kids–elementary through teens.  For those with a personal tie to special needs or those who have experienced bullying, I recommend it doubly!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

caddie-woodlawn

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I read Caddie Woodlawn years ago, as a child.  I love frontier adventures which feature female heroines.  The fact that this story takes place in the area I grew up in makes it that much more interesting to me.  This is a 1936 Newbery Medal winner, too!

Premise:

The story is about the life of Caddie Woodlawn and her family in the early Wisconsin frontier during the Civil War era.  Her parents came to the Wisconsin wilderness from Boston to make a new life for themselves, settling in the area of Downsville.  The story is rather like a memoir–sharing specific stories from Caddie’s life which she shared with her family.  It was her granddaughter, Carol Ryrie Brink, who put the stories into book form.

My thoughts:

The most enthralling thing about this book, for me personally, is that it took place in the area where I grew up.  It’s fun to imagine Caddie and her brothers traipsing through the wilderness (which is now quite developed land).  Have we walked along the same stretch of river?  Where exactly was her family’s farm?

Caddie is such a fun tomboyish character.  Her father is given charge of her upbringing, in the hopes that more vigorous activities (a.k.a. hanging out with her brothers), will help keep her healthy.  (One of her older sisters became weak and died when she was coddled by their mother in the rough frontier land.)  Caddie and her brothers engage in all sorts of shenanigans, and eventually Caddie matures and realizes that growing up isn’t quite the awful thing that she always thought it would be.

The one criticism I have for the book is its outdated language pertaining to Native Americans.  For its time, this book is fairly forward-thinking, but it will still be offensive to today’s readers.  There are a few instances where the terms “redskins,” “savages,” and “half-breeds” are used.  I recommended the book to my son, but prefaced it with a discussion on terms referring to and attitudes towards Native Americans at that period in history.

There are a couple of circumstances relating to the Native American characters in the story which help teach kids a lesson in accepting others.  Caddie’s friendship with Indian John, and her act of love for the Hankinson kids are two of my favorite scenes from the entire book.  You’ll see why when you read them.  Sometimes it takes a child to know what is right and to follow through, even when the adults around them would rather cling to suspicion and prejudice.

I recommend this book to older elementary-age children, up to teens.  It’s a fun look into U.S. history which gives kids a good view into what everyday life may have looked like for white settlers.

Possible Objections:

  • Some offensive/outdated racial language referring to Native Americans (“savages,” “redskins”)

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

moveable-feast

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I want to challenge myself to read more biographies and autobiographies, so A Moveable Feast is a step in the right direction.  It’s a memoir by Ernest Hemingway.  I haven’t read much else by him, but I will be doing so now.  His writing style is interesting and he’s a master at making you feel like you’re a part of the action.

Premise:

A Moveable Feast highlights the early part of Hemingway’s life, when he and his wife lived in Paris as a young couple.  It talks about writing, food, alcohol, friends, love, sex, reading, art, marriage, horse racing, skiing, and some of his now-famous friends and acquaintances.

My thoughts:

This was a fantastic book!  Hemingway’s writing style is very distinctive, so if you can wrap your head around it, you’re bound to appreciate his stories.  He has a way of drawing the reader into the surroundings and events he’s describing, so that you feel like you’re a spectator just looking over his shoulder.  I find myself wanting to explore the places he’s describing.

Hemingway’s way of life as a young man was so alien to me, and that is probably what made it so interesting.  The way he talked with friends; the food he ate; the alcohol he drank; the things he did in his spare time–they are all outside of my own world experience.  I love learning about what life is like for other people.

I had no idea that Hemingway was friends with such well-known people as Picasso , T. S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It’s neat to get a little peak into their social lives and realize that in a way they were regular people just like the rest of us.

It would be helpful to know some French when trying to tackle this book, but you can get by without it. Some of the place names, food, and drink will be lost on you.

I recommend this book to older teens and adults who are looking for a good biography of Ernest Hemingway.  Though the stories only pertain to his younger years, you get a good sense of his character, motivations, and a fascinating look into his life.

A Favorite quote:

“’We’re always lucky,’ I said and like a fool I did not knock on wood.  There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on too.” (p. 42)

Possible Objections:

  • Some bad language (SOB x 1, etc)
  • Sexual-themed talk (an STD, prostitution, homosexuality)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori