Daddy: Stories

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of Emma Cline’s short story collection, Daddy: Stories, in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, and I was thrilled to be given a copy of her latest work, Daddy: Stories. I love a good short story collection and as much as I was impressed by The Girls, Cline truly shines in the short story format. They are all page-turners. I bet you can’t read just one without going to the next. Cline is masterful with tension in the short story format. She grips the reader, ending her stories at the exact perfect moment that leaves a lingering sense of wonder about the character’s next move. This collection is haunting.

Cline’s stories are incredibly uncomfortable. They deal with queasy, taboo topics like adultery, addiction, and the sexualization of children. None of her stories are easy. Reading Daddy: Stories is an experience akin to watching a horror movie, where I physically felt my body curl into a ball and my eyes turning to slits, to protect myself as I continued with the horrific situations that the characters were placed in.

Thank goodness not every story or character was relatable, but those that were, added another level of cringe. I guarantee that you will see some of your own terrible, dark traits reflected back to you in Cline’s characters. I felt it most in Marion, where an innocent preteen girl gets wrapped up in the deceptions of an older teen.

Daddy: Stories is one of my top reads for 2020 and a must if you gravitate towards short stories. Cline is a fearless writer with complex characters. Steady yourself for a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. Also be prepared to have these stories linger in your mind for a good week after finishing.

Hollywood Park

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Thank you to Celadon Books for providing me with a copy of Mikel Jollett’s memoir, Hollywood Park, in exchange for an honest review.

For those unaware, Mikel Jollett is the frontman and lyricist for the Los Angeles rock band, The Airborne Toxic Event. I’m a massive fan who has had the joy of seeing them live many times. The energy and storytelling of The Airborne Toxic Event affects me in a way that is unlike anything else.

Music is a funny thing. Like poetry, sometimes it is difficult to nail down why it speaks to you. With The Airborne Toxic Event, the songs and rhythm feel personal, and unique in capturing my experience growing up in Los Angeles.

Reading Hollywood Park and learning about Jollett’s life, made me understand my own life. Our situations are vastly different, but some of the childhood trauma rings true. It also helped me understand some of my early relationship choices and dysfunction. Like Jollett, I’ve reached a place in my life where I feel at peace with my past and hopeful for my future.

Jollett’s Hollywood Park was released as a memoir with an accompanying album of the same title. It is a grand undertaking that has been many years in the making. Both are fabulous and deeply affecting.

In his memoir, Jollett dives into his early childhood years spent at Synanon, a commune in California. Synanon was original started as place for recovering addicts, but over time, the leadership and motivations shifted. Jollett’s parents, his father a former heroin addict, and his mother, a Berkeley idealist, joined at a time when the commune was changing, including new rules that separated parents from their children. Jollett, and his older brother Tony, spent several years in an orphanage type arrangement in Synanon.

Their mother escaped with them in the middle of the night, but leaving Synanon was not easy. They feared retribution, and Jollett witnessed the severe beating of their mother’s boyfriend, who had also escaped the commune. Jollett’s mother suffered from mental illness and struggled with poverty. She had unstable relationships, including one man who was very abusive. Jollett’s father also left the commune, marrying Bonnie, another former Synanon member, who happened to work at the child center on the compound. Bonnie had bonded to Jollett when he was young and remained a second mother to him.

In Hollywood Park, Jollett comes to terms with the effects of his difficult childhood, which created problems in his adulthood. He carried the weight of his family, including the history of Jollett men going to prison, and falling into addiction. Even though he escape this family pattern, he was waiting for the other shoe to fall, as he found success with college, writing, and The Airborne Toxic Event. He struggled with relationships, always finding excuses to run away. After seeking therapy, he discovered that he had attachment disorder. Through therapy, he was able to prepare himself for engaging in a lasting relationship, which he found, and is now married with two children. It also prepared him to deal with his mother’s erratic behavior and the death of his father.

The title refers to a former Los Angeles landmark, a racetrack called Hollywood Park. Hollywood Park is a place where Jollett’s father used to escape for an afternoon of gambling and where he spent time with Jollett. The once glamorous race track fell into disrepair prior to it being torn down to make way for a football stadium. Jollett writes beautifully about these places that now only exist in our memory, both the physical places and the memories that we have of people we have lost. I lost my mom in 2008, and I have my own memories with her at both Hollywood Park and Santa Anita Race Track.

Jollett doesn’t write much about The Airborne Toxic Event, but he does give insight to the origins of two of their early hits: “Wishing Well” and “Sometime Before Midnight.” This memoir isn’t really about the band, but more about the origins of the man who felt compelled to put his words into songs.

I was fortunate to attend a virtual book event for Hollywood Park that was hosted by Tattered Cover, a Denver based bookshop. The event was originally supposed to be live, but due to Covid-19, virtual was the next best option. It was actually great. Jollett joined us from his home and played several songs. He was gracious with answering questions and sharing intimate details of his life. A week after the event, I received a hardback copy with an autographed bookplate.

Hollywood Park is a stunning memoir. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting. It is a must-read for fans of Jollett, but even if you’ve never heard of The Airborne Toxic Event, I highly recommend Hollywood Park. It is one of the most affecting and engaging memoirs that I have ever read.

 

 

 

The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm

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Thank You to Harper Collins Publishers for providing me with a copy of Hilarie Burton Morgan’s memoir, The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm, in exchange for an honest review.

Shortly after deciding to leave One Tree Hill, actress Hilarie Burton Morgan was introduced to her would-be husband, actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan. They began a whirlwind romance and a year later, they had a son named Gus.

Although they had zero farming experience, both Hilarie and Jeff dreamed of living a rural life. They found a small cabin in the Hudson Valley town of Rhinebeck, New York. Although they still maintained a house in Los Angeles, they found themselves spending more and more time in their little cabin. Eventually, they decided to make the transition and purchased a farm in the same community. They christened it “Mischief Farm,” after discovering a pair of graves on the property, for two cats: Mischief One and Mischief Two.

Hilarie recounts the highs and lows of the following decade, where they experienced relationship difficulties, multiple miscarriages, plenty of new experiences on the farm and the joy of belonging to a tight-knit community. They even became co-owners of a local candy shop, when the owner, their friend and believed member of the community, passed away. Actor Paul Rudd is also one of the owners.

I loved this memoir! I’m a Jeffrey Dean Burton fan, but I had never heard of Hilarie. I had no clue about their relationship or life on Mischief Farm. The city folk to farm, Green Acres aspect is appealing. Their love has many moments that feel ripped from a romance novel. Hilarie is fabulous. She has a strong spirit and a zest for life. She is very brave to share sensitive aspects of her life, such as her miscarriages and how they impacted her both personally and her relationship with Jeff.

She speaks about the sexual harassment that she experienced as an actress, including being groped by Ben Affleck while working as a host on MTV. She left One Tree Hill due to a toxic work environment. Although she continued to work as an actress, she made her choice to walk away from a popular television show because of harassment. No one should have to make that choice and unfortunately, it wasn’t until the “Me Too’“ movement that her story and the stories of so many other women got traction. In a fateful twist, her daughter was born right as the news was breaking, giving Hilarie even more strength to speak out.

Hilarie has the pioneering spirit. She is unafraid to get her hands dirty and to attempt new challenges relating to homesteading, farming, and home renovations. I wish I could say that I have the same amount of pluck. We just bought a new house and doing a small amount of yard work seems really adventurous for this Los Angeles girl! The Rural Diaries might have just been released at the right time. With the virus and many people stuck at home, there has been a boom in DIY projects. Hilarie provides ample inspiration to those who want to tackle projects and she even includes several recipes that look delicious.

As a personal bonus, I got a kick out of the location. I attended Bard College in the mid-90’s, which is located right in the area where the Morgan’s live. I recognized so many of the landmarks and even though I have not been to the area in decades, it was a trip down memory lane.

I can’t say enough positive things about The Rural Diaries. It is uplifting, honest, and inspiring. There is a fair bit of glamour and famous friends in the mix, but Hilarie never puts them above the people in her community or the experiences she has on the farm. This may sound like a cliche, but she is very down to earth. She’s relatable. I highly recommend The Rural Diaries as the perfect dose of reality that we need during this tough 2020.

 

Full Support: Lessons Learned in the Dressing Room

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Thank you to Amberjack Publishing for providing me with a copy of Natalee Woods’ memoir, Full Support: Lessons Learned in the Dressing Room, in exchange for an honest review.

During College, Natalee Woods applied for a summer job at a high-end department store and was placed in the lingerie department. This summer job turned into an off-and-on career, spanning over a decade, carrying through her move to Los Angeles and return to her native Seattle. During this time she navigated financial instability and the death of her parents. Woods becomes a certified bra fitter, which requires her to come in intimate contact with her customers. She learns that her job isn’t simply about selling underwear, but that often she must use discretion and empathy to serve woman who have a range of body issues, including breast cancer survivors.

Woods never mentions her employer, but it is clearly Nordstrom. As a former Nordstrom employee myself, I could immediately identify with the company culture, including her initial hiring for the anniversary sale, Nordstrom’s biggest annual event. Much like Woods, I was thrown into the fire of the anniversary sale and placed into a department (Men’s Furnishings) where I had to learn on the fly. It was utter chaos and Woods describes it, just as I experienced it.

Woods touches on the strange and rude customers that we find at Nordstrom, but that isn’t the focus of her memoir. Full Support is honest, but it is not a tell-all about being a Nordstrom employee. It’s a true reflection on what it is like to work for the retail giant, but Woods is not a disgruntled former employee. Her time with the company was not perfect, but she is not out to slag-off her former company or co-workers.

The focus is on the customers who made an impact on her perspective. For example, shortly after Woods’ lost both of her parents, a father brings his young teen daughter into the lingerie department. She needs a bra and her mother has just died. Woods has the father go off with his son, giving her time to help the daughter. The conversation transitions from bras to loss, with Woods carefully giving the young girl encouragement, as she tries not to break down herself.

During my short time at Nordstrom, I had a few customers who made a lasting impression. I helped a woman find an outfit for her mother’s memorial service and I helped a teenager find a suit for his first job interview. I’m not arguing that working in retail carries the same weight as other professions, but it is possible to make a positive impact on someone’s life and to be of service. The lingerie department is probably the most impactful department. Woods and her coworkers have the ability to help women love their bodies, including women recovering from cancer. Nordstrom has a service where they help with prothesis fits for breast cancer survivors. It is truly a wonderful thing.

Woods beautifully blends the stories of her customers with her own tumultuous life. Woods lost both of her parents to cancer and was with them during the last months of their lives. She also struggled to make it living in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is my hometown and I can attest that this is no easy feat, especially on a retail, commission-based salary. Woods is living life paycheck-to-paycheck and does not have a bigger plan for her future. One hundred percent, I could relate to this. I spent my twenties and early thirties in a survival mode similar to Woods, including being a caretaker for a parent dying of cancer.

My only negative comment is that I occasionally felt that the dialogue rang false. I could easily believe the situations with the customers, even the most outrageous, but the way the dialogue was written felt too quickly intimate or simply not the way people really speak. There are cliches. More than once, the dialogue rang false in a way that made me stop reading to consider it, which disengaged me.

The dialogue issues aside, I very much enjoyed Woods’ memoir. Full Support has a lot of heart. It will be of particular interest to those who have worked high-end retail, but I would recommend it to everyone. Also, if you’re a woman who has not worked with a certified bra fitter, it is a game-changer!

 

The Paper Wasp

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Thank you to Grove Atlantic for providing me with Lauren Acampora’s novel, The Paper Wasp, in exchange for an honest review.

Abby and Elise were childhood best friends raised in a small town in Michigan. They began to grow apart when as a teenager, Elise became involved in acting and her career took off.

Flash-Forward to their late 20’s: Elise is an actress living in Hollywood, while Abby is stuck in their small town, a college dropout. She is working retail and dreaming of a career in the film industry. Abby obsesses over Elise, saving every magazine article that features her former friend. The two women reconnect, when they both attend their high school reunion. Following the reunion, Abby decides to run off to Hollywood, showing up on Elise’s doorstep. Elise, takes Abby in for an extended stay, treating Abby to a taste of her lavish lifestyle. Soon, the boundaries of their relationship are blurred, when Abby accepts a job being Elise’s personal assistant. The situation is further strained by Abby’s growing ambition, a ticking time-bomb that is ready to explode.

I absolutely loved The Paper Wasp. Acampora is a masterful writer, combing gorgeous prose with complex characters. I could not put The Paper Wasp down and plowed through it in a single afternoon.

I’m a Los Angeles native and I found the way that Acampora captured the city to be perfect. There is a wonderful moment where Elise drives Abby through Hollywood for the first time, noting its lackluster, dingy atmosphere, which is a strong contrast both Abby’s perceived image of Hollywood and to Elise’s glamorous lifestyle. Elise takes meditation classes at an exclusive institute and although I’m not sure of a real-life counterpart, it is certainly something that exists in Los Angeles. It has strange, ethereal quality, but is also is a bit of a cult. I could easily imagine the type of fellow Angeleno’s, not only celebrities, who would have a membership to this type of club. One of the more memorable aspects of the institution, is their crazy costume parties, where members come dressed as images from their dreams. It’s strange and magical, with a hint of a nightmarish quality; akin to a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

There is another contrast, when Abby travels back to Michigan to see her sister. Her sister is a drug addict, who has recently had a baby daughter. Abby visits her sister and niece, seeing that they live in a filthy trailer barely able to make ends meet. Abby’s heart tells her to kidnap her niece and save her from the poverty and neglect, but she can’t act on it.

Abby’s obsession with Elise creates a tension throughout the story. In the start, she appears to be a bit of a stalker, but then as we see the dynamic between the two women, it is clearer that Abby is more concerned with the lack of direction that her life has taken. She is envious of Elise, who doesn’t seem to deserve her lucky breaks. Rather than wishing to be Elise, Abby thinks that she is more deserving or at least, if she were to have a good opportunity, she would know how to make the most of it. We learn that Abby has been carrying around a terrible secret that is making her more motivate to take risks in life. Abby becomes emboldened throughout the story, making her actions increasing erratic, creating a sense of danger.

When Abby is confronted with the real Elise, not the Elise from the magazine articles, she realizes that her friend lacks self-confidence. Elise lives a messy life. This sets up a social commentary on how we view celebrity, or even ordinary people, via carefully curated social media accounts. Abby couldn’t imagine the real Elise, because she was so caught-up in the fake, media version. Not only that, Abby spent a decade so hyper-focused on this fake Elise, that when she was confronted with the truth, her world cracked open.

The Paper Wasp is my current favorite read of 2019. I was hooked from the first page and cannot wait to read Acampora’s collection of short stories, The Wonder Garden. She is such a talented writer.

On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard

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Thank you to Penguin Group Dutton for providing me with a copy of Jennifer Pastiloff’s memoir, On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard, in exchange for an honest review.

Jennifer Pastiloff has built an incredible life. She is in a loving marriage, has a beautiful child, and has created a successful career as an inspirational leader of life changing yoga retreats. However, the road to Pastiloff’s currently life was bumpy.

Pastiloff had a tumultuous childhood, which included the death of her father. She suffered from crippling self-doubt and anorexia. Her self-image issues played a role in her refusal to seek medical attention for her progressive hearing loss, an issue that caused her many years of social pain, excluding her from fully participating in conversations and feeling like people viewed her as less intelligent. She meandered through her twenties/early thirties, engaging in self-destructive activities and unable to figure out her true career path or to find a good romantic partner.

On Being Human is part memoir and part self-help book, as Pastiloff gives tips and exercises gleaned from her popular workshops for reader to try at home. Pastiloff is relatable and raw. I related to her sense of feeling lost in her twenties/early thirties. She dropped out of college and spent over a decade working as a server at a cafe. I was in a similar situation and I could relate to knowing that you have skills and dreams, but also not quite knowing how to focus on a career path. The sense of knowing that there is so much more out there for you, but also not knowing how to grab it. In a culture where we value the traditional education/career path, it can be very difficult for people who do not stick to that mold. Pastiloff filled me with encouragement and hope. I would definitely recommend On Being Human, to anyone who is feeling a little lost.

Another aspect of Pastiloff’s memoir is the idea of following your gut or inner voice. Pastiloff did not have dreams of being a yoga instructor or a motivational coach, but she listened to her intuition when the opportunities presented themselves, she took them. The first time she met her would-be husband, she wasn’t interested in him, but a decade later, her gut told her to pursue the relationship. It’s part trusting yourself and part timing, as life is ever evolving and sometimes you might need the time to grow, in order to be ready to accept an opportunity. Pastiloff in her early twenties was not ready to accept certain things and she needed the time to grow. Rather than beating herself up over these missed years, she looks at them as a time needed to develop into the person she is today.

Pastiloff experienced massive hearing loss, a condition that slowly worsened over many years. Finally, she realized that she needed to use a hearing aid, something that she had been embarrassed about to the point of choosing to miss out on hearing. It was a vanity issue. When she finally conceded to needing the hearing aids, she realized that she could not afford them. However, Pastiloff had built a community of friends and clients who wanted to help her purchase them. This community came through with several other financial emergencies. My take-away is if you show enough love to other people, especially giving it freely with no expectations, often this love will come back to you in abundance. I’ve seen this happen in my own life and in the lives of those around me. Pastiloff’s younger adult years were spent in such fear of judgement, that when she was able to push that aside, she saw the blessing of allowing other people to be part of her life. We often hear that it “takes a village” to raise a child, but I think that it applies to everyone. We all need help sometimes. We need a sense of belonging to a community.

On Being Human is a wonderful reminder of the power of humanity and of embracing life. I highly recommend it for anyone who needs a bit of a boost. I’d love to attend one of Pastiloff’s workshops and to see how her energy in person, compares to the page. It is radiant in her memoir!

The Late Show

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Last May, I visited family in England and I was kindly given a copy of Michael Connelly’s The Late Show, from my brother-in-law’s father, a fellow book-lover. He primarily passed along the book because he was surprised that I had not read Connelly, especially since many of his novels are set in my hometown of Los Angeles, California.

PLOT– After being harassed by a male colleague, Detective Renee Ballard is moved to the graveyard shift, also referred to as “The Late Show.” A victim of rape, Ballard lives a life that keeps her on the move. She is an ace employee, but her personal life is messy and she often chooses to sleep on the beach, rather than maintain the trappings of a normal life.

She’s on the beat, when two intense cases come her way: a shooting at a local bar and a near deadly assault. As Ballard becomes involved with both cases, she faces discrimination and road blocks from fellow detectives in the LAPD, coworkers who would rather she found a different job. Ballard must outwit them, sometimes breaking protocol and placing herself in grave danger, to both provide justice for the victims and prove that she is a worthy detective.

LIKE– I love that Ballard is a strong, kick-ass female protagonist. She’s tough as nails and smart. I think most women can relate to facing some degree of workplace discrimination or harassment. Ballard faces both, in a job that is mostly male. Although she is clearly emotionally affected by it, she doesn’t let it stop her from proving her right to be there. While It is frustrating that women have to “prove” themselves, Connelly writes this aspect of the female perspective in a way that rings true.

I love the Los Angeles setting, especially as I’m now living in a different area and feeling homesick for my hometown. The setting brought up some interesting thoughts for me. The man who gave me The Late Show is British and has never visited Los Angeles. I wondered what he thought or imagined, based on Connelly’s descriptions, Los Angeles to look like? I didn’t have to stretch my imagination very far, as I’ve been to many of the locations in The Late Show. My own local knowledge eclipses Connelly’s descriptions. It made me think back to all of the novels that I’ve read that are set in England and now that I’ve visited England many times, I can’t even remember what I thought when books/movies/TV, formed my knowledge.

Connelly does a great job at crafting intense, danger-filled action scenes. His writing is cinematic.

DISLIKE– I believe that this is my first crime/detective novel. It is my first experience with Connelly. I don’t have experience with the genre and as such, I was put-off by all of the police lingo. It felt heavy-handed. Do detectives really talk like that? Maybe they do, but as a reader unfamiliar with the genre, it grew old and was cheesy.

RECOMMENDThe Late Show is not my cup of tea, but I know that Connelly is incredibly popular and I think fans of this genre would love his latest protagonist, Renee Ballard. I’m happy to have had the chance to read something that I would not have normally picked, but I would unlikely seek out his other books.