The Party

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Thank You to Gallery, Threshold, and Pocket Books for providing me with an advance copy of Robyn Harding’s novel, The Party, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Kim and Jeff Sanders are doing everything possible to raise their children right. Despite their Silicon Valley wealth, they throw a simple sleepover for their daughter Hannah’s Sweet Sixteen. Hannah has invited over a few friends and the girls are going to have pizza and watch PG-13 movies in the basement. Hannah’s parents have been very clear with the rules = No drinking, no drugs, and no boys.

Hannah’s parents trust the girls and go to bed. They are awoken in the middle of the night to learn that one of the teenagers in their care has fallen through a glass coffee table, and is seriously hurt. This accident will change the Sander’s family forever.

LIKEThe Party is a page-turner. Harding does a fabulous job at teasing out information that kept me turning the page. For example, early in the story we learn that Jeff’s younger colleague has turned him on to microdosing LSD, a new trend in Silicon Valley that is supposed to foster alertness and creativity. This is something that Jeff has done a handful of times and although he does not have a drug problem and this has nothing to do with the accident that occurred at the birthday party, this decision will continue to haunt him. The Party is filled with little decisions, seemingly innocuous decisions, that will have a negative impact. It’s about the fine line between perceptions and the truth. It will make you consider your own decisions. It’s quite maddening!

Harding’s characters are rich and memorable. A large chunk of The Party deals with popularity and bullying, both with teenagers and adults. It’s cynical, but also rings true. A theme of The Party is kindness, which seems to be in short supply with many of the characters.

The Party is reminiscent of one of my favorite films, American Beauty, with regard to tone and themes.

DISLIKE– I’m torn about the ending. Although I felt it was a realistic scenario, it didn’t sit well that an accident turned into a punishment/reward scenario. The very last scene was a shock. It made me want to shake the character involved. Was nothing learned?

RECOMMEND– Yes! The Party is fast-paced and thought-provoking. This is my first time reading Harding and I will definitely check-out her other novels.

The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness

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Thank You to Perseus Books Group, PublicAffairs Books, and Nation Books; for providing me with an advanced copy of Jill Filipovic’s The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Can American women truly find happiness? Jill Filipovic explores the issue of happiness and feminism, looking at the history of the United States, statistics, and personal stories.

LIKE– I was raised by a strong, single mom, and from birth, I was always told that I can do/be anything I want. I never felt like being female limited my possibilities. That said, I’m not blind to the fact that things are not equal. I guess I chalked things up to we’ve come a long way, but there is still further to go and it takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, et… I’m an optimist. However reading The H-Spot was eye-opening. Filipovic made me realize that maybe I should reconsider my optimism, by showing me ways that the system has been stacked against women.

For example, Filipovic talks about the expectation that women will give up their last names when they marry. I’ve been married twice. The first time, I kept my maiden name and it bothered family members/friends: I got heat for my decision. The second time, I took my husband’s name. I’m proud to have my husband’s last name, but it’s the societal expectation that is troublesome. She explains that the burden is on women alone, and when surveyed, it became clear that most men, would not even entertain the idea of taking their wives last name, and many would be upset if she didn’t take his. To take this further, Filipovic links the last name to identity and power, something that a woman is pressured to give up. This idea of a lost identity is something that I had never given much thought, but in retrospect, I believe it is why I was reluctant to change my name in my first marriage.

Filipovic put it in terms of a power play, men get to keep the power, while women are expected to sacrifice. The same thing happens when it comes to careers and children. Yes, there are stay-at-home dads, but more frequently, the woman is expected to give up her career or take the time away to be at home. The worst of the situation is when there is a lack of support from the community, including other women. The decisions that women make, often pit them against other women: working mothers vs stay at home moms, those who breastfeed and those who don’t, mom’s vs childless women, et…the support system is flawed, making security and happiness hard to come by.

I liked how Filipovic balanced the content of her book, not just relying on history or personal stories, but blending the two. This made her exploration feel more comprehensive. I was most interested in the latter chapters, those dealing with subjects like fertility and body image. I wish that she had included even more interviews and personal stories. As she mentions, it’s impossible to write a book that is exhaustive on this subject, but Filipovic does a solid job at hitting the main points.

DISLIKE– I was unevenly interested in the chapters, especially the early chapters. I’ve taken several college level women’s history courses, so the history was very familiar: I wasn’t learning anything new, it was more of a refresher. However, to someone who hasn’t had the exposure, the history should be enlightening and interesting.

RECOMMEND– Yes. The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness is a must-read for women. Filipovic’s honest exploration of modern feminism is a worthy read.

How to Make a French Family

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Thank You to Sourcebooks for providing me with an advanced copy of Samantha Verant’s memoir, How to Make a French Family, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– In her early thirties, Samantha Verant found herself divorced, working as a dog walker, and living at home with her parents in California. Thinking about her past, she decides to send an apology letter to Jean-Luc, a Frenchman whom she had met in her late teens while traveling in Europe. Verant had promised to stay in touch with Jean-Luc, but failed to keep her promise. Now, nearly two decades later, she discovers that Jean-Luc is a widower with two teenage children, Max and Elvire. Jean-Luc and Verant quickly fall back in love, marrying a year later. Verant’s memoir captures the joys and frustrations of moving to a foreign country and becoming a step-mother to two French teenagers.

LIKE– I’ve read many “fish-out-of-water” memoirs about living in foreign country, but Verant’s unique details make How to Make a French Family, compelling. Verant is not only living in a foreign country, but she is now the step-mother to two French chidren. As a American step-mother to two Swedish children ( and a former dog walker, divorcee and Californian), I could relate to Verant. We still live in the United States, and only have the children on holidays, but it’s not out of the question that we could one day move to Europe. I admire Verant, as she is both tough and brave following her new destiny in France. Luckily, Max and Elvire are accepting of Verant, and normal teenage issues aside, they accept her as part of their family.

Verant is in her late 30’s/early 40’s, when she decides to try for a baby with Jean-Luc. Verant suffers multiple miscarriages, but the support of her French family, allows her to embrace the idea of her current family being enough. Although Max and Elvire were happy about the prospect of a new sibling, both time and the loss of the babies, gave them the courage to express to Verant that they feared she would not view them the same as a child of her own. Verant came from a blended family. and was very close to her own step-father, so this was the last thing that she wanted Max and Elvire to think. This frank dialogue and love, is what I liked most about Verant’s family.

If you’re a Francophile or simply curious about French culture, Verant peppers her story with her American perspective of living in a foreign country. She certainly has some frustrations and mishaps, but most of her writing reveals an affinity for her new home.

Food is a huge part of French culture and Verant includes the recipes for all of the meals mentioned in, How to Make a French Family. Do not read on an empty stomach!

DISLIKE– Nothing. Verant’s memoir is entertaining and it will warm your heart.

RECOMMEND– Yes! How to Make a French Family is proof that your life can shift course when you least expect it. Verant has a beautiful life to share, and it will certainly make you want to visit southern France.

 

The Rules Do Not Apply

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Thank You to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advanced copy of Ariel Levy’s memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- In her memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, journalist Ariel Levy explores love and loss, in her relationships, career, and path to motherhood. She learns the hard truth that life is a series of trade-offs and that the conventional concept of “having it all,” is a myth.

LIKE– I vividly remember the final lecture of a Western Civilization class that I took at Pasadena City College, when I was in my early-twenties: The male professor, an self-proclaimed feminist, who would later be caught in several scandals and removed from his position, gave a piece of advice, that in way I’ve forgotten, was tenuously related to the lecture; he said that time is limited and that fertility did not last forever. He was speaking primarily to the females in the class, urging us, as we focused on our education and careers, to consider that the time frame for fertility is limited. I’m not quite sure what prompted this advice, but I remember the urgency in his tone. He was middle-aged, and in hind-sight, I’m guessing a recent personal predicament influenced his words. I’ve never wanted children, but that advice has stayed with me, especially as I near forty, still not wanting children, but realizing that the window of opportunity may already be shut. This idea is at the forefront of Levy’s memoir.

Levy’s road to motherhood is not clear. She is in an unstable marriage with Lucy, an older woman, who is an alcoholic. As Levy tries to strengthen her marriage, she is tempted through reconnecting with former lovers. Her writing career has always been important, and one that sends her on assignments around the world. Lucy’s alcoholism isn’t the only instability, as Lucy has sunk their savings into starting a solar panel company. Levy is in her late-thirties when she finally decides that she wants to be a mother, and they have a close friend who is happy to not only donate sperm, but to help out financially, and be another adult figure in their child’s life. Levy easily becomes pregnant, and her life seems to be heading towards stability and happiness, until tragedy strikes. Levy delivers her child prematurely, alone in a hotel room, while on assignment in Mongolia. The baby is born alive, but dies about fifteen minutes later, as Levy is rushed to the hospital. It’s crushing, even more so that she had minutes where she held her living child.

The title, The Rules Do Not Apply, are about all of the conventional things that as a child (or even into adulthood), you expect will happen. You expect to graduate from college and land a great job. You expect to fall in love and have a family. You expect that your parents will live long enough to see those grandchildren. You expect that hard work and being a good person should grant these rewards. However, as Levy points out, this has not been the case for her, and it has not been the case for many of her friends. Life simply does not work like that for most people. Conventionality is a myth.

Levy’s thoughts are poignant and her personal story is compelling. She has a knack for phrasing and writes beautifully. She weaves her story with the stories of people that she profiles in her reporting, making her memoir global and expansive. I can’t imagine any reader would be left unaffected by this emotional and thought provoking memoir.

DISLIKE– Nothing. The Rules Do Not Apply is powerful and riveting.

RECOMMEND– Yes! The Rules Do Not Apply is a must-read memoir. I’m certain that Levy’s story will be a bestseller and generate a lot of buzz. Read it and be part of the conversation!