Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Historical Fiction · WWII

The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey

Some books are just fun to read.  The Beantown Girls is one of those books.

Written by Jane Healey The Beantown Girls takes on WWII through the eyes of the Red Cross Clubmobile Girls.  In all of my years of reading and studying WWII history, I’ve never come across anything about the Clubmobile Girls, which is an incredibly fascinating piece of American and WWII History.  The Red Cross essentially recruited attractive, outgoing, college-educated American women between the ages of 25-35.  They sent these young women to England and France during WWII to boost troop morale by serving coffee and donuts while engaging troops in lighthearted conversation.  The girls were trained to drive and maintain trucks fitted with little kitchens and often followed the troops right into the thick of things.

Healey did a fantastic job presenting the history and strength of the Clubmobile Girls while also dipping into the horrors of war that these young women actually faced.  In many ways, the Clubmobile Girls carried the same unspoken mantle that mothers, sisters and wives carry everywhere; to support our men and be strong so the men won’t fall apart.  I appreciated the way Healey wrote her female characters in a way that was both strong and vulnerable, as well as true to the times.  The girls constantly applying fresh lipstick in the midst of a war was almost comical, but also an obvious nod to how seriously they took their roles as Clubmobile Girls.

I also liked how Healey strung together several true Clubmobile Girl accounts into a single believable tale, unlike Beneath a Scarlet Sky, which placed the main character in so many events it was unbelievable.

The love story in The Beantown Girls felt like a neatly placed after thought and I think the book could have continued along smoothly without a predictable love thread being tossed in.  The book does end rather neatly, but after all the girls go through, I was rooting for them to get everything they wanted.

Great topic.  Engaging writing.  Well developed characters.  The Beantown Girls gets four stars from me and a strong recommendation for lighter WWII historical fiction.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers, -R

3 stars · Autobiography · Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Politics · thoughts

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming is the hottest book on the market right now.  It’s listed as Amazon’s number one best selling book, as well as the number one selling book in the Law, Lawyers & Judges and African-American and Black literature categories.  With over 7,800 reviews, this book is a hot topic!  I was/am a little bit apprehensive about reviewing this book because it is such a political hot button.  Many of the reviews reflect the reviewer’s political views rather than the book itself, which can be frustrating for reader’s wanting to know about the book itself.  My review is strictly on the reader’s experience and not my politics, beliefs or opinion of the Obamas.

Becoming is written in three parts.  The first section, Becoming Me, describes Michelle’s life from birth to meeting Barack.  The second section, Becoming Us, takes the reader through the Obama’s life and relationship as a couple, right up to the time Barack decides to run for presidency.  The final section, Becoming More, details the presidential campaign and the Obama’s eight years as the first couple.

For me, Becoming Me, was hard to get through.  There were so many details, so many names, so many memories.  This portion was incredibly long and very boring.  The writing felt haphazard and choppy, like Michelle had recorded her thoughts and later typed them out without planning or editing for a bigger picture or a cohesive story.  There were many memories that really resonated with me, as a minority female, that just didn’t get the stage time they deserved.  These big important memories that could have served as a connecting point for many young women across the U.S. were drowned in the memories of how orderly she kept her Barbies.

This section was also notable for its constant references to race, particularly in relation to white people.  I understand that she was trying to emphasize how large of a role race played in Chicago during her childhood and how difficult it was/is to be black or brown in America, even today, but the constant references diluted the message when those references were truly relevant and important.

This section was by far, a huge disappointment and I almost gave up reading the book.

Things switched gears rather quickly when Michelle met Barack.  As far the book goes, the writing for Becoming Us got much tighter, better edited and significantly more interesting.  This portion of the book feels like it was written by an entirely different person and I wonder if Michelle was more comfortable sharing these memories and the distance she could maintain in this section or if this portion of the book was edited by someone else.

There is no doubt, after reading this section, that Michelle loves her husband.  This part felt heavily filtered with positive PR and it did get a little old to hear about how amazing Barack was (over and over and over again).  The worst thing we learned about him was he smoked and couldn’t manage to put his dirty clothes in the hamper.

While Becoming Me felt like Michelle was struggling with how to connect to her audience, in Becoming Us, Michelle hits the right chord, sharing just the right amount of memory, emotion, and spirit to connect with anyone who has ever been married, hated their job, desired soulful work, balanced kids and reigned in or chased after ambition.  It was incredibly interesting to read about the Obamas as a new couple, their infertility, how they balanced work and family life and the struggle to keep their own identities and values amidst the political machine.

I appreciated how open Michelle was about her core fear of “not good enough” and how that tiny negative little message influenced many of her actions and decisions.  It was also very interesting to read about how an extremely ambitious and well educated woman grappled with her husband’s dreams and ambition.  Surprisingly, Michelle did not want her husband to enter the political arena and spent almost twenty years waiting for him to return to the private sector.

Becoming More was by far the most interesting portion of the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed  going behind the scenes and learning about the campaign process, the transition from president to president, living in the White House, the Secret Service and all of her First Lady initiatives.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the stories of their children growing up in the White House and appreciated how all of Michelle’s decisions revolved around her children and maintaining their family unit.

There are several major reoccurring themes throughout Becoming which I think other readers will find inspiring and valuable.  Chief among them is the importance of family and good meaningful friendships.  Michelle is deeply rooted in her family and cultivated friendships to last a lifetime.  Over and over again, we see friends and family as her source of strength.  Second, the value of an education.  Throughout the book, Michelle emphasized her belief in using education as a means to free oneself from your circumstances.  And finally, the power in accepting who you are and where your heart lies.  After a long battle with herself, Michelle gave up a prestigious high paying job as a lawyer to find work that was meaningful to her.  We can all appreciate what it means to do work that speaks to our soul and leaves us satisfied at the end of the day.

All in all, Becoming was just way too long.  Becoming Me gets a solid two stars.  This first section could have done with some heavy editing and extreme tightening.  Becoming Us and Becoming More could have and should have been the majority of the book, with a small section cherry picked from Becoming Me.  The latter sections were well written and incredibly interesting.  I learned a lot in these sections about political campaigns and how the first family operates within their roles and how they maintain a residence at the White House.  Four stars for these two sections.  Overall, 3 stars for Becoming.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

 

 

Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Cupa Tea · Self Help · thoughts · Wheat Beer

The craziness of Amazon book reviews…(And The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Big Magic)

Y’all know by now that I am a self-help book junkie.  After being waitlisted for so long I forgot they were even on my library’s waitlist, I finally got The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  In a fun surprise, Gilbert actually mentions Manson as one of her favorite bloggers and uses one of his posts in her book.  Super cool to get some reading synchronicity like that, particularly since Overdrive auto-checked out both books to me at the same time.

Anyway, both books brought a lot of really good thinking and talking points.  Manson’s book is honestly like having a super in depth life conversation with  your super drunk frat-boy friend, except you’re not drunk and he’s making a lot of really good points.  Yes, the language is over the top, even for me, but that’s part of the book’s magic.  As you read, you totally get the feeling that Manson is speaking to you and that’s EXACTLY how he talks.  As the book progresses and gets into deeper and finer points, Manson tones the language down a bit, but still manages to throw in some random-ass sayings that only a total drunk-ass would come up with.  The last chapter did feel a bit weird and out of place, it probably should have been edited out, but overall I loved this book and think the key to enjoying it is to approach it the same way you’d approach the bar patio picnic table that is currently home to your very drunk friend…with your favorite beer, some fries, and an open mind.

Big Magic,  while totally different from The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, had the same one-on-one convo vibe.  Although instead of having a convo with your super drunk frat boy friend, this convo is with a beloved mentor/friend who is giving you all of the advice they’ve stored up for 50 years, almost like a retirement speech.  At the end of the book, Gilbert mentions that Big Magic was inspired by her Ted Talk, which really should have been part of the intro or first chapter, as Big Magic TOTALLY reads like a bunch of Ted Talks instead of connected chapters.  So while you read Manson’s book with a beer and fries, Big Magic requires some fruity tea in a delicate cup and scones.  Or mimosas and poppy seed muffins….(or maybe I’m just hungry…anyway…moving on…).  I really appreciated Gilbert’s take on inspiration (you just gotta move in some sort of direction (any direction!) and inspiration will follow), how you don’t always need a college degree before you can become great (just start creating!), and perfection (the enemy of progress!).  When read as multiple Ted Talks bound into a single book, Big Magic is great for quick tips and tricks on motivation, inspiration and short bursts of Gilbert’s own life.

Which brings me to the Amazon reviews for these two books.  While both are highly rated, I was amused by several of the reviews that gave 2 stars.  One reviewer gave Gilbert’s book 2 stars because the author wears perfume, which is bad for the environment or animals or something (who knows, the review was rambly and random!).  It was such a bizarre review, considering that was literally one line in the entire book and Gilbert was only mentioning how when she loses inspiration, she gets herself all fancied up, which in her case includes lipstick and perfume, as a way to attract inspiration.  It’s quite good advice, as most fitness gurus will tell you that putting on your workout clothes will essentially force you out the door on days when you don’t want to work out.  It just cracked me up that someone would focus on a single point and miss so many other fantastic points in a book.  Definitely a review written by a small picture person.

For Manson’s book, many of the 2 star reviews were “due to vulgar language”.  Seriously, if you pick up a book with a title like “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and then you get offended by the language inside the book, it is totally your own fault, as the title was a very LARGE clue to the personality of the author.

In an interesting twist, both books got a lot of reviews that said something like “this book is full of advice for younger people”.  I can see this being true for Manson’s book, my Grandma probably wouldn’t get as much out of it as my brother, but Gilbert’s book felt a lot less directed towards a specific market.  Big Magic seemed to be geared towards creatives of all ages looking for some friendly advice.  Many reviewers seemed upset that neither book offered any practical steps towards not giving a F*ck or finding their own magic, however if you read between the lines, the magic of these books comes from the fact that they don’t give you a cookie cutter recipe to follow.  Sort of like some modern day Mr. Miagi randomness that you have to figure out for yourself.

If you are looking for some practical steps, Big Magic would pair well with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck would pair well (ironically, I know) with Brene Brown’s Rising Strong or The Gifts of Imperfection.

That’s all for today, so until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

R!

Bad Ass Women · beach read · Mimosas · Self Help · Summer Read

The Doctor Is In

If there is one type of book I can’t resist, it’s a good old fashioned self help book.  I just can’t help it.  They’re fun, easy to read and occasionally you’ll find a gem in the heap of unconventional life advice.  Self help book are like the flea market of literature.  You never know what treasures you’ll pull out of the pile.  We’re at the beach again this week and my trusty Kindle companion has been Dr. Ruth Westheimer.  Prior to reading “The Doctor Is In”, my knowledge of Dr. Ruth consisted of: cute little old lady with a funny accent giving sex advice.  Post read, I want Dr. Ruth to be my spirit animal. the doctor is in

At only 4’7″ tall, this German Jew refugee has led enough life for ten people.  After escaping Germany on a kindertransport and earning a degree in housekeeping from her Swiss boarding home, she relocated to Israel, becoming a sniper (!) for the Israel army.  In Israel, she became a teenage bride and migrated to France with equally young husband.  After a brief marriage, Dr. Ruth chose her education over marriage and spent the next five years in France.  After another marriage, the birth of her first child and relocating to America, Dr. Ruth found her home and a slew of degrees in New York.  It wasn’t until her 50’s that this wickedly funny therapist found her calling and catapulted to fame on her radio show.  The rest as they say, is history…a history spanning over three decades, 35 books, and countless tv and radio shows.  Dr. Ruth is now a staple of American pop culture!

With a history like hers, it would have been very easy for Dr. Ruth to settle where she was and stick with her lot as a child refugee, a migrant house keeper, a poor single working mom.  Instead, she made the best out of every situation, often edging her way into opportunities, experiences and adventures that were both interesting, scary, and worth the risk she took to get there.

After reading countless self-help books written by numerous bad-ass women, I can say that Dr. Ruth without a doubt, takes the cake.  While most self-help books for women encourage confidence and taking risks, Dr. Ruth’s age and background bring a depth of energy, experience and reality that can be somewhat lacking in other books of this sort.  Yoga books in this genre, in particular, can be harder to connect to.  The author’s story can feel out of touch or out of reach, particularly when they pack up their life and spend months at yoga retreats in exotic locations.  As an ambitious woman with loads of impatient energy and an honest writing style, Dr. Ruth is easily relatable.  We’ve all employed a sneaky trick or two to catch a man,  plotted and schemed for way to advance our careers or relationships, and jumped into things head first while still feeling totally unprepared , scared, worried, and impatient.  This complete relatable-ness makes reading “The Doctor Is In” comparable to sharing secrets with a giggling grandmother over mimosas at a bridal shower.  It’s fun, it’s enlightening and it’ll leave you in a good mood.

Happy reading my friends!

 

 

 

Bad Ass Women · Favorite Books · Grab a Martini · Self Help

How to Dress for Success by Edith Head

how to dress for successWe’ve gotten quite a few graduation announcements and invites this year and I’ve been so excited to mail off Congratulations cards with a few little gifts tucked inside.  Of all the gifts I received over the years, there are several books that were literally life changing and would make fantastic graduation gifts.  One of those books was How to Dress for Success by Edith Head.

This book changed my entire approach to fashion, shopping, personal style and gently nudged me on the path towards minimalism.  Prior to reading this book, my closet was full of ill-fitting fast fashion, a thousand different styles for every body type but mine, and a bunch of clothes that I would never wear.  This book opened my eyes to the reality of doing more with less.  While Edith Head never even mentions the words “capsule wardrobe” or “minimalism”, the concept is clear: a few quality pieces of clothing that fit well, are well kept, and accessorized properly can make a killer wardrobe.

For those interested in classic vintage style, this book is a gold mine.  With that said, much of the book is full of old school wisdom that seems more appropriate for the 1950’s than today.  However, the concepts, ideas and suggestions are perfect for young professionals looking to make their mark as stylish and well groomed without breaking the bank.

 

 

 

audio books · Bad Ass Women · Biography · Books to Movies · children's books · Historical Fiction · series books · Western

Finding Minimalism on the Prairie

little house on the prairieWe tend to think of materialism and a desire to hold on to and collect physical objects as a modern day enigma, one born of mass production and fast fashion.  Imagine my surprise when this theme popped up unexpectedly in the strangest of places, the final chapters of The Little House on the Prairie.

The book ends dramatically when the Ingalls family finds their homestead, along with a few of their neighbors, is unintentionally but illegally located on Indian Land.  Rather than face the soldiers tasked with removing these settlers by force, Pa decides it’s best for the family to move along before the soldiers arrive.  As the restless spirit in the family who initiated the move out west, it’s easy to see Pa moving along without regrets.  He is akin to the modern day uber minimalist, packing furs and rifle in lieu of the mandatory modern minimalist back pack and laptop.  You can just see Pa nodding a curt goodbye to the house, the well, the garden and the year he spent building, digging, planning, planting, and trapping.  You can just see him moving along to the next adventure without a second glance.

For Ma and the girls, the disappointment is a bit thicker, but they face their reality head on with chores and no tears.  When everything they own is loaded in the wagon, Laura and Mary’s only sentimentality is a request to watch the little house disappear behind them as they roll away.  It’s hard to imagine any modern child (or adult for that matter) packing up their belongings as quickly or calmly as those two little prairie children asked to vacate their beloved home in such short order.

As the family heads towards Independence, Kansas, they come across a couple stranded in the middle of the prairie, the victims of a horse thief.  When the Ingalls family offers them a ride to Independence, the couple refuses.  They won’t leave their belongings.

Knowing full well the dangers the couple face alone in Indian Territory, Pa offers the ride multiple times, practically begging the couple to join them.   Each time, the couple refuses, opting instead to stay in the prairie with wagon full of (now useless) belongings.

As Pa drove off, burdened now with the knowledge of these people choosing to stay stranded in a very hostile land, I was left contemplating the situation.  It was impossible not to compare the stranded couple with modern Americans.

How many of us let our belongings dictate our future and hold us hostage, sometimes in dangerous territory, just so we can hold onto them?

How many of us have forgone a dream vacation or chance of a life time trip around the world because we couldn’t let go of our apartment?

How many of us have declined to take that exciting job opportunity in a field we love because it meant moving all of our belongings cross country?

How many times have our friends or family members stayed in a relationship way beyond the expiration date, simply to avoid giving up their stuff?

How many of us have taken on the burden of homes that chain us to the porch with the mortgage?

How many of us have taken on careers we actively despise or work multiple jobs so we can afford our wants?

How many of us are giving up our lives for a wagon full of useless shit?

audio books · Bad Ass Women · beach read · Biography · Book Review · Comedy

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

yes please“Famous people are never as interesting as your friends.” – Amy Poehler

While waitlisted for the library’s copy of Tina Fey’s “Bossy Pants”, I decided to check out Amy Poehler’s memoir, “Yes Please”. Poehler read her own book for the audio version, so I went into this book eager and excited to learn more about her, only to fall quickly into waiting for the good stuff. Throughout the seven hour audio book, Poehler droned endlessly through random haphazardly ordered stories and long (LONG) lists of all of the people she ever knew. Reading “Yes Please” was like reading a script while it’s still being written and simultaneously like meeting someone interesting at a party only to realize they’re incredibly boring and there’s no polite way to escape.

Poehler juggled writing “Yes Please” with caring for two kids under 6, a divorce and a busy booming career schedule. In that vein, the entire book presents itself as a half hearted attempt to write down some “funny shit” after everything else had been managed for the day. To ease some of her burden, both of her parents and Seth Meyers contribute to “Yes Please”, which felt cheap and out of place. She also started her book with an excessive amount of complaining about how hard it is to write a book.

This complaint sets the tone for the remaining pages as “I didn’t really want to do this but all of my peers wrote books, soooo….”

Poehler is a very talented and funny comedian. She has great timing and an unbelievably versatile character list. Her pro-women, live-and- let-live motto of “Good for her, not for me” felt refreshing and sincere. She’s a fantastic writer and most of the material in this book could easily be translated into hilarious skits. With that said, storytelling is not Poehler’s strong suit. The background, performance, and build-up that set a punch line on stage or studio do not translate well into print (or audio.) In fact, after skipping around the audio book and listening to the chapters recommended by Amazon reviewers, I finally hit the very last chapter, which Poehler performs in front of a live audience. While the rest of the book felt flat and annoying, her live stuff was really funny! Poehler is a comedian, not a story teller.

In general, “Yes Please” bounces around Poehler’s idyllic middle class suburban childhood to her dream job on SNL to a lovely celebrity life full of famous friends. Her parents lovingly supported her career choice of waitressing and improv. She lived happily in an unsafe Chicago neighborhood where she suffered no real misadventures or scares. She encountered no major setbacks or failures on the road to fame. She’s always been blessed with great friends, great roommates, has great kids and she is eternally grateful for her fantastic life. According to her book, the worst things Poehler has encountered thus far in life were her friendly harmless meth-addicted landlords who enjoyed cleaning, a pile of human poop on the sidewalk, and offending someone once (through no fault of her own) and then waiting five years to apologize.

Despite all of the stories shared, Poehler never shares anything intimate or personal. The pages are full of happy safe tales of no great import or consequence, making it much too long and much too vanilla.

At 329 pages, “Yes Please” could have done with some heavy editing. It also would have helped to kick out 90% of the name-dropping going on in this book. Nearly every person Poehler’s worked with (famous or not) is mentioned in this book. While SNL super fans and people familiar with the comedy circuit may enjoy these stories, it was exhausting (and BORING!) trying to keep track of who she’s talking about and who they are and why they’re even in her book.

And so my friends, I conclude these ramblings with the fact that “Yes Please” became one of about three books I just could not read all the way through. This book actually turned me off of anything Amy Poehler until the very last chapter in which her live comedic performance changed my mind. After listening to her perform live, I decided to dislike her book and how she read it, instead of just disliking all of her.

Until next time, happy reading y’all.

And if you like Amy Poehler, stay away from this book and stick to her performance stuff instead.