Book Review: A Good American


Today’s book review for BlogHer Book Club is A Good American by Alex George. Be sure to go check out the discussion, starting hereThis is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

The little reviews on the back of the book agree on one key fact: there are funny parts and sad parts. In the case of poor Magnus Kellerman, perhaps a little of both at the same time. As other reviewers have mentioned, this is the story of one family in a small Missouri town through multiple generations, as told by the grandson of German immigrants. It’s a nice quick read; good airplane material but not enough for an entire vacation.

So what do Good Americans do? They learn English. They become citizens. They have babies. They run businesses. They sometimes keep secrets. They fight and sometimes die for their country. They have good things and bad things happen to them. They make friends. They get in fights. They make music. They fall in love. They get broken hearts. They laugh. They live.

A solid B, maybe B+. Would recommend.

In closing: too poor for WalMart; eVerify; minimum wage isn’t what it used to be; the real zombie apocalypse; work-life balance.


Today’s BlogHer Book Club selection is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. As usual, this is a paid review but the opinions are my own. For more, be sure to start here. The first discussion item is here.

Dr. Brown is a researcher in “shame and empathy.” The central idea of this book is that we all experience shame — a lot of shame, most of the time — and that our shame causes us to develop mostly unhealthy coping mechanisms that are meant reduce our perceived vulnerability to others, but in actuality cause us to not connect well with others. Rejecting this cycle, embracing our vulnerability, and developing “shame resilience” allows us to live “Wholehearted” lives (her capitalization, not mine). We can only do this by “daring greatly.” This last is a reference to one of Teddy Roosevelt’s speeches, which you can hear here.

So here’s the problem: in Dr. Brown’s eyes, I am either ludicrously well adjusted, or I am a sociopath. I don’t fear people laughing at me. I don’t spend all day worrying that my child will have an accident a school and I won’t have been there to stop it. I don’t feel guilty about not looking perfect at all times. Do I occasionally screw up and have to say to myself “Well that was dumb and I shouldn’t have done that”? Of course I do! But I don’t dwell on it and I don’t let fear or guilt control my life!

Dr. Brown tries very hard to write an accessible book: references to pop culture such as Harry Potter and Hotel California; pseudo-catchy phrases like Gremlin Ninja Warrior Training; admissions that she has been known to use colorful language. She does occasionally neglect to footnote when “research says”. She has done TED talks, seminars, written multiple books, talked to oodles of CEOs, and even given a lecture for Navy SEALs — and she will mention “examples” from any of the above as often as she can think to do so. Perhaps the researcher is too close to her subject matter and needs to work on self-esteem.

However, the book is not without merit. Dr. Brown is correct that love and connection is a basic human need. It’s useful to know that all most some men are driven by the fear that somebody will think they are “pussies.” All of us benefit from understanding that there are people out there who will use guilt to manipulate others, including bosses, significant others, and even teachers. The first time somebody thought to say “there are no stupid questions” was almost certainly in response to shame. There is a nice list of questions for gauging an office’s culture in chapter 5.

Dr. Brown is also the author of I Thought It Was Just Me. Well maybe it’s not just her, but it certainly isn’t me.

In Closing: math; disappearing; rivalry; human rights; Fred spread; predator; that’s why; long memories.

Trust Your Eyes

Once more it is book review time. Today’s selection from the BlogHer Book Club is Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay. As usual, this is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own. Join the discussion here!

When Ray Kilbride comes home after his father’s fatal accident, one of the things he must deal with is his schizophrenic brother Thomas: a recluse who thinks former President Bill Clinton has personally tasked him with memorizing every street in every major city on the behalf of the CIA. Thomas spends all day, every day, clicking down streets of the world using a tool that is absolutely not Google Maps at all against the possibility of a massive internet outage making all online maps inaccessible. Then one day, he spots what looks like a possible murder.

This has by far been my favorite of the books I’ve been asked to review. It is a thriller with more twists than a mountain highway. I absolutely promise there will be things you didn’t see coming. Chapters are generally short, so I found myself thinking “Oh, I have time for one more” often. It is unfortunate that any accurate description of the plot gives away what should have been the first twist in the Prologue.

A++, Would Read Again.

In Closing: be sure to read to the end; aw that’s sweet; I’m so glad somebody is asking what the heck information on 12,000,000 Apple devices was doing on a laptop for any reason; “Ok, you can play, but only approved games led by an adult”; dirty lies; wage stats; as expected; and I liked number 4.

The First Husband: Not Exactly a Roman Holiday

Today’s BlogHer Book Club selection is The First Husband by Laura Dave. Although I am being compensated for this review, the opinions expressed are my own. Join the discussion over at BlogHer!

One fine day, travel columnist Annie Adams’s live in boyfriend of 5 years arrives home from a business trip and announces that he’s leaving her. Some quack therapist says he needs time on his own — and by the way he wants to see what happens with a high school crush. Oh, and one last thing, he’s taking their dog.

Who wouldn’t be devastated? A couple weeks later, she finally tries to put her life back together. Almost immediately, Annie meets someone new, exciting, totally different. Just a few months later she’s married to her new love and moving cross country to his hometown.

What could possibly go wrong?

The First Husband is a novel about self-discovery. Obviously, lots of things go wrong, from bizarre situations with the in-laws and run-ins with exes to job troubles. But just as obviously, Annie becomes a much better person in the process; one who knows what she wants and knows that she’s already got a lot of it.

So to use a cliche straight out of the book: What’s the best and worst thing about The First Husband? The worst thing is Annie blaming her troubles on watching Roman Holiday. The best thing: a little spoiler for you, she did get her dog back.

In Closing: No, HFCS is not “corn sugar“; a picture says a thousand words about maternity leave; SEC fail; and misuse of authority.

Well She’s Right About That

Today’s BlogHer Book Club review is of  You Have No Idea, an autobiography by Vanessa Williams and her mother, Helen Williams (with Irene Zutell). Disclaimer: I received a free advance copy of the book, and will receive a small payment for participating in the campaign. However, the opinions expressed here are my own.  The discussion starts right here, so jump on in.

This isn’t much of a spoiler (others have pointed out that there’s not much to spoil), but Vanessa starts with exactly what any reader would want to know: How did the Miss America scandal come to be? Where did those pictures even come from? After she’s got the juicy stuff out there, she talks about her childhood and her life since The Scandal. There are a few heartwarming moments, particularly when talking about her Dad. I also enjoyed the photo montage of her with 7 different United States Presidents.

Helen is a very proper lady who grew up in a very trying household. Her commentary on Vanessa’s life is a pleasant reality check!

I really thought hard about whether to bring this next subject up. Vanessa uses the rhythm method of “birth control.” I put that in quotes because she has 4 children (and one abortion) as a result. Even she admits that she “obviously… never mastered it.” I respect her decision. However, even when I was in high school sex ed the one joke our teacher made was “What do you call people who practice the rhythm method? Parents!” Planning to pull out is not birth control.

In the end, Vanessa and Helen are right: I clearly have no idea.

In closing: how do you prove you didn’t do something that hasn’t happened yet?; good advice for anybody; 21 things to do in Vegas for under $21; and please help out JP.

Book Review: Diary of a Mad Fat Girl

This post is in connection with the BlogHer Book Club. I am being compensated for this review and received a free copy of the book itself. Join the conversation!

My first clue that Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee might have a little disconnect was when I laid eyes on the cover: a pair of slim legs draped over a wood privacy fence, not a hint of cellulite, not an ounce of flab, topped with a flouncy pink miniskirt that no overweight woman I’ve ever known would be caught dead wearing. Now, I wasn’t expecting extreme corpulence, but our protagonist describes herself as size 16 high school art teacher. Frankly, I was expecting, well, somebody who looks more like the author.

One of the more remarkable things about this book is that it was originally self-published as an e-book! It was so successful online that the author was able to get a literary agent and a publisher. This is in fact the author’s first novel, and as such I am going to cut her some slack for some heavy-handed foreshadowing and a delightful deus-ex-machina. Whoops! I dare not say more! Nobody likes spoilers.

If you’re a fan of small town intrigue or school district politics, you’re going to love this one. Most of the major characters have known one another since they were children. The prose is amusing, the dialog perfectly suited to the characters, some of the situations delightfully silly. Serious topics like spousal abuse and homosexuality are treated with dignity. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know I’m very picky about endings. Without giving anything away, there was one aspect of the obligatory happy ending that didn’t really fit right. Assuming you can take the sexual themes, an amusing book worth checking out

In Closing: Try to use them all!; contraceptives; urban unrest; Hail Seizure; Call Center Bill; guaranteed prisoners (somebody explain to me how a for profit company can provide the same quality for less money than a government body that doesn’t need to make a profit? Don’t yell pensions because some government agencies have proven they can already screw workers out of those); costs more and pays less; stop buying them; this must stop; on moral decline; judge speaks common sense, that someone in a public place has a limited expectation of privacy, even if he/she is a cop; nothing to hide; and what really causes heart disease.

Oh, Oh, It’s Magic

On my most recent trip, I had a unique book to read while lounging by a beach of white sand and impossibly blue water. That book was The Magic Room by Jeffrey Zaslow. No, not a fantasy novel for young adults, but a book about women — oddly bereft of feminism. It’s a book about brides and a very special bridal shop in a small Michigan town. You’ll want to keep some tissues close by while you read it. You can get a little taste of it right here.

How did he end up in a bridal shop? When Mr. Zaslow set out to write “a nonfiction book about the love we all wish for our daughters,” he went looking for “a place with great emotion.” His wife suggested a bridal shop. And it’s not just any bridal shop, not one of those big chains or the boutique tucked in an obscure corner of a big department store. Becker’s Bridal has a long history: 4 generations of women in one remarkable family have worked here, in an old “small town” bank building, creating “magic.”

In addition to reading about the strong women of the Becker family and their business, we also follow a number of brides on their journey through the process. This does cause a bit of a muddle towards the last third of the book as the reader jumps from bride to bride, finishing out what happened between their trip to Becker’s and the wedding itself: is Courtney the one who decided not to kiss anyone until she got married? The kindergarten teacher who was in a car wreck? The widow who is getting remarried even though her kids are unhappy with the arrangement? The independent woman who is finally getting married for the first time in her 40s? Or is she the one with rheumatic heart disease? With many brides comes some confusion for anyone without a photographic memory.

As I consider the idea of my second wedding, I found the idea of a “bridal industry” somewhat creepy. No mistake, I understand and respect that there are people who make a living making sure I have a dress that makes me “princess for a day,” seeing to invitations, attiring my entire wedding party, putting together memorable services and receptions. I can’t imagine spending “between $19,907 and $33,178” as most American couples do. Even the cheapest sale dresses at Becker’s are more than I can justify spending on a gown I will — hopefully — only wear once.

Like the “funeral industry,” it doesn’t quite sound right to have an “industry” grow up around profoundly personal moments in somebody’s life. What’s next? Calling religious institutions part of the “faith industry”?

This being said, Mr. Zaslow comes up with some very interesting observations, presented in a rather dry, tangential, New York Times sort of way: brides used to be “smaller,” oh no not because of obesity, but because they “didn’t work out” and “didn’t lift weights” and “didn’t eat the way Americans eat today”; roughly 15% of mothers of the bride want dresses that are “too revealing and sexy,” and 35% have to be reminded that they aren’t the grandmother of the bride; sometimes the boss has to “be a bitch”; and oddly enough, “advances in box-making helped fuel the computer revolution.”

In this world of Brides Behaving Badly, it’s refreshing to see that getting married doesn’t have to be a three ring circus. On the other hand, there’s something odd about a man writing a tear-jerker book about the bridal industry, and saying it’s about “the love we all wish for our daughters.”

Want to discuss this book more? Go check out the conversation already flowing over at the Blogher Book Club.

Disclosure statement: I read this book for the Blogher Book Club. In return for my participation I was given a copy of the book (e-book in this case) and I will receive $20. Nevertheless, the opinions expressed here are my own.

Ok then, who wants a heaping helping of In Closing?: made up words; moron; Anonymous does good; if school was a job, students would get more break time by law; it’s never too early to eat right and move your body; cult; and security theatre.

It’s Book Review Time!

Yes, once more it’s that time! My latest BlogHer Book Club review is here! If you want to read yet more about Tana French’s Faithful Place — rather than, say, just reading the book, go ahead and read some other reviews too.

In Closing: Being Green; the fallacy of school choice; scrap the TSA; stupid snarky arguments on unemployment rebutted; the new GOP; your orange carrots are a 17th century political statement; this can’t be good; I don’t know where to begin; we need more rulings like this, please; weather; clueless egghead can’t understand why nobody will implement his stupid plan that ignores reality; and please remember that Whitney Elementary is still a place that desperately needs donations just to keep its students clothed and fed.

Book Review Time!

This time it’s The Beach Trees. Go check it out!

In Closing: The Burger Economy; bang; Amen; Social Security; Dodd-Frank; hold on to your hats; credit; thank goodness somebody is telling the truth; it turns out that “green” technology employs more people than the oil or gas industries; nudie scanners getting less nude (still bombarding you with radiation!); and tea ceremony.