The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

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Seriously not funny…..  ***

 

We each have a life story, how we tell it or how much we tell is up to us. Amy Schumer reveals a great deal about her life, her mistakes, her flaws, and her struggles in this compelling autobiography.

This book will make you cry, maybe even shock some, and maybe make you smile. Smile, maybe, laugh, no.  Knowing Schumer is a standup comic, I was expecting, and had heard in other reviews, that parts of this book would be funny. Not really.

Her exploits with men are more sad than funny, and her admitting to being in an abusive relationship is a wake-up call for women, not a laughing matter. She is very candid about her childhood and the choices she has made in her life. Her honesty is refreshing and makes this a story worth reading.

Her insights are interesting to read, and she does not hold back on what and why she believes in the things she does. It is sad that she has been maligned for some of her statements, and especially for her body type. She has a personal stake in gun control and when you read why, you can’t help but agree with her.

I am giving this one three stars. It is a good read, worth one’s time, just don’t expect to laugh a lot.

A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and The Life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz

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A better title: The Soul of A Man…..    ****

In the introduction Leibovitz states that this is not a biography. Interesting that Philip Weinstein said the same thing in his book about Jonathan Franzen. The difference being, Weinstein was right in that his was simply a book report on the works of Franzen, while Leibovitz digs deep into the soul of Leonard Cohen.

Using bits and pieces of Cohen’s life, Leibovitz gives great insight into the words found in Cohen’s poetry and songs. He shows how this artist developed over the years and what led him to become such an icon. Beginning with the remarkable incident at the Isle of Wright, where Cohen calmed a riotous crowd, chronicling Cohen’s early struggles, and ending with a discussion of the song, “Going Home”, Leibovitz gives a remarkable account of Leonard Cohen, the man.

Liel Leibovitz has a vast knowledge of the music industry and he lets it show in this biography. His short dissertation on the Doors was very interesting. WARNING: Doors fans might get a little miffed at some of his comments.

My only issue with the book was that it is too short.  There are songs and poems I would have loved to hear Leibovitz’s thoughts and insight. Other than that, this is a must read for any Leonard Cohen fan.

This one gets four stars.

Ned Kelly by Peter Fitzsimons

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Makes American Outlaws seem tame……   *****

This is an amazing story. Not only is it well written and well documented, Fitzsimons narrates in a way that makes you feel you are living and seeing this true saga as it is happening.

The story of Ned Kelly and what happened to his family shows how some things have not changed. Impoverished, Kelly turns to horse stealing to augment his family’s needs. He is falsely accused of shooting a constable who had made advances to his sister. His mother, who did hit the constable is incarcerated. This leads to Kelly commiting further crimes and is considered an outlaw.  When a small posse is sent after him, he shoots one of them in self defense. Because of crooked lawmen, bad judges, and a poor defense lawyer he is convicted of cold blooded murder and hung for a crime he did not commit. His trial is an uncanny parallel to what happened recently to Steve Avery,  documented in The Making of A Murderer.

The characters are compelling, evoking emotions from sympathy to disgust. The epilogue gives an excellent wrap up of what happened to each person in this story after Kelly’s hanging. Ironically, the two concerns Ned Kelly had while alive, the corrupt police and the rich land grabbers, are both addressed by the government because of his case. Just too late to have saved him.

This is a page turner, and while lengthy, I didn’t notice the length, and it kept me engrossed until the end.

This one gets five stars.

Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons

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Mutiny On the Bounty meets Lord of the Flies…..   *****

 

This is an incredible account of how depraved the human race can be. Had this been a novel, it would be unbelievable, but it is a true story.

Peter Fitzsimons is an amazing writer, who can take facts and write them in a narrative style that is as much a page turner as any good thriller. In the preface, Fitzsimons admits that he wants to accurately “convey the unprecedented drama of the Batavia wreck”, and that his approach may invoke criticism. He was right on both counts. For this reader, however, I enjoyed his method and compliment him on bringing this tragedy to life.

Meticulously researched and with the creativity of a poet, Fitzsimons tells the story of how a group of men can be influenced by a charismatic leader, and be convinced to do deeds completely barbaric. It is hard to imagine the hardships suffered and endurance that the men and women in this story required to survive. The brutality is unimaginable, the stamina mind boggling, and the fact that there were survivors is nothing short of miraculous.

This would make a great film. Maybe Ron Howard should have done this instead of In The Heart of the Sea, the story of Moby Dick.

This one gets five stars.

 

Jonathan Franzen: The Comedy of Rage by Philip Weinstein

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A high brow book report…  **

In the introduction to this book, Weinstein writes, “persons attempting to find in my book a standard biography of Jonathan Franzen will be … disappointed.”  This would not be an issue had the description in Amazon started with this line.  Instead, it said, “Jonathan Franzen: The Comedy of Rage is the first critical biography of one of today’s most important novelists.”  Unfortunately, Weinstein’s warning was accurate.

This is not a biography of Jonathan Franzen. If readers know anything about Franzen, then they know more than this book will reveal. The Comedy of Rage is simply a book report.  Weinstein writes about the books and stories Franzen has written and gives a detailed critique of each.  Any reference to Franzen’s life is only an attempt to tie the writing to the man, as any novelist knows, a writers work may have a reflection of one’s life but iis not a one to one correlation.

The analysis of the characters in each of Franzen’s novels is somewhat interesting, but why not just read the novels for yourself?  Weinstein writes as if this is a paper being presented to a gathering of English professors and he needs to impress them with his grasp of language. Franzen’s novels are complex, challenging, and literary. A book report does not need to be.

The other warning that should have come with this book is that it is full of spoilers.  If a reader has not read Franzen, especially his newest – Purity, Weinstein reveals way too many plot points that will spoil the enjoyment of discovery.

My advice would be to pass on this book, unless you have read all of Franzen’s work. But if you have, then there is no need to read this unless you need fodder for a book report of your own.

This one gets two stars.

 

 

Masters of Sex by Thomas Maier

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A  Fascinating Read…..  *****

Thomas Maier does an excellent job of documenting the lives of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, “the couple who taught America how to love.”  Maier takes us behind the curtain to reveal the biographies of two people who went out of their way to keep their private lives private.

This is a well researched account of not only who Masters and Johnson were, but also an eye-opening look at the era and mood in which their study took place. It is amazing how much has changed over the years regarding our openness to talk about sex, and how little-

Maier presents Masters and Johnson from first-hand interviews and those who worked or were friends with the couple. In areas where there is doubt about the facts, he expresses all the points of view and leaves the conclusions to the reader.

Having watched the series Masters of Sex on Showtime, it interesting to see the differences in the truth and how television bends it for dramatization. For anyone who has seen the series, I definitely recommend reading this book. For anyone who hasn’t I still recommend the book.

This one gets five stars for the extensive research and great storytelling about two people that changed our misconceptions about sex into truth.

 

 

Acting… It’s Not For Sissies by Nicole Comer

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What your mother never told you….  ****

 

To be an artist, be it writer, painter, or actor, one has to have passion. If you do not love what you are doing, intensely, success will be a wisp of smoke never to be grasped. This is advice just about anyone could give. What they do not tell you is no matter what area of artistry you pursue, you need to know the business end of that profession. Writers need to know that writing is a business, painters the same, and actors need to know about show business.

It is the business of acting that Nicole Comer addresses in this well written, humorous, and straight forward book.  Her advice on dress, head shots, auditions, and agents is worth the price of the book. But what I found most interesting was the section on knowing yourself.

To truly understand who you are, what you want, and how you are perceived is something all of us could benefit from, but few take the time to really discover.  Anyone, in any profession, could benefit from the advice Comer gives, more so for anyone pursuing an acting career. As Polonius said in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true”. To do that one needs to know oneself. Comer provides the tools for anyone to do just that.

This is a four star book with worthwhile advice.  I held back one star as it is weighted heavily to acting in Los Angeles, although there is plenty for anyone thinking about acting anywhere.

 

Wake Up: Spiritual Enlightenment Uncloaked by Helen Jane Rose

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Before you spend your money, “Wake Up.” …..  *

This is a treatise on spirituality versus the way the author thinks most people view the world and their place in it. Helen Rose, using a process she calls “automatic writing”, channels an entity that provides her with several truths. The problem is I think she tuned into a channel that was a spiritual version of Nick at Night, as there is nothing revealed that has not already been written about.

While the truisms in addressing change, one’s own spirituality, and how we relate to each other are valid, they have been dealt with in many other books. This point is amplified by the numerous quotes between chapters from other sources that Rose uses to validate her writing. Actually, some of the quotes are more profound than what the “entity” is telling her to write.

If you are looking for a book to uncloak your spirituality, try one like The Secret or The Power of Now. Unfortunately, this short essay will not cause you to “wake up”.

This one gets one star.

 

 

I Am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People – Compiled by Kerri Lowe and Melisa Singh

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A book to keep close by….  *****

 

Whenever we encounter an obstacle, a trauma, a hardship, or any negative aspect to life, we often feel alone, as if no one else has gone through what we are facing.  This compilation of true stories should help alleviate that feeling.

Written from the heart of the forty-two writers that contributed their stories, this book covers a great many of the experiences that life throws at us. Their ability to overcome is inspiring and serves to remind us we are not alone.

The stories come from the web site StoryShelter.com, and while each are compelling, they are also well written. Some are humorous, some sad, but all are worth the time to read,  Each story is short and could almost be used as a devotional, reading one each day.

This is a book that would be good to have next to your bed so you could read a story before drifting off. And no matter what is going on in your life, no matter what kind of day you may have had, you will be reminded, you are not alone.

This one gets five stars

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

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Historical or hysterical?…….  *

 

When I was young and my family drove across the U.S., one of my dad’s habits was to call historical landmarks, hysterical landmarks.  Unfortunately I picked up this habit and have a hard time not using it when I need to say historical.  In this case, hysterical applies.

David McCullough is cited as an historian, but in The Wright Brothers he fails miserably. Relying mainly on the diaries of Wilbur Wright for the story of how the brothers came to succeed in flying, McCullough misses not only the knowledge of those before them, but their use of that knowledge.  This is like relying on just the testimony of the wolf, who would then be known as a mistreated canine instead of a grandmother killer.

The biggest failing is the lack of information on the Wright brothers and Octave Chanute. Chanute was a proponent of all involved in trying to fly sharing information. This, as McCullough notes, was against the belief of the brothers. However, Chanute had openly shared the results of experiments and the knowledge of men like John Montgomery who had been flying gliders since 1899. Montgomery’s study of birds in flight and use of a wind tunnel preceded anything the Wrights had done.  McCullough ignores this with statements like, “they were the first to use a wind tunnel”.

The book Quest for Flight, documents how Montgomery studied and perfected wing warping. Chanute admonished the Wright brothers when they claimed to have been the pioneers on the subject.  Rather than investigating this dispute, McCullough simply gives us Wilbur’s response, who naturally does not admit to knowing of Montgomery’s work.

McCullough treats Orville and Wilbur as if they are gods, untouchable, and almost superhuman. He even speculates – in describing why the Wright’s ignored the death of William McKinley by working when others mourned as, “their way of dealing with his death”.

The Wright brothers were the first to fly under power.  For this there is no dispute, but an historian should not be as biased as McCullough seems to be in making them more than they were.

If I were McCullough’s professor and this was a dissertation, I would send it back for major rework, instead all I can do is give him one star.