Category Archives: Biography/Memoir

Review: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

5 Stars

Fair warning, yet another book that you shouldn’t read around your co-workers or strangers unless you want to get really strange looks as you laugh so hard your tea comes out of your nose.  This book isn’t meant to be a comedy or a humor book, it’s a memoir.  But you truly can’t help yourself.  There are times where you know you shouldn’t be laughing, but it just bubbles up and bursts out.

Jenny takes you through her less than normal upbringing in a very small Texas town.  It’s funny stuff, there are serious issues she raises, like poverty, but they are approached in a way that you smile at how her family pushed through and thrived.  Bread-bag shoes and all!  And her parents are definitely NOT the normal parents that you and I probably grew up with.  Did your dad come into your room at night with a magical talking squirrel?  How about throwing a live bobcat at your fiancée?  Having your father explain that he’s not making stew but he’s boiling skulls to your future in-laws?  What about a taxidermy shop?  Yeah, didn’t think so!  It’s amazing that Jenny and her sister survived at all!

Jenny doesn’t shy away from anything and talks very candidly about her life, the good and the bad.  She talks about miscarriages, suicide, mental illness and dead animals.  Her candor and her self-awareness is amazing and her ability to speak about subjects that many of us would simply bury and hide away is something that I find amazing.  She has shown that mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of or to hide from the world.  It helped shape who she is and she’s sharing her world with us and it’s amazing.

At one point I was tempted to switch careers and go into Human Resources.  And the chapter names alone are worth the price of admission!

I would definitely recommend Jenny Lawson’s books to anyone who wants to sit down and read vignettes about real life and how we deal with it and how it effects us and those around us.  I really can’t accurately describe this book in any meaningful way because it’s a memoir about a real person.  She’s not a historical figure, mega celebrity, etc.  She’s a perfectly abnormal human being and this is the story of her life so far and how she got to this place.

I recommended Jenny’s books to my daughter, who suffers from severe social anxiety and depression.  She was brave enough to go to a book signing and had the privilege of meeting Jenny and one of her most prized possessions is the book that Jenny signed and the selfie that she was allowed to take.  She was able to see that she’s so much more than her mental illness and she doesn’t have to let that illness define who she is or take away her happiness or her life.  Let’s Pretend This Never Happened lets the reader know that it’s okay to be broken, we’re all a little broken and that’s okay.  What’s important is to never give up and live Furiously Happy (had to plug her other book, which was amazing too!).

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Review: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

5 Stars

I will readily admit that I have the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat most days.  I have memorized every line.  I will admit without shame or embarrassment that I’m quite addicted to this work of art and hope that someday I’ll be able to see the production in person.  For now, I’m going to make due with reading Hamilton: The Revolution.  Ok, I’ll probably read it more than once…or twice…

For starters, the book itself is absolutely beautiful.  In recent years, most of my purchases have been e-books and the random paperback.  It has been awhile since I’ve purchased a hardcover book and I can’t remember ever seeing one so well put together.  It reminds me of a book you would see in someone’s library with a heavy, embossed cover and thick pages with a natural unfinished edge.  I can attest to the fact that it looks wonderful sitting on my coffee table.  I would definitely recommend against getting this as an e-book.  As wonderful as e-books are, I don’t think that they can truly capture the beauty of this book.  There are a lot of pictures and I just don’t think that an e-book can truly do this book justice.

Surprisingly enough, I have never read a libretto, so I did not know what to expect.  I didn’t know if I was just going to be seeing the musical written out like a play, showing who is singing what part and some minor stage blocking and positions, etc.  I would have been happy with just that.  I would have found it a wonderful companion to the soundtrack.  But this book is so much more.

You’re given an insider’s view of the creation of Hamilton and what led Lin-Manuel to create this tremendous work of art.  You’re also walked through the production and how they created magic not only with the staging of the production, but how each of the original cast was brought in.  For those of us who are new to the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s an amazing insight into his creation process and the tremendous amount of respect that the Broadway community and music community as a whole have for him and his creations.  People were literally begging to be part of this endeavor before it was even much more than just an idea and a few songs.

On nearly every page there is an amazing photograph.  Some are photographs from the stage production and some are candid shots of Lin-Manuel or other people instrumental in the phenomenon known as Hamilton.  There is even a surprise for people who haven’t yet seen the show but are addicted to the soundtrack.  There is a scene in the show that wasn’t included in the soundtrack and you’re able to both read the scene and there is a gorgeous photographic background showing what it looks like in the production.

The annotations to every song are more than worth the cost of the book.  Getting the story from Jeremy McCarter was amazing enough, but to see into the inner workings of Lin-Manuel’s mind was just priceless.  To see where the inspiration came from for the different numbers and what went into them is just awe-inspiring.  The attention to detail and historic accuracy are amazing.  When he takes liberties with the timeline or with certain characters, Lin-Manuel is quick to point out what he changed and why.  I got almost giddy with anticipation when I turned the page and went to the next song, waiting to see what notes were in the margin and what new things I was going to learn.

I really can’t say enough about this book.  I know that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is a work that is for everyone.  Even if you hate musicals, don’t follow theatre and don’t have a clue who Alexander Hamilton or Lin-Manuel Miranda are, take a chance on this book.  This is more than just a play.  More than just a musical.  More than just the telling of the life of one of our founding fathers.  Everyone is going to get something different from Hamilton, especially for those who have never cared about history.  This work opens up a whole new perspective into our past.

I hope to someday be one of the lucky ones to be able to see Hamilton.  I want to be in the room where it happens.


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Review: Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

5 Stars and a tremendous Thank You to the author.

As someone who has very dear loved ones with various different forms of mental illness but having never truly suffered from it myself, this book was a window into their world.  A way to give me a small sample of what they deal with on a daily basis and how real the struggle is to just even appear to be normal and have their shit together.  To hope that they too have the strength to own their crazy and be okay with it.  To remember that this world is so much better with them in it and there may be easier ways but they definitely won’t be better.

The author talks about being furiously happy.  Taking those moments where the depression and anxiety are somewhat dormant and testing the limits and doing things that she may have never otherwise done just to say that she’s taking control of her life and is going to make memories of happy times and fun things so that when she’s in the depths of darkness, she can look back on things like having Rory the grinning stuffed raccoon ride her cats in an amazing cat rodeo and see that little glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.  Full disclosure…I want to meet Rory and Rory II, they sound like they would be awesome to hang out with.

There’s an amazing section where the author includes an appendix in the middle of the book.  This appendix is an interview with the author where she’s interviewed by her husband.  The interaction is hilarious but her insight and her ability to make a ‘normal’ person understand what she and others face on a daily basis is just astounding.  I can only hope that I can take some of what I’ve learned by reading this book and using it to help myself understand those who I know are suffering with similar problems and do everything I can to help.  Even if that means letting them curl up in a ball and hide in their room, shutting out the world.  And that’s okay.

I think that she has an amazing voice and it’s very clear that this book, while absolutely hilarious, is also one person’s story about their own mental illness.  Something that’s been treated with so much stigma that most people hide it away and never tell anyone about it.  I would recommend this book to anyone who suffers from mental illness, cares for someone who suffers or just wants to know more about what life is like having to live in a body that constantly lies to you and wants you to harm yourself and just give up.  There is plenty of laughter (the people on the bus looked at me funny) and plenty of times where you just want to reach through and give her a hug.

The epilogue was incredibly emotional and it’s definitely a section I will find myself reading from time to time because it truly is that poignant.  The final words are probably one of the strongest statements I’ve ever read.  “Sometimes we walk in sunlight with everyone else.  Sometimes we live underwater and fight and grow.  And sometimes…sometimes we fly.”

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  I’m actually getting copies for those loved ones that I mentioned.  They may or may not read it, but if they do, it will remind them that they are not alone.  That there are other people out there who understand, who know what they go through on a daily basis.  They don’t have to feel bad or broken.  They can own their crazy and be furiously happy because of and in spite of it.

Now where can I find a koala jumpsuit…


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Review: The Lost Tudor Princess by Alison Weir

4 Stars

Thank you to NetGalley, Alison Weir and Ballantine Books for giving me the chance to read this book and share my thoughts with other readers.  This review is for the ARC received through NetGalley.

In this book, Lady Margaret Douglas takes center stage.  Even through extensive and impeccable research by Alison Weir, a still incomplete picture of Lady Margaret appears.  This is through no fault of the author but rather a fault of how women were treated and remembered nearly 500 years ago.  Even women in power or those with ambitions of power were at the mercy of those around them and much of the material that remains to give us a picture of what happened during Tudor England was left behind by the men who ruled.  It was their papers, their books, their letters and their histories that ultimately tell the story of the women of this time.

Lady Margaret was an ambitious woman.  Though questions arise around her legitimacy, she was in line of succession for the Throne throughout her life by being the niece of King Henry VIII (yep, that guy) and a direct blood descendent of the throne of England and Scotland.  She would spend her life reasserting her claims and her bloodline.  And the blood that flows through the reigning monarchs today came from Lady Margaret.

Like nearly all women of her time, she was a pawn.  First, she was at the mercy of her parents and then when she came to the court of Henry VIII, she was at the mercy of her uncle, the King.  Even the simple act of falling in love as a young woman put her life in jeopardy because, having a direct blood tie to the Throne, she was not allowed to make decisions about her own life without the direct permission of her King.  Poems still exist that were passed between her and her lover, Thomas.  Amazing given so many writings by women of the time have been lost.  She was given in marriage to the Earl of Lennox and it seems to have been more than just an arranged marriage and held up for decades where they both seemed to be not only true to one another but shared at the very least a great respect for one another and it could very well have been a love match.

While she never gave up on her own titles and her own worth, she pressed the suit of her son and urged the widowed Mary, Queen of Scots, to marry her son, Henry.  Earning the enmity of Queen Elizabeth I in doing so.  Court intrigue, interrogations, imprisonment, everything you have come to expect in the Tudor court.  But somehow Lady Margaret once again comes out unscathed and is able to once again enter into the fray and convince not only the Queen of Scots but also her own sovereign that the match between her son, Lord Darnley and the Scottish Queen is in everyone’s best interest.

It’s still hard to get a picture of who Lady Margaret really was because we’re forced to look at life through the eyes and words of her contemporaries and the scant letters and poems that survive in her hand.  But what emerges is still a fascinating tale of an ambitious woman who wasn’t afraid to go after what she wanted in a time where women were rarely seen, heard or remembered.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to a casual history reader because they may feel that it’s a bit dry.  This isn’t the Showtime version of the Tudor court, but it is an impeccably researched picture of what life was like nearly 500 years ago.  It still has all the drama, intrigue, death, imprisonments, death threats that makes people love this period.  Personally, I liked the book!

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Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

4 1/2 Stars

Full disclosure: I was already a fan of Felicia Day.  I fell in love with her web series, The Guild (which I just finished binge watching (again) over the holiday) and followed her through Geek & Sundry, Table Top and other webisodes.  When I saw that she’d written a memoir, I couldn’t wait to read it.  I definitely wasn’t disappointed at all.  It was a really fun read and it was definitely easy to see how her personality developed and she went from home schooled, awkward kid to full on Internet Geek Celebrity.

If you’re not a geek yourself, you may not understand some of the references, but that really shouldn’t take away from her story.  Most of us can relate to that wanting to belong and that feeling that you get when you find a group of people where everything just clicks.  Where your weirdness and oddities aren’t looked at strangely but are just accepted and welcomed.  That’s not just something that geeks share with other geeks, it’s something that people share with one another.  We all want to have that feeling of belonging.

There was a section of the book where I seriously went “OMG I did that too!  That was totally me!”  Felicia played World of Warcraft and as someone who also played the same game, I got every single reference and I understood exactly what she was talking about.  That the relationships that you had with those other avatars were as real as any friendship that you could have with someone face to face.  You may never meet that person, but the friendship and relationship that you have is every bit as real as that of your best friend from first grade.

The way she wrote this memoir reminds me a lot of her writing for The Guild series.  I really enjoyed the fun of her writing and could see her sitting there in front of the camera just telling her story in her sweet, somewhat awkward way.

There were definitely lessons that she learned that all of us can take something from them and learn ourselves.  Her story wasn’t always sunshine and unicorns.  Felicia went through a lot of adversity and continues to face it today.  But her resilience and power to overcome the hurdles in her life was pretty inspirational.  I was surprised by her story and of where she came from and what she’s had to go through to get to where she is today.  It’s a story that will resonate with a lot of people.  I definitely recommend this to anyone with a little bit of geek in them.

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Review: It’s A Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson

4.5 Stars

I love Willie Nelson and it’s a love affair that’s gone on for much of my 4 decades of life.  My earliest memories were of listening to his records on my dad’s old record player.  This was back in the heyday of vinyl and long before cassettes and CD’s.  My dad had a wonderful collection of records and my favorites were always Willie.  I’m sad to say I’ve never been able to see him in concert (yet!) but I find myself coming back to his music time and again because it’s music that speaks to you and tells a story.  It’s the song of the everyman and music for everyone regardless of what genre they relate most to.  So when I saw this book one day pop up on one of my feeds, I knew I had to read it.  And I am really glad that I did.  If you have ever wondered where the inspiration to some of his most memorable songs came from, this is the place to find it.  If you have ever wondered where Willie came from and what makes him the person he is today, read this book.  I recommend it not only to anyone who loves Willie Nelson, but to anyone who just wants to read a good story about a man and his music.

The most wonderful aspect of this book is how it’s told.  You feel like you’re sitting in a room with Willie and he’s just telling you his story.  It’s unvarnished and a bit rough around the edges, the language is a bit coarse, but the result is an authentic tale of a man, his guitar and the music that they make together.  Through the good times and the bad, the unfailing and unwavering faith and optimism are infectious.  If only everyone lived their life a little more like Willie, the world would be a much happier place.

Willie Nelson is a restless troubadour, wandering around this world spreading his music along the way.  He inherited his wanderlust from his parents who left Willie and his sister Bobbie with their grandparents to wander the open road.  But there is no bitterness toward his parents, quite the opposite.  He had a very loving relationship with both his parents throughout his life and they were always there for him in their own way.  His grandmother was his rock, that is easy to see.  Raised in a religious home and raised with music ever present, it’s not difficult to see why music is such an integral part of his life.  From small Abbott, Texas you follow Willie from coast to coast and back again as he tries to find his place in the world of record producers, songwriters, contracts and royalties.  Hoping that one of his songs will strike gold and he’ll be able to really make a living off his pickin’ and singin’.

Willie talks openly of his failures, his lean times, the times where he didn’t have two nickels to rub together but he had a song in his head and the open road ahead of him.  Somehow, he always found a way and it seems like the less he plans, the better it turns out to be!  He is unflinchingly honest about his failings as a husband but you can tell that he loved his wives deeply and even when it didn’t work out, he never had an unkind word to say about any of them.  How many of us can say that about our exes?  You can feel the deep love that he has for all of his children and he’s very honest about how difficult it probably was for his children growing up with him as a father.  He doesn’t go into detail about his family life other than to explain where he was at that particular time in his life and I think it was done out of respect to them.  He says as much about his children later in the book.  He respects them enough not to tell their story but wants to convey his never ending love for them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It was amazing to watch his slow but steady rise to stardom and to see all of the bumps, hiccups, road-blocks and obstacles that were in his way and how he was able to overcome each and every one of them.  The man even took on the IRS!  I now have a greater appreciation for his music after having an opportunity to see where these songs came from and how intensely personal the lyrics are.  We all find our own meanings in his songs, but having this incredible opportunity to see how they came about was a true gift.

I think this is definitely required reading for any Willie Nelson fan.  I will put a caveat here for anyone who doesn’t like coarse language or cringes at the mention of alcohol or drugs.  Willie is a big proponent of pot and has been an activist in many causes, but you can tell that this one is near and dear to his heart.  But if you don’t like hearing about people talking about pot, well, just skip over those parts!

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Review: Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

4 1/2 Star Review…it was almost 5 stars…almost…

I may not always agree with his politics, but I can readily admit that Bill O’Reilly is one heck of a storyteller.  And what’s most impressive is that he and his co-writer take what could be an incredibly boring documentary about General George Patton and turn it into a rich narrative.  My only complaint came from the fact that the actually death almost ended up as being just a footnote.  But it is understandable.  When your source material no longer exists and you don’t want to go too far into the world of guessing and conspiracy theories, you have to keep it simple and stick to what is known and what could be proven.

This book is definitely a must for anyone who wants to know more about General Patton and who he was and how he was viewed by those who loved him, loathed him, feared him and tried to ignore him.  It’s easy to see why people on both sides of the line wanted him to disappear.  But who had the best motive?  Who could actually be blamed if it really wasn’t natural causes?  The Germans?  The Russians?  The precursor to the CIA?  His own beloved Army?  There is no smoking gun and there is no proof that it was other than complications from a car accident.

We follow General Patton through the waning days of the European theatre as he and the Allied forces march their way toward Germany.  Along the way we slowly begin to get a fuller picture.  We are taken to the front lines where horrible atrocities are committed on both sides.  We are given a harrowing account of the war and the toll that it takes on every side.  For those of us who were born in the generations following World War II, we’re given an unvarnished look at how hellish this war was.  There are no white-washed history lessons here.  There are many spots where you just want to weep at the horrific images of what this conflict did to everyone from the highest offices in the world to the lowliest peasants.

While the central question is never truly answered and never can be, I have to say this was an amazing book.  I was actually sad to have it end.  I definitely recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in General Patton or just an interest into World War II.  Not only is this a fantastic book about one of America’s best strategic generals, it’s an amazing account of the last days of the European conflict.  I only wish more had been dug up about the possible conspiracies and subterfuge that may have caused the death of General Patton.

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Review: Prince of Darkness by Shane White

3 Stars

Review for ARC copy received through NetGalley.  All opinions are my own and the ARC status in no way impacted my impartial review of the material.

Prince of Darkness is the story of one of the first African American millionaires.  Jeremiah G. Hamilton was a contemporary of Cornelius Vanderbilt and may of the other well-known movers and shakers of antebellum Wall Street.  He was even mentioned in Vanderbilt’s obituary.  But with one exception, that his contemporaries already knew, Jeremiah G. Hamilton was black.  He was worth an estimated $2 million.  So how does an African American man go from very poor, possibly slave, beginnings to one of the richest men in America?  That’s the story that Shane White has set out to tell us.

This is nearly an impossible task.  Records from the early 1800’s are hard to come by even if you’re white, they’re nearly impossible if you are a minority, especially if you are black.  The only people who seem to have good records about their lives are the wealthy and important white men at the top of the food chain.  So how do you go about researching someone like Jeremiah Hamilton?  Public records.  A long and arduous process of combing through court documents, newspapers, diaries and other source material from the early 1800’s to Hamilton’s death in 1875.

Being rich didn’t keep him safe from racism.  He was attacked on both sides.  Blacks thought he was disingenuous and dishonest just like his white contemporaries.  He wasn’t always honest in his money making schemes and he wasn’t above taking advantage of people and situations to get ahead.  He uses an epic disaster in 1836 to further his own business needs.  But he wasn’t really any different from the rest of the elite of this era.

There is a lot of history covered in this book and it can be easy to get a little lost.  There was a lot of time spent tying everything together and there was a lot of backstory covered both about Hamilton and about the era in which he came to power.  The source material is as good as you’re going to get for that time period, but can be taken with a grain of salt because of the time it was written.  The news outlets of the 19th century was more like the tabloid outlets of today.  Most stories have a very anti-Hamilton and anti-African slant to them.  It’s still hard to get a true picture of who Hamilton was because our predecessors were so horrible at keeping records for anyone other than their white bosses.  But it’s not much different today is it?

If you’re a history buff, you will be interested in this book.  The research is well done and the story itself is interesting.  I think it would have been interesting to have lived in 1830’s New York and meet a character like Jeremiah Hamilton.

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