Girl Walks Into a Bar (CBR6 #30)

Rachel Dratch is not someone who I would normally go running out to buy or read their memoir. I know her from her time on SNL, which coincided with the time in my life that I initially started watching the show live. But, she wasn’t someone I followed, and I didn’t watch 30 Rock, so I was largely unaware of the media firestorm surrounding her replacement by Jane Krakowski.

But after having read Tina Fey and Darrel Hammond’s biographies for previous Cannonball Reads and seeing reviews of her book, I thought that it would be an interesting book to read, and help fulfill my goal of reading autobiographies in the summer (mission accomplished for 2014).

It was an interesting, and insightful read. Often the ‘big’ stars who have come out of the Hollywood machine with big *important* careers are the ones who get book deals to write memoirs. Dratch has not had that kind of career following her time on SNL, which ended in 2006. Not to say she isn’t working, she is, but as she points out early and frequently in Girl Walks Into a Bar… she is offered bit parts which skew heavily towards older, obese lesbians.

So, it’s from this place of being outside the big machine (which puts her in stark contrast to the ever working Judy Greer) that Dratch tells us about her life, mostly post SNL. She spends perhaps the first quarter of her book talking about her big showbiz years, and how she got there in the first place, but the majority of Girl Walks Into a Bar… is about what happens when the life you thought you were going to have doesn’t materialize and you are left with the life you have.

I found Dratch’s authorial voice to be warm and engaging. There were several times I laughed out loud while reading. Not an epic work or defining its genre, it is a lovely read, particularly if you have a fondness for Dratch and would like to know more about her life.

The Prince of Thorns (CBR6 #29)

I blame the internet. Earlier this year I was telling my roommate about a run of books I was in that were great, but sad. She’s dubbed my year as “The Depression Readings”. I mean, to a certain extent this is fair. I have read Burial Rites, The Black Country, Tell the Wolves I’m Home and The Age of Miracles in a 6 week period. That’s a lot of heavy reading, emotionally.

So, at some point she decided that it was her mission to bring some light-hearted reading into my summer and began emailing me with lists from various websites about Summer Books. While on the search she came across an article on Buzzfeed which talked about Prince of Thorns (either this one or this one, I think) and decided to read The Broken Empire series herself. Well, she did, and has now forced them on me. I’m not complaining, but I like to mention to her that these books seem more in line with the “Depression Readings” I was doing before and less to do with her goal of light, happy reads. Oh well.

Prince of Thorns focuses on Jorg, who is quite simply, a bit of a dick. He’s young, he’s tough, he’s got a score (or three) to settle, and he’s leading a bunch of ‘brothers’ around the Broken Empire causing all kinds of mischief. And that’s before he decides to return home after a four year absence. You see, Jorg left home at age 10 (!) following witnessing his mother and brother’s deaths while he was trapped in a bush of terrible thorns which dug into his flesh. He is scarred both outwardly and inwardly, and decides the life of a road assassin is his best choice to avenge these deaths.

Jorg is a bastard of a character, but his saving grace, and what keeps this book in your hand and not back on the bookshelf, is that he’ completely understandable. He’s killed a seemingly innocent bystander? No worries, he’ll explain it in due course and have you on his side, or at least resigned that this was the only possible solution given the world and fight Jorg is in for his life. He’s decided he’ll be king by his 15th birthday, and it’s going to involve a lot of fighting and death.

I say read this book, but don’t get too attached to any of the characters and don’t expect there to be any redeeming qualities in Jorg. You’ll love him while you hate him.

Kitchen Confidential (CBR6 #28)

There’s a certain amusement that comes from knowing more than the teller of a story. I don’t often suggest reading memoirs or the like so far after their publication dates (see my experience with Denis Leary’s Why We Suck earlier this year). But, there was a delicious sort of fun to be had reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and knowing what his life would turn out like in the decade which followed the book’s publication in 2000. He certainly, had no idea.

You’re likely familiar with Anthony Bourdain, whether from his old show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, or his current show, Parts Unknown, on CNN. Or from his books which had been reviewed rather frequently for CBR. I’ve always enjoyed watching Bourdain on his television shows, and guesting on Top Chef. My sister and her fiancé are both trained chefs working in food service and I thought that reading about Bourdain’s experiences would give me a better insight into what they do for a living. It did, to a degree.

Kitchen Confidential was his first foray into biography, and has been followed by A Cook’s Tour and Medium Raw as well as nearly a dozen other books. Bourdain is, bless him, exactly whom you’ve known him to be from the moment the book begins in his Chef’s Note. The person you’ve likely seen on your television screen is also who you hear reading his words. He is sarcastic and sardonic, bracing and biting and always humorous. He is also truthful about his life, his experiences, and how they aren’t necessarily the experiences of everyone in his field. In Kitchen Confidential Bourdain talks about his youth, his discovery of real food, the delicious possibilities of eating outside your comfort zone. He tells us about his discovery of life in the kitchen, his journey through school and his working through the kitchens of New York. He’s also bracingly truthful about his experiences with drug and alcohol, and what his greed and addiction cost him along the way.

I mentioned before that there as a joy in knowing where Bourdain’s life was heading. At the end of this book Bourdain talks about the joys of being the chef at Les Halles in New York, and how he hoped to stay there. Throughout the book Bourdain makes digs at name chefs, including Eric Ripert and Emeril Lagasse. He’s only a few short years from running in the same circles as these men and leaving behind the punishing world of line cooking for years as a television personality and author. But the love of food remains the through line in the life of Anthony Bourdain. I’m going to happily keep reading and watching to enjoy Bourdain’s view of the world.


The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (CBR6 #27)

tan line

I finished this book almost a week ago but have been so busy that sitting down to write the review has been pushed off each day’s to do list. But, I am finally carving out some time to talk to you about a tiny blonde detective and her continuing adventures in Neptune, California.

I only joined the Veronica Mars bandwagon two years ago. I was just outside its viewing demographics when it originally aired. But, because I am not always dumb, I listened to my fellow Pajiba commenters and decided to use the power of my DVR for good, and recorded all the episodes when they used to play on SOAPnet. Yes. That’s a thing that happened in my life.

So, once I got on the Veronica Mars bandwagon I was hooked. When I found out that there were books, and that continued books depended on profits of first book, I took myself down to my local book peddler and bought myself a copy and put it away with my copy of Fangirl for vacation reading.

And it was a good beach read. Light enough to be easily enjoyable, complicated enough to keep you interested in the plot lines, and maybe most importantly, it moved forward Veronica’s story post movie. We see old friends, some if only here and there. Demons from Veronica’s past must be dealt with, and bonds are forged.

I’m intentionally not going to say a lot about the plot, because it’s a mystery, but know its well plotted and interesting. Even if the ending is a perhaps a little easy to call. But, if you’re a Veronica fan this is something you should totally read, and if you haven’t yet submerged yourself in the wonderful world of Veronica Mars, now is the time to get yourself to Amazon and get caught up. 

Fangirl (CBR6 #26!)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Rainbow Rowell is one of my two favorite new authors of the past few years. She and Lyndsay Faye have been rocking my literary world, and I am so glad for it. I saved Fangirl to be my 26th book this year, and timed it to coincide with my vacation. I had planes and beach ahead of me, so the timing was perfect.

And there is so much to love about the story of Cath. So much that is good, and interesting, and superbly executed. Really, I’ve come to expect that I will simply fall in love with Rainbow’s characters because they are so real, and I do. Every. Single. Time.  I love Rainbow Rowell, and it’s easy to see why.

But, (and there is a but) several days after finishing the book I’m still hung up on the ending that wasn’t. I follow Rainbow on Twitter, where she is just as lovely as you could hope, and there are a lot of people who tweet at her about those three words at the end of Eleanor & Park. I have never understood those people. Until I got to the last 5 pages of Fangirl. And then I just wanted more. I wanted more Cath and Levi, more Simon Snow and the Eighth Dance, and more Carry On, Simon.  I wanted more of all of it. I wanted more than just the signposts pointing me in the direction of the resolution; I wanted to see it there, on the page, right in front of my nose.

I am apparently very needy.

I think I’m needy because in oh so many ways, I am Cath. I was the girl who wouldn’t go down to the cafeteria because “all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.” I’m the person who doesn’t understand how people are naturally ‘on’ all the time and don’t need time alone to recharge. Writing can feel like running downhill towards the thing that makes sense, while real life seems to be out on the edges. I need my own Wren or Reagan to pull me back in from the outside edges. Heck, I want to be as quippy as Reagan.

So, what am I trying to say? That I loved this book. That I wanted to live in it some more. That I get fanfiction now more than I did before. But I just can’t seem to round this one up to a 5 star book. 

The Rosie Project (CBR6 #25)

The problem with reading books quickly is that I am often left with little to say when review time comes around, because I haven’t spent days or in the cases of some books – weeks, thinking about my feelings and reactions to the work. Instead, I’m going to make arguments against the detractions I’ve read about The Rosie Project which will hopefully help illuminate for you why it is a four star book for me.

As this book is pretty well reviewed  If you’re not familiar with the basic plot, here’s the two sentence summary: Thirty-nine year old Australian geneticist Don Tillman, and likely someone who would’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s if he was coming of age now, decides to attack the problem of finding a life partner in the same manner he would attack solving a science problem. Until a completely incompatible but irresistible woman enters his life with a problem.

It doesn’t necessarily sound like it should be the kind of book to pull you in for marathon reading sessions, but it absolutely is, and that all lines up with wanting to spend time with the protagonist. I’m on the record as saying that not all well written characters are also good protagonists, but in this case I found Don Tillman to be both a well written and good protagonist. I was interested in seeing the world through Don’s eyes, learning about how he coped with the world around him, and hearing him explain his motivations for deviating from his normal schedule, which was at the very core of how he coped with the world around him.

And Rosie ain’t half bad herself.

Some of the detractions I’ve seen in other reviews of this book (not here at CBR HQ) is that the book was written “quickly” and that Mr. Simsion chose to make it a comedy. First, the “quickly” problem: in his acknowledgements Mr. Simsion refers to having written what became The Rosie Project fairly quickly, but notes that it was still 6-7 years from beginning to publication. This is not actually quick. And the basic idea coming together quickly versus the work it takes to get the idea into both a workable novel and in the case of The Rosie Project a screenplay are highly different things. The second issue people have mentioned is wishing that Mr. Simsion chose to make this novel a comedy, and horror of all horrors, something that might be considered a romantic comedy. How dare he! How dare he choose to write something that is genuine and heartfelt and a statement and also funny! We should hang him from the rafters for that!

But to be perfectly serious for just a second this was, to me, a stroke of absolute genius. In the character of Don Tillman we have someone who knows that the way he processes the world around him is different and this difference often causes those around him, the normal folk, to find humor in his actions. So, as the coping mechanism of a highly intelligent person Don latches onto this and in his teens decides to act the clown, to choose the action most likely to cause a laugh, so that the laughter he is causing is his choice. By having the protagonist make this choice, and still be humorous to the reader outside of this coping mechanism ,Mr. Simsion has crafted a piece of work that is both accessible to the reader and makes a statement about what we ask others to do by assuming that we’re the norm. Mr. Simsion didn’t have to write a “serious” book to make this serious point.

All that said to say – read this book. It’s a lovely, funny, thoughtful look at what love is and what love does from an angle you may not have previously looked at it from

I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From (CBR6 #24)

I actually began writing this review before I had finished the book. I have been having a WEEK, one where the photo of Louis C.K. giving himself the finger in the mirror about sums it up, and when I got the email from the library that I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From was waiting for me to come pick it up from the waitlist I rushed over to take it home for some reading therapy. I put down the book I was currently reading, ignored the one I was planning to read instead as a quick read, and dove right in.

This was a decision that I completely and totally believe was correct in every way. I finished two thirds of the book in that first sitting, and bounded through the last third quickly thereafter. I didn’t know much about Judy Greer personally when I picked up the book. I knew where I had first seen her (The David Schwimmer/Jason Lee comedy Kissing a Fool) and where else I had seen/heard her along the way that would likely qualify as the “where I know her from” (The Wedding Planner, 27 Dresses, Mad Love, Archer, The Descendants) but I knew practically nothing about Judy as a person. By dividing her book up into three sections Ms. Greer introduces us to who she is, what her career is like, and what it means to be a working actress and have a personal life that attempts to look like everyone else’s normal life.

And, she’s funny to boot. This certainly doesn’t hurt when you’re reading for pleasure. And that is exactly what this book is, a pleasure read. Is it going to change your life or make you a better human? Probably not. Is it going to give you new insight into the life of a working actor? Maybe. Is it going to offer up fun quirks of a life that’s not yours? Yep. I think my favorite tidbit is that Judy Greer is best friends with Sean Gunn who played Kirk on Gilmore Girls. My pet peeves for this book? Greer’s consistent references to IMDb (I love the website, but she refers to it no less than 5 times in a book that barely registers over 250 pages) and her misspelling of Jason Lee’s name (seriously editors? It’s not Leigh, its LEE a fact easily checked on the aforementioned IMDb). That aside, I couldn’t recommend this book enough for a quick, happy pleasure read this summer.