I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi (4 out of 5)

•September 2, 2021 • Leave a Comment

This one came into the store in paperback, the same time her new book, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear Fighter Manual, came out in hardcover. I had, shamefully, not heard of Luvvie having written a book, much less 2, despite following her on Twitter for quite awhile. I was also, shamefully, not aware she was local and drops in at our Barbara’s O’Hare store often. I laughed out loud so much on the train reading this book that a number of commuters kept asking what book I was reading. So if I got Luvvie some book sales from those 2 days on the Metra BNSF and MD-W lines, then, mission accomplished!

I’d be hard pressed to deliver a highlight but a definite rib tickler is the chapter on those who do not bathe enough. Sadly, those people exist. As funny as Luvvie is, she also doles out a lot of common sense solely lacking in this world. And these are precisely the sort of books that need to be published and read by the misguided souls out there. She does not shy away from professional controversy, either. These are all of the things that make this an enjoyable walk through the briar patch. And if you love this one, you have a 2nd book out now! I highly recommend this and cannot wait to read her new book!

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton (5 out of 5)

•August 27, 2021 • Leave a Comment

This was DELIGHTFUL! Those girls- Amy, Nicole, & Michelle- have gotten me into reading romances. Not the Harlequin ones, although my mom was infuriated when I was reading my way through those at age 10 (We were a progressively forward thinking family, in some regards, in others, not). And I don’t like the romances based on classic works of literature; so I guess not all romances are my bag. I do like Emily Henry’s books a lot, and this one, well, hell yeah!

This is the start of a new series. This is also India Holton’s first book. Bravo! She’s off to a fine start. I haven’t had a lot of books that made me laugh out loud this year, but this one had me laughing so much at points that I had to go grab a tissue and check my eye makeup because I was crying. Tears of humor and joy.

The thing about this is that it is categorized as historical romance. When I hear that category, I think Eloisa James & Julia Quinn. And this, sure. BUT I would add a strongly worded caveat that says “Not Necessarily Your Mama’s Historical Romance” because it is NOT. There’s a lot of humor, sarcasm, and a bit of a whodunit, but not much, because Youknowwhodunit.

Cecelia Bassingthewaite is a junior member of the Wisteria Society, a group of “proper” Victorian ladies who happen to be tea-drinking thieves. One infamous scoundrel known as Morvath happens to be on the hunt for Cecelia, for reasons we aren’t completely aware of at first. Enter Ned Lightbourne, a sometimes assassin who is determined to save her from the clutches of Morvath. But-WHY? Is it because he is a good dude underneath, because he has ulterior motives, or because he had a thing for Cecelia? You have to read and laugh your way through to find out, but what fun you will have! By turns hilarious, self deprecating, and yes, moments of romantic whimsy, The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels will make you glad you got pulled into this madcap adventure.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (4 out of 5)

•August 15, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Who wants to read a book about stanky ass shoes? Turns out…I did! It was much more than that. It was a book I was long overdue to read. I remember selling a shit ton in Burr Ridge and wondering what the big deal was. Years later, I get it.

I should add that if you are trying to read this on a train where there are incredible shoulders (belonging to my conductor) distracting you, well, give up. Put the book down, look at the shoulders, and pick the book up later. Because there are many lessons contained within it.

Phil Knight is fresh out of college and wanting to travel the world. But on his journey to do that, he realizes his restlessness is stemming from his desire to do more. While running, he realizes that he has ideas for how to improve the durability of the running shoes he is wearing. Not only that, he has ideas on how to take the shoe to the next level, market it to athletes, and this is what he wants to do with his life. Start his own business and sell running shoes to the adoring public. Not be an accountant, which is his day job. He borrows out the wazoo, employs a small but eclectic staff, gets a well known Oregon coach on his advisory board, and he’s off. But Knight did not take the easy road. He struggles, he almost gives up multiple times, manages to start his own family amidst this craziness, and almost go out of his damn mind. Slow and steady wins the race, and although it takes over a decade, Knight meets and surpasses his wildest dreams. Nike is a billion dollar a year company, athletes promote the brand and beyond, and life is never the same. It’s a great business bio, there are some great sports names attached here, and it is a lesson in “never give up”. A great read. Business courses should have as recommended reading.

Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl (5 out of 5)

•August 11, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Don’t rush to get it yet….it’s not out until October 5th. You can put it on your pre-order list, and you should! The fine folks at Simon & Schuster will be publishing this one. The edition in the photo above is an ARC that was won through the Shelf Awareness newsletter.

Sarah Ruhl just had one of her plays performed on Broadway, and she survived a high-risk pregnancy and gave birth to beautiful, healthy twins. She has a wonderful husband and a blessed life, but things grind to a halt quickly after the birth. Sarah’s nurse tells her that the side of her face is drooping and they rush to make sure she hasn’t suffered a stroke. Thankfully, she hasn’t- but the diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy puts a stop to her maternal bliss over the babies. Everything stops; Sarah goes internal to handle her grief over the loss of her facial muscles and she brings us to the doorstep of her life up to and including the babies and the Bell’s, so the reader gets to know her and believe me, you really like Sarah by the end of the 2nd chapter. This is so much not your typical memoir, nor is it a healthologue over her medical issue. It’s about canvassing society’s perceptions of beauty and what it means when you suddenly feel as you no longer measure up to those inflated standards. It’s about coming to terms with a loss; of your face as it was when you would smile. Sarah’s attempts to manage her condition and find something to maybe “fix her” leads to a litany of things- therapists, acupuncturists, even a doctor who comes on way too strong when she mentions she’s Irish. More importantly, it leads her to acceptance of her life as it is now, and the healing begins.

We’re in August, and having read 153 books this year, there have not been a lot I would hang my hooters on. This is one of the ones I would. Her voice is so singular, strong, vulnerable, and yet she manages to keep a sense of humor throughout. Not an easy feat. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read in 2021, so give it a shot when it’s released in October. I would not be surprised if one of the celebrities pick this for their book club pick.

Where The Truth Lies by Anna Bailey (5 out of 5)

•August 5, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Wow! I got an ARC of this months ago. I read it in May. Right as I was starting at the new store, actually. It profoundly disturbed me. Which, if you know me, means I will probably love it.

Reading this book felt like I was trapped in Twin Peaks. The spooky ambiance of the town when you begin reading it. Bailey certainly knows how to set a scene, let me tell you that right off the bat. It completely fit the book. If you’re going to dive into something, Whistling Ridge is a great place to start feeling out of sorts. The type of place where 17-year old Abigail goes missing and you aren’t the least bit surprised. Emma, her best friend, won’t stop until she finds out where her friend is and what happened. But will it be too much for Emma? Secrets upon secrets pile up like bones picked at by crows, and add the crows for good measure. I finished the book in 3 hours, and I was still stunned at the end. This is definitely one to check out!

Where The Truth Lies was released on Tuesday, August 3rd. It’s published by the good folks at Atria. I thank my publisher friend Wendy at S&S, because I’m pretty sure I got this from her. If you want more background on the book, check this clip out from a day ago. https://youtu.be/LF7LLV-zAmQ

I’m 150 books into my reading challenge for 2021, and this is easily in my top 5. Get to it! Go grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

The Husbands by Chandler Baker (4 out of 5)

•August 4, 2021 • Leave a Comment

The first book I read after my father passed away in 2019 was Baker’s debut novel, The Whisper Network. I loved it. This was a step in the other direction, although the wicked stepchild remains the inequality of women to men in a man’s world. Baker just lays it out in a whole different way.

Nora Spangler has a happy marriage, but she’s always running, running, running, and never stopping. It also occurs to her that her husband really seems to not contribute as much as she does. Nora tries her hardest to keep her family running smoothly, but she is exhausted, and no solution in sight. When their house hunt leads them to the Dynasty (Hello, Joan Collins!) Ranch, Nora finds a group of high-powered career women who seem to handle their high octane careers with ease. Not to mention what looks to her like cuckolded husbands who tend to their wives’ every whim with no complaint. Who are these robot men and where are they in today’s world? That’s what I asked myself reading this. Of course, there’s a means to every end and Nora quickly discovers that things are very different in Dynasty Ranch. Can she somehow rescue her own family before they fall victim to this crazy dynamic? I saw someone on GR describe this as the Stepford Wives in a gender-swap. Yes, I’d say that’s on the money. My review was as follows: Holy Shit. Creepy. Horrifying. Tempting. I’ll stand by all of those as well. But definitely not like anything else you’ll read out there. When I read The Whisper Network a few years ago, the awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace was at an all-time high, thanks in no smart part to those two pig testicles, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. The literary map was full of books written in that garden, but as is often the case with reality, there was a level of literary saturation. Too many books, but Baker’s was a whip smart exception to the others. Two years later, Chandler Baker has done it again. I was profoundly disturbed by this book, but in the best possible way.

The Husband Network was released yesterday, and is published by Flatiron Books, an imprint of St. Martin Books. It is a hardcover release and can be purchased from your local independent bookstore or check it out from your local library.

Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics by Dylan Jones (3.5 out of 5)

•August 3, 2021 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a long time, friends. Perhaps too long. I’ve recently begun working on contributing to a friend’s blog about video gaming. What do I know about video gaming? Nowhere near as much as he does, but I’m apparently better with writing blog content than he is. 😳🤣

What I DO know is books, which is the reason I started this in 2012. Along with the other 8 or 9 blogs that I write for. Bookselling affords me the opportunity to sell books in person; I guess the blog afforded me the opportunity to help you find books on the Internet. And again, they tell me they like my unconventional writing. They being the marvelous 2,762 of you who follow this blog. As always, I thank you. On a personal note, after my father passed in 2019, I really lost my mojo with writing. It’s only been since spring of this year that the light of inspiration revisited me again. I took another gig on at work, social media denizen. Unfortunately, I do not get to write as much content as I would like, so it’s back to blogging and hoping something comes along that allows me to dip my toe in the pool again. Until then? You poor bastards have to read my reviews again.

This book seemed like a slam dunk for someone like me who inhales 80’s anything the way Snoop Dogg inhales the ganja. I read the book Dylan Jones wrote on David Bowie and really enjoyed that. Comparing the two is like comparing ashes to a well done steak. This book is not that book.

Going inside the world of the late 1970’s punk scene to the New Romantic movement is an exhaustive project. It may have been too much for Jones. The list of luminaries brought into the project is impressive, including the dearly departed, among them George Michael, Malcolm McLaren, and Prince, who is likened to ” a Cobb salad in the studio”. Don’t get me started on that.

While the music scene is examined, the fashion, the clubs and nightclub scene are also examined and psychoanalyzed, along with magazines and that long-defunct music television shuttle, MTV. The fascinating psychology behind the egocentric clashes of pop titans take up more of the book than someone who is a pop junkie like myself can take. A full third- the first part- of the book is just trashing the Clash. Most of it by that rascal McLaren, some by other bands. Then you have McLaren vs Adam Ant, McLaren Vs John Lydon, etc. It could have been a video game, McLaren Vs. (Fill in the blank) for Atari, the amount of the book his battles take up. It got so distractable that it was hard to Simon up enthusiasm to read the last part of it. I wish the pseudo pop psychology could have taken a back seat and more of the good times examined. You bring Adam Ant into the book to discuss the Ants and when McLaren dicked him over, then the next time you see him is Live Aid, where his performance is summarily dismissed, and Class Dismissed! No mention of the 4 albums that he made that were seated on the Top 20 Billboard album chart. It boggles the mind. Madonna gets a third of a paragraph but Sade gets almost a whole chapter. Now, don’t get me wrong- I love Sade but she is not on Madonna’s level here in the States during the 80s. What else disturbed me? There were grammatical errors all over the place and Jones made a huge error calling Chicago DJ Steve Dahl a Detroit DJ. Nope, definitely not. You would think that they had edited it before publishing it, but I guess not.

The book has definite moments- any John Lydon quote is entertainment value worth its weight in gold, Boy George’s contribution to the scene is faithfully recounted, and it was nice to see Spandau Ballet recount their role through the eyes of founder Gary Kemp. But they really sliced in half the following bands- Eurythmics, Depeche Mode, Erasure, OMD, Pet Shop Boys (Neil Tennant is around, but mostly recounting his journalistic career with British magazines, not much on the music side)..none are really represented, just mentioned as a come-what-may shrug. Which made me shake my head some more.

As someone who likes to read music bios, I would say this one leaves a lot of ground untread.

I’m Your Huckleberry by Val Kilmer (5 out of 5)

•July 9, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I know many of my friends just laughed when I told them that I was excited about Val Kilmer’s memoir. I’m not sure if they were laughing because there are rumors he is a little odd, because his movies are few and far between, or because they know I’m a little obsessed with the show Psych, full of Val Kilmer references. Who knows? The fact that it came out in the middle of the shitsami known as 2020 made it even more welcome. To me, at least. I’m a little biased because I love the guy and think he’s a bit of a misunderstood genius. The book confirmed it.

Here’s your first startling fact: This motherfucker is DEEP. Not deep in manure like Cheeto Face, but deep as in significant thoughts and ennui out the wazoo (probably not the best choice in visuals). I took my time reading it, because there was a lot of serious thought processing coming to life on the pages. It’s not The Tibetan Book of the Dead, but it’s also not Archie comics, either. There is a lot of discussion toward the reader not just about his upbringing and career, but also about his Method acting, his thoughts on the spiritual plain, his love life, Hollyweird, Marlon Brando, Cher, and the current state of the world we live in. Here’s your second startling fact: This motherfucker is funny. Dry, sarcastic humor. The type that registers hours after you read/hear it. Typical Capricorn. Really, I cannot recommend it highly enough to read during this pandemic. Puts a lot of perspective in your pipe to smoke. Definitely one of the better nonfiction books that I have read this year.

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost (5 out of 5)

•June 10, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I saw this a few months back, lying in the advanced reading copies pile at Hawthorn. I do not watch SNL as much as I used to (or watch TV in general, to be fair), but I laughed often at Colin Jost. This does not always guarantee a book written by the same person will be funny, however. Then I noticed my friend and fellow book comrade Len had posted how hilarious it was. Nothing about redoing our Macy’s store has been hilarious in the past 6 weeks, so I desperately needed something hilarious. This was it!

Colin Jost has been on SNL since 2005, both as a writer and in front of the camera, most memorably on Weekend Update. His Staten Island upbringing, time at Harvard and with The Harvard Lampoon, and his “athletic” pursuits may not sound funny on paper, but this guy makes them funny on paper! Add to it the instances of pooping his pants, throwing up in random places, and oh my god, the speech debate tournaments were described exactly as I imagined they must have been. And a million other things that I am likely forgetting. The chapter of the book in which he talks about his mom and her role as a first responder on 9/11? That really got me. Anything about 9/11 will do that, but it’s so obvious that he loves and thinks the world of his mom for what she does, that you can’t help but get choked up reading it. I did, at least. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. You’ll laugh your ass off.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (3 out of 5)

•February 18, 2020 • Leave a Comment

This was an odd one. It got a lot of accolades and it was heavily favored as one of the books of the summer in 2019. I’m not sure I echo that enthusiasm.

I read this back in August, when I had just started at the new store and was overwhelmed. It was a great book to read while figuring out the commute up there. It’s still out in hardback, should be paperback before this summer is over.

The age old quandary of who gets what in the event of a death finds another venue in this novel. Their father’s death brings Helen and Edith to other sides of the family line when he leaves the entire inheritance to Helen. She buys a light beer brewery and makes a small fortune on it. Meanwhile, older sister Edith is barely making ends meet and has to bust her ass most of her life, when a little bit of the inheritance would have helped her out. Edith’s granddaughter Diana has the family head for business (IPA’s, in particular) and she knows how to hustle and perhaps make a go of things. Can her determination bring her grandma some relief in her later years? Can Edith forgive Helen for being such a go-getter and cold hearted, or has the damage been done? Will Diana’s modern day business sense start a whole new family business for the next generation, and can she reconcile the two sisters?

Here’s what I liked- Edith, Diana, & learning about beer and how that business works. Stradal really nailed it with the portrayals of working class Midwest, the estrangement of two radically different sisters, and how the new generation can take the ball and run in regards to making a business run.

Here’s what I didn’t like- Helen. No matter how hard I tried to connect emotionally with the character, I just ended up beating my head into a wall. I loathed the character. And despite how Stradal ends the novel, I just felt there was something missing. Really missing. It was hard to give two shits when you want to beat the shit out of one of the main characters. So, I give mad props to Stradal in writing a character who left a big gaping hole where a heart should have been.