Review: Rape Girl

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Rape Girl By Alina Klein could have been so many things: it could have been depressing, it could have been unconvincing, it could have been hard to read. But it wasn’t any of those things. It was great. And not just a little bit great either.

Valerie’s story makes me mad, and it will probably make you mad too. If you are a teen girl, it will make you wiser. If you are a teen boy, well, consider yourself informed. And if you are a parent of either, this book will do both. This is the kind of story that chips away at taboo topics and makes the world a better place. Really. It’s that simple.

Valerie’s character makes me proud to be a girl. The courage and strength she summons will make any girl proud. Because what Valerie suffers during the rape is horrid, but what she suffers afterwards is a longer version of horrid. Bullied, ignored, blamed, Valerie becomes a shell of her former self. Almost. But then there’s that courage and strength and inner power ever present and ready to bloom in all of us that peeks out for a tiny look. It takes an undefined faith in the human heart to rise above a horror that a fellow human being has caused, and not everyone can or maybe should do it. But Valerie does. Valerie’s mom does. And after reading the author’s notes, you will know too that the author does as well.

Klein is a magical writer. This is her recipe: start with a pinch of John Green, sprinkle with a bit of Wally Lamb, punctuate with some Laurie Halse Anderson. Then cook on perfect pace and speak in dead-on dialogue until done. Cool. You’ve got the amazing Alina Klein. Trust me, you won’t be able to put your fork down.

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Review: Klonopin Lunch

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From the beginning, this author does a very smart thing. Before the reader has a chance to condemn her for her behavior, she takes care of that herself. Never defensive about her poor choices, Jones instead makes it very clear that her biggest critic is herself, which immediately takes her readers off the hook. We don’t have to decide whether we like her or not, because she’s already told us that we don’t. And this gives us the freedom to read her story without judgment. (Almost.)

The author’s exploits are wild, dangerous, sometimes hilarious, and always expertly told. Jones is a master with words, able to at once use some pretty big language while keeping her writing conversational. Which makes us wonder: How can this well-educated and articulate person keep company with such low-lives? It isn’t drug addiction, because Jones never gets to that point. So what is it? The initial answer is good sex, but the ultimate one is the freedom to fail. Successful, responsible, and miserable, the author’s path to finding herself is to lose herself first and start from there.

This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it does seem incredible that her husband allows her this very long leash without once confronting her, but this is a memoir so we have to take it at face value. Cup of tea or not, however, there is no arguing the fact that Jones is a very very good writer. She could probably spin a list of ingredients into a good read.

Review: The Kitchen Shrink

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Dee DeTarsio told me all about the time she agreed to do a TV reality show called The Kitchen Shrink. This is what I thought the whole time I was reading her book. The thing is though, I’ve never met Dee and I’m pretty sure I’ve never talked to her on the phone unless she works at Verizon which I hope she doesn’t because they spend a lot of time redirecting phone calls. Anyway. After every time that I remembered I didn’t know Dee, my next thought was: Wow, her writing is good. She writes like she’s speaking to me and only me. That’s not an easy thing to do.

The Kitchen Shrink was a delight. I suspect (my friend) Dee works in the TV industry because there are insights here that only those on set could know. Which makes her book that much more fun to read. This is the perfect summer read. Thanks to (my friend) Dee for making me laugh on the trains, planes and automobiles that I took last week.

Review: The Legacy of David Foster Wallace

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What’s so reassuring about this book is that even the equally intelligent and academic contributors admit that they might not quite understand the immense talent of David Foster Wallace. And for those of us decidedly non-academic writers, this is a very inviting thing. David Foster Wallace’s writing, while incredible, is also intimidating and the contributors seem to sympathize. What a gift to anyone who has ever wanted to learn more about Wallace but has been too afraid to open his pages.

Beauty and pain hide between every line in each one of Wallace’s stories and this book will attempt to explain why. Wallace was an author who had so much more to tell, but yet had already said it all by the time of his death. Yes he was flawed, and we are flawed, but the world is still a heartbreakingly beautiful place. And The Legacy of David Foster Wallace is one of the reasons why – if just for its superb cover art.

A great read for anyone who admires Wallace and anyone who hopes to.

Review Island Practice: Cobblestone Rash, Underground Tom, and Other Adventures of a Nantucket Doctor

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“If you need an appendectomy, he can do it with a stone scalpel he carved himself. If you have a condition nobody can diagnose—“creeping eruption” perhaps—he can identify what it is, and treat it. A baby with toe-tourniquet syndrome, a human leg that’s washed ashore, a horse with Lyme disease, a narcoleptic falling face-first in the street, a hermit living underground—hardly anything is off-limits for Dr. Timothy J. Lepore. This is the spirited, true story of a colorful, contrarian doctor on the world-famous island of Nantucket.”  — netgalley

Island Practice by Pam Belluck is a nicely drawn biography of the infamous Dr. Lepore, the landmark doctor on Nantucket. Belluck writes with an overall sense of admiration for the doctor, even while describing some of his most controversial tactics. She makes it clear that the islanders feel this same admiration. The reader, however, might not. Dr. Lepore may make house calls and deliver emergency C-Sections, but he also allows islanders to live in underground caves and have sex with animals. Whether you like him or not, however, Dr. Lepore is an engaging and eccentric character, and one well worthy of a biography.

Belluck has certainly done her homework. Her interviews with key figures are short and to the point, and perfectly placed. She does a great job recounting each one of the sometimes strange, sometimes heroic situations the doctor finds himself in. Her readers are sure to come away with an entirely different image of Nantucket. In fact, it’s almost impossible to recognize the Nantucket of the uber-wealthy summer goers inside these pages.

Island Practice is part survival guide, part snap shot of one of the most beautiful and unique places in America. I chose to review this book because my father was raised on Nantucket and my grandmother lived on the island until her dying day. An uncle and cousin still reside year-round and I imagine remain ever grateful for Dr. Lepore.

The Fault In Our Stars

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If you’ve ever read Eckart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, you may better understand why I’m about to compare it to John Green’s magnificent The Fault in Our Stars. The idea behind Tolle’s spiritual self-help book is that who you are, right now, is good enough for the Universe. And if there’s not enough religion in that statement for you, “Universe” can be exchanged for whatever religious figure you choose. The point is: while we may all want a little (or a lot) of fame and fortune, the Universe doesn’t much care. In fact, the only thing the Universe requires of you is to accept the present moment as it is.

Enter Hazel.

Hazel, the protagonist with stage IV thyroid cancer in Green’s latest book, embodies this principal. Brutally aware that she has limited time, the only thing Hazel really wants at this point is not to break her parent’s hearts.

But things change when she meets Augustus.

Augustus, a cancer patient as well, wants more than to accept the present moment as it is. He wants to leave a legacy. And why shouldn’t he want that? The average person would. Hazel, however, is far from average.

Green’s writing is pitch perfect. His lightning quick dialogue is simply fun to read. But the best part of the novel is Hazel, who is not just sweet and down-to-earth and protective, she does what most of us can’t: she dares to be unimportant. Perhaps that’s the definition of a true hero.

Review: Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

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For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy’s birth, the Burden’s had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink. In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family, including an uncle with a fondness for Hitler, a grandfather who believes you can never have enough household staff, and a remarkably flatulent grandmother. — goodreads

Ok, now here’s a book that is hard to believe is not fiction. Anyone who has ever had weird, alcoholic, self-absorbed parents may feel like they are reading their own diary. If, that is, they were brave enough to keep one. Wendy Burden gets braver still by letting the world see what is essentially her family diary. She is a master of conjuring up the deepest of emotion with the driest of humor. Exactly like her parents.

All the while, the great great (ect.) granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the great great (ect.) writer of this book, manages to keep the reader in a constant state of, um, confused envy. One the one had, look what she has! But on the other hand, look what she has. Psychotic parents, creepy adults and zero work ethic abound in this memoir. And it’s all deliciously intoxicating to read.