Archive for August 2016

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

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I don't have any kids (unless you count my dog), so I wouldn't consider myself an expert on children's books by any means. That being said, I came across B.J. Novak's The Book With No Pictures recently and was so impressed by it that I had to write a review. Novak is probably best known for his role on the hit comedy The Office. In The Book With No Pictures, he uses his comedic abilities to create a bedtime story that both kids and parents are sure to enjoy.

As you probably guessed by the title, this children's book has no pictures. Instead, the book relies on the simple premise that whoever reads the book aloud is bound to say every word that is written...even if that word is something as silly as "Blork!" This soon creates a conflict as the reader does their best to avoid the crazy words, but they are bound by the rules to read them. There's nonsensical words, silly phrases, and even a song.

I really admire what Novak has done with this book. He breaks the fourth wall and creates a story that both kids and adults will get a kick out of. The publisher recommends the book for kids aged 4-8, but I imagine this could be enjoyed by kids who are a little younger. The book's premise truly allows for the reader to get creative in their delivery, allowing for endless variety from read to read. The Book With No Pictures is a unique offering in the crowded genre of children's books that is sure to inspire a life long love of reading in every household that it reaches.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 26)

Binge by Tyler Oakley

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Before reading his book, Binge, I wasn't very familiar with Tyler Oakley. I've seen him hosting some awards show red carpet coverage and a few of his YouTube videos, but I'd never pretend to be one of his fans. That being said,  I couldn't help but be curious about Oakley. He took a YouTube channel and turned it into a brand that has earned him a comfortable career and celebrity status.

The book compiles Oakley's musings about life, love, and the random things that have made him such a fascinating character. He mixes serious sections such as one about being in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with funny recollections about the hotness of Disney princes and the culinary wonders of Cheesecake Factory. Reading his candid recollections reveal the reason for his success. He has an undeniable charisma that makes him seem like a close friend.

Tyler has capitalized on his affable personality by turning himself into a recognizable brand. But broadcasting his life to the world has not come without a personal cost. In one of the more terrifying sections, he writes about being bombarded by fans at a YouTube convention. The event happened to fall on his birthday, and the large group of fans only wanted to send Tyler their well wishes. Despite the positive intentions, a large throng of people rushing the vehicle and yelling his name startled the young star and left him contemplating a retreat from the public eye.

Thankfully, Tyler decided the pros of fame far outweigh the cons. After reading his book, I am impressed at the way he uses his platform to inspire his fans. By broadcasting his life, Tyler encourages us to embrace ourselves no matter who we may be. His book is an authentic look behind the scenes that shows that deep down he is an ordinary person who faces many of the same obstacles that we do. “I was taught that being myself was not only okay, but encouraged - and by being unapologetically yourself, you thrive and inspire others to thrive.” 

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 25)

The Gifts of Memoir by Christine Hale

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In A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations, I've written about myself but not for myself.

I talk about a childhood in southern Appalachia that included abuse and neglect as well plenty of freedom to read and explore the natural world. I tell the stranger-than-fiction true story of together-tattoos with my teen children. And I relive the odd pleasures and striking solitudes of a series of spiritual retreats. I piece all of this together like a crazy quilt of vivid colors to suggest some truths about the human condition.

It's true that in the book's earliest draft, I wrote to try to explain myself to myself. I wrote down what shocked and hurt and amazed me about my life to that point. I wrote the questions I couldn't answer--except by speculation--about people I'd lost, found, given up on or given another chance. The process was cathartic--it made me feel better able to accept what I couldn't change. But the writing was also instructive. Putting it all down on paper helped me connect the dots, in ways I'd never imagined possible, between things I'd done at widely different points in my life, or between things I'd done and my mother had done, for instance. And, another gift of memoir: the process of trying to remember made me remember more and more. I reclaimed and relived some very sweet memories.

So, I was enjoying writing the book and learning about myself, but I had to stop and ask why I was writing a book about my life. I mean, who wants to read about me?

That question comes up nearly every time I mentor a creative writer who wants to write a memoir. Self-doubt, even a touch of shame, about presuming to share one's own "ordinary" live story. But if you can learn from writing about your life, I tell them, why wouldn't readers learn from what you've learned?

It took me years to feel comfortable saying that. But I am confident of it now. Readers of my memoir tell me that they idetnify with the struggles and the triumphs in the book, that they are reminded of their own sweetest memories, that they reel reconnected with people they've lost, or that they have new insight into someone who was a powerful and painful mystery in their life. Some have said, simply, "It helped me."

During the years I worked on my book, I came to realize that I wanted it to become a gift, humbly offered. I want readers to take away a feeling that they are not alone in their doubts, fears, confusion, strivings, and hopes. That these feeling are the essence of being human. I want readers to get from the book their own personal version of what I got from writing it--clarity and release.

For more information, visit the author's website and Amazon.
Be sure to check out all of the other posts that are a part of this tour!

Bossypants by Tina Fey

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"To say I'm an overrated troll, when you've never even seen me guard a bridge, is pretty unfair."

I wouldn't consider myself a huge Tina Fey fan. She was on Saturday Night Live before I was really old enough to watch it, and I've only seen 30 Rock a few times. Her spot on impression of vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin is probably the only significant part of her work that I'm familiar with. Still, one dollar for a copy of her memoir Bossypants at my local used bookstore was too good of a deal to pass up.

The book chronicles Fey's unlikely rise from awkward drama student to running her own critically acclaimed television show. The early portions of the book focus on her formative years and offer glimpses of the career that would follow. During high school she spent her summers acting and directing in a drama camp. The camps were usually made up of outsiders, all of whom Fey embraced and built lasting relationships with. Her stint with the Second City improv group after college introduced her to Amy Poehler and paved the way for her start with SNL.

Interspersed with the mostly straightforward biography are one liners and tangents that illustrate Fey's gift as a comedic writer. She hilariously describes her struggle to balance life and work and the ridiculous added pressure of being a woman in a male dominated industry. No section illustrates this more than the part where Fey is at the height of her stint as Sarah Palin while equally stressing the smallest details of her daughter's birthday party. I think that is what I find most interesting about Tina Fey. She somehow manages to stay true to herself despite all of the absurdities of being a celebrity.

For more information, visit Amazon and Goodreads.

(2016, 24)

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch


"If you go in with fear, fear is what you'll find"

I have a confession to make. In my haste to share my enthusiasm of books that I've read, I sometimes reveal more about the plot than I intend to. While I always refrain from spoiling any huge plot twits, sometimes the less you know about the book going into it, the more enjoyable it will be. That is definitely the case with Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. When I received an advanced copy of the novel from the publisher, I knew nothing about the story. Crouch is well known from his successful Wayward Pines series, but his latest story seemed to be shrouded in mystery. That mystery benefits the novel in every way. As the story unfolded, I was completely invested and thrilled to the core.

Jason Dessen has a pretty ordinary life. He's a professor at a local college who eschewed a promising career in science when he learned that his now wife, Daniella, was pregnant. He wouldn't trade that decision for anything. Even as he leaves a bar where his friend from college is being celebrated for the kind of scientific breakthroughs that Jason was poised to achieve himself, he can't wait to get back home for a quiet dinner with his wife and son. But someone has darker plans for Jason's evening. As he walks down the quiet streets, Jason is abducted by a man in a mask. Instead of the intimate family time he planned, Jason is thrust into a series of events that threatens the safety of his family and forces him to question every detail of the life he thought he was living.

That's about all I can say without denying you the privilege of experiencing this novel for yourself. Every time I thought I had the ending mapped out, Crouch would add another ripple to the story that would send it in a completely different direction. As with most good books, it is the characters that truly make the story worth engaging with. Even as the plot delved into deep sci-fi elements that required some suspension of disbelief, it was Jason's deep commitment to the safety of his family that kept me invested. In Dark Matter Blake Crouch provides thoughtful characters, suspenseful plot, and deep thematic undertones that combine for a relentlessly satisfying novel that is one of the best books I've read this summer.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2016, 23)

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