Hungry Heart (Audiobook) by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

by Jennifer Weiner , Jennifer Weiner (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs, 15 min.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016
Read: February 6 – 14, 2017


I’m not the biggest Jennifer Weiner fan in the world, nor am I in her target demographic in any way, shape, or form — but I’ve enjoyed (in some cases more) those books of hers that I’ve read. So I figured there was a better than even chance that I’d appreciate this collection of essays about her life, career, love life, dogs, social media and more. It’s also read by Weiner herself, which is almost always a winning characteristic for me.

Sadly, this audiobook was better in theory than it was in real life.

There’s a scene in the last season of Gilmore Girls where Logan points out to Rory that despite her prejudices, attitudes and belief, she’s actually part of the same privileged class that he is — which she doesn’t take too well (understandably). I kept thinking about that as I listened to some of Weiner’s tales of woe about her childhood and college life. I’m not saying that she didn’t have problems in her childhood, that she didn’t have trials that no one should have to go through, or overcome a lot in her professional life. But man…the self-pity was overblown — she got an Ivy League education, came out of it with less debt than many people I know who went to less prestigious schools, took a high school trip to Israel, and a largely pleasant childhood.

It doesn’t get much better when she starts talking about her adult life, either. She assumes sexism — and has faced, continues to face, and will probably face a good deal of it in the future — but seems to have some fairly strong gender biases herself. She will frequently say something like “As a woman, I know I’m supposed to be X in this situation.” Almost every time she said something like that I thought, actually a man in the same situation would be expected to behave the same way — it may not be honest, healthy, or “authentic” in the contemporary understanding — but it’s what how an adult person in polite Western culture should act.

Oddly, for someone who lamented her own inability to be a stay-at-home mom/writer, the scorn she displays for stay-at-home moms later in the book seems out of character. Actually, she is dismissive of people with other beliefs and convictions than hers. I’m not suggesting for a moment that she shouldn’t be an opinionated person (of any sex), but it’s hard to respect anyone who can’t reason with their opponents with out dismissing or vilifying them.

I actually had a few more things in my notes along those things, but seeing this on the screen makes me want to stop before this becomes a diatribe against the book. Because, believe it or not, I enjoyed this book — when she tells a narrative or goes for a laugh, I really got into the book and wanted to hear more. It’s when she gets on her soapbox or when she doles out advice that wouldn’t work for women less-well-off than she is, I couldn’t enjoy it.

If anything, this book makes me like her fiction more — because the flawed people she writes about are a lot more relatable than she presents herself as. But listening (I think reading would be better — see below) to Weiner describe her problems with overeating, or the journey to get her first book published (and the real life experiences that shaped the book), her mother’s reactions to her book tours, getting the movie In Her Shoes made, stories about her dogs, and so on — man, I really liked that and would’ve gladly consumed more of that kind of thing.

As an audiobook, this was a disappointment. I found the little sound effect/chime thing between chapters grating. Weiner’s reading was too slow and her cadence demonstrates that she reads a lot to her kids. Which would be fine if the prose matched, but it didn’t.

I can’t rate this too low — it was well-written I laughed, I felt for her and some of the other people she talked about in a way that I can’t justify rating below a 3. But man, I want to.

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3 Stars

The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee by R. David Cox

The Religious Life of Robert E. LeeThe Religious Life of Robert E. Lee

by R. David Cox
Series: Library of Religious Biography

PDF (will be published as paperback), 259 pg.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017

Read: December 25, 2016 – January 1, 2017

I feel always as safe in the wilderness as in a crowded city. I know in whose powerful hands I am, & in them rely, & I feel that in all our life we are upheld & sustained by Divine Providence. But that Providence requires us to use the means he has put under our control. He deigns no blessing to idle & inactive wishes, & the only miracle he now exhibits to us, is the power he gives to truth & justice, to work their way in this wicked world.

So wrote Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife while serving in Texas, and according to R. David Cox it summarizes his theology. If you have to sum up a man’s theology in 3 sentences, that’s a decent one to have.

Robert E. Lee was no theologian, he wasn’t a pastor or preacher or religious scholar of any kind. He was a churchman, however. Seemingly a faithful one who served as he could — and he was a believer in the middle of a tumultuous time for American Protestantism and American as a whole, as such what he thought about the tumult from his religious perspective is instructive and fascinating reading. Which is pretty much why anyone might want to read this (and probably why Cox wrote the thing).

By and large, the book is a chronological look at Lee’s life, what’s going on in the national and ecclesiastical culture, and how Lee (and his family members — particularly his wife) responded to it and how his faith grew throughout his life. It’s not exactly a biography, but it is biographical. There were a couple of chapters that stepped back from the chronological look, and examined Lee’s perspectives on specific topics (the above quotation about providence comes from one of those). I particularly enjoyed and appreciated those.

I was surprised how little space was devoted to the years of The War Between the States, honestly. It may be that there wasn’t that much material — Lee was probably too busy to write a lot of things in letters that he might normally have (like: thoughts about sermons heard, theology, ecclesiastical concerns, etc.), that’d certain be understandable. Cox might be the one historian who doesn’t like writing about that time period. It might just be that his pre- and post- War writings were better material for the book — there are any number of good reasons for it, I was just surprised that the one thing the man is best known for is so little represented in the book.

One of the drawbacks of this book is the author’s perspective on Lee himself (at least what came across to me as his perspective, I could have read him wrong, he could have written it in such a way as to be easily misinterpreted, etc.). I’m not saying that I want a hagiography, nor do I want Cox to be some sort of Lee fanboy. A critical eye is essential. There’s an element of Chronological Snobbery (to borrow Lewis’ phrase) here when reflecting on Lee’s racial and political views. I have no problem with Cox disagreeing with them (I disagree with many of them), but he came across as patronizing (at least on the border of it). To a lesser degree, I thought the same about some of Lee’s religious views. But this didn’t crop up often, and when it did, it was easy to gloss over or ignore. It’s a drawback to the book, but not a reason to avoid it. If anything, Cox came across as detached and neutral when it came to the subject and his religion (it was impossible to tell if Cox shared any aspect of belief with Lee) 98% of the time. It’s just that 2% or so . . .

This is a part of Eerdman’s Library of Religious Biography series — which I hadn’t heard of until now. I have one sitting at the top of my To Be Bought pile (talked about it last month in a Saturday Miscellany post), but I didn’t realize it was part of a series. The books in the series are intended to “link the lives of their subjects – not always thought of as ‘religious’ persons – to the broader cultural contexts and religious issues that surrounded them.” It’s a fascinating concept, and I’m glad this series exists. I hope to get more of them soon.

This was a fascinating read, if a bit dry and detached. Neither’s bad, and may be commendable under the right circumstances (which may include such a divisive figure as Lee), but it doesn’t make for the best read. That, plus my ambivalence towards some of Cox’s attitudes toward the subject, makes me rate this 3 Stars. That’s still a recommendation, and I’ll gladly tell anyone to read it — believer or nonbeliever — if they want to understand Lee better, but I’m not that enthusiastic about the book.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this opportunity.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

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3 Stars

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody

by Anna Kendrick

Hardcover, 271 pg.
Touchstone, 2016

Read: December 22 – 26, 2016


Unlike some of the celebrity memoirs I’ve read this year (and yeah, there’s been a lot of them — I’m not sure why), this is a pretty straight-forward one. Roughly chronological, it covers Kendrick’s life and career from childhood to the last year or two. What separates this is Kendrick’s voice — it is so strong, so funny (I almost wish I’d gone for the audiobook version — narrated by the author — instead for her literal, not just authorial, voice), so brutal.

Thankfully, she saves most of her mockery for herself, so she comes across as charmingly self-deprecatory and insecure.

I’m not sure what to say about this, without resorting to a very long list of quotations that will be too long, and yet not long enough.

I chuckled often, I enjoyed the look at her life and strange childhood; the behind-the-scenes anecdotes about some of her films and award-shows; the present-day social awkwardness. I may not have much to say, but it’s only because my brain isn’t firing right tonight (it seems), not because the book doesn’t deserve it.

If you’re a fan of Kendrick’s, you’ll enjoy this. If you wouldn’t call yourself a fan, but have enjoyed some of her work, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you don’t know anything about her, you still might like this (and get a list of movies to go look into).

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4 Stars

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I CanTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between

by Lauren Graham
Hardcover, 205 pg.
Ballantine Books, 2016

Read: December 12 – 31, 2016

This book isn’t a proper autobiography or anything (doesn’t claim to be, either); it’s stories, memories, thoughts and humorous bits that Lauren Graham shares about her life and career.  She uses the revival of Gilmore Girls as an excuse to look back on her both to this point, as her career is marked by looking back this year. I haven’t seen the new Gilmore episodes (still working my way through the series with my kids), so I could’ve read the material discussing that a little closer — although I did think the tributes to Edward Herrmann fitting and touching.

The book covers pretty much what you’d expect from an actor’s memoirs — discussion of her childhood, paying her acting dues, education, her big break and so on. All told with wit and charm. Graham’s personality shines forth and really draws you in. She spends a good amount of time talking about the original run of Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, and her novel. I was glad to see that she did that — so many actors/celebrities don’t give that much time or space to the things that made someone want to read their books in the first place.

A few of the highlights of this book are from the parts that aren’t de rigueur. There’s a section on eating and health tips, that made me laugh out loud — Graham learned the same lesson Jim Gaffigan and Weird Al did — food jokes work 99. 6% of the time. There’s some really good writing advice that Graham was given by a friend that helped her to finish this book — and seems like the kind of thing that could help many authors. There’s some recurring jokes about Ellen DeGeneres and the cast of Today. I don’t want to suggest those are all the highlights, but they’re are good sample. 

Most of the book feels like Graham set her phone to “Voice to Text” and cut loose. But there’s no way that it would’ve come out as good if that’s what she did — that kind of feel is the result of a lot of hard work and planning. It all paid off, this was one of the more enjoyable books to read that I’ve tackled recently — don’t get me wrong, the content was good, too — but the writing was as smooth as silk. Unlike that sentence. Between this and her novel, it’s clear that Graham’s really quite a writer, I hope to see more from her.

This was a fast, breezy read — a lot of fun with plenty of heart. Pretty much everything you want from/would expect from Graham. A sure fan pleaser.

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3.5 Stars

Life Outside the Box by Marilyn R. Wilson Book Tour

Welcome to our Book Tour stop for Life Outside the Box. Along with this blurb about the book I’ve got an interview with the author, Marilyn R. Wilson coming up soon (the link’ll work when the post goes live).

Book Details:

Book Title:  Life Outside the Box (Second Edition)
Author: Marilyn R. Wilson
Category: Adult non-fiction, 236 pages
Genre: Inspiration / biography / fashion
Publisher: Real People Real Lives Press
Release date: Oct 27, 2016

Book Description:

This second edition offers new content added to each and every chapter – personal author reflections from behind the scenes.

Get inspired to step out of your box and embrace your potential. From the corporate world, to the arts, to working with the disenfranchised, the message is clear: there is no such thing as a normal way to live your life and no one right solution to any problem. Selected from over a hundred interviews, the stories shared here open a window on the journeys of seven women and three men who have charted their own paths, including Ruthie Davis–top US luxury shoe designer and the winner of the 2014 AAFA Footwear Designer of the Year award; and Geir Ness whose perfume is a staple in Nordstrom, Disney World, and on Disney Cruise Lines. Enjoy a glimpse behind the scenes into the unique ways these individuals have chosen to deal with life’s challenges and how they define success in their careers.

Buy the Book

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

Meet the Author:

Marilyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer and speaker with a passion for interviewing. Her career as a writer began in an unusual way, by answering a Craigslist ad. It was while conducting her first interview the world Marilyn R. Wilsonshifted – she had found her passion. Since 2006, she has interviewed over 150 people from as near as her hometown of Vancouver, Canada, and as far away as South Africa.

​Whether through a random encounter on the New York subway or via a one-on-one interview with an internationally recognized artist, the goal is the same-to give wings to the unique journeys of inspiring individuals. This goal first led the author to co-launch a successful, innovative magazine focused on professionals working in the fashion industry paired with photography and illustrations by local artists. Then in 2015, Wilson took her passion to a new audience with the release of her first book, the first in a series featuring the lives of real people living real lives.
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Beyond the Gray Leaf by Dustin Renwick

If you’d asked, I’d have sworn I posted this back in August. I just knew I had. But I just found a half-completed draft in my draft folder and I can’t seem to find it on the blog. Ugh. I’m a horrible person.

Beyond the Gray LeafBeyond the Gray Leaf: The Life and Poems of J.P. Irvine

by Dustin Renwick

Kindle Edition, 154 pg.
Fleetwing Books, 2016

Read: August 8, 2016


This book is a look at the Nineteenth-Century poet J. P. Irvine — a little bit of a biography, a little sampler of his poems — and then Renwick explores some of what contributed to his disappearance from the cultural consciousness.

That’s a lot for 154 pages to pull off, but Renwick does it.

J. P. Irvine hailed from Illinois, and while he didn’t serve during the Civil War, some of his brothers did — in the same regiment featured in Huelskamp’s Friends of the Wigwam, so I felt like I already knew them. After the war, he bounced around from job to job working in newspapers, as a clerk in Washington D. C. and writing poetry throughout. He was widely published in papers throughout the country, had one collection published (to mostly positive reviews), and even read at a Presidential event.

Yet who’s heard of him? No one. Not even our author until he very accidentally ran into his book.

I’m not the biggest poetry fan in the world, but I know what I like — some of the poems printed here were pretty good, some did nothing for me. But I can see why Irving had a measure of success.

I thought this was a good short read — thought-provoking, interesting and made me think about Nineteenth Century poetry more than I had since my American Literature II class. I’d recommend this for someone needing a different type of read.

Disclaimer: This was provided to me in exchange for my honest take on the the book. My thanks for the book and apologies for the tardiness, Mr. Renwick

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3 Stars

Operation Cure Boredom by Dan Martin

Operation Cure BoredomOperation Cure Boredom

by Dan Martin

Kindle Edition, 260 pg.
Rascal Press, 2016

Read: October 11 – 12, 2016


In serious need of direction, training, something to do with his life post-rehab — and gullible enough to fall for the outrageous assurances of military recruiters — Dan Martin finds himself in Air Force boot camp. Which isn’t as bad as, say, what Eugene Jerome went through in Biloxi or what “Joker” Davis endured at Parris Island — but it’s pretty bad. Thankfully, Martin can now laugh about it. And he does a pretty good job getting his readers to do the same. Martin’s look back on his years in the military is told as a series of comic anecdotes — while he is trying to portray what happened to him, he’s doing it to make the reader laugh.

He never sees any kind of action — Desert Storm began and ended too soon for that, but he did travel the world as part of an aircrew maintenance team. Which leads him to all sorts of interesting locales — and even more not-so-interesting ones. Throughout his enrollment, he matures — somewhat — making this a sort of coming-of-age tale, and the Martin that is honorably discharged isn’t the same loser that enlisted.

I do think this could be 1/4-1/3 shorter, tightening up the narratives a bit would help. It meanders a bit, both in the individual stories and the overall narrative. I don’t know that I found anything out and out funny, but I found much of it amusing. That’s probably taste, or just the particular day I read it (although I think a more streamlined approach might have helped).

This could be the Non-Fiction Prequel to Joe Zieja’s Mechanical Failure, the sensibilities that characterize Sgt. Rogers are seen very clearly in Martin. Martin’s memories are good reminders for us that the military isn’t just full of heroes or hyper-violent patriots, it’s primarily full of regular Americans just trying to get their jobs done. Less over the top than Heller, Hooker and Abrams — but in the same vein, and hewing closer to the truth. Operation Cure Boredom is the military memoir we all needed.

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3 Stars