Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Molly's Game by Molly Bloom


Have you seen the movie Molly's Game? It was released last year starring Jessica Chastain and it was really very good. It wasn't until after we watched it that I learned the film was based on a book by the same name by the actual Molly Bloom. I finally had a chance to read it and I was surprised how closely the film followed the actual Molly's life story.

Molly Bloom stumbled into running some of the largest poker games in the country and was living a fast, star-studded life when the FBI and the Mob each make their own appearance and dash it all on the rocks. Molly describes her overbearing boss who pulls her into the game and all the celebrities who come to play. She details the outrageous amounts of money that change hands between the players and the lengths she goes to in order to keep them happy and playing. For the first three-quarters of this book, I was fascinated, but by the last bit Bloom had described one too many poker nights in far too much detail that went on and on. I was most frustrated by the fact that this book was finished and published after she was arrested but before her verdict was declared, leaving the reader with the responsibility to research and find out what happened next. Sure, there is always more to the story, but ending before the resolution leaves the reader hanging, and not in a good way.

This book was pretty good, but read it first and then watch the more exciting movie- I think you'll feel better about it in that order.


The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner


Sometimes you walk through the library and see a book on a table and you just can't look away. That was the case with The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner. I'm going to be honest with you, SmartGirls, and say the cover of this book really spoke to (or shouted at)  me. I know, don't judge a book by its cover, but this one gave me an idea that I might really like it. After all, the subtitle says "Eating should be easy" and I totally agree with that one, don't you? So I took it home and had relatively high hopes that it might be the answer to all our dreams. Could we really just say "F it" and eat what we want? According to Dooner, yes.

This book begins with the story of The Minnesota Starvation Experiment which was conducted during WWII to find how to best help starving people after war. First step: Find some people and starve them. Thirty-six men were chosen from among a group of conscientious objectors looking for an alternative to fighting. They were healthy at the beginning of the experiment but had their food intake reduced from 3,200 calories a day to 1,600 calories per day. Does that number seem familiar? If you've ever read a fitness magazine or any diet book ever, you know that 1,600 calories is often recommended as a maximum number of calories allowed to lose a even just a little weight. In this experiment, however, it was considered "semi-starvation." How scary is that?! Within six months, these previously healthy men became "extremely skeletal", their heart rates slowed, their blood volume shrank, their hearts shrank, and they experienced a whole host of other physical and psychological problems. One man had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a mental hospital where he received...wait for it...FOOD. After a few weeks he was completely back to normal.

All this, Dooner says, is proof that restrictive calorie diets only serve to harm our bodies and force our metabolisms to slow, which makes it harder for us to lose weight. And drive us crazy.
So what should we do? Here are the rules for How to go on The F*ck It Diet:

1. Stop restricting.
2. Trust your body, appetite, and cravings.
3. Eat deliciously and normally for the rest of your life.
4. Embrace life in a (probably) not-stick-figure body.
5. Do cool, fun things, and enjoy your life. 

Sure, this all sounds like the perfect way to justify eating what you want, and maybe it is, but it also makes some sense. Throughout Donner's book, she offers scientific studies to back up her claims as well as testimony from people who have tried it and made it work. 

Bodies end up right where they belong when you stop trying to control weight. The only thing we can control is how we treat ourselves, and learning to feed ourselves normally.

This book was interesting sometimes, long-winded at others. I think this could have been shorter; it did feel like it repeated itself fairly often, perhaps to pad the pages. Still, if you're looking for something different that just might work, pick it up and see what you think for yourself.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler


Sent to me by a dear, sweet reader friend, The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler follows as Simon Watson watches his eighteenth century home is sliding into the Atlantic Ocean. His is desperate for a way to save it, but his job at the local library has just been discontinued and he has no money and no one to ask for help. When a mysterious, and extremely old, book arrives addressed to him, he is grateful for the distraction from his crumbling home and life. He is fascinated to discover the book is a record of a circus from the late 1790s and that it may have a connection to his own family history. Meanwhile, Simon is also making every effort to help his absent and struggling sister. When the book reveals that the women in his family tend to drown themselves on July 24th, he is desperate to find a way to save her.

I really enjoyed this book and its alternating timelines- one, the life of the circus and how it came to be, and the other, Simon's time and how he came to be. Simon is nearly all alone in the world- his parents both died when Simon was barely an adult and able to care for himself, yet he had to raise his younger sister, too. As soon as she is legally an adult, she leaves as well. All he has left is his home that is inching closer to the cliff's edge by the day.

This is something that I should have known to fix years ago should have known needed maintaining, but no one told me. I was left a house and a sister, with no instructions on either. And the cliff creeps closer.

This book was interesting and a quick read for me. I liked the historical details about and early circus as well as the fascinating characters in both timelines. This would make a lovely book for cooler fall weather, maybe with a cup of warm cider and a wool blanket to keep you company.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez


I first learned about Abby Jimenez when I stumbled across this ridiculously hilarious article about a cake in her Minnesota bakery, Nadia Cakes. I started following her on Facebook and the hilarity continued. When she announced that she had landed a book deal for a contemporary romance novel, I was already invested enough in her humor to risk reading a genre I generally dislike.
The Friend Zone follows Kristin and Josh, the maid of honor and best man at their respective best friends' wedding. They meet and like each other nearly right away, but when Kristin learns that Josh has always wanted a large family, Kristin shoves him firmly into the Friend Zone. She knows they can never be together because she can't have children. And yet, Josh and Kristin are finding it extremely difficult to remain just friends.

This book started off a little shaky- I almost didn't read more than the first couple of chapters because it just didn't seem like very good writing to me. I would have been really sad about that, but I just can't waste good reading time on bad writing. The memory of Abby's Facebook posts was enough to keep me going and I'm glad I did. I was pulled into the story and didn't want to put it down. This book is funny and sad and- fair warning for those of you who, like me, don't read a lot of romance- has some pretty steamy parts. It's those steamy parts that usually annoy me and keep me from reading romance, but somehow Abby wrote it in a way that it was plenty sexy without being weird or gross.
I am really glad I gave this book a shot and that I stuck with it. This would make the ideal end of summer, one-last-beach/ pool/ airplane flight read. I think you'll really like it.


Friday, July 5, 2019

11/22/63 by Stephen King


I have just, as in literally minutes ago, finished reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I know, this book has been out for YEARS, and for the last two or three it has been staring at me from my bedside table, but it was just so daunting! I mean, come on- it's eight hundred and eighty pages! That looks like a significant time investment. And it is: the audio version is 30 hours! And yet I had heard that it was very good and that it was a much quicker read than its 2.6 pounds suggests. In case I'm not making myself clear, this is a hefty book. Of course, you are probably already aware of that because you've probably already read it, along with most readers I know.

In 11/22/63, Jake Epping tumbles down a rabbit hole from 2011 to 1958 and is tasked with preventing the Kennedy assassination, an event that is described as a watershed moment, the prevention of which is bound to save thousands of lives and make the world an infinitely better place. Unfortunately, Jake has to wait five years before he can accomplish his assignment, but he spends it "turning native". He loves the way food tastes and the way the air smells (except for the ever-present cigarette smoke). He gets a job, makes friends, and builds a life for himself, but his mission must be completed and he cannot fail.

Except for Les Miserables, which I read twenty years ago (whoa! seriously?!) and which took me a solid year to finish, this is the longest book I've ever read. There is a lot of meat in this story and yet it flies. I hated putting it down and today I knew I wouldn't be able to do anything else until I had finished it. I had reached the "nitty gritty" and I needed to get through to the end. I did and it was fantastic! I truly enjoyed this book: the history, the characters, the spot on descriptions of places near where I grew up, and the course of events that had me captivated. If you, like me, have procrastinated reading this novel because looked like too much, I recommend you have a little faith in yourself and in Mr. King and get started right away. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

What I've Heard- Becoming by Michelle Obama


I was very excited to finally get to listen to Becoming by Michelle Obama! It. Was. FANTASTIC!

I have long admired the former First Lady, but I didn't know much at all about her childhood or the family that raised her. Michelle is proud of her Southside of Chicago upbringing and the steady and loving family who surrounded and encouraged her. The reader is allowed to follow her on her journey from small public school within walking distance of her home to a magnet school three hours away by city bus to Princeton and on to Harvard Law School. We then watch as she strives to make partner at a law firm in Chicago where she meets a plucky young intern named Barack.
SPOILER ALERT: they get married and have two daughters.

Michelle then lets us peek inside her struggles to balance her own career ambitions with those of her husband and with raising her family. I enjoyed learning about all the behind the scenes work involved in being married to a candidate for Senate and then President. Life in the White House is also fascinating to read about as it focuses on her initiatives and goals as well as raising her girls in such a bright spotlight.

I don't usually listen to books I haven't read, but autobiographies read by the author are almost always a win-win. Of course, the only problem with audiobooks is that it is much harder to highlight and mark and draw hearts around all the wonderful quotes, but hearing Michelle's story in her own voice made it worth it. If you are fan of the Obamas you are going to love this book. If you aren't or if you are undecided, I urge you to give this book a try anyway. Politics is a very small part of her story and the rest is, I believe, pretty universal. I have great respect for Michelle- her integrity, her intelligence, her determination, and her optimism make her an excellent role model for girls and women of all ages.

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen


When I saw that Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen, the authors behind The Wife Between Us, had released a new book, I was anxious to get my hands on it. An Anonymous Girl begins with Jess, a makeup artist struggling to make ends meet in New York City. When a pampered client blithely mentions a psychological study that pays big bucks, Jess finds away to sneak in to the study. It is during this study that she meets Dr. Shields who then offers her the opportunity to extend the study for even greater compensation. Jess is enthusiastic at first, but when things stop adding up she becomes worried. Is she just paranoid or is something really as wrong as it feels?

Just like with The Wife Between Us, I could not put this book down. I didn't have nearly the reading time I would have liked and I was always regretful every time I had to put it away to do something else. Last night I stayed up well past my bed time just to finish and find out what would happen. Jess is kind of a mess with regrets that go back more than a decade, but Dr. Shields seems to want to help. It isn't long before Jess realizes everything isn't as it seems and that's when it gets really interesting.

This book is the perfect summer read- the chapters are short and quick and the plot is fast moving.
I think you'll really like it.