Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales by Ali Wentworth

Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales  by Ali Wentworth

aliinwonderlandAli in Wonderland is Ali Wentworth’s collection of stories from her childhood in Washington D.C. with her mother and stepfather all the way to her marriage and becoming a mother herself.

Ali is at her best when she’s remembering teenage hi-jinks. Some of her memories with her sister and boarding school pals are hysterical.

Other stories are terrifying. Ali recounts walking to her car one night and being accosted by a gang. Or there was the time she hitched a ride with a man who was apparently very drunk.

But, once Ali moves from her childhood into adulthood, this memoir loses some of its luster.

The chapters about meeting her husband for the first time, barfing continuously during pregnancy and why her children are special don’t have the same draw as the rest of the tales.

Maybe she started to run out of ideas? I don’t know. But the last few chapters felt tacked on to me.

Only recommended for big fans of Ali Wentworth. Side note: the author reads the audiobook herself.

Thanks for reading!

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#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

girlboss#GIRLBOSS is Sophia Amoruso’s story about her wild childhood, unlikely and extraordinarily successful business venture and her treatise on how to be yourself and bring what is unique to you to your professional life.

I googled Sophia after I finished this book and was dismayed to discover she has declared bankruptcy.

It seems she still has a successful motivational speaker program going on, but, for whatever reason, her business hasn’t worked out.

I suspect, she will land on her feet and start again. That is a large part of the philosophy contained in #GIRLBOSS.

“In about eight years, I went from a broke, anarchist ‘freegan’ dead set on smashing the system to a millionaire businesswoman who today is as at home in the boardroom as she is in the dressing room. I never intended to be a role model, but there are parts of my story, and the lessons I’ve learned from it, that I want to share.” pg 23, ebook.

Sophia believes in being yourself. Let your freak flag fly. Embrace your weirdness- because that is what ultimately makes you great.

“#GIRLBOSS is a feminist book, and Nasty Gal is a feminist brand in the sense that I encourage you, as a girl, to be who you are and do what you want. Being a Girlboss is as much about being the boss of your career as it is of your home.” pg 29, ebook.

Between Sophia’s business tips and memoir, she includes quotations. Such as: “It was the straying that found the path direct – Austin Osman Spare.” pg 56

In her case, that was absolutely true. Sophia wanted a job where she didn’t have to work and could get paid for doing, essentially, nothing.

She found that job and surfed the internet most of the time. In doing so, she studied online communities like MySpace and eBay and concluded that she could network and sell items with the best of them.

And she did.

Sophia is a believer in creating your own reality: “… there’s also the everyday kind of magic that we make for ourselves. And that’s really not magic at all. It’s just recognizing the fact that we control our thoughts and our thoughts control our lives. This is an extremely simple, totally straightforward concept, but for a lot of people, it’s so alien that it might as well be magic.” ebook, pg 109.

Sophia, like Obi Wan Kenobi, does not believe in luck. She believes in hard work, action and selective focus.

“Focus on the positive things in your life and you’ll be shocked at how many more positive things start happening. But before you start to think you just got lucky, remember that it’s magic, and you made it yourself.” ebook, pg 115.

Come bankruptcies and whatever else, I believe Sophia Amoruso will be just fine. Don’t you? 🙂

Thanks for reading!

The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien

The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir by Maude Julien

onlygirlThe Only Girl in the World is an extraordinary memoir about madness, control and the survival of horrific childhood abuse.

Maude Julien’s father Louis chose his future wife and mother of his child, Jeannine, when she was only six and he was 34. He became Jeannine’s guardian by promising her family that he would provide her with a quality education.

Then: “Twenty-two years after he took possession of Jeannine, Louis Didier decided the time had come for her to bring his daughter into the world… Louis Didier liquidated his assets, bought a house near Cassel, between Lille and Dunkirk, and withdrew to live there… to devote himself entirely to carrying out the project he had devised back in 1936: to make his child a superhuman being. That child was me.” loc 73, ebook.

Unfortunately, to “make his child a superhuman” involved leaving her alone in a dark, rat-infested basement, sleeping in a room without heat, eating stale bread, practicing music for 12 or more hours a day and being entirely separated from any other children her age.

That’s where Maude got the title of this memoir: The Only Girl in the World

I have not read a childhood account this disturbing since A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer.

Maude’s father was unhinged. “My father is convinced that the mind can achieve anything. Absolutely anything: it can overcome every danger and conquer every obstacle. But to do this requires long, rigorous training away from the impurities of this dirty world.” loc 247, ebook.

He asks Maude to do things he cannot do like perform somersaults or swim in freezing water. He shows no affection to either his child or his wife.

Louis makes the females of the house wait on him as if he is an invalid. He makes his child hold a chamber pot each morning while he empties his bladder.

He’s a controlling monster.

Louis has strange beliefs about water and soap removing the body’s immunities so he insists that Maude only bathes once a week or less. And, when she is finally given the opportunity to bathe, she must use his dirty bathwater to “take strength from him.”

And she can’t count on protection from her mother, who was groomed by Louis to do anything he asks of her. Jeannine actually blames Maude for Louis taking them to live in the middle of nowhere. It is very sad.

Maude’s only friends are her pets, whom her father abuses as much as he hurts Maude. “Can an animal teach a person about happiness? In the depth of my despair, I am fortunate to have this incredible source of joy.” loc 685, ebook.

Even worse, Maude is abused by the few adults Louis allows in their lives. (Trigger warnings for those who were sexually or physically abused as children.)

Though incredibly disturbing, The Only Girl in the World is ultimately a story of survival against all odds. The human spirit is incredibly resilient as Maude’s tale illustrates.

Perhaps she is more superhuman than even she realizes. Highly recommended.

Thank you to NetGalley for a free digital copy of this book.

Thank you for reading!

I Was a Child by Bruce Eric Kaplan

I Was a Child by Bruce Eric Kaplan

iwasachildI Was a Child is Bruce Eric Kaplan’s (BEK) memoir and is written in a stream-of-consciousness style with small, hand-drawn cartoons interspersed throughout the text. Each blurb is a recollection of an event, time, television show, piece of furniture in the house, anything and everything from BEK’s childhood.

I’m not familiar with BEK’s work but his bio talks about his cartoons appearing in The New Yorker. I can see why he’s so popular.

The drawings are simple but somehow manage to convey a great depth of emotion and meaning.

They reminded me of the small drawings in Roald Dahl‘s books. I looked up the illustrator for those and Google tells me it’s Quentin Blake.

Both share a sparse, black-line look with no color to bright up the design. However, there’s something very powerful about the pictures… it’s hard to describe.

I Was A Child may be a book that one has to read to really experience what it’s all about.

I’m not as old as the author, but I connected with many of his memories because, despite what other people may tell you, we were all children once.

This memoir is quite unique but if you like it, you may want to try Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life. It is more of a graphic novel than this, but it is also a memoir about growing up and change that is drawn with simplistic black and white panels.

I received a free advanced reader’s copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check!

Thanks for reading!

Walking Wisdom: Three Generations, Two Dogs, and the Search for a Happy Life by Gotham Chopra

Walking Wisdom: Three Generations, Two Dogs, and the Search for a Happy Life by Gotham Chopra
walkingwisdomGotham Chopra, the son of Deepak Chopra, shares what he has learned through the ownership of his crazy dog, Cleo, and becoming a father for the first time. He also deepens his relationship with his own father when his mother has to spend an extended time away in India.

It’s a hodgepodge of a book with the themes differing from chapter to chapter. I generally enjoyed it but felt like it was a bit scattered.

I remembered Gotham from all of the Channel One news I watched during junior high and high school. I thought it was a waste of time (even then, I would have rather been reading), but I remembered him.

A few years ago, I watched the documentary he made about when his father joined a monastery- he mentions this at the end of Walking Wisdom. I was intrigued by the dynamic between them in the documentary.

Gotham seemed to focus on his father’s foibles, like his addiction to his phone and his frequent trips to Starbucks. I thought those parts were unfair, but the window into his strange, spiritual/rock star world was one I couldn’t forget.

My favorite parts of this book were similar to that documentary. I loved learning about Gotham and Deepak’s close friendship with Michael Jackson. The best part was when Gotham brought his pup, Cleo, to meet the mega-star. It’s very surreal.

I also liked learning about how Deepak’s family handles his active mind and constant spiritual seeking. Gotham describes being his father’s “guinea pig” for different experiments from meditation to yoga to spoon-bending.

Gotham’s non-traditional upbringing gave him a quirky lens through which he views the world. It also has made him a master meditator.

Recommended for dog lovers and those curious about what goes on behind the scenes of Deepak Chopra’s life. If you can’t stand books that skip from one topic to another, you may want to choose a different read.

Thanks for reading!

Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman’s Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman’s Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

confectionsConfections of a Closet Master Baker can be an abrasive, no-holds-barred memoir about the dark and impersonal underbelly of Hollywood, at times. At others, it is a poignant reminiscence and heartfelt cookbook by a woman who still mourns her mother.

I wouldn’t call it “hilarious.” This memoir is sarcastic and unapologetic about it.

“As a matter of fact, I have only two truisms that I apply to humanity. Never trust anyone who drives an Astro van. And never trust anyone who doesn’t drink beer or coffee unless they have a doctor’s note.” pg 17, ebook.

All the same, I felt privileged to be allowed a glimpse into the highly-introverted life of a woman who described herself as so socially adverse that she believes she’s “pathologically shy with severe misanthropic tendencies.” pg 24, ebook.

I saw the title of this ebook and checked it out of the online library without noticing the name of the author. She kept mentioning, “my famous sister” and “Sandy.” I thought, did Sandy Duncan have a sister? and then felt like an idiot when I enlarged the cover and saw the hyphenated last name. Duh, Heidi.

“Each year, I wrestled with the knowledge that no matter how well I did my job, no one looked at me as anything but “her sister” with nothing to offer but a fancy job title born of nepotism and access to a movie star.” pg 100, ebook.

Gesine carries some serious angst about her Hollywood experience. She needed a life change, so she moved to Vermont and opened a bakery.

“No road rage, no cell phones, no fake tits or tans, no prestige handbags, no billboards, no stoplights, no braking, no traffic, no nothing. Welcome to Vermont. Just heaven.” pg 13, ebook.

Serious bakers may find a lot to love as Gesine includes many of her customer favorite recipes after each chapter.

Personally, I loved learning about what it’s like to have an A-list sibling. Gesine’s story about baking Sandra’s wedding cake was my favorite.

She also includes personal details about her childhood and relationship with her mother. “I saw the devil at age three and he gave me chocolate. It changed my life forever.” pg 5, ebook.

A large part of the complicated relationship Gesine had with her mother was about food. Her mother was a German opera singer and a strict vegan. She adhered to a restrictive diet and ate foods that Gesine thought were disgusting.

Sadly, she died of colon cancer. Gesine is still devastated by that. Her mother did everything she could to exercise and eat right, and it didn’t seem to matter.

Gesine seemed to swing the other direction and celebrate sugar, butter and all manner of naughty baked goods. Part of that is because she was raised on such a strict diet as a child. The other part is, baking is what she loves to do and how she shows love to others.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker is not for the faint of heart. Don’t read it if you’re easily offended because she doesn’t hold back. I think Gesine would approve of this sentiment: if you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.

Thanks for reading!

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator)

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator)

whatitalkaboutIn What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami doesn’t try to convince others that we should all become long distance runners/triathletes like him. He does talk about why he took up running, how it has helped him with his creativity and why he will continue to run as long as he feels the need to do so.

I’ve never read a book by Murakami, other than this one. But, the interesting way in which he views the world makes me think that I’d probably enjoy his stuff.

I listened to this, rather short, audiobook on my daily commute. Murakami shares a lot of intimate details about his life that fans of his writing may really enjoy.

Before he took up running, Murakami said he was overweight and smoked around 60 cigarettes a day. 60 per day!

He wasn’t just looking for a way to become fit. He wanted a exercise where he was left alone with his thoughts and challenged to focus for long periods of time.

Murakami says that, when he writes a novel, it is a matter of focus and endurance. He finds it difficult to “drill down through the rock of the mind to hit veins of creativity.” (Quoting from memory, please forgive the inaccuracies.)

The focus that runners use to finish a long race is similar, he believes, to the focus needed to write page after page until the end of a novel. I think that type of mental ability is something that could be used in any creative endeavor, not just writing. For Murakami, writing is how he makes his art.

I liked that, even though Murakami loves running and extols its virtues, he says that he never tells other people that they should take it up. He thinks that our life paths reveal themselves to us in a unique way that only we know.

He runs because he loves it. If you love it too, run. If you don’t, do what you love- walk, skip, jump, swim, whatever.

I can get behind that philosophy. Do what makes you happy because that happiness is a clue to what you were born to do.

Recommended for writers, runners, Murakami’s fans and anyone who enjoys memoirs. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running made me wish that I loved running more. Because I don’t.