Category Archives: book reviews

A collection of book reviews for lovers of fiction, nonfiction, and everything in between.

What do Do When I’m Gone Book Review

I sat at my computer for a long time wondering how to start writing this book review. I could start with a sappy story about my mom and how she’s endlessly supported us no matter what we wanted to do in our lives…I could write about how my relationship with my mom has evolved and changed so much in the last few years in ways I never could have imagined…I could write about her strength, her stubbornness, her undying love and sense of humor…but I won’t. Instead, I’ll say this: my mom is single-handedly the strongest, bravest woman I know and the thought of losing her shakes me to the core.

I saw What to Do When I’m Gone at my local library and really debated checking it out. I knew it would bring me to tears. I knew I’d ugly-cry basically from start to end, but I couldn’t help but wonder what sage advice might come from reading the pages. I carried it around with me as I browsed for other books and ultimately decided to give it a go.

By page 15, I was a hot mess express. I poured myself a glass of wine and, by page 30 was drinking straight from the bottle. In the quiet safe space of my reading room, I let myself sob.

A colorful, poignant assortment of advice handed down from mother to daughter on how to live, practically and spiritually, after mom has passed, What to Do When I’m Gone illustrates how to move on post-burial. The book begins with the funeral, or Day 1: “pour[ing] yourself a stiff glass of whiskey and make some fajitas” and continues with daily activities to help aid in the healing process.

Written and illustrated by a mother/daughter team, Suzy Hopkins and Hallie Bateman respectively, WTDWIG shows us that it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to find enjoyment, and it’s okay to just sit there and allow yourself to cry. It’s advice only a mom can offer, and it’s nothing if not beautiful, enriching, and tender.

If there’s one thing I learned in losing my dad, it was that death is real. It’s very, very, real. It’s inevitable for all of us and there’s no getting around the fact that we’re all, at one time, going to lose someone important to us. What WTDWIG does goes beyond offering helpful advice…it shows how precious and short life is and makes no false promises that the grief will eventually fade. It shows that it’s okay to feel all the feels, whether it’s a day after losing your mom or 20 years later. It gives us the courage to keep living, to keep breathing, to keep going…no matter how impossible the thought of that may seem at the time.

I’m happy to say that What to Do When I’m Gone turned out to be exactly what I needed. It was a sweet and gentle reminder to call my mom and just sit and chat for a while. Though it wasn’t my mom offering this sage advice, it may as well have been. The wisdom and honesty that permeates these pages can only come from a mother who loves her daughter, who wants nothing but the best for her. It’s a book every daughter should read, whether her mother is alive or not. It’s raw and honest in the way only a mother can be, offering advice that both helps and hurts, and proving that we all retain just a little of our mother (no matter how much we may protest!) as we age, learn, and grow.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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The Shell Collector Book Review

Occasionally while browsing Barnes and Nobel, I’ll stumble upon one of those “Buy Two Get One Free” sales. Usually stock-piled with classic fiction and old best-sellers, these sales usually don’t yield many great results for me.

But one day, while browsing said sale, I found two books I actually wanted to read…and buy at full price! Better yet, that meant I could pick one more book for “free”…my eyes darted all over the tiny table, reading over each cover again and again to find the perfect hidden gem.

Between copies of The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby, I saw this book speckled with sea shells. I picked it up and glanced at the back cover. The Los Angeles Times called this book “a show-stopping debut”. The New York Times said this book “…dazzles…blending the naturalist’s unswerving gaze with the poet’s gift for metaphor.” The Boston Globe claimed the book was “…breathtaking…perilously beautiful.” I was intrigued.

Written by Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015, The Shell Collector captured my attention. I was instantly reminded of my grandma, who used to collect sea shells, while looking at the cover…and the description of this collection of short stories appealed to the part of me that wanted to connect deeply with nature and my natural environment. I chose The Shell Collector for my freebie.

This was probably 3 years ago.

This book has been sitting on my shelf ever since…waiting to be read…teasing me with its inviting cover and powerful newspaper reviews. It’s moved to a new apartment with me, unread, unopened, unloved. After a recent purge of old books and old clothes, I stumbled upon The Shell Collector again. Since getting this book for free, my shell-collecting grandma passed away…and I found myself thinking of her again while looking at the cover. I set aside the book I was reading and dove in.

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The first story, aptly titled “The Shell Collector”, left me feeling like Alice falling down the tunnel into Wonderland. With beautiful language and description, I was dreamily transported to another world, watching this story unfold in front of my eyes. Descriptions of items and landscapes seemed to come to live in my head – I could smell the ocean, I could see the shells.

Like any short story collection, I found some stories better than others, but overall this book was beautifully written. Readers are whisked away to the African coast, plopped down in the pine forests of Montana, then taken to the damp moors of Lapland. When read slow and steady, these stories paint a true-to-life portrait of landscapes unseen by most of us…and bring to life characters we, in one way or another, can relate to on many levels.

Though the theme of nature gently weaves a vine through all of these stories, each story also explores the human condition in all its varieties – change of heart, grief, broken relationships, mending relationships. Some characters deal with life-altering hardships, others discover that they have unique gifts. But through all of their travels and discoveries, the characters in this collection are ultimately united by their connection to the mysteries of the universe that lies outside themselves.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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The George Carlin Letters Book Review

Oftentimes we never really see a full person. We see their work self, their play self, their happy self, or the self they want everyone to see. And oftentimes, as in the case with George Carlin at least, the self that remains hidden from most of the world is the most beautiful and tender side of all.

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In the years before he died, comedian George Carlin released nearly 15 HBO specials, 20 CD’s, wrote 6 books and made countless appearances in movies and TV shows. In each one of those outlets, he talked openly and honestly about everything from religion to politics, all while staying true to the crochety old-man-style of humor that made him a legend in his own right.

But when the shoes came off at the end of the day, Carlin was a very different man. Gone was the hard exterior…gone were the attitudes about Catholicism, voting, aging, and stupid people doing stupid things. Once he got home, back to his comfort zone, back to Sally Wade, Carlin was a cupcake.

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The George Carlin Letters: The Permanent Courtship of Sally Wade is a unique illustrated memoir written by Carlin’s second wife, Sally Wade. Filled with never-before-seen writings and artwork by the late great comedian, woven into Wade’s telling of the last 10 years of their life together, this beautiful book shows the hidden side of a man we all thought we knew. The real George Carlin was a romantic, an artist, a lover. He wrote notes to Sally daily…telling her how beautiful she was, how wonderful she was, how much joy she brought to his life. They shared wild and mystical pipe dreams, dreaming of flying around Jupiter and making it their own. They shared nicknames and created a language only they understood. Their love was real, ever-growing, and so secret and protected. It was a kind of love so many of us only dream of having.

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Published after he died, The George Carlin Letters show a very different side of a comedian we all thought we knew through and through. Heartwarming, sad, tender, and bittersweet, this book acts as one final love letter from Sally to George…and maybe even a heart-felt goodbye from Sally to George’s fans. This is the REAL side of the man we all loved…his soft underbelly that he kept so hidden from the rest of the world. In the most beautiful way possible, Sally helps readers see a side of Carlin only she witnessed, giving us a close, intimate look into one of the most romantic stories never told.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark Book Review

Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I’ll jump on Reddit or StumbleUpon (remember that one?!) and research true crime mysteries. Maybe it’s the years of watching Law and Order: SVU, maybe it’s my recent obsession with the podcast, “And That’s Why We Drink”, or maybe it’s just my love of all things mysterious, but there’s just something in me that loves reading about murder and mayhem.

The first true crime story I remember being obsessed with was the JonBenet Ramsey murder. I was 12 when the face of JonBenet exploded all over the magazine covers. Back in 1996, the Internet wasn’t what it was today…so the only “research” you could really do was to dive into People and Us Weekly for the latest updates on the case.  Now I could spend hours combing through the 234,000 search results you get when you search JonBenet’s name.

As you can imagine, the internet is now filled with “volunteer detectives” and true crime sleuths who want nothing more than to help catch a predator. There are chat rooms, podcasts, forums, even in-person meet-ups of people who spend their lives looking through old evidence and articles, searching the internet day after day, hoping they’ll find the missing piece that will put an end to the madness.

Most of them don’t find much…maybe a new photograph or an article buried deep in the world wide web…but once in a while someone does find something. Once in a while, someone has a thought, an inkling, a wild out-of-the-blue idea that creates a ripple effect and opens a whole new door that authorities and investigators didn’t even know was there. Once in a while, a curious and dedicated journalist helps put a murderer behind bars.

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In the 1970s, California was terrorized by a mysterious and violent predator who committed more than 50 sexual assaults and 10 murders. He never revealed his face to his victims, making him near impossible to ID. People started calling him The East Area Rapist and The Original Night Stalker before true crime journalist, Michelle MacNamara, penned him the Golden State Killer.

In her best-selling book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, McNamara dives deep into the case of the East Area Rapist, pouring over police reports, talking to victims, and spending endless hours in chat rooms and forums talking to other civilians who were just as obsessed with this man as she was.

When he was active, the East Area Rapist was a young, athletic man. He always wore a mask and would blind his victims with a flashlight so they wouldn’t be able to see his face. While he favored suburban couples, he also attacked single women, feeding on their fear. He often entered the homes of his victims before attacking them, stealing meaningful family photos, wedding rings, diaries, or letters. He would then attack them when they slept, often tying up the male while assaulting the female, talking to them in a guttural whisper. It wasn’t until later that he transitioned into murdering his victims…then, maybe once he felt the authorities closing in, he disappeared.

Some people thought he moved to another country or joined the army. Most people thought he died…maybe just to ease their own fear that he might return. But McNamara knew better…she knew he was still lurking in the shadows…and she wanted nothing more than for him to pay for his crimes.

In I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, McNamara gives readers an intimate and sometimes graphic portrayal of what it was like to be in California at that time. Through powerful interviews with victims and the lead investigators at the time, McNamara tries diligently to piece together the pieces of this insane puzzle, hoping somehow, somewhere, she’ll find the missing piece that will help the world sleep a little easier.

Michelle McNamara was working on I’ll Be Gone in the Dark while she suddenly passed away on April 21, 2016. Her book was finished and published posthumously by her close colleagues and husband, Patton Oswalt, in February 2018.  In a powerful and bone-chilling part of the book, McNamara talks about the possibility of using genealogy sites like Ancestry.com to better track him down. Ironically, this would be the exact way detectives would track down Joseph James DeAngelo, The Golden State Killer, almost two years TO THE DAY that McNamara passed away.

Like I’ve said, I’ve always been fascinated by true crime stories. I think there’s something ingrained in all of us that enjoys the thrill of the unknown…and maybe the possibility of finding the one piece everyone has been looking for. For McNamara, it was more than just a passion, it was an obsession. She went beyond scoping Wikipedia.com…she completely and utterly submersed herself in this story – and it shows. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is bound to become a classic in the true crime genre, if it hasn’t already. It’s proof that we can all make a difference in this world – proof that sometimes it takes another pair of eyes to see what we’ve been staring at this whole time – proof that with the right amount of determination and passion and strive, even a woman who just gets a thrill out of browsing Reddit and StumbleUpon for interesting stories to read about can completely and utterly change everything.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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The Portable Obituary Book Review

Whether you’re as beautiful as Grace Kelly, as talented as Mozart, or as rich as Cornelius Vanderbilt, nothing can save you from death.

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It’s the great unifier, the one thing we all have in common. The rich and famous die…the poor and unknown die. It’s terrifying and nerve-racking and sometimes quite unexpected…but maybe there’s some strange, weird comfort in knowing how those before us met their Maker, so to speak. Maybe knowing how Elvis died, how Bob Marley, Billie Holiday, Henry Ford, Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth, Thomas Edison, and Ernest Hemingway all passed will help us cope with our own mortality, or at least will give us some insight in what not do to in order to prolong the time we have left.

In his morbid, yet ironically entertaining book, The Portable Obituary: How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died, author Michael Largo explores the life and death of more than 1,100 famous people (and animals), diving deep into how they died and what actions in their lives lead them to that point.

Ranging in scope from Jesus to Louis Armstrong, The Portable Obituary covers a wide variety of celebrity. Actors, actresses, singers, dancers, and sports heroes are all mentioned, as well as inventors, writers, artists, and presidents. The book is organized alphabetically, with random black and white photos peppering the pages (though the photos lack description, which ended up being confusing in some places).

Similar to his other books, The Portable Obituary can be used as a reference guide or read cover to cover. Each celebrity gets about a 1 to 2 paragraph installment, so reading it cover to cover actually goes pretty quickly. And if you’re worried about it being too dour, Largo does put in little quips and fun stories to help lighten the mood.

If nothing else, this book is a fascinating look into how many musicians die from alcohol abuse and how many celebrities die within weeks of their birthday. It’s ironic to see how the inventors of such fun things as bubble gum and popsicles met such sad endings…and how careless practices in filming locations led to several actors and crew members developing deadly cancers.

From gun shots to gluttony…car crashes to cancers, The Portable Obituary is an interesting, albeit depressing, look into what made our late icons what they are today – dead!

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Bookworms – This is the Book Subscription You Need in Your Life

One of the suckiest things about being a literature major was that reading became all work and no play. I’ve always loved to read and bookstores have always been some of my favorite places to go when I need to wind down, but since graduating from college, teaching myself to “read for fun” again has been a bit of a challenge.

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I had some luck with books on tape, espeically since my commute to and from work was clocking in at about an hour each way…but since I’ve moved closer to work, it’s harder to get into the audiobooks now…and I certainly can’t listen to someone reading to me at work when I’m trying to write copy about cupcakes and cake decorating (I know, my job is SO hard!).

Like any English or literature major, I have shelves and shelves of books that I’ve purchased at some point in my life but never actually read. Most of those books are just outdated now…or have been spoiled for me thanks to the Internet…THANKS, INTERNET. But they look so pretty on my shelf!!

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So I guess the long and short of it is – I need better book recommendations. I know I’m never going to go back and read Pride and Prejudice again or try to read Catch-22 for the 3rd time…I just need to own up to the fact that I need and require some new, juicy, contemporary fiction (or nonfiction) that will rekindle my love for the written word.

In doing some research on Goodreads, I came across a site called “Book of the Month“. While I was hoping this site might better fine-tune my personal book selections based on what I already love and hate (does that exist? If not, someone get on that because I’d be all over that), this site does bring you the option to get up to 5 carefully chosen books a month in a fun subscription box that is sure to make your day a little brighter!

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Depending on the money you’re willing to spend, you can get one or more books a month – most of which are new or soon-to-be released fiction titles that are selected for very secret and specific reasons. And if you don’t end up liking it, they’ll replace it…for FREE.

The thing I like about this Book of the Month subscription is that you can skip a month if none of the books appeal to you or if, like me, you’re probably still working through the book you got last month.

They also help highlight reasons you may or may not like the book with these fun little graphics:

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You could even gift this subscription service to a friend, sister, mom, grandma or just for yourself! You have the option of paying by the month or just forking up the 150 bucks for the whole damn year (which equates to about $12.50 per book).

If you have a reading goal in 2018 or are just looking to check out some new fiction without the overwhelming stress of browsing Barnes and Nobel, I highly suggest you check out Book of the Month. I plan on subscribing this month, so let’s be book buddies!

Also, here’s a little sneak peek of the April selections…

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Happy reading!

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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I Had a Really Great Title (But Now I Can’t Remember It)

In the summer of 2014, my mom was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. While I usually keep my feelings pretty close to the chest, I’m particularly covert about my experience with Alzheimer’s and what it’s like to be a caregiver. I would go so far as to say that even my closest friends, my siblings, my husband, don’t even know this part of me. This part of me is tender and raw. It’s continuously healing, then being ripped open again.

Alzheimer’s is about so much more than forgetting your keys or misplacing your glasses. It’s personal and heartbreaking. It’s a slow decline, a constant test in patience and understanding. It’s dealt with moment to moment, second to second and, as someone wise once put it, “…is the slowest and saddest goodbye.”

A few months ago I was approached by a dear family friend about an opportunity to write some poetry about my experience with Alzheimer’s, both as a daughter and a caregiver. While I was apprehensive at first, once I got started, I found I couldn’t stop. Words started pouring out of me so quickly that by the time I was done, I felt utterly and completely empty.

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Though I’m a writer by trade, I’m very protective of my personal written words and the thought of sharing this poetry with all of you shakes me to my core. These poems bring to life feelings I never thought I could talk about and exposes a part of me I’ve worked very hard to keep private. The reason I decided to share them and have them published in this book is to help bring awareness, help encourage discussion, help shed light on a topic so many of us fear to acknowledge.

The title of this book is I Had a Really Great Title, But Now I Can’t Remember It (Poems for the Older Generation). If you laughed, that’s okay…you should! As we all age and suffer the bumps and bruises along the way, sometimes all we have is our ability to find the humor in it all.

While this is not a book entirely about the Alzheimer’s experience, all proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to help fund Alzheimer’s research and awareness. For the sake of those fighting, supporting, and protecting, I humbly ask you to consider purchasing a copy of this book. The majority of the poems are written by the wonderful Bill McNulty and I encourage you to also check out his blog (“Still a Poet at Heart”) and the rest of his published books for more of his wise and humorous poetry.

I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for reading this post, for purchasing the book, and for doing your part to help our cause.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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