Category Archives: book reviews

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

The Tao of Bill Murray Book Review

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have a list of celebrities I cannot bear the thought of losing: Jeff Goldblum, Michael Keaton, Tom Hanks, Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett, Jeff Bridges, Jack Nicholson, the list goes on and on. I grew up with a lot of these actors…I mean I’ve seen so many movies with Julie Andrews and Tom Hanks that I feel like I know them on some level. But I honestly feel nothing will hurt like the pain of losing Bill Murray.

Here’s the thing about Bill Murray. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t enjoy at least one of his movies. From Ghostbusters to Zombieland, and several before and since, Murray had racked up fans of all ages, sizes, genders, and walks of life. But why? What is it about this young kid from Illinois that appeals to movie-goers the world over?

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In The Tao of Bill Murray, bestselling author Gavin Edwards tries to find out. By traveling to the places where Murray has lived, worked and partied, Edwards goes in search of the most outrageous and hilarious Bill Murray stories from the past four decades, many of which have never been reported.

But this isn’t just a collection of wacky anecdotes…The Tao of Bill Murray puts the actor’s public clowning into a larger context, analyzing the 10 guiding principles of living the Murray way of life.

Sprinkled with personal stories from fans, co-workers, and Murray himself, The Tao of Bill Murray is an intimate look into the man no one can quite pin down. It’s an attempt to find out what makes him tick, what keeps him happy, and how we, as the general public, can embrace the lifestyle that is Bill Murray.

Throughout the book, several actors, directors, fans and friends attempt to break down the formula that gave birth to this amazing actor. Jon Favreau, who directed Bill in The Jungle Book, said Bill is “…completely available when you’re in direct contact. He’s an incredibly authentic, generous person who understands who he is, what he represents to everybody. He embraces it.” I don’t think it gets truer than that.

Also covering the wide range of Murray’s filmography, The Tao of Bill Murray also entertains with behind-the-scenes stories about his work on everything up to The Jungle Book (2016). Learn about the movies he disliked (Garfield, The Life Aquatic), the movies he loved (Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers) and all the mishaps and golden opportunities that got him to where he is today.

Though we may never really understand what it is that makes Bill Murray who he is, we can all take comfort in knowing he’s out there…showing up at parties, throwing people in pools, and kissing people randomly in restaurants. Is he an Oscar-worthy actor? Perhaps not…but he’s the man Hollywood needs. As Favreau says, he’s authentic and generous…and never fails to deliver, no matter what the project. And regardless of whether you loved Murray in Rushmore, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, or The Life Aquatic, this book is a must-read for anyone who calls themselves a Bill Murray fan – which is to say, everyone.

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 Good Girl Book Review

Mia Dennett is just like every other girl…she goes to work, she buys groceries, she hangs out at the bar with her friends. But what Mia doesn’t know is that someone is following her…someone who knows her route to work, the name of her on-again, off-again boyfriend, the color of her eyes…and he’s about to change Mia’s life forever.

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The Good Girl was hailed as a book that fans of Gone Girl would love. A page-turning thriller with a twist ending…a story full of complex characters that you can’t trust…It’s a missing person story (like Gone Girl) with a somewhat untrustworthy family (like Gone Girl) and a heroine who seems a little off-kilter (like Gone Girl). Are we noticing a theme?

Now I loved Gone Girl. I thought it was intense and riveting and I loved every twist and turn along the way…so, needless to say, I really wanted to like The Good Girl. It had all the parts to make it a great story…but arranged in an order that made it seem a little too familiar.

Told from the perspectives of Mia’s mom, the detective investigating her case, and Mia’s own captor, The Good Girl – while slightly formulaic – is an entertaining read. There are good twists and turns, though for a lover of mystery fiction, they’re easy to spot a mile away. I actually found myself more engrossed in the romantic plotlines that become the focus of the second half of the book…and found the shocking (not really) ending appropriately emotional, bittersweet, and honestly kind of heart-breaking.

As a fan of Gone Girl, did I LOVE this book? No, not really. But I did enjoy it. It delivered a twisting story that would make a great beach read, but it wasn’t unique enough to haunt me like that blasted bitch, Amy Dunne.

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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Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs Book Review

A few years ago I bravely, perhaps stupidly, re-read some of my middle school and high school diaries. Among pages and pages of late night ramblings, these journals brought me back to a better time, an easier time. The topics may have been total fluff, but the writing was honest. I poured my heart into those journal entries and some poems and stories I found even brought me to tears. Let’s just say there was a lot of wine involved.

Some days I wrote about what happened that week on Dawson’s Creek or my torrid crush on David Gallagher, but other days saw a more sensitive side, filled with four-letter words I wouldn’t even come to understand until years later.

While these journals held some of my most private thoughts, there were days I couldn’t help but wonder if these spiral-bound notebooks and Lisa Frank diaries with those little key locks would be discovered by “the right person”. The person who would read them and have a life-changing epiphany…a moment when they realized I was the voice of my generation!!

Queue buildup music

Alas, earwax.

Queue sad trombone

Did I turn out to be the next Bob Dylan? The next Arlo Guthrie? The next J.D. Salinger? Not by a longshot…but those late-night ramblings and after-school thoughts still hold a place in my heart…because they capture who I was in that moment in time. Countless writers have done this and pushed their work to the public eye. They’ve opened their hearts and souls and poured out their deepest, darkest feelings just to be relatable or trustworthy…and no one has done that quite like Chuck Klosterman.

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In his weird and winding book through the world of pop culture, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, Klosterman attacks the entire spectrum of postmodern America, covering everything from reality TV to the legacy of Billy Joel.

Compiled of various essays, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs will make you think, laugh, and will probably even piss you off at some points. It’s simultaneously a book about everything and nothing…covering the major moments in pop culture history that defined our era, then at the same time proving how pointless they all really are, in the grand scheme of things…

Shows like Saved by the Bell and movies like The Empire Strikes Back and When Harry Met Sally all have symbolic importance, whether you agree or not. Reality TV, Internet porn, the music of Billy Joel and The Dixie Chicks…it’s all made us into who we are today. But at what cost? Do these shows and movies give young America unrealistic views on love, friendship, and life in general that leave us all feeling, well, disappointed?

Klosterman himself says Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is really a collection of late-night ramblings, much like the diaries I found myself reading wine in hand. Are they meant to change the world? To teach us something about life and culture? To open our eyes to a greater understanding? No, not really. These essays are just about a moment in time…they’re about us…all of us…and our connection to those infantile things that unite us as a species. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs pulls the curtain back on those conversations we all fall back on when things get awkward: sports, politics, entertainment, music, movies…they all are so drastically important and miniscule at the same time.

For me, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs was like taking a walk through someone’s brain. It moved quickly, filled with moments that literally had me laughing out loud…as well as moments that left me wanting to throw the book across the room. Much like the reality shows he dissects, Klosterman offered the perfect guilty pleasure, a little bit of romance, a little bit of drama, and a whole lot of opinions.

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 Night Circus Book Review

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It’s simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black and white striped canvas tents create a winding path towards the center, peppered along the way with food stands, side acts and drink carts.

The heartbeat of the circus is an exquisite clock, winding and turning with intricate detail, counting down the seconds until the circus closes at sunrise…for this circus, Le Cirque des Reves, is only open at night.

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For attendees of Le Cirque des Reves, the circus is a whimsical dream. Acrobats fly through the air, kittens dance and do tricks, a room filled with jars unleashes scents from all over the world, and illusionists make themselves disappear in the blink of an eye. The cold night air is filled with the scents of cinnamon rolls and caramel popcorn and a true sense of magic uplifts and heightens the senses.

And much like any circus, nothing is what it seems at Le Cirque des Reves. Behind the scenes there’s a fierce competition underway, a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been training since childhood to compete in a “game” that’s been going on for years preceding them.

Under the watchful eye of two mercurial instructors, these young performers are about to embark on a challenge that will only leave one of them standing…and the circus is but the stage for this epic battle of imagination and will.

But despite their game, despite rules and despite themselves, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love…a deep, magical love that slows down time, warms a cold room, makes the lights flicker, and causes these young competitors to decide between breathing life into their future or each other.

Written in rich, seductive prose that is beautiful in every sense of the word, The Night Circus is a feast for all the senses. It has the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland, the colors and characters of Big Fish, and the magic of Harry Potter. I was immersed in this book from start to end and was honestly sad when I had to leave Le Cirque des Reves behind (and even sadder that I couldn’t actually be there in person!).

Much like the circus itself, this book came to me without warning. I knew nothing about it going in, only that it had a Tim Burton-esque cover that instantly had me excited. While some parts were a little slower than others…and some characters surprisingly fell kind of flat, I loved The Night Circus and was instantly on IMDb wondering when the movie was coming out because, honestly…Tim Burton would do this book justice.

I love stories that transport me to another world…that make it so easy to close my eyes and imagine myself somewhere else. For me, The Night Circus was one of those stories. I felt the cold air on my skin, tasted the sweet cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate. I looked up and saw the striped tents, and somewhere in the distance, the soft ticking of the clock kept reminding me how little time I had in this world. Filled with dream-like beauty and wonder, The Night Circus is for anyone who believes in magic, imagination, and most importantly, love.

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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Mad Women Book Review

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Life in the 60s was a rip-roaring time. Creativity was at an all-time high, the young generation influenced everything from fashion to advertising, and new technology paved the way for a title wave of movements, protests, commercials and TV shows.

However, if you were a women looking to join the workforce, it was a very different world. Sexism ran rampant. Jobs were often limited to being a secretary or an assistant. For most women, having a job was something fun to do until she was able to settle down and start a family…but for some women, a job meant money, freedom, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And for an even lesser few, a job was everything.

Fans of AMC’s Mad Men know this all too well. Betty Draper (January Jones) tries joining the workforce again but leaves when she realizes she can’t get dinner on the table in time. Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) takes her job as office manager very seriously, but is constantly berated by inappropriate gestures and comments. But Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) is the exception. Olsen starts her career at Sterling Cooper as a young secretary, then falls into a copy gig where she writes ads for free on her own time. She eventually fights and claws her way through the corporate jungle to have a permenant spot on the copy team and eventually even works her way up to copy chief.

But how real is Olsen’s story? When we know women were treated like second-class citizens, especially in the office environment, how believable is it to think that a woman could come to take on her own agency some day? As it turns out, it’s actually pretty believable.

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In her book, Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ‘60s and Beyond, Jane Maas discusses her rise to fame, starting as a copywriter and fighting her way up the ladder to become a creative director and industry leader.  A snarky and fun book that moves at a quick pace, Mad Women sets out to tell the other side of what was going on in those sky-rise buildings in downtown Manhattan.

For us younger readers, this is a first-hand account to the sexism our mothers and grandmothers endured as the price of entry into American professional life. Not only does it showcase Maas’s slow and steady rise to fame, but also covers other important issues of the time, including unequal pay, unfair treatment, and the choices many women faced, either by choice or force, between motherhood and their careers.

But this real-life Peggy Olsen story covers some fun stuff, too! Fans of Mad Men often wonder, was there really that much smoking and drinking in the office? Did people really have sex at work? And did account men really take clients out for 3-hour martini lunches? According to Maas, the answer to all these questions is a resounding YES.

Maas leaves nothing off the table, talking about everything from the office lounges that were filled with alcohol of every kind to the Ogilvy & Mather’s annual Boat Ride, a sex-and-booze filled orgy, from which it was said no virgin ever returned intact (however, no mention of a lawnmower in the office!).

With true accounts from the inside and stories that might even make Don Draper blush, Mad Women is a love letter to the women who fought to make something of themselves in a world that had them pigeonholed into homelife. Maas tells her story with great poise, offering credit where credit is due and acknowledging those who helped pave her way (and knock her down).

Like Mad Men, she doesn’t shy away from what made that era so unique. Yes, sexism was rampant and yes, smoking and drinking was permitted pretty much everywhere, but whether you were a creative director or a junior copywriter, there was no denying that advertising in the 60s was nothing if not a freaking grand time.

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 Planets Book Review

There’s something deeply poetic and lyrical about space. The planets that make up our Solar System dance around the Sun in rotation, the stars ever-present in our seemingly endless sky.

The planets that lay on the outskirts of Earth showcase brilliant colors, made mostly of various gases and rock matter. In the grand scheme of things, not much is known about the planets in the Milky Way, making our Solar System one of the greatest mysteries of our natural world.

As an Earthling, I’ve naturally always been interested in space, as I’m sure most of us have at one point in our lives. It’s the great unknown, the uncharted divide, the terra incognita that turns young rocket builders into NASA astronauts.

I’ve always wanted to learn more about the plants’ creation and how our Solar System was formed; however, I knew I couldn’t get through a book that got heavier than a 5th grade science level! This left me with little options…

Until I learned about Dava Sobel’s book, The Planets. Billed as an easy-to-understand collection of essays about the planets of our Solar System, I was intrigued to learn more. Clocking in at just under 300 pages and divided into several digestible sections, I felt this was just the book I needed to give me a Reader’s Digest version of how the universe came to be.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The Planets is indeed a collection of lyrical essays, mixing scientific fact with poetic prose, however I found it lack on the science and heavy on the adjectives.

Broken down into sections, with each section covering a different element in the Milky Way (Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Moon, Mars, etc.), this book uses mythology, pop culture, religion and more to explain the creation of each entity. For example, the Mars chapter is written from the perspective of a rock while the chapter on the Sun uses the book of Genesis to explain the start of creation. While this was indeed interesting, it wasn’t quite the educational text I was hoping for.

Of course, that’s not to say I didn’t like it…I liked some. I thought much of Sobel’s prose was beautiful and the creative spin she put on each chapter certainly did not go unappreciated by a fellow creative writer; however, when I was done with the book, I felt no more educated than when I started.

For lovers of science and space, The Planets might disappoint you. This book is akin to “Physics for Poets”, in that it uses lovely, magical words to explain a concept so vast that it’s beyond most of our understanding. While the stories in this book are indeed entertaining, you’re better off going into this as a collection of short fiction than you are a book on scientific fact.

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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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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