Tag Archives: book reviews

Big Little Lies Book Review

It’s a song we’ve all heard before…the rich and privileged are never what they appear to be.  Though they may look happy and beautiful on the outside, behind closed doors they’re just as troubled and tortured as the rest of us.  Clearly, money can’t buy happiness…but it certainly can buy a whole butt-load of drama.

In Big Little Lies, three privileged women, each very different from the other, are thrown together in a series of crazy events that leads to someone getting killed.  A guilty-pleasure chick lit book involving husbands, ex-husbands, mothers and daughters, school drama and suburban scandal, Big Little Lies is a fun treat that shocks and surprises you with little twists and turns that lead to one heck of an ending.

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Our three protagonists are Madeline, Celeste, and Jane.  Madeline is a force to be reckoned with.  She’s funny, biting, and passionate…a driving force in her social circle.  Her friend, Celeste, is suburban royalty.  Beautiful beyond compare, Celeste strives to be the queen of the school parent body.  Jane, a new-to-town single mom, is sad and conflicted and has secret doubts about her past life.  All three women have children in the local school, which is the glue that begins to join these women together.  However, when Madeline and Celeste decide to take sad little Jane under their wing and help get her accustomed to the ‘politics’ of their social circle, it becomes clear that Jane and her son bring along more baggage than they thought…and things quickly begin to spin out of control…

In their own ways, Madeline, Celeste, and Jane are all easy to love and easy to hate.  They all have their quarks, but it’s clear that their hearts are in the right place…and they’re all just trying to do what’s best for their families, in whatever way they can.  They each experience trouble at home and each deal with it in their own way.  Some fight back, some cower down, and some just ignore it completely.  But for as different as these three women are, they share one commonality:  they are all hiding something from each other.

Big Little Lies is a book that will have you guessing all the way until the end.  A classic who-dun-it murder mystery (with a touch of sparkly drama!), Big Little Lies is about the lies we tell our friends, the lies we tell our families, and – perhaps most hurtful of all – the lies we tell ourselves.

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 Circle Book Review

The digital age is both amazing and terrifying.  In today’s world, we can locate long-lost friends, instantly transfer money to different accounts, talk to people on the other side of the planet, buy and sell goods, and store precious media in the mysterious Cloud.  However, the digital age also sees countless occasions of identity theft, stalking, trolling, hacking, and viruses that can completely destroy everything on your hard drive.

The freedom we have to do whatever we want online, to see whatever we want and search for whatever we want, has people asking what privacy even is anymore.  What’s really ‘public domain’ in this age of digital media?  Is anything ever really deleted?  Is our privacy really protected?  How much information are we really giving away by shopping, banking, and playing online?  Are the measures we have in place safe enough to protect our most precious assets?  And, most importantly, what new developments are in store for a world that constantly begs for “the next best thing”?

In the fictional (but scarily true) novel, The Circle, it becomes clear that our digital profiles, no matter how secure we may think they are, offer an abundance of information to those running the Internet’s most powerful sites…and there’s little to nothing that can be done to stop it.

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When Mae Holland is hired to work for The Circle, the world’s most powerful Internet company, she cannot wait to jump in and get started.  Loosely and sort of obviously based on a Google-type company, The Circle is a powerhouse California start-up, featuring a sprawling campus, glass dining facilitates, cozy dorms, amazing after-work parties, and an abundance of clubs for practically every passion.

In a nutshell, The Circle aims to link users’ personal emails, social media, banking, purchasing history, and basically all online activity with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity that boasts about a “new age of civility and transparency”.  Want to buy new shoes?  Facebook message a friend?  Connect with a colleague’s professional network?  Pay a bill?  Schedule a party?  All that and more can be done within The Circle interface…and everyone who’s anyone has already joined.

Filled with young and impressionable minds, The Circle’s staff is made up of the best of the best from Silicon Valley…and Mae knows she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime to work there.  As she tours the campus, she becomes engrossed in the company’s activity and dedication to employee morale.  Famous musicians play on the lawn, an aquarium of rare fish offer a place of solitude, and employees seem almost happy and willing to go the extra mile for the good of the company.

Mae quickly learns the ropes of her job and impresses leadership with her skills and attention to detail.  As she starts to gain recognition at The Circle and her interface begins to grow, Mae learns how amazing this technology is…and how much it’s doing to improve the world at large…

Or is it?  Even as life outside of work grows distant…even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken…even as her role at The Circle becomes increasingly public…Mae still can’t believe her great fortune to be a part of this ground-breaking company.  But is this truly the opportunity of a lifetime…or is this the power of the digital age on young and influential minds?

What begins as a captivating story of one woman’s ambition to succeed soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense and terror, raising ethical and moral questions about privacy, democracy, and basic human rights.

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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We Were Liars Book Review

We’ve all had that dream of owning our own private island…of spending our days swimming in the ocean and our nights curled up inside a large waterfront mansion filled with old books and older memories.  For several of us, this will remain nothing but a lucid fantasy, but for the Sinclair family, this is real life.

we-were-liars-coverBorn into a very wealthy family that owns a small island on the coast of Cape Cod, Cadence Sinclair is living the dream.  Every summer, Cadence and her extended family travel to their own island off the coast to vacation and relax.  The island harbors four amazing mansions, one for Cadence’s family, two others for Cadence’s aunts, and one for her grandfather.

For most of Cadence’s life, her summers on the island were magical, filled with rendezvous with her cousins and friends, adventures along the beach, but last summer…last summer was different.  Prejudice, greed, and family dynamics turned the family against each other and Cadence, along with her posy – The Liars – must figure out what happened…only one problem…Cadence, in a freak accident, seems to have lost all memory of the past summer.

As she works to pick up the pieces, Cadence begins to recollect the events that transpired the summer before.  Piece by piece, her past begins to unfold…and this wildly addicting novel quickly picks up pace.

Told from the perspective of Cadence, We Were Liars is a fast novel, filled with clever twists and beautiful imagery.  Seemingly meant to simulate Cadence’s confusion, the novel does jump around quite a bit, moving from past to present and telling stories out of order (but it all makes sense in the end, so don’t worry!).  And FYI– this is a novel with a surprise twist ending, so be weary of spoilers before jumping in!

For those who love a good YA novel that’s quick and easy to read, We Were Liars is perfect.  The characters are not really relatable, but are easy to love…much like the crew of Gossip Girl.  Once the book starts going, the plot moves quickly…so don’t be surprised if you’re up late finishing those last few chapters!

A perfect beach or vacation read, We Were Liars will keep you entertained with lovely scenery, romance and family drama, and an ending that will haunt you for long after you put the book down.

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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It’s a Long Story Book Review

In the summer of 2014, I had the pleasure of seeing Willie Nelson live at Ravinia in Chicago.  Together with Alison Kraus and the Union Station band, Willie filled the night with amazing music and helped open my eyes (and ears!) to the beauty of classic country tunes.

After seeing Willie live, I ran to the store and bought two or three of his albums, including his recent duets album titled “To All the Girls” – which is fantastic, by the way.  I quickly fell in love with Willie’s unique way of singing and the wonderful stories he tells through his music.

Not surprisingly, Willie is a master of songwriting.  After all, he has 80+ years of experience to pull from!  And in his autobiography, It’s a Long Story: My Life, Willie tells the story behind the stories, diving into his own life in a series of memories told “as clear as a Texas sky and in the same rhythm that I lived it.”

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Filled with stories about growing up in Abbott, Texas, of selling vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias, of writing song after song and trying, despite all odds, to strike big in the music business, It’s a Long Story is an intimate and candid look into the life of the man who influenced the art of songwriting.

One of the most surprising things I learned in reading It’s a Long Story was the massive influence Willie Nelson has had on the music industry…not just in his style of singing or his love of musical storytelling, but in the lyrics he’s written, both for himself and other artists.  Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, and Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel” are just SOME of the popular tunes that were actually written by Willie Nelson.

A funny and honest story about true love, wild adventures, friends and family, It’s a Long Story opens the door into the life of one man who entertained millions with his tales of adventures on the road, at home, and on the road again.

 

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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A Life in Parts Book Review

Before Lyndon B. Johnson…before Dalton Trumbo…before Walter White, Heisenberg, Hal Wilkerson, and Tim Whatley…before the Tony and the Emmy Awards, before the guest star spots, the commercials, the plays, and the soap operas, Bryan Cranston was just your average kid.

Well, sort of.

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An actor by age 7, Bryan Cranston has held many roles in his lifetime, the least of which being on the stage and screen.  Before receiving international fame with his portrayal as Walter White in AMC’s Breaking Bad, Cranston played several odd parts that helped landed him in the spotlight.  These were not unusual roles, and actually are roles several of us play in our own lives:  paperboy, farmhand, lover, husband, and father being a few.

In his intimate, funny, and inspiring memoir, A Life in Parts, Cranston takes us through his repertoire of performances, starting with his role as a son and brother, and taking us through his larger parts as father, husband, and actor.  Broken down into small chapters, each section of the book discusses a different part of Cranston’s life.  Those who have followed Cranston from his days on Loving and Malcolm in the Middle are sure to enjoy his stories about life on and off the sets…and he also gives an inspiring account of how he mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared for the challenge of playing President Lyndon Johnson in All the Way, a role that won him a Tony Award.

However, nothing came close to what he had to endure to bring the character of Walter White to life.  Fans of Breaking Bad will enjoy what Cranston has to say about his beloved cast and crew…and you’re sure to gain a new perspective on the show (and his character) after learning about what Cranston had to do, had to search for, to mentally and emotionally prepare for the role that would launch him into stardom.

Besides being a dossier of Cranston’s personal and professional achievements, A Life in Parts is also a love letter of sorts to the craft of acting.  It’s a deep and personal look into the devotion it takes to bring a character to life…the courage it takes to stand up for yourself and what you believe in…and the amount of creativity needed to really dive into a character’s motives and values.

In the great play of life, we all play many parts.  We act in our own shows and in the shows of our loved ones.  We play the hero, the villain, the friend, the comic relief.  We don masks, we hide in the shadows, we bare it all and, hopefully, don’t live to regret it.  We, as they say, wear many hats, and while some are more important than others, it’s all the roles we play – all the hats we wear – that make up our great story.  In A Life in Parts, Cranston breaks apart his life into the core characters that have molded him into who he is…it’s an intimate and honest look at the roles that have shaped him both professionally and personally and it’s an honest and true dedication to the craft he loves so dearly.

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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Born Standing Up Book Review

This year I had the absolute joy of seeing three of my favorite standup comedians on stage.  The adventure started in Milwaukee to go see one of the best, Brian Regan.  From there, it was down to Chicago to catch Louie CK (a bucket list item crossed off!), then finally up to Madison to chill with Bill Burr.  It was a great lineup of amazing talent…and I loved each performance for different reasons.

Though I don’t have experience in standup comedy, I do have experience in writing…and I know how challenging comedy writing can be…ESPECIALLY standup.  It takes a special person to take on that task, and it’s become quite clear to me overtime that, while all standup entertainers may technically be “comedians”, not all comedians can do standup.  It’s a skill, a talent, that only few and far between can do and do well.

And before all the great comedians of today, there was a little twirpy dude who put on some bunny ears, hopped up on stage and hoped for the best.  Little did he know that he would soon become the biggest concert draw in the history of standup comedy.

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Filled with hilarious stories of failures and successes and told in the unique voice of the author himself, Born Standing Up is an eye-opening autobiography from famed entertainer, Steve Martin.  Though most people today may know him as a banjo player/movie star/author, Steve Martin actually got his start doing standup shows…and Born Standing Up is an intimate look at why he decided to do standup, then walk away forever.

Steve Martin has quite the resume.  His “professional” life started at age 10 when he worked selling guidebooks at the newly opened Disneyland theme park.  A decade later, he worked the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott’s Berry Farm where he got his taste for magic and comedy.

Throughout the rest of his years, Martin worked to fine-tune his skills, highlighting in his book the sacrifices, discipline and originality that helped make him an icon.  By the early 70’s, Martin was the biggest concert draw in the history of standup and enjoyed massive success during his run on Saturday Night Live.

But, as we all know, heavy is the head that wears the crown…and as most talented performers will tell you, it’s quite lonely at the top.  In 1981 Martin made the choice to quit standup forever…and as a true and gifted writer, explains his story and his reasonings with elegant prose and lovely language.

A superb testament to the sheer tenacity, concentration and focus it takes to be one of the greats, Born Standing Up helps peel back the layers to this multi-talented performer and shows the world, with great gusto, one wild and crazy guy.

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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A Monster Calls Book Review

We all have monsters that haunt us.  They can come to us in our dreams or they can take a physical form, traveling into our bodies and filling us with darkness.  Some live in the dark, damp places in our bedroom, while others sit greedily in our guts, only so eager to awake during times of intimate weakness.

Over time we come to expect our monsters to visit us.  The night before an interview, the moment the phone rings at an unexpected hour, the second we finally drift off to sleep…there they sit – waiting to pounce.  But sometimes we get a monster that is unexpected, one that is there to help us see things clearly, understand a difficult situation, or even accept what we can’t change.  When Conor is visited by one such unexpected monster in the small novel, A Monster Calls, he begins a journey that will change his life forever.

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Conor was getting used to the scary monster that plagued his nightmares.  The darkness, the screaming, the wind…this monster brought with it everything Conor was afraid of and everything he was scared to admit to himself.  It haunted him and tortured him with truths he didn’t want to acknowledge and ultimatums he didn’t want to face.  But this monster only came at night…only visited him in his dreams.  He knew he could wake up and the monster would be gone.

But when Conor is visited by different monster, one that’s ancient and wild, one that comes and goes on free will and one that visits Conor during all hours of the day and night, well that one has one goal in mind.  He’s not there to scare Conor, rather to take something from him…perhaps the most dangerous thing of all…for the monster is seeking the truth.

The truth of what, you ask?  Well, you’re just going to have to read the book and find out!  A small yet significant novella, A Monster Calls is a beautiful and heartbreaking story about love, loss, and acceptance.  With amazing illustrations and elegant prose that will pull at your heartstrings, this book is a powerful and sobering look into the things that scare humankind most of all.

I’m gonna be honest for a second…It’s gonna make you cry…probably a lot.  For some it may be cathartic.  For others, it may make you call family and friends you haven’t talked to in a while, just to tell them you love them.  It might even open your eyes a little and help you better understand something you couldn’t understand before.  It’s a short read, easily finished in a day or so, and one that will haunt you, like a monster, for the rest of your life.

 

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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