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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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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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