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A Spark of Light Book Review

For years I’ve judged Jodi Picoult’s books by their covers. Often showcasing minimal photography covered with large type that’s mainly indicative of chic lit, I walked right past her shelf of novels, not realizing the true beauty I was missing.

My recent appreciation for Picoult was not out of the blue…it came to me on a little cloud in the form of my sister, who has read not one, not two, but near 15 of Picoult’s novels. She gave me a long list of Jodi books to read that I’m STILL plowing through!

The first Picoult book I read was Small Great Things, a gripping novel about the large racial issues that still plague our country. It was a captivating story that I was not expecting, as was My Sister’s Keeper, the second Picoult book I added to my repertoire. When my sister told me that Picoult would be coming to Milwaukee to promote her new book and do a talk, we knew we had to go!

I didn’t know anything about A Spark of Light before going to Picoult’s talk. While I wasn’t surprised that Picoult decided to cover a hot-button issue in her most recent novel (abortion), I was pleasantly surprised with her candor. A genuine advocate not for woman, Picoult spoke with great respect about the women she interviewed who had recently had abortions, doctors she shadowed performing abortions, and the thousands of men and women who stood outside the clinics day after day trying to convince desperate women to change their minds.

This book does not take sides, nor does it show one side in a better light than another. As Picoult says herself, there are times people can be on both sides of the argument, and that’s okay. If anything, that means that more and more people are open to understanding that abortion is and never will be a political issue…but will always be a human rights issue.

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The Center shines brightly in the little Mississippi town that houses it. A clinic that offers women help with birth control, pregnancy screenings, sensitive cancer diagnoses and yes, abortions, the Center is a refuge for women all over the south, including the 10 or so people that have arrived there for various reasons this warm fall day.

However, in the early morning hours, a distraught gunman bursts through the door, opening fire and killing several patients, doctors and nurses instantly. The rest, including those severely injured, are held hostage.

After Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, gets to the scene, he begins communication with the gunman inside. However McElroy’s job is made increasingly more difficult when he comes to learn that his sister and 15-year-old daughter, Wren, are among those still inside the clinic.

Working back in time from the end of the hostage situation to the morning hours before the shooter stepped foot into the center, A Spark of Light slowly brings to life a cast of unforgettable characters, including a pregnant nurse who puts her fears aside to help others, a doctor who does his work honorably in spite of his own beliefs, a pro-life protester, a young woman who has just had an abortion, as well as a disturbed killer who will stop at nothing to seek his revenge.

Fearless and thought-provoking, A Spark of Light tackles a complicated issue with decency and respect. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, but more so about understanding. What does it mean to be a good parent? How do we balance the rights of a pregnant woman with the rights of the life inside her?

At one point in the talk, Picoult asked the audience to raise their hand if they knew anyone who had an abortion in their lifetime…more than half of the audience raised their hands, including my sister and me. Many of us know – or are – women that have suffered through this. Most women don’t get pregnant hoping to have an abortion…for several women, this is a last resort, whether it’s for their own health or the life inside of them. This is not an issue that should divide a country, it’s an issue that should be talked about, understood and respected. If A Spark of Light does anything, it serves as its namesake, striking a match on a conversation, no matter how big or small, that might help at least one person better understand a woman’s right to make her own decisions.

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 Let You Go Book Review

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world turned upside down.

In the wake of a horrible accident, the only hope Jenna has of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows and start anew. She drives to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but her memories and fears continue to haunt her. The flashbacks of that night remain ever present, no matter how far she takes herself off the grid.

Ever so slowly, Jenna begins a new life in this quaint coastal town; however, her memories are far from the only thing chasing her…

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I Let You Go is a delicious thriller with more than one epic twist. One part murder mystery and one part romantic flirtation, this book will grab you from the first chapter and won’t let you go until the final words are uttered.

Told from the perspective of Jenna herself, as well as the lead detective on the murder case, I Let You Go brings to life a bittersweet story that will certainly tug at your heartstrings. It offers characters that are surprisingly flawed, real, and dare I say – relatable. It’s unlike most other thrillers in that way, which made me appreciate I Let You Go all the more.

A quick read that will keep readers engaged from start to end, I Let You Go is a moving story of a woman who tried to run away from what she knew only to end up finding what she needed.

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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Her Again Book Review

It wasn’t until I saw The Deer Hunter that I was fully able to appreciate the talent that is Meryl Streep. Before that, the only big movies I saw Streep in were Music of the Heart, Julie & Julia, Doubt and The Devil Wears Prada. Now, I’m not saying she wasn’t great in those movies – because she absolutely was – I just thought, up to a point, that Meryl was…overrated.

I mean how could she be nominated for an Oscar for basically every single role she’s had since Kramer vs. Kramer? What was I missing? I mean, she was certainly talented…but worthy of nearly 20 Oscar nominations? I was skeptical.

But then I saw The Deer Hunter…and then I got it. Meryl Streep is a force. She completely immerses herself in every role, letting each part sink into every pour of her being. She’s funny, she’s bold and she’s utterly and completely fearless.

You might think, “yeah but she wasn’t always that way”…and, well, you’d be wrong. Streep has been a force to be reckoned with ever since she took her first steps on stage at Vassar College, then again at the Yale School of Drama. She’s the “Iron Lady” of acting, racking up hundreds of nominations, appearing in dozens of plays (sometimes two or three at a time) and has starred in countless films that have helped showcase her extraordinary talent.

Like most actors of her generation, Streep got her start on stage, acting alongside fellow no-names like Christopher Lloyd and Sigourney Weaver. Even in her teens, she heard the same criticism from her fellow actors that she does now: “Ugh, her AGAIN?”

To that, Streep only has one response: “DAMN RIGHT.”

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In his eye-opening and beautifully written biography, Her Again, author Michael Schulman (The New Yorker) explores the beginnings of Meryl Streep’s amazing career, prominently focusing on her time at Yale and in the New York theater scene.

Burning with talent and ambition, Streep has always stood apart from her peers. She was awarded back-to-back roles in Broadway plays, a handful of roles in Shakespeare in the Park productions and even received a Tony Award nomination before even starring in her first film.

Complete with several black-and-white photos and insight from Streep herself, Her Again is a captivating story of a woman coming into her extraordinary talents during a time of immense transformation. It briefly touches on her short-lived love affair with John Cazale, her marriage to Don Gummer, and the start of her Hollywood career, including her roles in The Deer Hunter, Manhattan and Kramer vs. Kramer.

Movie lovers all know Meryl Streep from something. They can quote her witty dialogue from The Devil Wears Prada or find sympathy with her tortured portrayal of a mother going through a nasty divorce in Kramer vs. Kramer. She’s played Shakespearean characters, public figures and your every day mother or teacher. What most of us know about Streep is what we’ve seen in her films; however, Streep is so much more than the sum of her parts, so to speak. She is a strong, confident woman who refuses to stop for anyone. She continually challenges herself, shining even brighter when she’s so clearly out of her comfort zone.

So, is Streep over-rated? Maybe. She’s even said so much herself. But there’s no denying she’s earned every accolade tied to her name. In Her Again, Streep’s talent shines through, showing how a little cheerleader from New Jersey would grow up to become a Hollywood icon.

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 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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