Audio Book · funny · nonfiction

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

One of my longstanding personal quotes is, “Laugh or Cry, you choose!” I say this to myself when I become overwhelmed and I try to reflect on the humor in the situation. But, I know that mental health is no joke and it can rob people of the ability to control this choice. So what do you do if your life is deeply affected by mental health? Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) forced herself to be “furiously happy” to balance those times her mental illness makes her unfathomably sad. She invited us on her journey in accepting her mental health and the hilarity of it all in her new book Furiously Happya Funny Book about Horrible Things.

furiouslyhappyI have never read Jenny Lawson’s blog, I didn’t follow her on Twitter and, honestly, she wasn’t on my radar at all.  But, someone highlighted her book on WWW Wednesday and I dutifully added it to my to-be-read pile. Mostly, I fell in love with the hilarious taxidermy raccoon (Rory) on the cover of the book. When the audiobook caught my eye I downloaded it simply because I needed something to listen to during my commute and it was immediately available. All of these cosmic connections resulted in my listening to and falling deeply in love with Jenny Lawson. (I hereby promise I will not stalk you Jenny, tell Victor not to worry).

Now see how I have referred to this total stranger by her first name? And, I write as though I know her husband? This is the talent of a well-written memoirist. They make the reader feel like they have a new friend, one they know and understand on a deeper level. But what elevates this memoir to a whole new level is that my new friend Jenny managed to weave awareness and understanding of mental illness through her book so seamlessly. After listening to her read her own story I feel like I have a much better understanding of mental illness, taxidermy, depression, the perils of traveling through Australia, and the power of acceptance in equal measure.

Jenny’s decision to live Furiously Happy has changed her life. Perhaps her book will alter yours. All I know is that I would really like to thank her for explaining the nuances of mental health to me. And I would really like to hold Rory for a bit. Please?!?


Tell me, please!

What books do you recommend for understanding mental illness?


Audio Book · fiction · humor

Today I Will Be Different by Maria Semple

I was surprised by how much I loved Where’d You Go Bernadette? and so when I saw that Marie Semple had a new book out I knew I would read it. I was even luckier to have the opportunity to enjoy the audiobook version of this book because the narrator, Kathleen Wilhoite, did an amazing job capturing the feeling of all of the characters. Perhaps that is why she also narrated Bernadette!

todaywillbedifferentIn Today I Will Be Different Eleanor Flood, her famous husband, Joe, and her son Timby live in Seattle. Eleanor and Joe are New Yorkers and atheists. While Joe has found grand success as a sought-after hand surgeon in Seattle, Eleanor has been struggling to fit into their community and especially with the parents at Timby’s school. She begins the morning by setting small obtainable goals that she feels will make today different. She makes a promise to herself to shower and get dressed, to take her son Timby to school and then attend her poetry lesson, and to initiate sex with her husband. But before she can quietly change her day in these small ways her son Timby plays sick. That small change in her plans, unintended by Eleanor, alters the course of her life dramatically.

Maria Semple delivers, in Eleanor, another complex female character that I could not help but connect with deeply. Her problems may be first-world ones but they are so common that if you can read this book and not see women you know then you either; (a) don’t know any women or (b) you aren’t paying attention. Eleanor’s quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor furthers my love of this character and keeps the story moving. As Eleanor and Timby work through their day we see the subtle (and not-so subtle) layers of Eleanor more and more clearly. Much like Where’d You Go Bernadette there are twists and turns. But, for me, the characters drive this story and Eleanor will stay with me much longer than any the plot.

The narrator for this audiobook has a wonderfully gravelly voice that captures both the New Yorker feel of Eleanor as well as the other characters, especially Timby, perfectly. Perhaps it is because I just finished The Princess Diarist but her voice reminded me of Carrie Fisher’s. This is also a short audiobook, only about six and a half hours, and it goes too quickly.

If you enjoyed Maria Semple’s first novel you are sure to enjoy Today Will be Different.


Tell me, please!

If you read this book, what did you think?

If not, what are some of your favorite female characters?


Audio Book · nonfiction

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

I remember hearing long long ago that Carrie Fisher did not love Princess Leia and she was tired of being compared to her. I vividly recall being crushed by that idea. Princess Leia was my hero growing up. She was strong, confident, beautiful, smart, capable…basically the total package. If you had become famous and synonymous with a character, wouldn’t Princess Leia be the ideal?! But, as I grew I began to understand how having your personal identity become confusingly intertwined with a fictional character might be difficult. When I saw that Carrie Fisher had recorded her audiobook of The Princess Diarist I wanted to listen to it and I hoped she would be able to explain her complex feelings about one of my favorite sci-fi characters.

The Princess DiaristI was thrilled that Carrie spent a great deal of time in her book addressing her lifelong relationship with her silver screen alter ego. Of course, there were some wonderful stories about her childhood and adolescence, her experience auditioning for Star Wars, and the long hidden affair she had with Harrison Ford. But her beautiful words about her ever-changing perception of herself and how being identified interchangeably with Leia affected her were truly life changing for me. Her story helped me redefine how to reconcile self-identification with the public’s perception of who they think you are.

I cannot talk about Carrie Fischer without stopping to reflect on her amazing writing skills. Her daughter, Billie Lourd, read the diary sections from her time filming Star Wars and her writing skills at 20 were jaw dropping. I found myself sitting, parked in my car, just letting the gorgeous phrases roll over me. I knew that Carrie had worked as a script doctor and I have read at least one of her prior books but, truly, I had not taken the time to recognize incredibly talented she was as a writer.

It has been almost a year since Carrie Fisher’s untimely death. I could not have imagined listening to this audiobook earlier in the year but as the anniversary came closer and closer I craved just a few more minutes with my first Princess. The book gave me that and so much more. If you are even vaguely interested I heartily recommend listening to this Grammy award winning audiobook.


Tell me, please!

Who is your favorite Star Wars character?

Please, if you don’t love Star Wars, don’t admit it to me because then I will have to defend my fandom and I have huge chunks of time in the coming weeks that I can dedicate to this.

Audio Book · nonfiction

So That Happened, by Jon Cryer

The movie Pretty in Pink came out in 1986. I’m not sure how old I was when I saw it but I remember absolutely hating everything about it….except Ducky. Since the moment Andie chose Blane (for the love of all that is holy….Blane??) over Ducky I hated Molly Ringwald and pink dresses forever. But, I have held a special place in my heart for Jon Cryer. So, when I saw he had a celebrity memoir out I wanted to read it. I worried that he would stoop to gossip but I still wanted to take the opportunity to spend more time with the delightful actor whose career I have followed all of these years.

sothathappenedHe has wonderful stories of growing up in New York City and of his mother’s and father’s careers on Broadway. Truthfully, I didn’t realize how incredibly varied his talent was until I heard about his life. The sheer amount of work he put into honing his craft is impressive but learning that he attended the prestigious Bronx School of Science added an additional, and alluring, facet to the actor. Since he frequently plays neurotic or anxious individuals who are nerdy it is nice to know that he connects with these characters on a personal level.

With celebrity memoirs there is always the possibility of gratuitous gossip. Jon does talk about his first famous girlfriend (Demi Moore), his costars in Pretty in Pink, and a variety of other famous people who have crossed his path. But, at no time did I feel like he was being mean or spiteful. I didn’t learn anything about anyone else that I didn’t already know. He kept the focus on himself and his own drama. Still, when you work (twice) with Charlie Sheen and you have a front row seat to the implosion that was Charlie’s last year on Two and a Half Men it is hard to tell your story without including Charlie. I would argue that he did so in an incredibly respectful manner. In fact, I would have been comfortable listening to this book with Charlie Sheen.

Now, I did learn a whole lot about the movie business and how a storyline can dramatically change. For example, did you know that Ducky and Andie were supposed to end up together? But the test audience (those horrible people) thought Andie deserved the rich guy and they had to re-film the ending!! They ruined it. This and many other wonderful anecdotes were shared by Jon.

I had the added bonus of listening to the audio version of this book. Jon Cryer read it himself and he is as talented a narrator as he is a storyteller. I enjoyed the way he loved the characters he portrayed and you could certainly feel the his enjoyment he gets from acting.

My only complaint about this audiobook was it was only 9+ hours long. I could have spent at least another 9 listening to Jon’s stories. He may not actually be Ducky but he managed to make me love that character even more.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever loved a character enough to follow the actor forever?

Middle Grade

The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

I want a robot. I’m absolutely willing to take the risk that my AI robot might one day imprison me for my safety so that I can have a robot friend. I have one of those vacuum robots and I named him, I talk to him, and he is my tiny friend. Middle Grade books like The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes only encourage me to believe that one day I will be able to have a smart and kind robotic friend.

thewildrobotThe Wild Robot introduces readers to robot Roz. After being shipwrecked on an island Roz awakens for the first time alone and surrounded by wilderness. As a robot she knows that she must have a purpose but what is it? She battles storms and dangerous animal attacks on the island before she understands that she must adapt to her environment in order to survive. As she begins to learn the language of the animals, make friends and form connections, the island starts to feel like home. But then, Roz’s past comes back to haunt her.

The Wild Robot is lauded as a wonderful for examining where technology and nature overlap. However, the more profound aspect of this book for me, and the children I have read it to, it Roz’s struggle to fit in. Children have told me that Roz is like being a new kid in class, an immigrant in a new country, or someone learning a new language. All of these important issues came to these middle grade readers while watching Roz try to adapt to her wild environment. And, for me, I strongly identified with the cultural and social struggle that accompanies learning a new language.

wildrobotescapesThe Wild Robot Escapes begins with Roz on a farm. As she meets the owner of the farm and his two young children she tries to hatch a plan to return to her wild island and her animal family and friends. But how will a wild robot adapt to working in a civilized situation?

As a sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes is almost as enjoyable as the first book because Brown created, in Roz, a character that the reader cares about deeply. It is slower to start but when the action does begin it is incredibly fast paced – especially for a middle grade book. Roz continues to struggle through situations where she begins as an outsider and has to work to be considered part of her community. The real question starts to become, will Roz be able to leave this new home to return to her wild island?

In both The Wild Robot, but even more so in The Wild Robot Escapes, we see Roz using two things in order to make friends and belong: kindness and honesty.  In so many middle grade books the parents are removed from the story so that the child can be the in charge of the action. But Brown’s use of an innocent robot has made for a unique protagonist that is simultaneously wise and immature.  But Roz is smart enough to be honest and mature enough to be kind and those two things work for her over time.

Middle grade books are a perfect reminder of the difficulties children face. And these two books arm us with a story that explains how it feels to not fit in, how a person can cope with those feelings, what is our higher purpose, and how using kindness and truthfulness will help us become who we want to be in the end.


Tell me, please!

Do you read middle grade books? Why?