Category: BlogHer Book Club Reviews

Book Review: Here I Go Again

If you’re looking for a fun read you can devour like a bag of M&M’s, I think you’ll like the BlogHer Book Club’s latest pick: Here I Go Again: A Novel by Jen Lancaster. And if you were coming of age when Nirvana exploded onto the music scene (and that meant something to you)? You’re going to absolutely love it.

Lissy Ryder, the quintessential “mean girl” of the Class of ’92, is now 37 and fabulous. Or so she thought. Twenty four hours after we meet her, she’s sleeping under her David Coverdale poster in her old room in her parents’ house having been fired from her job, kicked out of her condo, dumped by her husband and invited to her twenty year high school reunion – all tragic stuff, right? In an effort to reclaim her old glory and pull her life back together, she goes to the reunion and discovers just how hated she really was – oh, and an opportunity to go back in time and tame that bitch called karma.

It’s Peggy Sue Got Married, if Peggy Sue were Regina George, in book form. So, it’s the kind of story we’ve heard before. But there’s a reason good stories can be revised and retold. We love them. And I loved this one.

If you’ve read Jen’s blog or any of her other books, you know the the kind of snark and quick wit she could bring to the “mean girl” character. She’s written Lissy as so cleverly mean, you’re equally awed and afraid of her ability to insult. I didn’t really like Lissy – not even at the end, once she’d learned her lesson – but I loved disliking her. I enjoyed her journey, particularly the trip back to the 90s landscape that was my high school experience, too. I loved the pop culture references, especially the music. It was all so familiar and fun – a great escape from today.

Really, you should read this book. You’ll like it. But do it quick, before making fun of Justin Bieber gets old.

Want to hear more? Travel back in time and over to Here I Go Again’s BlogHer Book Club page and join the conversation.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Willpower Instinct

Okay. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

You guys, I loved this book.

I was a neuroscience major for my first three years of college. One of the requirements to fulfill the major was to participate in a weekly discussion group about hot neuroscience topics with the other neuroscience majors and professors. It was one of my favorite academic experiences. We’d argue about things like free will or whether or not people had souls, and we’d geek out over amazing research that I couldn’t believe the rest of the world didn’t seem to know or care about. One of the most memorable books we read and discussed was Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

This book reminded me of all of that. The neuron-popping ideas. The cool research. And much like Emotional Intelligence redefined what it means to be smart, this book changed my thoughts on what willpower really is. It wasn’t so much an “I never knew that” feeling as an “I never looked at it that way” sort of experience.

The Willpower Instinct is designed to be used as if you were taking Dr. McGonigal’s “Science of Willpower” course offered to the public through Stanford University’s Continuing Studies program. There are ten chapters that mirror the ten week class experience (and include real-life experiences from former students). Each chapter introduces a new idea about willpower along with evidence to support the idea, and then follows it up with two kinds of assignments. The first assignment called “Under the Microscope” is a prompt that asks you to simply pay attention and observe the way the idea currently operates in your life, while the second “Willpower Experiment” offers a practical strategy for improving your willpower.

I didn’t have ten weeks to review the book, so I have yet to put it to the test with a true Willpower Challenge, but I’m looking forward to trying it. I can see how some of the strategies I read about were ones that had brought me success in the past, and I discovered ways I’ve sabotaged myself without realizing it. The greatest thing about this book, aside from the cool studies I’ve been forcing my family to hear about at dinner all week, is that it all seems doable. It’s reasonable. And it’s liberating for someone like me who beats herself up and feels like she’s “bad” when she stumbles. It’s not necessarily bad. Maybe it’s biology! It’s much easier to overcome the scientific reality of a natural impulse than the idea that you’re somehow deficient for wanting that doughnut or putting off doing the laundry.

We’ll be talking about willpower over at BlogHer all month. Be sure to check it out and join in.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: My Life Map

Here’s what’s up with the BlogHer Book Club these days: My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future by Kate and David Marshall. Not so much a book to read, but to work through, you know, like a workbook.

When I got the e-mail announcing this title, I was all in to review it. “This is for me,” I said. “I could use some direction.” I couldn’t wait to start making my life map! And then it arrived. Twenty pages in, I hid it away in my desk drawer. Turns out, mapping out your life takes some effort.

The publisher promotes the book by saying, “Kate and David help readers map their road of life by reflecting on the past, evaluating the present, and dreaming of the future.”

Well, who wants to do that? I mean, the words reflecting, evaluating and dreaming make it sound nice. But I don’t reflect on the past so much as worry about it. I guess you could say I’m evaluating my present when I’m worrying about it. And the future? WORRIED ABOUT IT. I really had to adjust my head space to use this book.

I am so glad I did.

There’s a whole lot to be gained from taking a start to finish view of your life. The “thought-provoking prompts and questions” that laid it all out weren’t always easy to answer, but they revealed so much. It’s easy to to lose sight of where you are when you’ve got your head down and are working hard just trying to make it day by day, which is how I’ve felt lately. But I found that I’d really been minimizing all that I’ve done and had no bearing on how close I am to meeting many of my short-term goals – goals I haven’t been willing to look past. (Let’s be honest, it’s hard to dream about a family vacation when you’re struggling to keep the heat on. What will life be like when the kids are grown up? I can’t imagine what life will be like when they can all poop in the potty.)

Turns out, I’ve done a lot in my life that I’m proud of, I know what makes me happy and I already have what matters most to me: a loving family. The things I get hung up on worrying about, when all mapped out, are such a small part of my life. This book helped me put all of that in perspective and made me feel like it was okay, even reasonable, to dream about the future, like it is absolutely possible and that I will not always be right here, in this spot, with these worries. I needed that.

Want to learn more about this book? Join the BlogHer Book Club discussion.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Diary of a Submissive

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty excited to review the BlogHer Book Club’s latest pick Diary of a Submissive: A Modern True Tale of Sexual Awakening. I enjoy sex. And sometimes, I like to read about sex. (If you don’t, you probably wouldn’t like this book. And if kinky sex isn’t your thing? You really wouldn’t like this book.) This book seemed especially provocative to me and not because the publisher was calling it “The “real” Fifty Shades of Grey.” (I haven’t read that book. I probably won’t.) It was the “true life erotic story of female submission to rival The Story of O” claim that got me. I loved The Story of O. I read it in my late teens/early twenties and it made a lasting impression. But The Story of O is a filthy little BDSM fairy tale – a fantasy. This book? True, supposedly. Real life. And I wanted to read about that. Having a fantasy or a desire isn’t necessarily the same as having it realized, so I was intrigued.

Diary of a Submissive didn’t disappoint me. The story of feminist-by-day/submissive-by-night Sophie Morgan (a pseudonym, for obvious reasons) was totally believable. Even though her life in England is far from my own, it felt honest. Also shocking and GRAPHIC. It was like a book-long letter to Penthouse in terms of explicitness (and depth of the characters beyond Sophie’s, though I guess most “diaries” are, by definition, about the author above all else). The writing was good and it captivated me (although I thought it started stronger than it ended). I felt a little uncomfortable and a whole lot dirty reading a few passages, but it offered a raw view of real Dominant/submissive relationships (which I’ve gathered are extremely time-consuming, by the way). And that’s exactly what I was expecting it to deliver. I’m especially excited to see what kind of conversation it’ll spark within the BlogHer community. I hope you’ll join me there for some stimulating discussion this month!

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Magic Room

The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for Our Daughters. I couldn’t wait to read it! Inside the jacket flap reads, “An intimate look at a small-town bridal shop, its multigenerational female owners, and the love between parents and daughters during one of life’s most emotional transitions.” Written by Jeffrey Zaslow – a man. I’ll admit that I wondered what kind of insight this guy would have about women. But the author is a father of three daughters, and it seems that giving your daughter away at her wedding is traditionally the quintessential Dad moment. It’s the idea most people articulate when they learn my husband is the father of three daughters (but not, interestingly, when they learn I’m the mom of three daughters). “That’s three weddings!” they say to him. But that’s not what we say to our girls. We try to steer clear of hedging our hopes for them with, “when you get married,” or “when you’re a mom,” as if it’s expected. And our response is usually, “We’re not worried about paying for three weddings, but three college educations!” (The education is expected.)

It turns out, the idea of NOT getting married is gaining popularity, which is the kind of fact Zaslow weaves throughout the personal and emotional stories of a few brides to provide perspective on families, marriage and our culture over the past 75 years or so as seen before the backdrop of Becker’s Bridal in Fowler, Michigan.

I really fell in love with this book. There’s nothing quite so powerful as a parent’s love for their child. It touches all of us. We are shaped by the love our parents gave us – whether it was expressed in abundance or not at all. Each bride that stood in a gown on that pedestal in The Magic Room at Becker’s Bridal contemplated this as did every teary-eyed parent looking on. Would the man they are marrying be able to love them this way, too? As I read, I couldn’t help but think of my wedding dress – the first one – and how it was made with love by my mother.

Mom and Me

Yes, I’ve been married twice. And if there is one criticism I have of this book it’s the sting of judgment I felt toward second (or third or fourth) marriages and women who were parents before they were brides – as if, maybe, they weren’t deserving of a beautiful, white dress. Perhaps that feeling is there because this book is about what we wish for our daughters and no one wishes the pain of divorce or the pressure of societal disapproval on their child. If you weren’t a traditional bride, that subtle shame-on-you vibe may sour the otherwise sweet love stories chronicled in The Magic Room. Still, they are moving and worthwhile to read. So is the story of Shelley, the fourth generation owner of Becker’s Bridal who has measured the pulse of our society by the flow of brides in and out of her doors over so many years.

I’d recommend this book to any parent. I’ve asked my husband to read it. Though we don’t expect it, the fact is that one day each of our daughters will likely choose someone to give their heart to – someone that will become the family they identify with. And I think this book offers great inspiration to parents on being their child’s first and lasting love.

Oh, P.S. Just so you know, I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Sea Change

“There’s a reason there’s no word for when you are a father no more.”

It’s indescribable, and my greatest fear, the loss of a child, but author Jeremy Page fleshes out the experience in his poignant novel Sea Change. This is why I’m reluctant to say I enjoyed the book. The story is a beautifully written, but heartbreaking read. After tragically losing his only child – who happens to be the same age as my Lucy – Guy lives a solitary life on The North Sea aboard his barge the Flood where he writes about the life he might have had in his diary. And though, as the title implies, it’s a story of transformation and healing, the sadness was hard to embrace.

Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t have gotten past the first chapter if I hadn’t committed to reviewing it for the BlogHer Book Club, not because the book isn’t well-written. Actually, it’s the opposite. It was so easy to put myself in that landscape, to care about and feel connected with the characters. I didn’t want to imagine myself in that scenario. It’s in this first chapter that Guy is introduced to us as a father and we, the readers, experience what might be the only interaction with his daughter that isn’t fiction from his diary. It’s touching and precious and overshadowed by the inevitable tragedy that takes her from him. The suspense of what we realize is coming is agonizing and the details of that fateful moment are lacking so that the darkest parts of our brains can fill in the harrowing blanks. I read it wavering between holding my breath and sobbing outright.

It wasn’t until the next section that I let down my guard, though, and allowed myself to really be drawn in to the journey with Guy on the sea. The story within a story aspect of the book made it easier to witness the fallout of his daughter’s death. The life he depicts in his diary, his fiction, reveals so much and offers a break from the crushing burden of grief Guy is carrying. Through his diary, we begin to understand the love he has for his daughter, his relationship with his wife, the dynamic of the family he is missing and the man he really is. It is a light in a dark place, not just for Guy, but the reader as well. Though it’s supposed to be a sort of fantasy future, it really seems to serve as backstory.

I don’t want to give anything away – I think the unexpected moments in this novel are what make it a meaningful read – but I will say this: the end left me wanting. If you liked the way LOST or The Sopranos or Inception ended, you might like this. It’s one of those endings that isn’t really an ending – it’s left open for you to interpret. To me, that’s like painting a vivid portrait in stunning detail, but leaving the mouth blank. It was unsettling. I wanted another chapter or an epilogue. Perhaps we’ll get a follow-up book? If YOU want more, I encourage you to visit the BlogHer Book Club page to read an excerpt from Sea Change, learn about the author and take part in the discussion the book has sparked.

P.S. I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

I know you’re working for the weekend. Everybody is. I also know you want a little romance. It could be just a click away.

I’m doing something new and I’m feeling pretty good about it.

BlogHer Book Club Reviewer

My first review for the book A Discovery of Witches is up over at You should check it out, especially if you like vampires or witches or magic. And if you don’t like those things, you should check it out because you like me! If you don’t like me, you should check it out because there’s probably something in there you can use to make fun of me. Also – I just want to throw this out there – comments are nice.

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