Year 8, Book 89

89. Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater by Eddie Shapiro

This book is a compilation of interviews with twenty leading ladies of Broadway. Shapiro spends an extensive amount of time interviewing each woman and the book is composed of his short observations about their interviews followed by edited transcripts of the interviews. interview subjects include such Broadway luminaries as Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury, Patty Lupone, Chita Rivera, Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, and Sutton Foster among others. If you are into the theatre this is an excellent and fascinating book. Shapiro basically organized the chapters by the age of the actress which gave an interesting continuity to trends in the theatre and the way the actresses think about working on Broadway. Most if not all of the older actresses expressed opinions that young people weren’t dedicated enough to their roles and overwhelmingly decried the personal days Broadway actors now receive. It was also great to hear the women talk about the shows they’ve been in and their experiences behind the scenes as well as their feelings on each other. If you like Broadway theatre I highly recommend this book. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 88

88. Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall

In this memoir, Michelle Theall examines her relationship with God, the Catholic Church, and her mother in light of her homosexuality. As a 43 year old mother of a 4 year old boy in a committed relationship she struggles to balance the life she has built for herself with the Catholic Church that she loves but who doesn’t seem to want her or her family to be part of it as well as still trying to live up to the expectations of her overbearing mother. The chapters alternate between her childhood and the present day giving the reader insight into her upbringing and how it has informed the woman she is today. This book was wonderful. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Not only is at an interesting story  in its own right, the author is an amazing writer. Even when writing about the stuff of every day life she compels the story forward making the end of each chapter feel like almost a cliffhanger. Since the chapters alternate between the past and present the thread doesn’t pick back up until 2 chapters later, which is constantly pulling the reader forward. I could not put this book down. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 87

87. My Brief History by Stephen Hawking

This book is a very short memoir by Stephen Hawking mostly about his personal life. He did get in to some science stuff during the course of the book, which I mostly just skimmed. I wasn’t really interested that much in it, and for someone who has little background in that area it was difficult for me to follow what he was talking about in this compressed format. Mostly the book was about his personal life though. Other than his diagnosis with ALS I didn’t really know much about him personally, so this book filled me in on all of that. It’s a really quick read and recommended for anyone who wants to know more about Stephen Hawking on a personal level. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 86

86. Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn

From the outside Jillian Kane’s life looks perfect. She has a devoted husband, two adorable kids, and a great job. Looks, however, can be deceiving. In reality Jillian’s husband has been abusing her for the past 9 years both physically and mentally. She finally decides it is time to run to save both herself and her kids, but Gordon seems to be ahead of her at every turn. Can she make it safely away from him and rescue her children too? This was a fantastic book. It took you inside the mental and physical realities of an abusive relationship, while also being a great suspense novel. I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 85

85. If Only You People Could Follow Directions: A Memoir by Jessica Hendry Nelson

This book is a disjointed memoir of Jessica Hendry Nelson chronicling the battles with mental illness, drug addiction, and alcohol addiction running in her family. Each chapter is sort of an individual essay relating a story of a single relationship her life be it her mother, brother, father, friend, or boyfriend. It’s an interesting concept for writing a memoir in the form of linked stories, but it didn’t play out very well for me. I think my major issue was the fact that the stories are not in any kind of chronological order, which makes it unnecessarily difficult to piece together how the separate stories relate to each other. In a book that is already not designed to tell a through story the mixing up the timeline seemed like a poor choice. I think the book suffered from trying to be overly creative. I give it a 4 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 84

84. Heartburn by Nora Ephron

I read this book for one of my book clubs. We’re currently doing a series on books about food. This book has little recipes sprinkled throughout it, but it’s not really as big of a focus as it has been in a lot of other books. The main characters is a cookbook author and is supposedly offering up some of her favorite recipes to the reader. They are all quite simple and integrated into the writing such that you could almost miss that they are there.

The plot of the book revolves around a woman who is the mother of one young child and very pregnant with her second child when she finds out that her husband has been having an affair and claims to be in love with the other woman though he apparently still wants to stay married to his wife. She of course is not really on board with this plan.

You wouldn’t necessarily think it because the plot is not the same, but the roots of the movie When Harry Met Sally, which Nora Eprhon wrote,  are in this book. There are so many scenes and pieces of dialogue that you will recognize in this book if you love When Harry Met Sally like I do. Sadly, that was the best part about this book to me. The book felt disjointed to me. It kind of felt like a romantic comedy set-up but then didn’t play out like one and I felt like maybe there should have been more at the end? It was an ok book, but nothing I found greatly compelling. I am curious to watch the movie that was actually based on this book since I’ve always heard good things about it. I would be curious to see how it plays out given how much of this book shows up in a different movie.

Year 8, Books 82 and 83

82. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

83. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I am the only person on the face of the planet who did not think that Gone Girl was the best book ever written. In fact I didn’t even like it, so I’m not sure why I decided I should read Gillian Flynn’s back catalog but I did. After reading Sharp Objects and Dark Places I can pretty much declare that I am not a fan of Gillian Flynn, though I didn’t hate either of these books like I did Gone Girl. I think my problem with her books are that I just don’t like her characters. I’ve actually seen a lot of stuff floating around online lately about how it’s ridiculous to think that you have to like the characters in a book in order for it to be a good book. I’m not saying that these aren’t good books I’m just saying they aren’t for me. I personally want to be rooting for at least one character. I don’t enjoy reading books where all the characters are completely loathsome. I don’t think that makes me any less of a person or intelligent reader. It’s just a matter of preference. My dislike of Gone Girl hasn’t stopped me from recommending it to others because I know how well liked it is.

There were at least some redeeming qualities to some of the characters in Sharp Objects and Dark Places, but ultimately I wasn’t in love with either of the books. If you enjoyed Gone Girl though I would recommend checking them out. There’s probably a good chance that you will enjoy these books too.

Year 8, Book 81

81.King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels

I read this book for one of my book clubs as it is this year’s One Maryland, One Book selection and we always try to read whatever book they pick. It’s the story of a Ghanian woman working as a secretary for the Ghanian embassy in Washington D.C. who is selected to become the king of her village after the current king dies. To my Western mind I think of being king more along the lines of royalty in Europe as opposed to what it is in Ghana where it is more of a government position along the lines of perhaps being the mayor of a small city. Upon taking the position Peggy finds out that her village has little money, the palace (which is not very palatial) is in extreme disrepair such that it is unlivable, her people have no clean drinking water, and her council is full of corrupt men who have been stealing from the village for years. In the exact opposite for what you would expect for a king Peggy is continuously asked to pump her own money into the village and into ceremonies. Over several years Peggy works to reverse the fortunes of her village rooting out the corruption in her council and making sure the money collected as fees and taxes from her villagers goes to the betterment of the village rather than to finance the corrupt practices of her council. It’s an inspiring story that also provided me with a lot more insight into life in Ghana and the culture of the Ghanian people than I previously had. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 80

80. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

Dad is Fat is a collection of humorous essays by the comedian Jim Gaffigan about living in New York City in a 2 bedroom apartment with his wife and their 5 young children. It was amusing for the most part as well as horrifying to someone who does not plan on having kids and cannot imagine living in a tiny NYC apartment with that many people. I will say that after awhile it did start to feel about repetitive like he didn’t really have anywhere else to go with the jokes after awhile they were just being presented again in slightly different contexts. For the most part though it’s an enjoyable read if you’re looking for something light with some humor in it. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 8, Book 79

79. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson brings his delightful writing into history this time, specifically the summer of 1927. Though technically the book spans parts of the spring and fall as well. It is divided into sections based on the months and traces a variety of notable stories over the course of that season. He chronicles the race to cross the Atlantic by plane and Charles Lindbergh’s eventual success in doing so and the fame that followed. 1927 also so Babe Ruth’s epic 60 home run season. He covers a variety of other events including a murder that dominated the headlines, severe weather and flooding along the Mississippi, and events that lead up to the collapse of the economy and the Great Depression among others.

The book provided me a lot more information regarding events I only knew little bits about in an entertaining manner as Bill Bryson so often does. My biggest takeaway from the book really was the more things change the more things stay the same. Everyone always thinks that the age their living in is special somehow and things are so much more (either better or worse) than in the past. To me it felt like I could have been reading any number of things that have happened in the past few years not to mention the general reactions of society to the younger generation. They were saying the same things back in 1927. Though I’m not sure it was his goal in writing it, this book is a good reminder that there is nothing inherently special about the time we’re living in. Amazing and noteworthy things have happened in the past, they are happening now, and will happen in the future. I give it an 8 out of 10.