Category: book reviews

4 Great Memoirs to Get You Through the Holidays

4 Great Memoirs to Get You Through the Holidays

December is long. All those open houses, all those family dinners, all that shopping and buyer’s remorse and returning. All those cocktails. All that love and drama. All the twinkling lights and last-minute dashes to Walgreens because you forgot to get the stuff for the stockings. All those holiday cards featuring families clad in white holding hands on beaches, gazing blissfully at the camera.

If it all feels daunting because a)you are an introvert or b)you would kind of rather be working, here are four memoirs to get you through the holidays. Whether you’re looking for a great book to pair with a cocktail, a minimalist manifesto to help you curb your spending, or a tale of familial love and heartbreak paired with a side of American history, you’ll find a true, somewhat funny, occasionally inspiring story get you through the long, lovely, dark and boozy nights of December.


Tell Me More, by Kelly Corrigan

(best book for midnight catharsis)

A funny, irreverent, and often poignant examination of motherhood, friendship, the grief of losing a parent, and the shock of crashing head first into the body’s frailty. Highly recommended for fans of Anne Lamott.

Buy the book.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie

(Best book to make you appreciate your complicated family)

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie Fans of Sherman Alexie’s short stories (The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven) and his novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will gravitate to his new memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, an intimate and often painful glimpse at the relationship between the author and his mother when he was a child growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Like so much of his work, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is a hybrid creation, including poetry alongside prose; the humor for which Alexie is known gets to the heart of the pain and grief experienced by the author and those he loves.

Buy the book.

The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fischer

(Best Audible Listen to pair with a cocktail)

Carrie Fisher’s voice is precious, smart, startling, and irreverent. The Princess Diarist is the perfect companion to Fisher’s masterfully funny, wry, and surprising memoir, Wishful Drinking.

Listen to The Princess Diarist

The Year Without a Purchase, by Scott Dannemiller  

(best book to keep you from overspending during Christmas)

How tied are you to your things? How much time do you lose shopping? How many times a day do you click an email leading you to an online sale? In addition to being financially harmful, our culture of endless shopping is a colossal waste of time–time we could be spending with our families or achieving our goals. The Year Without a Purchase serves as a reminder that we already have most of what we need. Of course, the paradox of the book is that you have to buy it to read it, which goes specifically against the tenets of the book.

Buy the book.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing review copies of these titles in exchange for an honest review.

Image courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo via unsplash

Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage Pact, The Year of Fog, and five other novels and story collections. 

L’appart by David Lebovitz

L’appart by David Lebovitz

 L’appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, by David Lebovitz

As charming as it is informative, L’appart offers a chef’s eye view of the beauty and bureaucratic madness that is France.

After moving from San Francisco to Paris, Lebovitz spent a decade living in a tiny top-floor flat with a magnificent view of the City of Light. When he finally decided to buy his own place, he had no idea what he was in for. In this fresh, funny memoir, sprinkled with insider knowledge about Paris life (sales only happen once a year, for example, and baguettes always come wrapped in tiny paper “because excess is ground upon in France”), Lebovitz chronicles his attempt to buy and remodel a Paris apartment amidst miles of red tape and misunderstandings. Each chapter ends with a recipe, which, for the culinarily untalented among us, may prove as daunting as dealing with the Parisian real estate agents and electricians. Even if you can’t imagine pulling off a pain perdu caramelise, you’ll be happy to learn that pain perdu got its name because it “takes lost (Peru) bread and turns it around, making it something marvelous.”

Leibovitz’s love of his adopted city, as well as his passion for the bounty of the Parisian marche, comes through loud and clear. An utter delight.

Exploring Inner Space in The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Exploring Inner Space in The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

The WanderersThe Wanderers by Meg Howrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I requested The Wanderers by Meg Howrey because I love reading pretty much anything about space. While I was expecting a novel about traveling to Mars, I found something unique and unexpected in this novel: the three astronauts at the center of the story, chosen for their unique skill sets and their supposed compatibility, remain on Earth but in an unearthly simulation, isolated from their loved ones for seventeen months, caught up in an experiment that tests them intellectually, physically, and emotionally. Thoroughly enjoyable.

>Recommended for NASA lovers, anyone who went to space camp, and fans of Lydia Netzer’s brilliant and beautifulShine Shine Shine< /em>.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens – Loneliness & Creativity in the Falklands

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens – Loneliness & Creativity in the Falklands

Verdict: an unusual and utterly absorbing memoir, an apt examination of one young woman’s struggle to create in solitude

In general, I think memoirs are best told by writers who have a few decades under their belts. Memoir by its very nature tends to veer toward navel-gazing; it takes a degree of intellectual rigor and self-depecration to pull it off without being dull at best, annoyingly narcissistic at worst. I struggled with this problem myself, when, at the age of 28, I traveled solo to Beijing for work. During my time there, I tried to make a memoir of it, but upon my return home, the memoir became a novel. I ultimately felt that, at my age, I could tell a story, but my own story wasn’t interesting enough to make a memoir.

So I was more than pleasantly surprised by Nell Stevens’s Bleaker House, a memoir about the writer’s time isolated on the frozen Bleaker Island, with only the penguins for company. How she came to be there would be the envy of any young writer. Upon completing their MFA year at Boston University, students are given an unusual opportunity: every student receives a fellowship to pursue his or her writing for three months anywhere in the world.

When Stevens chooses the tiny, isolated Bleaker Island in the Falklands–in order to get away from everything, to write her novel in solitude and struggle–the director of her MFA program advises against it. Why not Paris? he wants to know. But Stevens is determined to leave behind the distractions of Boston, and of her home city of London, of civilization in general, and be a writer. Getting to the island is difficult, and she is allowed only a very limited amount of luggage. Because the island has no stores and no residents beyond the mostly absent owners of a barely-operating farm, she must bring all of her supplies with her. She allots 1,000 calories per day, mostly in the form of instant oatmeal, raisins, and Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

What emerges from her grueling self-imposed exile is not a novel, but instead this memoir: a blunt and beautifully introspective examination of solitude and the creative process. She discovers that an island of one’s own is a far cry from a room of one’s own, and a story doesn’t necessarily flow just because you’ve shut out all ordinary distractions. Hunger and loneliness prove to be even more formidable distractions, and the time stretching out before her is more harrowing than liberating.

Interspersed throughout the memoir are snippets from Stevens’s failed novel. While the fictional interludes serve to show the way life feeds into art, they are the least interesting part of the book, at times feeling like filler. That said, as I read the fictional chapters, it occurred to me that they were bizarrely marketable, and had she finished the novel, it might have proved an easy sell. Instead, she returned home to London and wrote something stranger and more riveting, a hybrid gem of a book that captures the heady, scary, promising feeling of just starting out.

While the failure of the novel vexed the writer, it is to the reader’s advantage that Stevens did not write what she set out to write, but something else entirely. The something else entirely is where the beauty and heart of this book lie.

Michelle Richmond is the author of two story collections and four novels. Her new novel, The Marriage Pact, is forthcoming in 28 languages.

Sunday Suspense read: THE CHILD by Fiona Barton

Sunday Suspense read: THE CHILD by Fiona Barton

THE CHILD, by Fiona Barton

Berkley, June 27, 2017

As the newspaper for which she works is firing journalists left and right, making way for a crop of inexperienced writers of sensationalist online content, veteran reporter Kate Waters catches the whiff of a story: a baby’s skeleton is discovered during a construction project. Unable to stop thinking about the “Building Site Baby,” Waters sets out to investigate alongside the police detectives, insinuating herself into the lives of women who once lived on the street where the skeleton was found. She also meets Angela and Nick, who were ruthlessly scrutinized after their baby was kidnapped from a maternity ward forty years before. Angela desperately hopes the skeleton at the building site is that of her kidnapped baby, so that she can finally have closure, while Emma, who had a difficult childhood with an unloving mother, fears she will be caught out for a crime she committed as an adolescent. A poignant, well-paced novel that examines the intrusiveness of investigative journalism along with its power to provide answers. The final few pages provided an aha moment I absolutely did not see coming.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for providing a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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