Guest Review: Goodbye, Good Girl By Renee Blossom-Review by Jen Locke

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Jen Locke. She’s written guest reviews for the books The Drowning Guard earlier this year and wrote a review of A Winsome Murder back in 2013. Now she’s back with another review of Renee Blossom’s book Goodbye, Good Girl, which comes out this October.

I really wanted to like this. So many teenagers and children have absent parents. So when a young woman sets off on a quest to rescue her father from perceived life-threatening danger, it’s an incredibly promising story.

Kandace sets off after an event one afternoon when her mother, Ginger, was taken to the ER for an opiate overdose and a strange, well-armed man had entered the family home looking for her father. Kandace thinks her father is a chef who travels the world, cooking for important people. She can’t reach her father – he won’t answer the phone or text her back. After a visit with her mother, who explains there’s an address for him in her bedroom, Kandace decides it’s her responsibility to find him in California and save his life.

When she arrives in St Louis with her boyfriend, he chickens out and goes home because his mom is telling him that’s what he has to do. Kandace isn’t going home. She’s got too much at risk. So she takes off, leaving everything in his car.

She meets April at a bus stop and April recruits her to try exotic dancing – just for one night – to make enough money to get to LA.

As happens too often to young people, Kandace gets addicted to the attention and the highs, even the highs caused by ecstasy. She truly is her mother’s daughter, huh?

Here’s where things get weird. Okay, extra weird. The club in St Louis is like a magical fantasy version of the most dreamy strip club to work at. Maybe clubs like this exist somewhere. Maybe. Probably not. And if they did, they wouldn’t take a new dancer on the same day they met her. But most clubs don’t have magical church women that come with food, gift baskets, and sage advice. They don’t have a beauty, hair, makeup, whatever area. And they definitely don’t have wardrobe. They have a dressing room. With stations that girls stakeout at the beginning of their shifts. They put their belongings, unsecured usually (though there’s usually always someone around to keep everyone honest), by these stations. They bring their own clothes, do their own makeup and hair, and take care of their own personal grooming on their off time. I know, I’ve worked in one such club. And once you’ve seen one, they’re pretty much all the same – give or take a few details here and there.

Blossom takes this opportunity to try her hand at writing light erotica and it sometimes feels forced.

Kandace (aka Autumn) travels from St Louis to Las Vegas to LA, dancing with April the whole way. They became very close friends very quickly and it might be my general outlook on life, but I was waiting for a big betrayal that never happened.

When Kandace and April arrive in LA and locate Kandace’s father, it turns out that he was never in danger. The heavily-armed man who entered her home is someone he knows and is not a threat. Her father is some clandestine operative that cooks sometimes to gain access to events for his work. And by now, this part of the story feels irrelevant.

The entire way, Kandace is incredibly, unbelievably naïve. Even by the end of the book, her actions and assumptions don’t show much evidence of a maturing young woman. She seems to take time to think through her future, but she’s made her decisions long before she admits to them.

I admit it, I was hoping for some awesome story of a young lady saving her father showing ultimate girl power and bringing the family back together again. That was mostly crushed because Kandace was too impulsive. For someone taking on such an important journey, she really didn’t waste time thinking or planning. And to me, that’s a shame. But the other part that drove me insane? Her father’s reaction to the fact that Kandace is now stripping for money. He can’t allow her the space she needs to be herself, to figure herself out, or to make mistakes. He can’t respect her as a human being. He infantilizes her. It’s horrible misogyny and he angered me to no end.

The redeeming thing about the book? So many stories try to tie things up into tidy little bows and make sure that people are happy. That’s not this book. If anything, there’s a much bigger wedge between Kandace and her father. She’s uncomfortable in her hometown. And she’s moving to a city half a continent away, abandoning her mother and sisters who depend on her (truly her father’s daughter, also), to live with a girl she’s known for all of a week. That’s not a happy ending. Not a tragic ending, either. But it’s how things happen in real life. If there’s one thing the author got right, it’s the ending. It’s how things get messy and mistakes get made and sometimes we can’t take them back. And that’s a valuable thing to learn. I admire authors who can take their story to that place without polishing it up all nice and shiny. Thanks for letting us see that our lives aren’t the only crazy lives out there.

I am grateful to NetGalley and Revolve Publishing for the ARC.

Book Review: Listen Liberal-Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People by Thomas Frank

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Anybody familiar with my little corner of the Internet, knows I am a liberal. And I don’t feel any shame in that title. I’m very proud of it and it is one that I hold close to my heart…however…

I have been troubled by the ideas, opinions and actions by some of my fellow liberals for a few years now but never could I quite voice it in an articulate, yet simple way.

So thank goodness for Thomas Frank and his latest book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? In Listen, Liberal, Frank pretty much sums it up in a way I couldn’t without coming across like a blithering idiot.

Perhaps, you’re not familiar with the name Thomas Frank, but undoubtedly you’ve heard of his books. He wrote the classic What’s the Matter With Kansas, a book that should be on most political-minded folks reading list no matter what your views. I can also recommend two of his other books—The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, and Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right.

This time out, instead of focusing on conservatives and the current state of the GOP, Frank focuses on his fellow liberals and the Democratic party, and his summary is not pretty.

In my life, I’ve always felt I straddled two worlds, not feeling entirely comfortable in either one. I was raised in a middle class home by two college educated parents. I graduated from an excellent college with the highest of honors. I have worked in the professional realm of media, high tech, consulting, finance, law and various creative endeavors. I have eaten brie and drink wine. I enjoy my city’s cultural landscape whether it be our local art galleries or our wonderful film fest.

However, I also grew up in a rural area.  My family history is mostly wooden spoons, not silver spoons (my maternal grandmother never attended high school). I drove to high school in a pick-up truck where guys wore John Deere hats and spit up their chewing tobacco into the drinking fountains. As an adult I lived in roach-infested apartments in really dodgy neighborhoods. My feet have walked on factory shop floors and the floors of several retail establishments. I have worked as a temp for longer than I care to admit. I’ve been poor, really poor, so poor I’ve eaten out of garbage cans and spent sleepless nights wondering if I’m going to end up homeless.

And in both of the worlds, I’ve felt marginalized and misunderstood. I am fully liberal, but today’s flavor of liberal (which favors the first world I noted) doesn’t quite understand the life I’ve lived in the second scenario I noted. And we’re worse off for not realizing this.

For the longest time, the Democratic base included many of those who work blue collar, pink collar and other assorted non-professional, managerial type of labor. Then something happened. This base of working class Jacks and Janes were cast aside for a more elitist class, which included those with college degrees (often post-undergrad) degrees, impressive job titles and even more impressive incomes. These elites are under the illusion that many of them earned their way to the top through mostly their merits. And though many of them had, a lot of them also had supportive families, good connections, went to the best schools, and were able to grab the brass ring of internships, and later great jobs. And a lot of their good fortune is due to just plain good luck.

Now many of these elitist liberals are socially liberal (which is wonderful). But they often ignore the plight of the working and service classes, the gulf between the haves and have nots, those living in rural areas, globalization, and the stagnation of wages (while CEO pay is through the roof).

As I mentioned, a lot of elitist liberals believe their success is due to merit, their talents, smarts, skills, and education. And sadly, many of these people look down at the “others.” Clearly they don’t have what it takes to succeed. It’s total snobbery.

What these liberals (and their “liberal gilt”) need to recognize is the great unwashed, the salt of the earth must be taken seriously. This includes their ideas, concerns, opinions, fears and aspirations. All of us have a stake in our country and its future. There is strength in numbers and those Democrats in power must listen to all of us (so far only Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and not to mention pundit Robert Reich seem to be open to doing this).

Sure, meritocracy is a nice concept. But so is a sense of empathy. Listen Liberal implores liberal elites to stop being such snobs, open their minds, hearts, and souls to those they think as “lesser” to make effective change that works for all of us.

Book Review: Startup-A Novel by Doree Shafrir

The workplace always has a way to inspire a good book, and it definitely inspires author Doree Shafrir in her spot-on satirical release Start Up: A Novel.

Startup is about a collection of driven and talented millennials and how they are making their way in the world of social media, work culture, and high tech in the world of startups in New York City, a culture where often you’re only as good as your last tweet and a text read by the wrong person can ruin people’s careers. However, it is also a novel that examines the complex relationships between men and women, both professionally and personally, and all too relatable no matter what generation you got slid into (FYI-I’m a card-carrying member of Generation X).

The world of startups is one that both baffles me and intrigues me even though I’ve spent some time in newly formed entrepreneurial organizations. Sometimes I hear the word “startup” and I feel my blood turn into icy cold rivers. A lot of the startup culture seems to be about making something out of nothing valuable or meaningful to our society. Yet, at the same time one of my favorite shows is Startup on PBS, which examines new companies and entrepreneurs who are creating products and/or services that are creative, useful, and add value to their communities.

Sadly, the latter doesn’t seem to be the startup in Shafrir’s novel, but does it make for a fun and witty read.

Startup focuses on several characters, who are both infuriating and intriguing. There is Mack McAllister, the CEO of the startup Slack who is having an affair with Isabel Taylor, one of his employees. There is Katya Pasternack, a tough reporter for a high tech media publication and her boss, managing editor Dan Blum. And then there is Dan’s wife, Sabrina Choe Blum, back to work at the startup, trying to fit in and get back to speed after several years as a stay at home mom.

Mack may seem to be on the top of the world as CEO, but in reality he is lonely so he hooks up with Isabel. Isabel is initially fine with the casual hook ups she has with Mack but is now at the point where she wants their sexy time to stop and get back on track to focusing on her career.

Katya, sees several texts sent from Mack to Isabel on Isabel’s phone at a networking party. Three of these texts feature Mack’s fully-engorged member saying, “don’t tell me u don’t miss this.” Katya wonders if she should she ignore the texts or should she publish the photos and write an exposé that could blow up the entire world of Slack, not to mention the careers of both Mack and Isabel. Gee, which option do you think she’ll pick? I bet you can figure that out.

Meanwhile, Dan is at this tether at both the tech magazine and with his marriage and home life. He just figures he is worth of more respect by both his colleagues, especially Katya and his wife Sabrina.

And poor Sabrina feels in over her head at her new job; she feels a bit out of the loop when it comes to her tech savvy, eternally smart phone watching and social media updating co-workers and questions how she measures up.

Furthermore, she’s got a shopping addiction and the credit card bills to show for it. She tries to hide this addiction (not to mention the bills) from her hubby Dan. To pay for her bills, Sabrina starts selling her dirty undies on-line and actually gets a nice cash flow coming in. Yes, it sounds disgusting but everybody has their kinks and Sabrina is just providing a product some people are willing to buy.

From the opening line of Startup to the last closing line, I found myself caught up in the whirlwind of these characters’ lives both professionally and personally. Though a lot of them made some bad decisions, I truly had their best interests at heart. I wanted things to work out for all involved, and I could relate to a lot of their problems. Yes, even Sabrina selling her unmentionables. Nope, I’m not going to sell my dirty dainties on Craigslist, but I have been told more than once I should make extra money via phone sex due to having a “hot and sexy” speaking voice.

But I digress…

In the hands of a lesser writer, these characters could be written in broad non-dimensional strokes, the men all douchebro cads, the women all overly ambitious shrews or weak milquetoasts. But all are fully-dimensional. You both root for them while at the same time shake your head in disgust.

Plus, I could totally relate to this novel even though I’m a generation older than the characters and live in Milwaukee, not the Big Apple. I’ve worked in the world of media and newly formed organizations. But I also dealt with these issues while working in older companies and retail establishments. It seems like the more things change , the more they stay the same. From Mad Men to the mad world of startups, Startup: A Novel is both timely and timeless.

Book Marks

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Calling all progressive and liberal young people. Senator Bernie Sanders is writing a book just for you!

Someone brilliant came up with the perfect book display for Ivanka Trump!

Entertainment Weekly celebrates JK Rowling’s 52nd birthday with her best tweets!

How did we get to the age of Trump? Author Tom Nichols would like to answer that.

Jeannette Walls on writing The Glass Castle and the upcoming movie based on her touching and maddening memoir.

Writer of Legally Blonde is writing the script for the upcoming Sweet Valley High movie.

Lisa Simpson has her very own book club.

PBS documentary series The Great American Read is coming soon!

Just what does a ghostwriter do? Andrew Crofts has the answer.

 

Book Review: I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

Maddy is a ghost, stuck in limbo. Dead from an apparent suicide, Maddy leaves behind her husband Brady and a teenage daughter named Eve. It is a wonder why Maddy would kill herself for it seems she had an ideal life. She was so kind, smart and generous to her family and friends. Brady was a devoted husband to Maddy and is a loving father. And though Eve is currently struggling with the difficulties adolescence, she’s basically a good kid.

Maddy may be physically gone, but in the spiritual world, she roams, watching over Brady and Eve both overcome and confused by her suicide. Her death leaves a huge gap in their lives and scars that may never heal. Brady and Eve try desperately to understand why Maddy would leave them in such a heartbreaking, tormenting manner. Was it something they did…or didn’t do? Were there any signs? And if there were signs, why were they so blind to them?

Maddy believes one way she can help Brady and Eve is to help them find a wife/mother replacement. Soon she sets her sights on Rory, a teacher whose fun and happy personality can only enhance the lives of Brady and Eve and lead them on a path to happiness and healing.

Through divine intervention Rory begins to work as a tutor for Eve. But she ends up being so much more than that; through her compassion she helps Eve come to grips with her mother’s death, her overwhelming grief, and her difficulties with her father. Rory does this utilizing both her warmth and charm (and sometimes sassy good humor). But what about Brady? Yes, he is drawn to Rory and appreciates the positive impact she has on Eve. But is Rory a suitable replacement for Brady? Hmm…

And during this process Maddy is a constant spiritual guide. She tries desperately to manipulate Brady from becoming a rage-filled man who strikes out at his surviving daughter. She also reminds him that being a good man doesn’t necessarily mean being a workaholic at the detriment to his family. At this pivotal time it is of utmost importance Brady be devoted to Eve and help her come to grips with Maddy’s death as well as the usual trial and tribulations of being a teen girl.

As for Eve, she misses her mother terribly, and lashes out at her father while at the same time understands that he is her father and loves her desperately. Eve also grows quite fond of Rory and is grateful, not only for her tutoring but for her love and empathy at a time she needs both.

But not everything works out so smoothly. Brady and Even often question Maddy’s suicide, wondering if they were at fault. At turns, Brady and Eve are bitter at each other and at other times, content and loving. As for Maddy? Well, her suicide isn’t as clear cut as it seems and as I Liked My Life reaches its compelling end, we begin the understand the complexity of Maddy, Brady and Eve’s lives and how they intertwined. We also are treated to a rather fun, yet unexpected plot twist when it comes to Rory and her life.

I Liked My life is a haunting tale, one written with grace, dignity, warmth and insight. The characters are both complex and simple. They are people we know and maybe they are us. Fabiachi is a gifted writer and I Liked My Life is a striking debut from a true talent. I look forward to more work from her.

Writer’s Block

You don’t have to take a look at the calendar to realize summer is coming to an end, and soon it will be fall. My summer has been quiet and low-key, but not exactly uneventful. I’ve been busy looking for a new job, which includes not only looking and receiving promising job leads, but also updating and improving my resume and other pertinent job-related materials including my physical portfolio. Last week I organized some of my papers, which included articles, various copywriting and strong academic work.

What else? A friend has offered to do a website for me for free! And another one will help me with the photography and various graphic design elements. Once it is completed I’ll post it here.

But what about this blog? Well, I now am using a new Twitter feed to promote this blog. My blog also has a Facebook page. And you can find my reviews on Good Reads, which links back to the Book Self.

And yes, some book reviews. Look for reviews of two novels and a work on non-fiction. I’m finishing up another novel, and afterward I will start reading another novel and a non-fiction book. My friend Nora also gave me three books to read and review. Believe me, this blog won’t end any time soon as long as there are books in the world.

Book Review: Leap-Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want by Tess Vigeland

Even though the economy is supposedly getting better and jobless rates are lower, Americans are still dealing with unemployment, underemployment, wage stagnation and just all-around job dissatisfaction.

By now you know the color of your parachute. You’ve leaned-in more than once or twice. You’re no longer a dummy or an idiot when it comes to creating a great resume or handling an interview. You’re on LinkedIn. You’re fully engaged on various social media. But what other steps are there when it comes to career success? I know I’m trying to figure it out, and maybe so are you. I often look for books that take these issues head- on and offer doable, concrete advice on how to navigate the world of work (and looking for work) in the 21st century. Sadly, Tess Vigeland’s book Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want is not one of those books.

When I found Vigeland’s book Leap, and thought “Yes, this book might help! Someone found herself at a crossroads when it came to work and didn’t have the perfect plan on how to proceed! And I bet this book will feature other people going through the same thing and what can be done to get back on track!”

For the uninitiated, Tess Vigeland was a host for NPR’s Marketplace. Vigeland initially wanted to work in television news but found a place in talk radio. And due to her talent and ambition became quite successful. Vigeland worked for several years at Marketplace and was beloved by both NPR and its audience.

Now you’re probably wondering, “What happened? Was Tess fired? Was Marketplace cancelled? Was she dealing with some awful behavior in the workplace?”

Nope, none of these things happened. Vigeland just felt unfulfilled…so she left Marketplace, and she had no other job in sight and no concrete plan on finding another.

Now you may wonder how being jobless with nothing on the employment horizon affected Vigeland? Did she end up dead broke, nearly homeless? Did she have to work a bunch of crappy jobs, go on food stamps, sell her belongings or really struggle after she leapt?

No, Vigeland didn’t deal with any of that. Instead, she had a great deal of money saved up, is married to a successful man and a she also has a network of well-connected and well-off close friends. If this isn’t a net, I don’t know what is!

So instead of taking whatever opportunity that came her way, Vigeland was able to “find herself” in a staycation version of Eat, Pray, Love. While on this pursuit, she never really questioned why she felt so unfulfilled at Marketplace. To me, it seems as if she needed a lot of external kudos and applause and Marketplace wasn’t fueling her ego. Now, this I can understand; people often only define themselves and their worthiness by what they do for a living. People want their jobs to be more than just earning a paycheck.

So Vigeland didn’t have a job, and without a job, she didn’t have an identity and she didn’t have a paycheck. But she did have a lot of free time to interview other people who also made the choice to Leap, and like Vigeland, they also had privileges that most of us don’t have. And by the time Leap got to this point, I was starting to get pissed off. Story after story consisted of privileged, moneyed, well-connected people who just didn’t feel fulfilled, talk about first world problems. And as I read their tales, I grew more and more bored…and cheated.

Leap (at first glance) is sold as a how-to but it is just another memoir, and a fairly dull one at that. Vigeland is hugely self-absorbed but not very self-aware. She never truly acknowledges her privilege, not just when it comes to her professional success, but also the privilege she has had since she was a child-upper-middle class parents, excellent education, fancy internships, a network of well-connected friends and classmates, a loving and supportive spouse, and so on. I do not hate her for any of those things. And I fully acknowledge her intelligence, ambition, talent and work ethic in a culture that seems to undermine these qualities. I just think of a bit more of self-awareness and fully owning up to one’s privilege would make Leap a bit more bearable to the reader.

So don’t let this book Leap onto your reading list, and dust off those copies of What Color is Your Parachute and Job Hunting for Dummies. They’ll probably be a bit more useful.