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This Will Only Hurt A Little by Busy Philipps {review}

This Will Only Hurt A Little

Genre: Memoir

 

My Review -Stars

This came highly recommended by a few friends and since I was looking for a nonfiction audiobook for a road trip, I decided to give it a go. And what do you know? I haven’t been able to stop recommending it myself!

I was familiar with Busy Philipps from her stint on Dawson’s Creek, one of my favorite shows while it aired. And I certainly enjoyed seeing her friendship with Michelle Williams continue over the years. But I haven’t followed her career, nor do I follow her on Instagram, although I hear she’s hilarious in Stories. All that to say, I knew very little about her life going in to this.

Well. Let me tell you: it was a very entertaining way to spend the drive. She’s funny, although I only laughed out loud a few times. But her stories were gripping and I was fully enthralled, whether she was talking about teenage hijinks, past relationships, or the times she performed as a live Barbie for a toy expo. It's very well written and I was constantly impressed with how she'd draw a story to an end.

It was also very moving in places. She goes in-depth discussing her life-long anxiety, as well as postpartum depression. She also discusses the abortion she had as a teenager and the resolution to that particular story had me in tears. In fact, I teared up a number of times, especially when she talked about Heath Ledger’s death. It was so interesting to learn her perspective as his and Michelle’s friend. She also discusses the low points of her marriage and how they dealt with it.

There was so much I didn’t know about her career or past relationships. She speaks frankly about the fat-shaming and sexism she dealt with. I’ve been wanting to cancel James Franco for a while but now I really want to. I had no idea of her involvement in Blades Of Glory or how her ex and his brother tried to cut her out. She also had great thoughts about #MeToo, especially as someone who still doesn’t know what to make of the first time she had sex (I’d say she was raped) and knew Harvey Weinstein and Quentin Tarentino. How she reckoned with the latter was note-worthy.

The audiobook production really elevated my experience. Busy narrates it herself and that brought a whole other layer of appreciation, as she reacted to her words. There were a few times you could hear her getting choked up. Or she’d laugh in places to bring the emotion of a lighter story more fully to life. Her voices for different people were great. I’m not going to follow her on Instagram any time soon but she has a new fan in me and I look forward to seeing where her career goes next.

CW: anxiety, postpartum depression, rape/sexual assault, injuries requiring surgery, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, death of loved ones, reference to friends dying in a plane crash, 9/11, sexism, misogyny, graphic details of pregnancy and labor, fat-shaming, drug use (there may be more but this is what I remember post-car ride.)

 

 

Synopsis

 Busy Philipps’s autobiographical book offers the same unfiltered and candid storytelling that her Instagram followers have come to know and love, from growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona and her painful and painfully funny teen years, to her life as a working actress, mother, and famous best friend.

Busy is the rare entertainer whose impressive arsenal of talents as an actress is equally matched by her storytelling ability, sense of humor, and sharp observations about life, love, and motherhood. Her conversational writing reminds us what we love about her on screens large and small. From film to television to Instagram, Busy delightfully showcases her wry humor and her willingness to bare it all.

I’ve been waiting my whole life to write this book. I’m just so grateful someone asked. Otherwise, what was the point of any of it?

 

Buy the book:

Amazon (affiliate link) | Barnes & Noble


The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs {review}

The Bright Hour

Genre: Memoir

 

My Review -Stars

CW: cancer, dying

The Bright Hour is often mentioned in tandem with Paul Kalanithi’s wonderful memoir When Breath Becomes Air. Both books explore living with and dying from cancer. Kalanithi does so from the vantage point of a neurosurgeon. Nina Riggs does so as a wife and mother (and great-great-granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson.) Her perspective is more philosophical, really digging into the small moments and big questions that add up to a life. There were a few too many Montaigne and Ralph Waldo Emerson references for my personal taste but I did like that their work served as a springboard for Riggs as she processed the ups and downs of treatment and what this meant for her loved ones. On top of her breast cancer diagnosis, she was dealing with her mom’s worsening health due to her own breast cancer treatment and then her eventual death as well. To grieve the death of a parent as you’re dealing with the same cancer that killed them feels near impossible and I so appreciated her insights into her grieving process.

This book was filled with the kind of writing that made me despair over ever writing a comparatively good sentence ever again. (The metaphor about the couch!!!) It’s moving and beautiful and heartbreaking. Her death was such a loss. (I should note it was interesting to read this knowing Riggs’s husband is now together with Kalanithi’s wife.) The former hospice social worker in me can’t help but hope it will inspire more people to have the hard conversations now about their future medical care. And the current me is so grateful I got to read her story.

For people who care about such things: it’s written in first-person present tense but I didn’t notice until three-quarters of the way through. I don’t think I’ve read many memoirs written in first-person present and before this, I wasn’t sure if it would work. Rest assured, it worked here. The immediacy served the story well.

CW: breast cancer, death of a loved one, grief

 

Synopsis

An exquisite memoir about how to live--and love--every day with "death in the room," from poet Nina Riggs, mother of two young sons and the direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the tradition of When Breath Becomes Air.

"We are breathless, but we love the days. They are promises. They are the only way to walk from one night to the other."

Nina Riggs was just thirty-seven years old when initially diagnosed with breast cancer--one small spot. Within a year, the mother of two sons, ages seven and nine, and married sixteen years to her best friend, received the devastating news that her cancer was terminal.

How does one live each day, "unattached to outcome"? How does one approach the moments, big and small, with both love and honesty?

Exploring motherhood, marriage, friendship, and memory, even as she wrestles with the legacy of her great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nina Riggs's breathtaking memoir continues the urgent conversation that Paul Kalanithi began in his gorgeous When Breath Becomes Air. She asks, what makes a meaningful life when one has limited time?

Brilliantly written, disarmingly funny, and deeply moving, The Bright Hour is about how to love all the days, even the bad ones, and it's about the way literature, especially Emerson, and Nina's other muse, Montaigne, can be a balm and a form of prayer. It's a book about looking death squarely in the face and saying "this is what will be."

Especially poignant in these uncertain times, The Bright Hour urges us to live well and not lose sight of what makes us human: love, art, music, words.

 

Buy the book:

Amazon (affiliate link) | Barnes & Noble


Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray {review}

Briarley

Genre: historical romance, novella

 

My Review -Stars

This was so lovely that I have to take a moment to reflect upon said loveliness. Briarley is worth every penny and I need you all to read it. It's a MM Beauty & The Beast retelling set during WWII. All the more impressive is this is a novella. It’s one of the best historical romances I’ve ever read, as well as one of the best BATB retellings I’ve ever read.

The author reinterprets the source material in ways that give it so much more nuance. It’s thoroughly feminist, right down to the parson refusing to send his daughter in his place. Edward consistently puts others’ needs above his own and that leads to the dragon holding him captive instead.

What initially starts off as an adversarial relationship between the two men slowly transforms into a friendship. Edward believes Briar is capable of love and wants to help him break the curse. He finds him a dog, who is missing his back legs from an accident years prior, and it was so touching to watch Briar care for it! Briar’s transformation does not happen overnight. Far from it. He’s been stuck in his ways for almost 120 years (he was 20 when the curse struck) and, spoiled privileged brat that he is and was, he wants it reversed without lifting a finger. His emotional arc was beautiful to watch and I was in awe of how Gray built toward it.

The has a great sense of humor throughout, which makes for a good balance, for example, as it explores the different attitudes about homosexuality in 1840 vs 1940. The dragon was cursed in 1840 and the story delves in to how the world has changed around him, from technological advances to current events. He’s also working through the religious and societal biases against homosexuality at the time and Edward can’t give him great hope about the prevailing attitudes in 1940. However, he had a loving relationship with a man and he’s done his own theological searching and determined their love was not wrong. Progress has been made in the intervening 100 years and it was so interesting to see how the story explored this, as well as how it examined faith, particularly through Edward’s work.

Lastly, Edward was injured during the first world war, when his boyfriend was also killed. The story does not shy away from depicting his disability, nor from the cost and toll of war as WWII’s dangers toward England make themselves known. I can’t speak to the representation but it struck me as honoring and true.

CW: war, homophobia, religious homophobia, bombing, house fire, leg injury

 

Synopsis

 An m/m World War II-era retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

During a chance summer shower, an English country parson takes refuge in a country house. The house seems deserted, yet the table is laid with a sumptuous banquet such as the parson has not seen since before war rationing.

Unnerved by the uncanny house, he flees, but stops to pluck a single perfect rose from the garden for his daughter - only for the master of the house to appear, breathing fire with rage. Literally.

At first, the parson can't stand this dragon-man. But slowly, he begins to feel the injustice of the curse that holds the dragon captive. What can break this vengeful curse?

 

Buy the book:

Amazon (affiliate link)


The Lost Queen by Signe Pike {review}

The Lost Queen

Genre: Historical Fiction

 

My Review -Stars

This was sold to me as Camelot meets Outlander and since I love both, I was instantly on board. Now that I’ve read this, however, I’m not sure why Outlander was used as comp title because I don’t see it in this plot. This is basically a Camelot prequel, in part the story of how Merlin became Merlin but centered on his twin sister Languoreth who became a queen.

And what a character Languoreth is! We first meet her when she’s 10 years old, just after the death of her mother. Child narrators don't always work for me but this one did, in part, because she doesn't act like a contemporary 10 year old. Olden days 10 year olds were much more mature and capable, which makes sense given how 15 year olds were considered men and women. Which by today's standards: yikes.

In any case, the novel is divided into parts, often skipping several years ahead and so we see Languoreth grow up, as well as how her family and country is changing along the way. There is no small amount of intrigue due to wars, political machinations, and the arrival of a more evangelical Christianity. Languoreth’s dad has to be careful about who he trusts, while also giving fealty to the High King, no matter what he thinks about his leadership. He wants to help preserve the Old Ways but the new Christians don’t fight fair, which was infuriating to see.

I came to care very deeply about the characters, to the point of worrying about them when I wasn’t reading the book. Languoreth’s brother Lailoken, our future Merlin, was a puzzle to me and I kept looking for clues of who he would become. He’s part warrior, part Druid, and has so many more options than Languoreth by virtue of his gender. They’re such close siblings and I really liked how the story explored their twinship.

Then there’s Maelgwn, a warrior in Emrys Pendragon’s army. He and Languoreth have an immediate connection but she’s already been promised to the son of the High King. This was agonizing to see. She had no real choice, not one that wouldn’t dishonor and discredit her family and put their people in danger. Once she was betrothed to Rhydderch, it was hard to root for her and Maelgwn. Rhydderch may not have been the man she’d choose but he does truly care for her, which is all the more impressive, given the people who live in the High King’s castle.

And yet, Maelgwn. I was basically in love with him, not only because of his character but because he kept trying to do right by everyone. After she gets married, she has children and the years pass but her feelings for Maelgwin do not waver. At the same time, she had some unreasonable expectations of him once their paths cross again. I was deeply irritated with Languoreth for being mad at Maelgwn, as if he was supposed to have pined over her for the past 16 years while she's married to someone else. It was so selfish of her, not to mention I worried her actions would jeopardize her family.

And then. That ending. Big things are afoot for the next book and I cannot wait for it to be released! This was an epic saga and I loved every bit of it.

CW: death of parent, grief, infidelity, murder, violence, religious desecration, sexism, references to domestic violence, rape, and child rape

 

Synopsis

 Mists of Avalon meets Philippa Gregory in the first book of an exciting historical trilogy that reveals the untold story of Languoreth—a powerful and, until now, tragically forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland—twin sister of the man who inspired the legendary character of Merlin.

Intelligent, passionate, rebellious, and brave, Languoreth is the unforgettable heroine of The Lost Queen, a tale of conflicted loves and survival set against the cinematic backdrop of ancient Scotland, a magical land of myths and superstition inspired by the beauty of the natural world. One of the most powerful early medieval queens in British history, Languoreth ruled at a time of enormous disruption and bloodshed, when the burgeoning forces of Christianity threatened to obliterate the ancient pagan beliefs and change her way of life forever.

Together with her twin brother Lailoken, a warrior and druid known to history as Merlin, Languoreth is catapulted into a world of danger and violence. When a war brings the hero Emrys Pendragon, to their door, Languoreth collides with the handsome warrior Maelgwn. Their passionate connection is forged by enchantment, but Languoreth is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of the High King who is sympathetic to the followers of Christianity. As Rhydderch's wife, Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way, her kingdom, and all she holds dear.

The Lost Queen brings this remarkable woman to life—rescuing her from obscurity, and reaffirming her place at the center of the most enduring legends of all time.

 

Buy the book:

Amazon (affiliate link) | Barnes & Noble


How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones {review}

How We Fight For Our Lives

Genre: Memoir

 

My Review - 5 Stars

“Just as some cultures have a hundred words for ‘snow,’ there should be a hundred words in our language for all the ways a black boy can lie awake at night.” p. 24

I have no words to do this book justice. Simply stunning in every way. Saeed Jones is incomparably talented: his words sing, slay, and soothe. Through vignettes of his life as a Black gay man from the South, he examines and interrogates race, sexuality, and loss. One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.

I've had the pleasure of hearing Jones speak and I imagine this would be marvelous as an audiobook. Should he ever have an event near you, by all means go.

CW: racism, homophobia, beating, death of parent, grief

 

Synopsis

From award-winning poet Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.

“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’ ”

Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

 

Buy the book:

Amazon (affiliate link) | Barnes & Noble