Audiobook Review, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reese Witherspoon's Book Club

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy MarriageThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Ann Patchett is nothing short of a powerhouse writer!

Living in Nashville and being a book junkie, I naturally made my way to Parnassus Books for a visit (it just happens to be co-owned by Ann Patchett herself). And while I was there, I decided to pick up a signed copy of Ann’s book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick from 2017. As I’ve made it a goal to slowly make my way through Reese’s recommendations, this seemed like a fitting choice.

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I’m not a huge believer in reading book jackets or synopses before diving in (I read a wide variety of genres and prefer to be surprised), so I had no idea that this was a) nonfiction and b) a collection of essays. This is exactly why I don’t read book jackets. Because those two components together are not what I would typically gravitate toward in a book. And by reading the jacket and making a preemptive judgment, I would miss out on a ton of really amazing books.

In This is the Story of a Happy Marriage Ann Patchett teaches us life lessons, tells us about love and loss, gives us a glimpse into how she got where she is today both in her personal life and her career, and paints a lovely picture of Nashville that this Nashvillian really appreciated. But the magic isn’t necessarily in the content itself, but the author’s masterful storytelling. Her sentence structure and the way she combines words and phrases is magical. She had a lot of really insightful things to say that made me think. There were moments when I chuckled. And there were moments where I said, “I want to be friends with Ann Patchett.”

If a collection of essays doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you should read this book anyway. While it’s technically a bunch of short stories strung together, it reads more like a cohesive memoir. The essays flowed together logically to tell a complete story that did not feel disjointed. I would highly recommend and will definitely be reading more from Patchett in the future.

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Audiobook Review, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction

Becoming by Michelle Obama

BecomingBecoming by Michelle Obama

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do I even begin to do this book justice with a review? I honestly don’t think I can. I have so many thoughts and feelings after finishing Becoming that I don’t think a simple review will accomplish everything I’d like to say. But here is my best shot.

Let me first start by saying that I don’t want this review to be a study in political ideology. But that being said, I feel like I need to give you some perspective so you can understand truly how special this book really is. Politically, I fall somewhere in the middle. I see both sides of many issues. My opinions are fairly split and I try to keep an open mind at all times. But when it comes to voting, I generally tend to lean to the right. I did not vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 or 2012 elections. So why am I reading a book authored by his wife?

Because our country is entirely too divided. And because if we continue to only tune into the news and dialogue that fits our political ideology, we will never close the ever-expanding gap.

Somebody told me once, “You shouldn’t listen to respond. You should listen to understand.” And that phrase has really stuck with me. It’s fairly often that I catch myself preparing my rebuttal when somebody is speaking, not really processing the words that they’re saying. And I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to rectify that tendency.

So here I am, listening to an audiobook written by Michelle Obama with every intention of understanding her life through her eyes and experience. And can I just say that it was phenomenal!

Like her or not, you can’t deny that she has led an incredible life. From growing up on the South Side of Chicago to attending Princeton and Harvard and eventually becoming First Lady of the United States, her journey has been astounding. But outside of her accomplishments, I really resonated with this book because of how real she felt as a human being.

Michelle talked about her struggles with fertility and experience with IVF to conceive her two daughters. She talked about grappling with how to approach parenting her children in the eye of the public. How she should balance allowing them the freedom to be children with the potential threats to their lives that required extensive security details. She talked about her work surrounding childhood obesity and how she advocated for healthier food options for school lunch, regular daily exercise for all children, and a garden on the White House lawn to grow fresh produce. She discussed her insecurities. As a highly educated and intelligent lawyer who graduated from two Ivy League institutions, it was difficult for her to accept comments from the public that she only got where she is today because of the success of her husband. She talks about the challenges of being African American in the US and how that has impacted her journey through life. I truly believe that her ability to relate to the everyday woman is the reason this book has become the success it is today. Any woman can see themselves in Michelle’s story and can relate to at least a portion of her life.

Do I think there is an element of bias in this book? It’s an autobiography told from one person’s perspective. Of course there is going to be bias! If I wrote a book about myself, I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t agree with my account of history. So if you are going into this book with a closed mind and less-than-flattering preconceived notions about the Obama administration, you likely won’t enjoy some of the commentary. But, only when we open our minds to understand the perspective of others can we really move forward together.

If you’re questioning whether you should read this book or listen to it, I would highly recommend audiobook. Michelle narrates the story herself and let me tell you… she could be a professional audiobook narrator. I was mesmerized. She truly captivated my attention from start to finish. And at a little shy of 19 hours, it’s quite impressive that my mind did not drift off for one second.

I could seriously go on and on about this book. There is so much to talk about. So many layers to dissect. I would highly recommend Becoming as a book club read because of the plethora of content from which to draw discussion. It could probably be discussed over the course of several separate book club meetings to be honest.

I can’t recommend this book enough. And I wish I could do it justice with this review. I hope I’ve come close and perhaps convinced at least one person to read it (in addition to my husband, who I’ve already persuaded).

You should purchase from Amazon right now and you can do it right here!

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Audiobook Review, Nonfiction, Reese Witherspoon's Book Club, Self Help

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand AloneBraving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We’ll keep this review short because… well… the book is short.

I snatched this audiobook from the library in my quest to read all the Reese Witherspoon Book Club picks. This is her pick from January of 2018.

Don’t let the title or the cover deceive you. I thought this was going to be a book about a woman out in the wilderness trying to survive. Wrong. Well at least not in the literal sense.

Braving the Wilderness is about the quest to belong. What does that really mean? The author would tell you, “True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” And Brown take us on a quick journey through her research surrounding this topic.

While I didn’t find this book awe-inspiring, it did give me a lot to think about. About my thoughts and actions and how I respond to people. Why our society is so divided, particularly in the political realm. This book does have lots of political undertones (although I would not say it is overtly political in nature). And I think it applies to folks on both sides of the political fence and everything in between. How can we be nicer to each other? How can we take opportunities to listen to understand rather than listen to respond? How do we bridge the enormous divide in our country and stop judging those who aren’t in our “political corner?”

You may not agree with everything Brown presents in this book, but I guarantee you will walk away with at least a few ideas for improving yourself as a human being. And at a short 4 hours on audio (a little over 200 pages in print), it is an extremely quick read you could tackle in one afternoon.

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Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction

Educated by Tara Westover

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you enjoy nonfiction, you HAVE to read this book.

If nonfiction isn’t really your thing, you and I should be friends because it’s not my thing either. But this book was so darn good that I might have just turned a corner on my feelings about nonfiction.

This story is unbelievable. No, seriously. There were times when I could not believe somebody could have gone through so much in life and persevered through it all. It is truly something special to read this book and gain perspective on how some children are raised, and the obstacles they have to overcome in life that many of us take for granted.

Educated is a memoir written by author Tara Westover about her life growing up in a devout Mormon family. Her father is somewhat of a survivalist (with a touch of bipolar). Her mother is a midwife and naturalist. They believe in modesty and traditional gender roles. She is the youngest of seven children. And Tara never stepped foot in a classroom. That is, until she turned 17 years old.

This book is about Tara’s journey of self-discovery through education. The juxtaposition of what she learned via her family’s teachings about morality and religion with the formal education she received in college was so interesting. I could not believe some of the things she had to learn at such an advanced age in relation to your typical school age child…. how to use a scan-tron, that you actually had to read the textbook instead of just looking at the pictures, and the definition of the Holocaust. Things most people would consider common knowledge were foreign concepts to a young girl living a sheltered life.

I honestly could not listen to this audiobook fast enough. The first half of the book was somewhat slow moving and I wasn’t quite sure how all of the small stories told along the way tied in together. But by the second half of the book, I was fully on board and was able to see how every story was a piece of a larger puzzle that shaped Tara’s journey.

Cannot recommend this one enough. It is so interesting and inspiring. Looking at the obstacles that Tara was able to overcome and the many accomplishments she achieved along the way, I can confidently say that this book exemplifies that age old saying, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

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Nonfiction

I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller

I'll Be There for You: The One about FriendsI’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out October 23rd!

I think it’s only fair to disclose before this review that I’m a complete and utter Friends freak! My cat’s name is Chandler, my Roomba-knock-off vaccum’s name is Gunther, I rescued a cat and named her Phoebe, I have the Friends picture frame that I hung over my apartment’s peephole, and I have watched all of the seasons too many times to count. I make references on the regular and expect that everybody around me is going to *get* them (they usually don’t…). You get the point.

Okay, back to the review. How could I give any book about Friends anything less than 5 stars? Honestly. But low and behold, this books stands on its own merits! I can truly give it 5 stars because it’s just a great book.

Kelsey Miller did a great job portraying the history of the series, the producers’ journey to get there, how the show was cast, the challenges they went through to keep it on the air, and the overwhelming influence it had on pop culture. It tries to explain why Friends was and still is such an overwhelming presence in American households and why people continue to gravitate towards the characters and their stories.

The unique thing about this book is that it references current events that were taking place while the show was airing (i.e. September 11th and its impact on the show). It also at times toes the line into political territory so be prepared to be open minded about political viewpoints that May differ from your own. For the newer generation that were young while it was airing live, it is interesting to get fresh perspective on the happenings in the 90’s.

The quality of the writing is great for a nonfiction book. It reads very smoothly and has a conversational feel which makes for a quick read.

Funny sidenote… I kept watching the completion percentage at the bottom of my Kindle as I read and was surprised at how long the book was while I was reading it. I kept thinking, “Holy cow is this book long!” But, when I got to about 70% in the ebook, it ended. The last 30% is footnotes and references. So it may seem long but it is an illusion! I actually devoured it in two days.

Speaking of footnotes, Kelsey Miller added little morsels of information throughout that didn’t necessary fit in the body of the book but we’re interesting tidbits. And at times she added bits of humor that were appreciated.

Highly recommended for all my Friends freaks out there (you know who you are). But also is relevant for those who even have a marginal relationship with Friends.

Could this book BE any better?

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-I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Kelsey Miller, and HARLEQUIN for the opportunity to review.-

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