REVIEW: RAGE, BY BOB WOODWARD

Woodward, the #1 international bestselling author of Fear: Trump in the White House, has uncovered the precise moment the president was warned that the Covid-19 epidemic would be the biggest national security threat to his presidency. In dramatic detail, Woodward takes readers into the Oval Office as Trump’s head pops up when he is told in January 2020 that the pandemic could reach the scale of the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed 675,000 Americans.

In 17 on-the-record interviews with Woodward over seven volatile months—an utterly vivid window into Trump’s mind—the president provides a self-portrait that is part denial and part combative interchange mixed with surprising moments of doubt as he glimpses the perils in the presidency and what he calls the “dynamite behind every door.”

At key decision points, Rage shows how Trump’s responses to the crises of 2020 were rooted in the instincts, habits and style he developed during his first three years as president.

Revisiting the earliest days of the Trump presidency, Rage reveals how Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats struggled to keep the country safe as the president dismantled any semblance of collegial national security decision making.

Rage draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand witnesses as well as participants’ notes, emails, diaries, calendars and confidential documents.

Woodward obtained 25 never-seen personal letters exchanged between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who describes the bond between the two leaders as out of a “fantasy film.”

Trump insists to Woodward he will triumph over Covid-19 and the economic calamity. “Don’t worry about it, Bob. Okay?” Trump told the author in July. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll get to do another book. You’ll find I was right.”

In his follow-up memoir from the Trump years, Woodward does a brilliant job of summarizing his seventeen interviews with Trump. They were carried out in depth, over a period of time, and he was able to show the patterns that govern a man who is clearly out of his depth in his role as president.

From his attitudes toward all the events of his presidency, he reveals a tendency to look outward and to blame others and outside forces that were out of his control. Paranoia often characterized his actions.

Numerous vivid interactions carried this reader along on the journey, visualizing events as the author shared them, and sensing how, while being objective, he might have been hoping he could somehow guide the course for this presidency. It was soon apparent that this man is not one who listens or can be directed by experts, not even when he considers them “friendly.” His suspicions control his actions and misdirect him.

As Woodward concludes Rage, he characterizes the presidency as one “riddled with ambivalence, set on an uncertain course, swinging from combativeness to conciliation, and whipsawing from one statement or action to the opposite.” The author also sums up that Trump has enshrined personal impulse as a governing principle, and as a result, is the wrong man for the job. An opinion that many of us share. This book earned 5 stars from me.

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REVIEW: THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID

 

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Thoughts: For all those who love iconic celebrities, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo might just be the most addictive read ever.

I was quickly drawn into Evelyn’s story, as told to young writer Monique Grant, and although the dual narratives and timelines could have been challenging, they were seamless and captivating. As if the two women, decades apart and so different in life experiences, had suddenly developed one voice, Evelyn’s story flowed, and when there was a pause, we had the opportunity to peek into Monique’s Manhattan life as a newly single woman going through a divorce.

The stunning reveal at the end was one I truly did not see coming. It answered questions I had, however, about why Monique was singled out to write Evelyn’s memoir.

By the end, I did not want to say goodbye to either character, as I was caught up in the lives of both women. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE GIRL: A LIFE IN THE SHADOW OF ROMAN POLANSKI, BY SAMANTHA GEIMER

In this searing and surprising memoir, Samantha Geimer, “the girl” at the center of the infamous Roman Polanski sexual assault case, breaks a virtual thirty-five-year silence to tell her story and reflect on the events of that day and their lifelong repercussions.
My Thoughts: Our first person narrator is Samantha, the victim of the 1977 episode with Roman Polanski, and the ongoing victim of the court system.

From her perspective, we learn what it was like to be questioned repeatedly prior to the actual filing of charges, and then again by various attorneys and a psychiatrist. Recalling how different attitudes were in the 1970s, especially for celebrities, it would take some maneuvering to protect the identity of the girl…but in the end, the ego of the judge in charge would ultimately change her life negatively going forward. When an agreement had been reached that could have ended the matter once and for all, the judge reneged on the deal, which led to Polanski fleeing to France.

Now many years later, despite efforts to dismiss the case, supported by the victim, the matter remains unresolved. Extradition from Switzerland was denied after the 2009 arrest, and one might think life could go on. But it hasn’t.

In concluding The Girl:  A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski,  Samantha wrote, in terms of Polanski: “As different as our lives have been, we do share a common sense of battle fatigue when it comes to the court system and the media. We’ve both been punished. We both want to move on.”

She has also stated that the events of that night in 1977 were not as damaging to her as the subsequent years of what the system has done to her. But despite it all, she has gained her own strength from taking matters into her own hands and writing about her experiences. An inspiring story that earned 5 stars.

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REVIEW: #GIRLBOSS, BY SOPHIA AMORUSO

 

In the New York Times bestseller that the Washington Post called “Lean In for misfits,” Sophia Amoruso shares how she went from dumpster diving to founding one of the fastest-growing retailers in the world.

Amoruso spent her teens hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and scrounging in dumpsters for leftover bagels. By age twenty-two she had dropped out of school, and was broke, directionless, and checking IDs in the lobby of an art school—a job she’d taken for the health insurance. It was in that lobby that Sophia decided to start selling vintage clothes on eBay.

Flash forward to today, and she’s the founder of Nasty Gal and the founder and CEO of Girlboss. Sophia was never a typical CEO, or a typical anything, and she’s written #GIRLBOSS for other girls like her: outsiders (and insiders) seeking a unique path to success, even when that path is windy as all hell and lined with naysayers.

#GIRLBOSS proves that being successful isn’t about where you went to college or how popular you were in high school. It’s about trusting your instincts and following your gut; knowing which rules to follow and which to break; when to button up and when to let your freak flag fly.


My Thoughts: What an inspirational story of one young woman’s determination to find what made her happy, and to go for it.

Being an outsider, not following a conventional path, and chasing her dreams sum up what led to this young woman’s success. Some might have labeled her too much of a rebel to achieve her goals, but those naysayers would soon learn otherwise.

Her attitude and her “out of the box” thinking would be key ingredients in making her company what it became, and would show others how to find their own journey.

Some of what I learned from the author’s stories included that she doesn’t believe in luck, but in the ability to control one’s own fate. She believes in magic, though, which simply means sending your good intentions out to the Universe, and visualizing what you want.

As for following the rules, she believes the challenge is in knowing which rules to accept, and which to rewrite.

I saw the Netflix show and loved it, so I immediately downloaded #GirlBoss. I wanted to read the anecdotes, learn her pattern for creating her own rules and her own path, and revel in how she is sharing with others. An interesting story of a unique company and its creator. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: THE PRINCESS DIARIST, BY CARRIE FISHER

 

When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford. 

With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes.  Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.

MY THOUGHTS:

A thoroughly enjoyable foray into the past, The Princess Diarist showed the author’s trademark humor, self-deprecatory descriptions, and the skill of the wordsmith that have followed her in all of her work. Additionally, the photos were some I had never seen before.

I liked how she tastefully revealed the love affair that had been a secret for years. I felt as though I could see into her heart as she revealed her anxieties about that relationship, while also allowing us to enjoy the thrill she felt, most precious because she also knew that it was a temporary thing.

Those insecurities came out most in the diary entries, written by her younger self. She was nineteen at the time, while Harrison Ford was in his thirties. Her anecdotes of their short relationship, which she has characterized as a three-month one-night stand, reveal much about their personalities then…and later, too.

Her thoughts forty years later were also typically witty, even about very emotional topics. While she honestly revealed her thoughts and feelings, she was also able to mask the pain with her wit.

I especially enjoyed her anecdotes about the Princess Leia iconic images and the ongoing fan reactions, especially as time went by. Were her portrayals of Princess Leia her most defining moments? Must she constantly be confronted by the images, including dolls that commemorated her youthful life? Then again, without those reminders, would the fame have faded?

Fortunately, other movies and her bestselling novels added to her legacy.

Sadly, since Carrie Fisher’s passing in December 2016, we all must confront the reality that we will forever be looking into the rear view mirror when we think of her. I cherish the books and movies I own, and especially enjoyed this last memoir, the one she was celebrating at the time of her death. 5 stars.

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BOOKISH FRIDAY: “HILLBILLY ELEGY”

Married to Books-BOOKISH LOGO

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

My current read is an engaging memoir that I’ve been hearing a lot about.  Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance, is a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class.

 

 

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Beginning:  (Chapter 1)

Like most small children, I learned my home address so that if I got lost, I could tell a grownup where to take me.  In kindergarten, when the teacher asked me where I lived, I could recite the address without skipping a beat, even though my mother changed addresses frequently, for reasons I never understood as a child.  Still, I always distinguished “my address” from “my home.”  My address was where I spent most of my time with my mother and sister, wherever that might be.  But my home never changed:  my great-grandmother’s house, in the holler, in Jackson, Kentucky.

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Yes, more than a couple of sentences, but the whole paragraph seemed important.

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56:  There was, and still is, a sense that those who make it are of two varieties.  The first are lucky:  They come from wealthy families with connections, and their lives were set from the moment they were born.  The second are the meritocratic:  They were born with brains and couldn’t fail if they tried.

***

Synopsis:  Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

***

Like many others right now (currently, there are over 2,200 reviews), I had to delve into this book and find out more.  So far, I’m amazed at how familiar some of these families and situations are, from my years of social work.  You can find these kinds of families in Central California, as well, and not just the Appalachians or the Midwest.

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

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REVIEW: SPELLING IT LIKE IT IS, BY TORI SPELLING

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Tori Spelling is the kind of celebrity whose well-known life story is regularly documented in the tabloids. She has contributed to this notoriety by producing and starring in reality shows that peek behind closed doors, and while some of what is revealed is embellished and semi-scripted, there are some well-known indisputable facts.

Stories Tori tells on herself in her various memoirs give us a little bit more to chew on. Spelling It Like It Is begins with one of those funny events that seem to come often in Tori’s life. Almost throwing up at a public event, and suddenly realizing why. Yes, she was pregnant again, a third time.

Before this story is over, there will be still another (unexpected) pregnancy, less than a year after the third one…and that event became a life-threatening story that would keep Tori hospitalized for months…and then afterwards, there would be more complications.

Many believe that Tori is a “poor little rich girl,” since her daddy was Aaron Spelling. But hang on…she inherited a paltry amount of his billions after his death, and there were tales of her mother’s wealthy, mega-rich life in her palace while Tori struggled.

But…only partially true. Yes, her inheritance was insubstantial by her standards, but Tori has made lots of money over the years. She admits in this book that her poor financial choices have contributed to their current money issues (as of the publication of this tome). Moving house frequently, always in quest of the perfect home, but never quite giving up the tendency to “live large,” Tori shares that even when she is trying to downsize, she manages to spend compulsively.

One kernel of truth emerges, however. Tori is a hard worker, and some of her difficulties seem to motivate her to work even more. As this story ends, the family had moved once again, from a large rental behind gates to a smaller home in a less expensive neighborhood. Losing money on one of her house sales led to renting as a way of finding a home.

What will happen to Tori next? This book was published three years ago, and since then, the celebrity mill continues to spew out stories. Another reality show happened after these pages ended…Will there be another? An intriguing and engaging story that kept me reading, I gave this one 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “THE LIARS’ CLUB”

BOOKISH FRIDAY LOGO

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I enjoy sharing excerpts from books…and connecting with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

Today’s featured book is a memoir:  The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr.

 

 

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Book Beginnings:  (Texas, 1961)

My sharpest memory is of a single instant surrounded by dark.  I was seven, and our family doctor knelt before me where I sat on a mattress on the bare floor.  He wore a yellow golf shirt unbuttoned so that sprouts of hair showed in a V shape on his chest.  I had never seen him in anything but a white starched shirt and a gray tie.  The change unnerved me.

***

56:  Except for these apparitions of Mother, we were left the rest of the summer in Daddy’s steady if distracted care.  At some point, the men of the Liars’ Club arrived with their pickups and toolboxes to turn our garage into an extra bedroom for my parents, who had been sleeping on a pull-out sofa in the living room during Grandma’s visit.

***

Blurb:  The dazzling, prizewinning, wickedly funny tale of Mary Karr’s hardscrabble Texas childhood—the book that sparked a renaissance in memoir

When it was published in 1995, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club took the world by storm and raised the art of the memoir to an entirely new level, as well as bringing about a dramatic revival of the form. Karr’s comic childhood in an east Texas oil town brings us characters as darkly hilarious as any of J. D. Salinger’s—a hard-drinking daddy, a sister who can talk down the sheriff at twelve, and an oft-married mother whose accumulated secrets threaten to destroy them all.

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What do you think?  Do the excerpts tempt you to pick this one up and read?

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Here is a glimpse of my work station in my newly rearranged office:

 

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Enjoy your weekend!

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REVIEW: MY SALINGER YEAR, BY JOANNA RAKOFF

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Set in Manhattan during the late 1990s, My Salinger Year is a memoir of a time and place that can evoke nostalgia for those who lived there and during those times.

It takes a very unique style to draw me into a memoir, and the author had that, as I was engaged from the very first page.

What reader isn’t fascinated with publishing and literary agencies? And who doesn’t want to know more about the mysterious J. D. Salinger?

Well, we don’t actually “meet” him in this book, but our narrator keeps us interested by her thoughts and the various fan letters to Salinger which she must read and respond to…but the rules are clear. The responses must be in a “form letter” style. So what happens when our narrator decides to go out on her own and take a personal interest in some of them? Does she do so because she has, in fact, spoken to Salinger (Jerry) on the phone and feels a connection?

In an era before computers were everywhere, Joanna typed on a Selectric and used a Dictaphone. I felt catapulted backwards in time to my own “secretarial” days when those machines were the norm. And then, once computers were available, who could even imagine the antiquated office equipment of those times?

The Boss is not given a name, and, except for Salinger, we know nothing of other clients of this agency. We learn a little more about The Boss as the book draws to a close, and I felt a personal connection to her then. Also the story shows the author’s dilemma as she tries to sort out her unsatisfying relationship with her live-in boyfriend Don. Years later, she looks back at this time in her life and shares her thoughts.

Themes of nostalgia, loss, and what resonates for readers who are fans of Salinger and other beloved writers, this was a captivating memoir that earned 4.5 stars for me.