Posts Tagged ‘memoirs’

All Things Jen Lancaster

So last night, I got to meet Jen Lancaster!!  Her newest book (and her first novel), If You Were Here, just came out and she was on a book tour and stopped in Pittsburgh.  I got there a little late (thanks, traffic) so I was standing in the back of the group and couldn’t really see her during the reading/Q&A session.  If you’ve read any of her books, she seems just as awesome and hilarious as she is in her books.  And super cute and preppy-looking, too.  She was a real trouper and signed the book of every person in line (I also ended up toward the back of the line and it took me almost 2 hours to get to her!) and made sure to chit-chat and get pics with everyone who wanted one.

Jen Lancaster and Jaci

Jen's signature in my book

I am so kicking myself now, though.  See, Jen talks about in her books how when she’s around a celebrity, she starts to talk their ear off and tries to touch their hair.  Her interaction with Alec Baldwin was the best, though (read “My Fair Lazy” to find out what I’m talking about!).  But when I get in front of someone famous (or even semi-famous like a local news personality), I freeze up and can’t even get words out.  What I WISH I would have mentioned to her was: 1) that I have this blog and I’ve read all of her books within the past few months and love her, and 2) that she inspired me from her book “Such a Pretty Fat” to join a gym and get a personal trainer; if she could do it, so could I.  But…. I’m a wimp and just made some comment about the spelling of my name because she mispronounced it and said something about being glad they gave us (the ones in the back of the line) chairs.  Yes, I’m a loser.  Either way, it was really awesome to see hear her talk and get to meet her for 60 seconds.

Here are my short summaries of her books (all but the newest one are memoirs) since I don’t want this post to be TOO long (and it’s best if you read in chronological order, as listed below) –

Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office“: Jen was in a high-paying executive career until the post-September 11th recession, when she was fired.  Her life goes from one extreme to the other pretty quickly and her then boyfriend, Fletch, also finds himself out of a job.  Through a number of temp jobs and some difficult and frustrating situations involving money, they come out on top and Jen lands a book deal in the process.

“Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl’s Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, Or, Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next to Me?”: This one is a little more about Jen’s daily life and experience living in Chicago in a questionable neighborhood, shopping, and her thoughts on just about everything.

“Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist’s Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, Or, Why Pie Is Not the Answer”: Jen proposes an idea for a new book: a memoir about her journey to lose weight.  Once it is accepted by her publisher, she realizes she actually has to DO it.  She hires a personal trainer named Barbie (just imagine how that turns out) and goes on a number of different diets.  This is the book that pushed me to get off the couch and join a gym and try to eat better.  At her signing last night, someone asked if she still sees Barbie (which she doesn’t, she moved away) and Jen stated that she has realized it is more enjoyable NOT to go to the gym.

“Pretty in Plaid: A Life, A Witch, and A Wardrobe, Or, The Wonder Years Before the Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smart-Ass Phase”: This one’s a little different, as Jen details her clothing choices from childhood up until current day and how they’ve shaped her life.  To be honest, although I did like this book, it is not my favorite out of her collection.  I like the current snarky Jen more than hearing about her younger days.

“My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict’s Attempt to Discover if Not Being A Dumb Ass is the New Black, Or, A Culture-Up Manifesto“: In between working on her books, Jen has become a reality TV addict.  After spending time with a more “cultured” friend, she embarks on a quest to become more well-rounded as a person and learn about the arts and ethnic dining, which she calls her “Jennaissance”.

Don’t pay attention to the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  I agree that maybe she’s not everyone’s taste, but Jen Lancaster is freakin’ hilarious.  She’s snarky, sarcastic, snotty, and sometimes inappropriate, but she sure is entertaining.  She tends to say and do those things that you think in your head but would never actually do.  Need some good beach reads for this summer?  Pick up some of her books.  You might get some looks when you start laughing out loud while reading them, but it’s worth it.  Her books are a “guilty pleasure”, some would say.

I’m looking forward to reading her newest book and will blog about it when I’m done!

Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal Omar

As I’ve said many times before, I like to read books about other cultures.  I feel like I learn so much.  This was a recounting of the author’s humanitarian efforts trying to help Iraqi women during the height of the War in Iraq.  I’ve read another book, From Baghdad with Love, which was about a US Marine adopting a dog during his time in Iraq.  While neither of these books focuses directly on the war, the author’s opinions about the war, etc., they both give you some insight on that “side” of the war and what is going on.  Plus, isn’t the book cover so beautiful?

Barefoot in Baghdad” is told in the first-person of Manal Omar, an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent.  Even though she was born and raised in the US, she chooses to wear the traditional veil.  In 2003, after graduating from college and securing a great job in DC, she chooses to accept a job with Women for Women International, providing aid to women in Iraq.  Her family does not want her to go and begs her not to.  Manal feels so strongly about this cause that she finally convinces her family that she is going.

When Manal arrives and begins her work, she is paired up with three Iraqi males, who are disappointed that she was not a “traditional” American woman as they imagined in their minds.  She begins to forge a relationship with them and helps teach them English as they help her navigate through Iraq.  Manal’s goal is to help Iraqi women get on their feet and provide for themselves when their culture tends to shun them for certain reasons.  Manal is enjoying time in Baghdad, the culture and the people, until the war begins to take its toll.  She is afraid for her life – several business contacts have been killed or kidnapped and she is forced to change her routines and business in order to stay alive.  All the while, her relationship with one of her Iraqi coworkers becomes stronger despite all of the challenges they face.

I so enjoyed this book.  While it was a difficult topic, I thought Manal did a great job of detailing her experience in Iraq.  She writes at the beginning of the book that the book is NOT about the war or her opinions, etc., but about her experience helping women.  She explains several “cases” she is assigned to and you learn how difficult women really have it over there.  You also hear more about the Iraqi culture and the people.  It gives you a much different perspective on what you hear in the news and on TV.  While some might read too much into things and still see this as controversial, I learned so much about what the Iraqi women are going through and it really opened my eyes.

If this story really connects with you, you can sponsor a woman in one of the countries that Women for Women International supports.  (I am in no way affiliated with or have a relationship with this organization.  Just wanted to share a way for you to help.)

Sliding into Home by Kendra Wilkinson

There aren’t too many other girls that I know who DIDN’T watch the original “The Girls Next Door” on E!.  It was just one of those shows where your curiosity got the best of you and you just wanted to know what went on behind the scenes of the Playboy Mansion and what it was like to be a girlfriend of a rich (VERY rich), old man who likes to wear robes and sailor hats.

I went into reading “Sliding into Home” not expecting any literary work of genius (and literary work of genius it was not).  This is the story of Kendra Wilkinson, the third and youngest former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner during the “Girls Next Door” days.  Kendra sets out to explain what made her the person she is today, including her rough upbringing.  As a child, Kendra’s father walks out on the family and she is raised by her mom and grandma.  Once she reaches her teen years, she begins to rebel and gets involved with the wrong crowd.  She gets heavily involved in alcohol and a variety of different drugs and is in and out of high school and even does short stint in rehab.  Everything her mom tries to do to help doesn’t work.  At one point, when Kendra almost overdoses, it wakes her up and makes her realize that she doesn’t want to her life to be THAT anymore.

Once she cleans herself up and finishes high school, she begins dating another guy who she feels is so much better for her.  She gets a job as a dental assistant and her life seems to be on the right track… until she begins to get bored of her job and is looking for a new way to make ends meet.  She and her boyfriend attend a lot of car shows and she starts to get attention by photographers and begins to model with cars and motorcycles.  That helps her build confidence in herself that she didn’t really have before and leads her to a new job as a stripper.

My memory is a little fuzzy on how the transaction from stripping to Playboy happened (that’s what I get for not blogging immediately after I finish a book and it’s too hard to look something up again on my Kindle), but basically she was called to work at a Playboy party and Hef took a liking to her and asked her to be his girlfriend and move in (very quickly, I may add).  She was a little hesitant at first, especially because she still had a boyfriend, but figured she couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that.

Then, as you know, she met Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Hank Baskett, they got pregnant, married, and are living happily ever after.  The book goes into a lot more detail about how they met (and had to keep their relationship a secret for so long) and what her life is like now.

The part of the book that I was really interested in was went on behind the scenes of “The Girls Next Door” and the mansion.  I’m not going to tell you those juicy details – you’re going to have to read the book and find out yourself!  It was pretty much what I expected, I guess, but it is just a bit shocking for someone to actually confirm those things.  Kendra talked about her relationship with Holly and Bridget and the mansion staff and how she really felt about Hef.  I also had no idea she was a stripper or how bad her drug problem really was, so that was a surprise for me.  Overall, it wasn’t the best book I have ever read, but I find it interesting to go “behind the scenes” and learn about someone “famous”.  I also give Kendra credit for ‘fessing up to her sketchy past and putting it all out there (in more ways than one).

P.S. So while doing a little bit more research and planning on venting about how much I can’t stand the new girlfriends (mostly the twins, I don’t mind Crystal as much), I found out that the twins are actually no longer his girlfriends (Wikipedia stated that they both had other boyfriends and moved out earlier this year).  The spin-off show, “The Bunny House”, aired a pilot in August where the twins moved into the guest house or whatever it’s called with some more of the Playmates.  I have no clue if it got picked up or will be continued though – I don’t remember even hearing about it or seeing it.  Crystal is apparently his only girlfriend now.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I really need to keep on top of my blogging – I’ll read books and then forget to blog about them until several months later.  Oops!  That’s what happens when you’re a fast reader, I guess.  I read this book earlier this summer.  I had heard some rumblings about it since it was on the NYT Bestseller list, but wasn’t really sure what it was about.  Truthfully, I wasn’t sure at first if I would actually like it.

As “Water for Elephants” starts, Jacob Janikowski is an old man in his nineties in a nursing home.  He despises the nursing home and everything about it.  One day, a circus comes into town nearby and all of the other residents’ families come to take them to see the circus… except Jacob’s family.  He begins to reflect on his younger days after another nursing home resident makes a comment about when he used to work with a circus, which Jacob seriously refutes.

Each chapter alternates between Jacob’s current life in the nursing home and his younger life, when he ran away to join the circus.  He was a veterinary student at Cornell, almost ready to graduate, when his parents were killed in a tragic car accident.  Not knowing what to do with himself and not having any money from his family, Jacob takes a chance and joins a circus tour.  They reluctantly accept him into their group after learning of his veterinary background and his ability to work with their animals.  The Benzini Brothers circus has many a shady character, and Jacob has to always watch his back, not wanting to stir up trouble with circus leader, Uncle Al, or the animal trainer, August.  Against his better judgment, Jacob begins to fall in love with Marlena, August’s wife, and the star performer.  Marlena is a gem amongst the rest of the circus employees – she’s beautiful and has a true way with animals, especially Rosie, an elephant that the circus inherits from another circus that they came across on their travels.  This relationship, obviously, puts a target on Jacob’s back and slowly, the circus begins to fall apart.

I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would.  The story was not a true story; however, the author did thorough research on circus life during the early part of the century and makes the reader aware of how horrible the conditions were and the way the people and animals were treated.  Many of the events in this book were taken from pieces of other stories that Sara Gruen had read about.  I found the details very fascinating and while some of them weren’t very pleasant, there were others that made me smile – especially the antics of Rosie the elephant.

I also just found out that this book is being made into a movie, potentially set to be released sometime next year.  I personally think that this story would make a fabulous movie.  I’m sure it wouldn’t be able to incorporate all of the details and little stories that were in the book, but it will be really interesting to see how they make the book characters into characters on the big screen.  Robert Pattinson will be playing Jacob (I really can’t stand him, but it’s probably because he’s so weird in Twilight and I think his face looks like a caveman, so I wonder how he’ll turn out) and Reese Witherspoon will be playing Marlena (I think this is a good choice and I can totally picture it).  I don’t really recognize any of the names of the other characters.  I’m really looking forward to seeing it!

From Baghdad with Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava by Jay Kopelman

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to write about a book that I bought about a year or so ago about a dog rescued from Iraq.  As you may know, I love animals, and I also have a personal interest in supporting the military and veterans and am involved in some projects at work around that effort.

First of all, how can you NOT love the cover??  Please forgive me because it has been awhile since I’ve read this book, so I don’t remember a lot of details.  ”From Baghdad with Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava” is about… well, exactly what the title says.  Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman is fighting the war in Iraq and one day while he’s on patrol, he hears something that he thinks may be a person coming to attack him, but it’s really a tiny little stray puppy.  The military has very strict rules forbidding soldiers from keeping pets, but Kopelman just can’t let him go back out into the streets.  Dogs over there are not like dogs here in America – they are wild animals and are not pets.  Kopelman smuggles him back to camp, and they name him Lava after the name of their battalion, the Lava Dogs.  Lava is a typically puppy – a mixture of cute and a troublemaker and that’s what makes everyone love him even more.  Kopelman knows that he is not allowed take him home once his tour of duty is over, but he can’t bear the thought of leaving him there in Iraq because he knows what happens to other dogs there.  The story explains how Kopelman has some other helpers in the quest to hide and protect the dog over in Iraq and who supported his efforts in getting Lava to the US.

The book was a very interesting read.  I loved reading the parts about Lava and his antics, but the details of military life in the middle of a war zone were also very insightful and I learned a lot from it.  The story does have a good ending, so don’t worry about that part!

Kopelman wrote a follow-up called “From Baghdad to America: Life after War for a Marine and His Rescued Dog” that deals with Kopelman’s adjustment from soldier to civilian and Lava’s transition into a real pet.  I also purchased this book but haven’t read it yet.

Happy Memorial Day and thank you to all who have served our country and given their lives for our freedom.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Jaci has read 1 book toward her goal of 35 books.

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