Posts Tagged ‘women’

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!

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult has been one of my favorite authors for the past few years now and in fact I’ve blogged about two other of her books here.  I noticed several days ago while browsing around in the Kindle bookstore that she had a new novel out as of March 1.  This one is a little unique… a CD is apparently included with the hard cover/paperback versions and a digital download of a CD accompanies the ebook version (however, the Kindle doesn’t  support that so it pointed me toward the publisher’s website where I could go to hear the songs).  I’ll be honest – I haven’t actually listened to the music yet, but it is supposed to go along with the different chapters of the book (one song per chapter) to fit the mood/feeling of each chapter and situation.

Sing You Home” is about a music therapist named Zoe and her landscaper-slash-surfer husband, Max.  Zoe works with many types of clients in hospitals, nursing homes, and schools to use music to help them work through different issues.  Zoe and Max have infertility issues and have been trying to have a baby for years but have suffered multiple miscarriages and now, after several IVF treatments, a stillbirth.  While Zoe wants to try again one more time since she’s reaching the age of 40, Max has had it and can’t handle (or afford) another round of IVF and asks for a divorce.  After the divorce, Zoe tries to make some new female friends and quickly becomes close with Vanessa, a guidance counselor at the high school where she’s done some therapy.

Zoe doesn’t realize at first, but Vanessa is a lesbian.  As they spend more time together hanging out as friends, they both realize that they care much more for each other than friends.  Zoe admits that she never had this type of connection with Max the entire time they were married.  They become a couple, and after several months of dating, they visit the neighboring state of Massachusetts and officially get married, although it’s not recognized in their home state of Rhode Island.  After their marriage, they talk about children and Zoe remembers that she has three frozen embryos from her last round of IVF.  Although Zoe has had a hysterectomy and can no longer have children, Vanessa is able to carry a child.

The problem is that after the divorce, Max was taken under the wing of a local pastor of a popular church and has developed strong religious views.  He is not approving of Zoe’s new lifestyle.  When Zoe asks for his permission for her and Vanessa to use the remaining embryos, Max does not want their children raised in a lesbian household and instead wants to give the embryos to his brother and sister-in-law, who also suffer from fertility issues.  What follows is a lawsuit to prevent Zoe from using the embryos and a media circus when it comes to this controversial topic.

Some of Jodi Picoult’s other books have definitely discussed controversial issues but this one is probably the most controversial that I’ve read from her.  I’ve seen very mixed reviews on this book but I like to form my own opinion rather than relying on others.  I’m not going to get into how I personally feel about these topics because that’s not what this blog is about and you can decide on your own if this book is for you.  All I will say is that I was drawn into the story and didn’t want to put the book (actually, my Kindle) down.  I could really imagine the characters as real people and Picoult did a good job of getting the reader to feel their emotions.

If anyone does check out the music that goes with the book (or reads the book while listening to the music), let me know how it is.  I’m sure I’ll go listen to it at some point.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Back before the holidays, I asked my friends on Twitter for book recommendations.  I wanted something new to read over the holidays when we were doing some traveling.  Someone recommended this book.  It wasn’t my first choice (I wanted something more light and fun) and I didn’t download it right away, but when I did, I was hooked and didn’t want to put my Kindle down.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is about Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five living in the Baltimore area in the 1950′s.  Henrietta started to get sick with numerous symptoms when she was in her late 20′s.  She was sent to the hospital nearest to her, Johns Hopkins.  It turned out that Henrietta had cervical cancer and passed away from her cancer, which quickly spread throughout her body, at the age of 30.  During her treatments (which made me really glad I didn’t live in the 1950′s – some of the cancer treatments just sounded horrible), her doctors removed cells from her cervix.  Those cells have, in a way, made Henrietta live forever.

Henrietta’s cells were found to be very unique, like no one had ever seen before.  They quickly multiplied and didn’t die like other cells did.  These cells, named HeLa, were “breeded” and in the past 60 years, have been distributed across the world and have been used in some of the world’s most groundbreaking medical research.  Her cells are still alive today.

This book is not all about science.  Author Rebecca Skloot tells the story of Henrietta through her family that is still living.  Skloot spends years tracking down family members, doctors, and others who know about Henrietta and the HeLa cells, but Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter, is the one that Skloot forms the closest relationship with, although it is a rocky relationship.  Skloot reveals how the family didn’t know for years that Henrietta’s cells were special and being sold and they were hurt and upset and felt entitled to some of the profits, especially since her family was struggling financially.

The story was told in such a way that Henrietta’s story, her family’s stories, and the science of the cells was interwoven, which kept my attention.  I’m not really a science person, but the scientific parts were explained in a way that was easy to understand and kinda made me want to learn more about the topic outside of this book.  Skloot even touches on the debate about whose property human cells are – the “donator”, or the hospital/doctor/researcher.  I’ve never thought about that issue before and it makes you think more about what happens when your blood is taken or if you get a biopsy or some other procedure.  The personal struggles of Henrietta and her family also were very interesting and sad.

Rebecca Skloot does a great job of pulling all of her research together to tell this story.  And I just also have to say how surprised I was when I saw she was from Pittsburgh!  Pittsburgh was mentioned a few other times throughout the book; the doctor who discovered HeLa’s immortality was originally from Pittsburgh as well.  ”The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” has been named to a bunch of different “Best Books” lists and I think it totally deserves it.  I’d have to say this was one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Room by Emma Donoghue

First of all, Happy New Year!  Second, wow, did I read a bunch of great books over the holidays.  Now I just need to remember all of them so I can tell you about them!  I don’t really know where to start but I’ll pick one that I think you guys will really like…

Room” is told in the first person perspective of Jack, a 5-year old boy.  Jack lives in a room with his mother, Ma.  Room (as Jack calls it) includes Bed, Wardrobe, Table, Rug, and all of their other belongings in life.  Jack was born in Room and he knows nothing of the outside world – Room is the only world he knows.  When he watches TV, he thinks that all of the people and things on TV are pretend.  Ma does her best to teach Jack things and get him exercise every day in Room so he can act like a normal kid (as much as possible).  Jack is happy and content in Room because he knows nothing else.  The only thing that scares Jack is Old Nick, the man who visits Ma each night while Jack hides/sleeps in Wardrobe.  Ma, on the other hand, is trying to plot an escape.

Eventually, Jack and Ma break free of the confines of Room.  Ma is ecstatic to be in the real world again and to see her family, whom she hasn’t seen since she was a teenager.  Jack, on the other hand, doesn’t understand the world outside of Room and actually wishes to go back.  Jack and Ma spend some time in a facility to have therapy and slowly adjust to a completely different life.  Jack struggles to understand simple things in life that we take for granted and don’t have a second thought about… he is literally seeing and experiencing the world for the very first time.

Room” is based on a true story, and no, not the Jaycee Dugard case, although that’s what it reminded me of.  Remember back in 2008 when a woman, Elisabeth Fritzl, and her seven children were found hidden in her father’s house in Austria?  That is the story that inspired Emma Donoghue to write this story.  I don’t think my description above really did the book justice, but it’s really something you need to read for yourself.  I honestly didn’t want to put my Kindle down while I was reading this book.  I was enthralled.  This was truly one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time.

The story was told in Jack’s words, so as you may have noticed above, he tended to turn regular words of items into proper nouns.  It wasn’t as confusing as I thought it would be although he sometimes has a hard time explaining things and finding the right words.  I think I most identified with Ma – she was roughly my age in the story – and it was so scary (and sad) to think of that situation really happening to someone.  Obviously, it HAS happened to who knows how many women… maybe there are others who haven’t escaped or been found.  Craziness.

“Room” has shown up on some Amazon lists for Top 100 Books of 2010 (#35 on editors’ picks list, #90 on customer favorites list, and it’s been a Kindle bestseller for awhile) and I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard more about it in 2011.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if this was turned into a movie someday.  Emma Donoghue has authored a number of other books that have some interesting subjects and storylines.  I’ll be putting her on my “must read authors” list!

Still Life by Joy Fielding

Joy Fielding is one of my favorite authors.  My mom introduced me to her books a few years ago.  I’ve read quite a few of them so far but nothing lately… I hadn’t really heard about any new ones coming out.  I think the last one I read was “Charley’s Web“.  I like that she always writes about a strong female lead character and there’s always a twist in the story.

Still Life” starts with Casey, a successful interior designer around 30-ish, having lunch with her two best friends, Janine and Gail.  Janine is sleek, sophisticated, and sometimes a little abrasive, while Gail is basically the opposite.  Casey breaks that news that she and her husband, Warren, are going to try to get pregnant.  When lunch is done, Casey walks alone back to the parking garage where she parked.  Right as she is approaching her car, she hears tires squealing and a motor revving.

When Casey wakes up, she’s in the hospital and can hear people around her talking but can’t see anything and doesn’t understand what’s going on.  Turns out that Casey was run down by a hit-and-run driver and is in a coma.  She can’t see, move, or speak, but can hear, but of course, no one knows that because she has no way of communicating.

Casey starts to learn tidbits about what happened to her and is hoping they catch who did it.  As she lays in the hospital, helpless, with her husband at her side, she is shocked to hear the REAL story when people talk in front of her (not knowing that she can hear, of course).  Casey recovers from her broken bones and other injuries and is taken home, still in a coma.  She tries to communicate with her younger sister, Drew, who she’s had a rocky relationship with in the past.  For the most part, Casey is still immobile and can’t speak, so she has almost no control over what happens to her and can’t stop some people from finishing out the job they set out to accomplish…

Hope I didn’t give too much away!  I don’t think I’ve disliked any of Joy Fielding’s books, but I really really liked this one.  The entire story was told from Casey’s perspective (although not in the first person) while she was in a coma.  While she can’t interact, she could hear the action going on around her and would slip in and out of sleep and would have vivid dreams/memories about things that happened to her in the past.  This wasn’t the typical thriller/suspense novel and I dug that.  I was pulling for Casey the whole time, wishing she’d wake up and be able to take control again.

Joy Fielding has authored a number of thriller/suspense novels (some of the ones on her Amazon page look to be translated into… German?).  I think I’ve read most of these except two or so.  If you like this genre, I’d recommend picking up a few of her books – I know you’ll love them!

2012 Reading Challenge

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

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