Review: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Genre: Biography/Memoir, Non-Fiction

img_0106 Janette Walls grew up with very non-traditional parents who had some very unique views about raising children, responsibility, and life. While Jeannette was born in Arizona, the Walls family moved around like nomads for the majority of her young childhood….literally packing up their family vehicle, grabbing whatever they could carry, and doing the “skedaddle”. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had a total of 4 living children who spent almost their entire childhoods living in poverty, suffering from neglect & abuse, and never really knowing where their next meal was coming from.

“If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim”

The way Jeanette Walls tells it, it took the children some time to actually realize that the way their family was living probably wasn’t normal, ideal or even safe. When the author was 3 years old, she tells the story of boiling herself hotdogs because her mother was far too busy painting to be concerned with feeding her children. She ended up severely burning herself, spending 6 weeks in a burn unit complete with skin grafts….only to get back home and have her parents encourage her to, once again, boil herself some hotdogs as to “not fear the fire”.  Rose Mary didn’t appreciate having to be responsible for her children’s needs, she was an artist who thought her time could be much better spent fulfilling her wants. Rex was a severe alcoholic who, at times, could be charismatic and engaging…but spent the majority of his children’s lives drunk, absent, or squandering what little money they had on gambling or booze.

At some point, money ran out and the Walls family had no choice but to move to a small West Virginia mining town where Rex was originally from and where his family still lived. Jeannette and her siblings were forced to fend for themselves while they lived in a literal shack that had no running water, electricity or food. Eventually, all 4 of the Walls siblings find the will to separate from their dysfunctional parents in one way or another and move on to forge lives for themselves.

This was an incredible story! I found myself feeling so frustrated and angry at her parents for the complete neglect, danger and abuse they continued to subject their children to…all in the name of selfishness and “free living”. What shocked me the most was Walls’ ability to see her parents for who they were as people & what they were/were not able to give her with a completely pragmatic and matter of fact point of view. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the child in her trying to gloss over, rationalize, or protect her parents’ abuse & neglect to some degree…OR, if she’s just that mature to not hold any ill will or anger toward them.

“I wanted to let the world know that no one had a perfect life, that even the people who seemed to have it all had their secrets.” 

It will never cease to amaze me that people who are raised in such conditions are ever able to make it out whole. Listening to Ms. Walls describe the filthy living conditions, absence of food, lack of parental care, and utter neglect made me feel both angry and sad for her and her siblings. But at the same time, hearing her describe the events in a very honest, but non-complaining way was eye opening…at no point in her story is she expecting or even looking for sympathy. Jeannette Walls actually credits her parents, her upbringing, and the things she had to endure with her drive, work ethic and career. In fact, she actually mentions her family members in her Acknowledgments of her book:”I’d like to thank my brother, Brian, for standing by me when we were growing up and while I write this. I’m also grateful to my mother for believing in art and truth and for supporting the idea of this book;  to my brilliant and talented older sister, Lori, for coming around to it; and to my younger sister, Maureen, whom I will always love. And to my father, Rex S. Walls, for dreaming all those big dreams.”

I chose to listen to the audio book of this, and because it’s narrated by the author, the reading feels very personal and real. I found myself shaking my head or actually having my mouth hang open in utter shock at some of the stories from her life.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

The Glass Castle – Amazon

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Review – Troublemaker:Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

Genre: Non-fiction, Biography/Memoir

img_5396 Actress, Leah Remini was first introduced into the church of Scientology as a young child living in New York with her mother and sister. Shortly after becoming members, Leah and her family moved to Clearwater, Florida…and eventually on to Los Angeles. Once in California, Leah eventually became a successful actress as well as a very active member of the church of Scientology.

Over the years, Leah began to see just how deep show business and Hollywood were intertwined with the church of Scientology. Remini spent hours upon hours as well as millions of dollars in support of the church attending courses, “auditing” (a strange mix of confession and psychotherapy) as well as doing press events . It’s also very apparent just how much pull certain popular celebrities have in the church and all it’s procedures. Names such as Kirstie Alley, John Travolta and Tom Cruise are discussed in this book. I was actually very surprised to hear quite a few of the details Remini describes about Tom Cruise specifically as well as his behaviors, personal relationships, and influence in the church.

It was actually at the 2006 wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes when Leah started to voice questions and concerns about certain actions of the church and it’s powerful members. Shortly after this wedding… Leah found herself a target of the church’s harsh punishments, both financial and psychological, for having had the nerve to even question anything in relation to Scientology and it’s practices. Finally, in 2013…Remini publicly announced her very difficult and scary decision to split from the church of Scientology as well as most of is followers, including the people Remini has known almost her life. Once a church member leaves and publicly denounces it’s practices, they are immediately referred to as an “SP” (suppressive person) and any current members of the church who wish to stay in good standing must completely and permanently cut off all contact with the “SP”.

Since I’m not a huge fan of sitcoms and I’ve never actually watched an episode of King of Queens…I wasn’t that familiar with Remini before listening to this book.  I kind of always took Lisa Remini for being funny but sort of crass and obnoxious. And…she is definitely those things some of the time, but after listening to her narrate this audiobook, I find those characteristics in her pretty endearing. She’s brutally honest, direct and rather funny in her descriptions of herself, her past mistakes & choices as well as the choices of others in her life. But you can also tell that she’s a very genuine person who seems very loyal and protective of the friends and family in her life whom she obviously loves very much.

This was a very interesting, sometimes funny and sometimes sad book about a topic that has always intrigued me. Personally, I am not a huge fan of religion in general, but it’s very obvious that Scientology is a scary and dangerous cult and not what I would consider a religion at all. Remini doesn’t go into a ton of long descriptions beyond the basic beliefs of the church and how it’s members are expected to behave and live. I’m sure there are better books out there if you want a down and dirty history and explanation of the church and it’s beliefs….this however is a very well written and intimate first person account of Remini’s experience and life growing up as a Scientologist.  Between this book and other previous members’ accounts there has slowly been more inside information coming out about the very secret church.  I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook, and as with most memoirs, I think the author narrating her own story adds a little something to it.

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology – Amazon

Double Review Ahead!

Double Review: Between Here and the Horizons by Callie Hart & Yes Please by Amy Poehler

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For some reason I got a little behind on writing reviews for my last two books. Both books  enjoyable, but neither of them really blew me away…it’s the only reason I can come up with for the delayed reviews.

First up:

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I listened to this selection as an audiobook because I enjoyed Tina Fey’s BossyPants so much. Similarly to Bossypants, Yes Please is a compilation of different stories from Poehler’s life growing up, starting in theatre, working on SNL and beyond. We get personal stories about friendship, relationships, love & sex. We also get Poehler’s experience with motherhood and balancing that role along with her career. Most of these parts, I found incredibly funny and heartwarming. There was also quite a bit in this book about her beginning days in theater working with the Upright Citizens Brigade. It was this section of the book where I felt sort of bored after a while. There seemed to be too much name dropping and mentioning of specific details and scenarios that might have been hysterically funny to her and to others who were there to experience it…but not so much for someone from the outside. Kind of like telling an inside-joke to people who aren’t part of the “inside”.

Overall, the book was funny and enjoyable…and I definitely suggest the audiobook version because, like BossyPants, Poehler narrates this herself and it definitely adds to the humor.

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Next up:

Between Here and the Horizons by Callie Hart

img_5174  Ophelia Lang is recently divorced and in desperate need of money. She has just lost her position as a third grade teacher, her parent’s business is quickly losing money and they are on the brink of losing their home.  So, when Ophelia is offered a very well paying private tutoring position by a wealthy man for his two small children, she can’t really justify saying no.

Ronan Fletcher is a recent widower…and he’s young, handsome and very wealthy. He’s also incredibly cold, rude and has a very large mean streak. Ophelia immediately begins to regret taking the tutoring position but decides that the large salary is more than worth dealing with Ronan’s moods and distant personality. But Ophelia soon learns that Ronan is hiding some very dark and deep secrets…and some of those secrets will come to impact Ophelia in more ways than she could have imagined before taking the job.

This particular book came as a recommendation to me from a fellow reader who is trying to get me to love romance novels as much as she does 🙂 This particular book is a strong case of “It’s not you, it’s me”. Between Here and the Horizons has a storyline that had a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. I really enjoyed 75% of the book. But at the end of the day, I’m not a huge fan of romance books….especially contemporary romance books.  I don’t mind a romance element if there’s another main theme to the story, but this one had too many cheesy and eyeroll worthy parts for me to give it any higher of a rating. I guess I’m just too much of a cynic. Lol

It was a nice change of pace after a gripping thriller I read previously and that’s usually when I decide to pick up a romance and give one another go. So, it was a good & entertaining read, overall….just not my cup of tea. If you really enjoy a steamy romance with an intense, dark, and brooding male lead…this will be right up your alley. I’m just personally not a big fan of contemporary romance novels….but again, that’s just my personal preference.

***NOTE*** – Between Here and the Horizon does contain some scenes of violence and sexual content, and so is directed at audience 18+

My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Between Here and the Horizons – Amazon

Yes Please – Amazon

Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Genre: Humor, Non-Fiction, Biography/Memoir

img_4741 Bossypants is Tina Fey’s personal story of growing up as a self-proclaimed theatre nerd, to her days working with Second City in Chicago, to working on SNL, to producing her first sitcom, 30 Rock. She has a very insightful and thoughtful take on a large variety of topics and situations she encountered in her life including, but not limited to; friendships, growing into womanhood, careers, discrimination, workplace relationships, and motherhood.

Tina Fey definitely has a fierce feminist streak in her that I absolutely adore. She is funny, smart and possibly brilliant. She’s also not afraid to be bluntly honest and forward….especially when it comes to her own imperfections and mistakes.

“My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.”

I absolutely loved listening to this audiobook! Tina Fey narrates the entire thing herself and I believe that simple fact adds so very much to the experience of listening to her story. Much like World War Z, I have a feeling that this book is likely a much better experience to listen to rather than to actually read…simply because of Ms Fey’s narration.

“Some people say, “Never let them see you cry.” I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

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There really wasn’t any part of this audiobook that I did not enjoy. So many times, I found myself laughing out loud….likely looking like a lunatic to my family while I folded laundry or vacuumed with my headphones in 😉 I loved her descriptions of growing up as a young girl in the late 70’s/early 80’s. The chapters about her dad, Don Fey, were hysterically funny and completely endearing. Some of my favorite parts of this book were where she talked about her days writing for and working on SNL. I’ve been a huge fan of the show and getting a small glimpse of the behind the scenes workings as well as her personal experiences with some of the actors and hosts was awesome! Another bonus of the audiobook is that you get a sound clip of a few of Tina’s scenes playing Sarah Palin, opposite Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton on SNL….hysterical!

At the very end of this book, Tina writes a section called, “A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter”. In it are some real gems that are both funny and endearingly honest: “When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.”  and “Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.” 

Bossypants is a definite recommendation from me! If you haven’t yet taken the plunge into audiobooks, this would be a fantastic one to start with….just be prepared for weird glances from those around you as you laugh out loud 🙂

My rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Bossypants Kindle Edition – Amazon

Bossypants Audiobook Edition – Amazon – **My personal recommended format**

Review: Into The Wild by John Krakauer

Into The Wild by John Krakauer

Genre: Non Fiction/Biography

Published: January 20, 1997

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

 

Goodreads Description:

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away. Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

 

My Thoughts:

Where to start??? *sigh* I have a hard time reviewing and rating non-fiction and especially biographies. I’m usually torn between reviewing the actual writing with reviewing my opinions on the actual subject.

So, I’ll start with the writing….I like Joh Krakauer. I’ve read one of his other books, Into Thin Air, last year about the 1996 Mt Everest climbing disaster. I really enjoy his writing style…you can just feel his love, knowledge and excitement he has for mountain climbing and the outdoors, in general. I feel like he, as an author, does a really good job of giving interesting information as well as telling a story. Just like Into Thin Air, I learned quite a bit from this book, which I enjoyed.

As for the subject of the book…Christopher McCandless….I have mixed feelings about him and the choices he made. I’m torn between understating that he was a young, naive, idealistic 20-something with a strong sense of wanderlust and feeling like he was a sometimes rude, inconsiderate, entitled, thoughtless and selfish person who possibly has undiagnosed bi-polar disorder (not that I’m in anyway qualified to diagnose that).  One quote in the book summed up my feelings for him pretty well: “It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it.

Krakauer, because of his own personal history at the same age, tries to explain away McCandless’ mistakes and inconsideration for his own safety and the feelings of others with youthful idealism. But I’m not so sure. It was an interesting read for me and the 3 star rating didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it… it just meant that I’m not sure I agree with Krakauer’s overall opinion of his subject. But then again…I’m not sure I completely disagree either.

I see this book as a good cautionary tale and I think it could definitely make for good discussion in either a book club or in the high school or college classroom.