REVIEW: ENOUGH ALREADY, BY VALERIE BERTINELLI

Behind the curtain of her happy on-screen persona, Valerie Bertinelli’s life has been no easy ride, especially when it comes to her own self-image and self-worth. She waged a war against herself for years, learning to equate her value to her appearance as a child star on One Day at a Time and punishing herself in order to fit into the unachievable Hollywood mold. She struggled to make her marriage to Eddie Van Halen— the true love of her life—work, despite all the rifts the rock-star lifestyle created between them. She then watched her son follow in his father’s footsteps, right up onto the stage of Van Halen concerts, and begin his own music career. And like so many women, she cared for her parents as their health declined and saw the roles of parent and child reverse. Through mourning the loss of her parents, discovering more about her family’s past, and realizing how short life really is when she and her son lost Eddie, Valerie finally said, “Enough already!” to a lifelong battle with the scale and found a new path forward to joy and connection. Despite hardships and the pressures of the media industry to be something she’s not, Valerie is, at last, accepting herself: she knows who she is, has discovered her self-worth, and has learned how to prioritize her health and happiness over her weight. With an intimate look into her insecurities, heartbreaks, losses, triumphs, and revelations, Enough Already is the story of Valerie’s sometimes humorous, sometimes raw, but always honest journey to love herself and find joy in the everyday, in family, and in the food and memories we share.
 
 
 
an interior journey thoughts

I am a fan of Valerie Bertinelli, and have been ever since I watched her every week on One Day at a Time. I also followed her weight loss journey and admired her for her efforts.

In Enough Already, she reveals how she has moved on from the past and the voices she has always seemed to hear in her head, reminding her that she is not enough, that she needs to lose weight, and that she is not a person of worth.

Her path to change those voices makes up much of this book, and we also learn about the sadness of her first husband’s illness and death; her life during the Pandemic; and how she is moving on from the past and changing her voices to those that fill her with joy.

Along the way, we journeyed with her to Italy to meet family and learn how to cook truly Italian dishes. Her descriptions of the food and places kept me turning pages. A great read that earned 5 stars.
 
***
 
 

REVIEW: APPARENTLY THERE WERE COMPLAINTS, BY SHARON GLESS

Emmy Award¬–winning actress Sharon Gless tells all in this laugh-out-loud, juicy, and touching memoir about her five decades in Hollywood, where she took on some of the most groundbreaking roles of her time.

Anyone who has seen Sharon Gless act in Cagney & Lacey, Queer as Folk, Burn Notice, and countless other shows and movies, knows that she’s someone who gives every role her all. She holds nothing back in Apparently There Were Complaints, a hilarious, deeply personal memoir that spills all about Gless’s five decades in Hollywood.

A fifth-generation Californian, Sharon Gless knew from a young age that she wanted to be an actress. After some rocky teenage years that included Sharon’s parents’ divorce and some minor (and not-so-minor) rebellion, Gless landed a coveted spot as an exclusive contract player for Universal Studios. In 1982, she stepped into the role of New York Police Detective Christine Cagney for the series Cagney & Lacey, which eventually reached an audience of 30 million weekly viewers and garnered Gless with two Emmy Awards. The show made history as the first hour-long drama to feature two women in the leading roles.

Gless continued to make history long after Cagney & Lacey was over. In 2000, she took on the role of outrageous Debbie Novotny in Queer as Folk. Her portrayal of a devoted mother to a gay son and confidant to his gay friends touched countless hearts and changed the definition of family for millions of viewers.

Apparently There Were Complaints delves into Gless’s remarkable career and explores Gless’s complicated family, her struggles with alcoholism, and her fear of romantic commitment as well as her encounters with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Brutally honest and incredibly relatable, Gless puts it all out on the page in the same way she has lived—never with moderation.

 

an interior journey thoughts

I was (and still am) a big fan of Cagney and Lacey and both stars in their other ventures over the years, so Apparently There Were Complaints landed on my Kindle as soon as possible.

Sharon Gless tells it like it is, with no hesitation, and her speaking voice is one that I can almost hear as I read her written words. I can almost hear her laugh out loud, too, and I turned the pages rapidly to get to all the punch lines of each story.

I bought my copy for my Kindle, but now I want the hardcover, too, so I can enjoy the photos completely.

Despite being a “commitment phobe,” I also like that she has had a long marriage that says a lot about her, too.

A delightful read that earned five stars for me.

***

REVIEW: I’LL BE SEEING YOU, BY ELIZABETH BERG

Elizabeth Berg’s father was an Army veteran who was a tough man in every way but one: He showed a great deal of love and tenderness to his wife. Berg describes her parents’ marriage as a romance that lasted for nearly seventy years; she grew up watching her father kiss her mother upon leaving home, and kiss her again the instant he came back. His idea of when he should spend time away from her was never.

But then Berg’s father developed Alzheimer’s disease, and her parents were forced to leave the home they loved and move into a facility that could offer them help. It was time for the couple’s children to offer, to the best of their abilities, practical advice, emotional support, and direction—to, in effect, parent the people who had for so long parented them. It was a hard transition, mitigated at least by flashes of humor and joy. The mix of emotions on everyone’s part could make every day feel like walking through a minefield. Then came redemption.

I’ll Be Seeing You charts the passage from the anguish of loss to the understanding that even in the most fractious times, love can heal, transform, and lead to graceful—and grateful—acceptance.

 
 
 

I’ll Be Seeing You was a tender tale of a family journey. From youth to the end of life and all of the wonderful and sometimes painful moments in between, I felt connected to the very real characters in the story.

I could relate to some of my own travels along the way, from the excitement and joy of first love to the losses of aging that seem to be endless, as one leaves behind one way of life via a series of mini-losses that feel deeply sad and lonely. But also offer the kinds of new beginnings that take adjustment but can feel like more opportunities for growth.

The beautifully written memoir kept me engaged completely as I could almost feel myself going along for the ride. A poignant story with very real lessons to be learned about what lies ahead. 5 stars.

 
***

REVIEW: BECOMING, BY MICHELLE OBAMA

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

As an iconic woman who has redefined the meaning of First Lady by her behavior, her ideals, and her ability to rise above the challenges she faced as part of the First Black Presidential Couple, Michelle Obama showed us even more as we watched their eight years in the White House. But as I read Becoming, I loved glimpsing an insider’s view of her life growing up and becoming the woman who showed us an example of how to lead and serve as a role model.

A smart and savvy woman, Michelle revealed much about how to compromise and see the best in those who criticized her, showing her own ability to perform with those qualities.

In the end of this impressive story of one woman’s journey, I liked how she left the reader with these thoughts: “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end….

“It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done….

“It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

A five star read from a truly authentic woman.  Read for the 2020 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

***

REVIEW: “TWENTY-ONE TRUTHS ABOUT LOVE,” BY MATTHEW DICKS

 

 

Daniel Mayrock’s life is at a crossroads. He knows the following to be true:

1. He loves his wife Jill… more than anything.
2. He only regrets quitting his job and opening a bookshop a little (maybe more than a little)
3. Jill is ready to have a baby.
4. The bookshop isn’t doing well. Financial crisis is imminent. Dan doesn’t know how to fix it.
5. Dan hasn’t told Jill about their financial trouble.
6. Then Jill gets pregnant.

This heartfelt story is about the lengths one man will go to and the risks he will take to save his family. But Dan doesn’t just want to save his failing bookstore and his family’s finances:

1. Dan wants to do something special.
2. He’s a man who is tired of feeling ordinary.
3. He’s sick of feeling like a failure.
4. He doesn’t want to live in the shadow of his wife’s deceased first husband.

Dan is also an obsessive list maker; his story unfolds entirely in his lists, which are brimming with Dan’s hilarious sense of humor, unique world-view, and deeply personal thoughts. When read in full, his lists paint a picture of a man struggling to be a man, a man who has reached a point where he’s willing to do anything for the love (and soon-to-be new love) of his life.

 

 

My Thoughts:  While I am also a list maker, I did not connect that well with this book of lists. The narrator’s lists were intriguing, but after reading just a few chapters, I was feeling overwhelmed and a little bored.

I recommend Twenty-One Truths About Love for those who might enjoy this format. Perhaps I would love it at another point in my life, but right now, my own life is about lists and appointments. Need I say more?  3 stars.

***I received my e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

 

REVIEW: WILDFLOWER, BY DREW BARRYMORE

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Born into Hollywood royalty, Drew Barrymore has shown her tremendous talents, as well as how she rose above a troubled childhood.

Wildflower is the story of her trajectory, told in an anecdotal style, but not chronologically; it is complete with photos. Imagine that she has sat the reader down and shared tidbits of her life…the good, the bad, and the ugly; she doesn’t mince words. She lays it all out there, from the flaws and fears to the blessings she now enjoys with her marriage and two daughters.

Her presentation includes the lessons she has learned along the way, and she shows us her journey, including trips to India and Africa. She touches on a brief marriage…and spends more time revealing how her past experiences prepared her for the marriage she now enjoys and the in-laws she adores.

When one adds up the list of her accomplishments—from the production companies, beauty products, and wine-making—and how she then comes home to her dedication to motherhood, one must ask how she does it all. She says:

“I’ve been in trouble for saying women can’t have it all. Things have to give if you really want to raise your kids, because it is all-consuming. It’s not that you have to give everything up. That’s the great news.

“But you can’t do everything at the same time….”

So her stories and her philosophies are encouraging for women, in my opinion. Knowing how to prioritize and even compartmentalize…that’s the secret.

A delightful tome that brought some of her stories to her readers…4.5 stars.

REVIEW: CIRCLING MY MOTHER, BY MARY GORDON

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As a way of knowing and understanding her mother, the author of Circling My Mother takes us on a journey through the various phases of her mother’s life. Her life in relation to her daughter, but also to various other people, including her parents, her siblings, her husband, her boss of many years, and even the priests she admired along the way.

As a young woman, a young mother, a child among many siblings, and in relation to the other people in her life, her world.

Also as a woman disabled by polio she contracted at age three. How her disabilities affected her life, her perception of herself, and her daughter’s perception of her.

How do the various experiences of the woman, Anna, child of an Irish mother and Italian father, come together to create who she was in her life? Did the pain and anguish of her life turn her into a bitter drunk? Was the senility of her last eleven years a way of coping, of distancing herself from the pain?

As suggested by the title, the journey is a circular one, beginning as the author visits an exhibition of Bonnard’s paintings in a museum. His painting called The Bathroom, was created in 1908, the same year that Anna was born. And on the day of this museum visit, the author is also planning her mother’s ninetieth birthday celebration. A celebration Anna will unlikely experience in any real way, because of her dementia.

In the end, and after her mother’s death, the author revisits Bonnard, and tries to make sense of the parallels she observes between the paintings and her mother’s life.

It is always difficult to truly understand one’s parents, and especially when there were challenges in the relationships.

Sometimes the ambivalence we feel for them distorts what we see. The author here has done a great job of trying to clearly deconstruct her mother’s life and world, including the contradictions in her world view. Her Catholic experiences juxtaposed against her love of pleasurable things. Her work ethic. Her sense of responsibility and independence. The fears brought on by her body’s betrayal, because of the polio, and then later, as she lost most of her abilities, and her awareness. When being independent is a strong value, the loss of it is especially painful.

Sections of the book were tedious, in my opinion, but to give dimension to her portrait of her mother, each part had its place. But nevertheless, because of the tedium, I am granting three stars.

PUNCHING THROUGH THE INVISIBLE MEMBRANE — A REVIEW

519eZvlQlMLIn the 1960s, the young Dubus’s started their lives together like many couples of the times. They were golden, with their intellect, their parties, and the life they were living. They were in love.

But marriage and parenting four children would take their toll, and with the divorce, the children would watch their father walking away, while they were left behind, as many children of divorce are. Their lives would be more impoverished because of the financial strains of living with a single mom. Oftentimes there was not enough food in the house, and sometimes during the long hours that their mother was at work, the kids had to fend for themselves. And what they found to occupy themselves was often something disruptive.

But nearby, the father, Andre Dubus, already a published author, would enjoy the writer’s life, while teaching at a nearby college. He had many female companions, some of whom he married. And his time with his children felt like “dating” them, a description he shared with them.

As the oldest son and second child, young Andre would find that living in a series of poor mill towns in Massachusetts would be a kind of training ground for having to fight for what he wanted. And to stave off the bullying that seemed to follow him everywhere. But first he had to work out and develop the muscles he would need.

Much of the story in Townie: A Memoir reveals what that life was like for the young boy, and how he eventually came to change how he looked at fighting; how he eventually learned how to deal with that rage that arose in him. In this excerpt, he shows us what that felt like:

 

“Ever since I was a boy running from other boys, I’d been making myself into a man who did not flee, a man who planted his feet and waited for that moment when throwing a punch was the only thing to do, waited for that invisible membrane around me to fall away and I’d gather once again the nerve and will to shatter another’s. But I had discovered a new membrane now. The one between what we think and what we see, between what we believe and what is.”

 

But it would take many years for young Andre to arrive at this place…and then only after he began writing in his notebooks and channeling his feelings into his writing.

It would also be many years before father and son would develop a better relationship. Toward the end of the story, when Andre had just published the book House of Sand and Fog, the closeness between them would be stronger than ever.

The story was riveting, even though the earliest sections that dealt with the rage and fighting were difficult to get through. The rewards that came in the second half of the book made having to slog through the violence worth it. Recommended for those who relish writer’s memoirs, and especially for those who have enjoyed other works by this author. Four stars.

AN APPALACHIAN JOURNEY — A REVIEW

3302Vashti Lee Daniels was born in the late 1800s into a close knit family comprised of several generations, including a great-grandmother who had a strong influence on young Vashti. That influence helped define the young woman, who was fifteen at the beginning of the story, and who had renamed herself “Bessie” quite early on in her life. I could definitely relate to renaming oneself, as I had done the same.

As the eldest child in the family, much of the housekeeping and child minding fell to her. But her close bond with her Papa, the town constable, who seemingly admired the gumption that set her apart from the others, helped nurture the side of her that would flourish as the years passed.

Whistling Woman (Appalachian Journey) is a nonfiction story based on the great-aunt of the authors, and the setting of Hot Springs, North Carolina, in the Appalachian Mountains, was researched thoroughly by them. Additionally, both heard many of the tales about Great Aunt Bessie from their father, whose storytelling abilities were certainly passed down to his daughters.

I was enchanted by the idea of a “whistling woman,” and early in the tale, the reader discovers the meaning of the term and will find it quite apt in describing the independent-thinking Bessie. Narrated in Bessie’s first person voice, the reader soon connects completely with her thoughts, feelings, wishes and dreams.

What astounding event early in the story sets the tone and spotlights the personalities of the characters? How does the event seem to herald sad happenings that will unfold throughout that year? And what unexpected occurrence will drive a wedge between Bessie and her father?

I loved the language that seemingly transported me to that time and place. I recognized certain phrases and sayings that my own paternal grandparents used quite frequently, and, as a result, felt even more connected to the characters. I wanted to know a lot more of Bessie’s story, so I’m hoping for a sequel. Five stars.

A NOSTALGIC JOURNEY — REVIEW

Reading Carol Burnett’s memoir This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection felt like a walk down memory lane for me. I was around for those days when her show was a regular feature on TV. The hour-long presentations would not be on the network lineups these days.

But in her book, her self-deprecating humor came through on every page, from the simplest anecdote to her spin on her life and its moments. Short chapters and great photos made the story a quick yet fun read.

Not only does she describe some earlier childhood “defining moments,” like feeling a connection to Jimmy Stewart when she first saw him in the movies, to the actual meetings of the greats over the years, but she imbues the pages with her gratitude and reflections about the opportunities and successes she enjoyed.

The people she met and knew came to life just as the characters she portrayed in her variety shows resonated with those in her audiences.

One of the most vivid realizations that I took from this book was how magical the Golden Age of television once was, and how much everything has changed. Not that we don’t have a much bigger selection of shows to watch, with cable TV, etc., but the kinds of shows on the networks do not have that same magic to them. At least not in my opinion.

Near the end, Ms. Burnett shares personal stories and reflections, like her chin enhancement surgery, her divorce from Joe Hamilton, her new marriage…and finally, the sadness of the death of her oldest daughter Carrie.

Her story made me smile, laugh, and shed some tears. I won’t forget the story…or her. Five stars.