Review: ‘Broken (in the best possible way)’ by Jenny Lawson

If you want to know about anxiety and depression and how it impacts you mentally and physically, then look no farther than Jenny Lawson. She has a way of taking such a serious topic and writing about it in the most hilarious way.

Lawson takes a lightened attitude when it comes to her mental health because I think she knows that there is nothing she can do about the craziness that is her life other than laugh about it. And while her antics may seem improbable to most, many others probably find themselves relating to her in more ways than one. I know I do.

“Broken (in the best possible way)” follows the same path of her other books – funny anecdotes with a hard mix of reality. However, I found that Lawson opened up a little more in this book about the more serious parts of her disease. Her letter to her insurance company, lamenting about the prescriptions they refuse to cover that keep her from committing suicide, is a real eye opener. It is a cry for everyone who suffers from mental health and has to decide whether to put food on the table or whether to pay for medicine that can keep them alive. While Jenny is lucky to be able to afford the absurd prices, it makes one wonder how many people have succumbed to their disease because they couldn’t afford it.

Lawson also delves more into the demons that plague her – from the cycle of depression that runs so deep that she is bed bound for days, the pharmacy of medications that have a domino affect on her overall health, to her tumultuous relationship with her husband, which she jokes has only been salvaged because she is too lazy to get a divorce. And because she is so honest about her life, it makes me realize that I could have it so much worse.

My husband suffers from anxiety and depression and is also medicated. Once in a while he says that he is glad that I didn’t know him when he wasn’t medicated – that it was really bad. I have seen him once severely depressed due to a lapse in his prescription at the pharmacy and I never want to ever see him that way again. But even though we deal with his ups and downs, we know that there are others – like Lawson – who have it so much worse.

I am glad that Lawson that is so open about what she goes through because whether she knows it or not, she is helping people who are dealing with similar issues. Hell, I may only suffer from anxiety but I find that I can relate to her – I also step out of my shoes, though none have taken a ride in an elevator.


Have you read “Broken”? What did you think? What other books about mental health would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

Review: ‘Project Hail Mary’ by Andy Weir

Imagine waking up, hooked up to a bunch of tubes, not knowing where you are, how you got there or why. That is how you feel when you first crack open Andy Weir’s latest book, “Project Hail Mary,” because that is how we find the main character, Ryland.

Ryland wakes up in what seems to be a medical unit, being cared for by a robotic machine. However, after a few days of slowly coming out of the lethargic fog that he woke up in, Ryland takes a precursory glance around to deduce that he is on a space craft on a mission. What that mission is has yet to be known, but he knows that it must have been super important. As he struggles to regain his full memory, Ryland tries to move forward with the mission.

This was my first Andy Weir book and I was immersed from the first page. I have never had any aspirations to go to space so the fact that we are joining Ryland on this journey was a nail biter for me. Not only does Ryland not know what he is supposed to do, he is alone, so it’s like learning a new job on the fly. I couldn’t help but hold my breath every time that he touched an unknown button or did something that was clearly not a good idea. Luckily, although Ryland’s memory is hazy, he realizes quickly that many of the things on the ship come easy to him, helping him conclude that he has some type of background.

This book can get a little technical with the scientific terms and the numeric calculations, but it didn’t hinder my understanding of what was going on or what Ryland was trying to do. I was more than happy to let him drive the ship so long as we didn’t crash or he didn’t die. But then I got to thinking – could this actually be possible? Could we build a ship that was able to travel so many light years away and survive?

Are we alone in this universe? It is the age-old question that there is still no clear answer for. Yet, Weir would have us believe that not only is the answer a resounding no, but we can communicate with them and live with them despite our differences.

I loved the relationship between Ryland and Rocky and how the two work on each other’s strengths to get the job done.

I liked the way that Weir used flashbacks to flesh out the story as well as Ryland’s character. Sometimes in books, the flash backs are random but not here. Ryland will look at a piece of paper and what may seem like numeric garble at first, suddenly triggers a memory of him working in a lab on Earth and looking at similar numbers.

I am not one to read science fiction, which is probably why it has taken me so long to pick up one of Weir’s books, but this book was a fast read and thoroughly enjoyable. Now I can’t wait to pick up the “Martian”, which I have heard nothing but good things about.


Have you read “Project Hail Mary”? What did you think? What other Weir books would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

‘The Survivors’ by Jane Harper

I struggled what to rate this book and I am between 3 to 4 stars. I thought it was a good story but I just wasn’t dazzled by it. This is my second Jane Harper book, having read “The Dry” a year and a half ago, and to be honest I can barely remember it.

In “The Survivors”, the main character Kieran Elliott returns home with his girlfriend Mia and their baby daughter, for a visit with his mother. Elliott hasn’t been home since a mistake over 10 years before changed his life forever. And upon his return, old memories begin to resurface – the night of the storm, his brother dying and a girl gone missing. Then 24 hours after arriving back home, Kieran is thrown right back to the past when a young girl is found dead on the beach and questions begin to surface. Then as Elliott and the rest of the town wrestle with this latest development, they end up back on a familiar path that leaves more questions than answers. However, Elliott is determined to find some of those answers this time and maybe in the process put old ghosts to rest.

If there is one good thing Harper is good at doing, it;s creating a complex plot that grabs the readers attention and keeps them wanting more. We know right away, when Kieran returns to his hometown, it’s the last place he wants to be and instantly you want to know why. Then he is accused of being a murderer and now you really want to know what happened. I mean it’s either just a misunderstanding or he really is a murder. So you keep turning the pages wanting to know more. At the same time you want to know what happened to the girl on the beach and how it all ties in, and gradually Harper provides those tidbits.

With the mounting tension, I expected a great unveiling. The point when the past ties with the present so that we not only find out the murderer of the current dead body but also what happened years before. And that’s where this book fell short for me. While we do eventually find out, I was left disappointed. All I could think was “That’s it? That’s what happened?” It almost felt like upon arriving at the point where she had to give the big reveal, Harper didn’t know what to do and picked a random character and a random act to tie it all together. I don’t know, it kind of didn’t fit for me.

Maybe it was because I really liked the characters. Harper did a good job creating this tight knit ocean side community where everyone has their secrets. Then you have this small group that includes Kieran and his group of friends that he hung around with in high school, and even that group has their own secrets. I just thought that there was going to be something bigger – either a huge betrayal or a dark side of someone he thought he knew.

Overall I thought it was an easy, entertaining read, but I thought this was going to be more of a thriller novel than it really was.


Have you read “The Survivors”? What did you think? Let’s discuss!

‘Concrete Rose’ by Angie Thomas

This review is long over due but I would be remiss not to say anything about it. I absolutely loved this book. Though it is the prequel to “The Hate U Give”, it stands on its own as its own.

We are back in Garden Heights but this time Thomas focuses on Maverick Carter who is 17-years-old and is at a crossroads in his life as he made to decide how he is going to make a living. Is it going to be following in his father’s footsteps and dabbling in the gang life where you can get “rich” quick, or is he going to get a “real” job, where the pay sucks but its an honest living. The decision becomes all the more difficult when he suddenly learns that he is a father and now has someone depending on him – his son Seven. Maverick’s decision becomes all the more difficult as he tries to do the right thing by his son but struggles to give him everything he needs.

Once again Thomas puts a difficult issue right on the table – gangs – and forces the reader to understand that sometimes, what you see on the news or hear in the public domain is all as it seems. That though society thinks people who are a part of the gang life choose this life, sometimes they feel like they have no other choice. It’s easy to form an opinion when you don’t actually live the life, and just like she did in “The Hate U Give”, she puts the reader right in front of it. And you begin to understand that sometimes it comes down to pure survival.

Maverick wants to leave the gang life. He saw what it did to his own family as his father is currently behind bars and his own mother struggles to pay the bills. What was a difficult life before is now even more difficult with the presence of a baby and all the costs associated with raising a child. Maverick is only 17, struggling to juggle school, work and raising his son. With his father as an example, Maverick knows that the gang life is not what he wants and vows to break the cycle so his son doesn’t follow. He gets a job that pays with a real paycheck, but as he barely makes ends meet, he wonders if doing a few odd jobs is so bad, at least until he gets enough money under his belt so they are more stable.

What also makes this book great is how Thomas tackles the subject of being a teenage parent from the male perspective. There are so many books about the teenage mom – the book that kept coming to mind while reading this book was “With the Fire on High” – but by focusing it on the teenage dad, Thomas also tackles themes of loyalty and duty. Maverick has a duty to take care of Seven and raise him right but often times that duty comes in conflict with the loyalty he feels toward the Kings. When one of their own is gunned down, Maverick’s loyalty is questioned as he struggles whether to retaliate.

Thomas said in an interview that she wrote this book because she had so many fans who wanted to know about Maverick’s life. While she could have presented his story in the present day of “The Hate U Give”, I am glad that she presented the story in the past because Maverick’s story deserved to be told on its own.

For those who have read “The Hate U Give”, you won’t be disappointed with the prequel.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

‘American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic’ by Andrew Cuomo

It’s hard to believe that it has already been a year since the coronavirus changed our way of life. For New York, the invisible threat was a little late, with our first case starting in March, but we were one of the first major outbreaks in the country. Yet, I can still remember it like yesterday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo began his daily press conferences, updating New Yorkers on what was happening in the state, how many new cases there were each day, the number of deaths and how they were trying to handle it. For four months, I watched every single press conference along with our County Executive’s press conferences so I could provide updates to the members of the County Legislature, so they can be better informed for their local constituents.

Cuomo’s book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” starts with inevitable early morning phone call on March 1, informing him that New York had its first confirmed cases of COVID-19 and then goes from there. In a diary sort of setup, each chapter is an important date, with the number of cases and death. He recaps the major points in the COVID-19 journey from the first cluster that hit Westchester, NY and caused the first “lockdown” to the shutdown of the entire state, what he ends up calling New York on PAUSE.

What makes this book interesting is the behind the scenes decisions that were being made as New York had to deal with each new crisis as it unfolded, even as Cuomo has to deal with his own family and staff that were being exposed or infected. Cuomo goes into detail about his negotiations with the federal government, particularly with President Trump and he doesn’t hold back on his derision for the decisions that were being made. He goes into the conflicts he had in making certain decisions and how at times he didn’t agree with any of the options laid out before him.

Cuomo has gotten some criticism for writing this book before the pandemic was officially over, but I think the intention of the book was not to take a victory lap but merely to describe how New York got over the first wave. Of course this book is a bit subjective as it is his personal account and there are a few times where he seems to be patting himself on the back, but honestly this book is merely a recap of what happened during those first few months.

Recently, there has been more and more news that has come out about those decisions, particularly about the nursing homes. Some of it he explains in the book, but it will be interesting how it plays out.

To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Cuomo previously, but I think he did step up and lead during the crisis. I honestly believe he was doing the best he could given that this was an entirely new virus, and that goes for a lot of our officials – at least the ones that acknowledged that the virus was real and was trying to stop it. He was a calming voice who was trying to reassure people who didn’t understand what was going on. No one knew what they were doing. So were mistakes made? Most definitely. But that is what happens when local officials have to figure it out as they go along.

This is just one individual’s perspective and I am sure more and more books will be coming out about what has happened. Cuomo’s book is just a part of the narrative. Whether you choose to read it or not is completely up to you.

‘Shirley’ by Charlotte Bronte

I was first introduced to Charlotte Bronte in high school with “Jane Eyre”, one of my all-time favorite classics book, and one that I have read multiple times. I figured now was the time to try to read something else by Charlotte Bronte. Some of her books are on my reading list for The Classics Club and as luck would have it, “Shirley” got picked for the latest CC Spin and we had 9 weeks to read it. Easy enough.

So here we are, January 30th, and I am sorry to say that I have yet to finish it and I am even debating whether to set it aside for good. I’m so disappointed with this read and honestly, I am kind of bored with it at this point.

For one thing, the pacing of this book is sooo slow and while I understand some authors want to unfold story little by little, I feel that it takes forever to get to the character for which this book is named. Shirley is not introduced to the reader until halfway through. Rather it would seem that the main character is Caroline as we learn about all about her and she becomes front and center to the story. Even when Shirley is first introduced, the author narrates Caroline’s movements more.

While I know that this is the point in the book where things may pick up, I feel like I shouldn’t have to work so hard. I can’t relate to any of the characters and honestly feel like Caroline’s story line has gone flat. Basically, she is in love with Robert Moore and her woes as she tries to make him see her in the same way. Nothing new has happened in the last 50 or so pages. I want to keep reading but I am afraid to be disappointed if nothing changes.

This is becoming more of a rant than a review at this point, so I will leave it here. I am going to keep the book to the side and pick it up at random, with the hope of eventually finishing it. Perhaps I may surprise everyone in a few months with a new review. Or I may DNF it permanently. Whatever its fate, I am just glad that “Jane Eyre” was my first Charlotte Bronte read.


Have you read “Shirley”? Are there any other Charlotte Bronte books I should try? Let’s discuss?

‘Relish: My Life in the Kitchen’ by Lucy Knisley

Every year for November, the Society for Avid Readers Across the Hudson Book Club chooses a book that revolves around food. Sometimes they are really good and sometimes they are really bad. It’s always a mixed bag.

My initial thoughts when they selected “Relish” was that this book is going to be fun. That is purely going by the cover. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but I just couldn’t help it. Look at it.

Then I realized that it was a graphic novel and some of that excitement faded. I am not one to read graphic novels. I don’t know why but for some reason they just don’t appeal to me. Maybe the layout is too distracting for me, I don’t know. But I bit the bullet and guess what, I liked it.

I blew through it in an hour and I must say that it was fun. In the past we have read food books which were more about the industry or what you should or shouldn’t do when it comes to food or the types of food to eat. However this was just a personal experience with food, sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes just outright hilarious.

Knisley talks about her childhood in the kitchen with a mom who was a chef and how food played a huge role at each stage of her life. She talks about how the dinner menu was a bit different than what normal kids would eat – all high end food that you would normally be served at a restaurant. I mean if it was me, I might have starved, since I am picky eater, or, maybe, I would have learned to appreciate food at an early age like she did.

My favorite parts were when she was finally introduced to the world of processed food at a friend’s house and when she ate Mexican food in Mexico. I will say, there is something about eating food from another culture that is unforgettable. I still think about the food I ate in Spain.

If Knisley doesn’t make you hungry enough, at the end of each chapter she includes a recipe, which is a complete bonus. Not going to lie, some of the recipes I might even try, though some others are way too involved for me and I fear that I would just make a mess of things.

The fact that this was a graphic novel only served as a benefit and I actually enjoyed the imagery that accompanied the narrative. Perhaps I should give graphic novels more of a try.

I didn’t make it to book club for the discussion but I think I would have enjoyed it. I’m really interested to hear what everyone else thought. The organizer gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. I didn’t think it was that amazing but it was definitely 4 stars. But then again, to me five stars equals absolutely amazing, can’t stop thinking about it, everyone needs to read it.

Let’s just say, if you are looking for a light, fun read, this is definitely a good one. But make sure you have a snack nearby because your tummy might get hungry before you’re through.


Have you read “Relish”? What did you think? What other foodie books would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

‘The Library Book’ by Susan Orlean

I wasn’t able to make the book club discussion in October due to work but I felt like I should still write a review about this book, even if it is a few weeks late. Even more so because I am still thinking about it.

I wasn’t expecting to like this book. I was excited when it had first come out and then I saw that it was nonfiction. For some reason, I immediately thought it was going to be a snoozer. It didn’t help that I saw mixed reviews about it, some of which said that it was hard to get through.

Well yet again, book club wins. I swear I am more and more appreciative that I am in book club because I feel like every month I am saying that if it wasn’t because of book club I wouldn’t have read the book. I absolutely loved “The Library Book” and with Orlean’s descriptive writing style, I kept turning the pages for more.

“The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality, in the library we can live forever.”

-The Library Book

Through little snippets like the one above, Orlean shows her appreciation for libraries and what they stand for. While “The Library Book” focuses on the San Franscisco Library fire of 1986, Orlean weaves her personal experience with libraries into the narrative. She delves into its operations, not just at the checkout counter, but behind the scenes, from the process of bringing in new books to keeping track of the inventory to the process that goes into shipping books between branches as well as the myriad of other services a library has to offer.

More importantly, Orlean highlights how critical libraries are to the community and why the fire of 1986 was so devastating to the staff, the community and even the city. She even goes into the financial aspect of a library. While the local city does contribute to the funding of a library, it is a constant negotiation to get more funding to support the services they offer.

In each chapter, Orlean provides new information about the fire and its aftermath, the hunt for the guilty party and then when you begin to tire of the history lesson, she segways into either a story about going to a library when she was growing up or a generalization about the affect libraries have on the areas they reside. It leaves you with a newfound respect for the institution.

I will say after reading this book I definitely wanted to go out and support my local library.


Have you read “The Library Book”? What did you think? Let’s discuss!

‘Anxious People’ by Fredrik Backman

It took me a while to get through this book but I’m finding that some books just need to be absorbed slowly, like a hot beverage.

This book was about a lot of things – a bank robbery, a hostage situation, a bridge – but mostly, it was about people. People who are just trying to live each day the best they can, given the hand that life dealt them.

We meet several individuals at an apartment viewing and at first glance, they are all there for one purpose – to buy an apartment. Yet, as the story unfolds, we learn that the why is the more important part, because each one has their own story. Most of all, each one is dealing with their own anxiety about those situations, whether it’s being along after years of being with a significant other, making sure everything is ready for a child, paying the bills, or even feeling that we matter.

Each person has this internal struggle even as they go through a hostage situation, which is not your standard hostage situation. But through it, they realize that none of these things matter because as long as they simply try, they are not alone. They learn that somewhere out there, someone else is going through the same thing or something even worse – enough to make them think they have no way out and they end up jumping off a bridge – not realizing that their actions will inadvertently affect others. There are ways to overcome any situation and we can help others by understanding.

Yet, while this book was a hodge podge of different characters and different plots, Backman is brilliant in how he weaves all of them together. It reminded me of a line that I have used a hundred times when I run into someone or find out they know someone that I have known for years – “What a small world.” The constant twist and turns in this book were delightful and in true Backman form, the ending was bittersweet. I found myself with tears in my eyes and hugging this book, wishing I could give those characters a hug in turn.


Have you read “Anxious People” yet? If so, what did you think? Let’s discuss!

Book Club Discussion: ‘East of the Mountains’ by David Guterson

If you were faced with a terminal illness, what would you do? Would you go on living the life you have left, taking advantage of every minute, or would you want to end it, on your own terms?

For Ben Givens, the answer seems obvious. As a retired heart surgeon, he knows full well what his diagnosis of terminal colon cancer will entail. He wants to avoid it at all costs. So he plans one last hike with his two hunting dogs in the mountains. What he doesn’t expect is for anything to get in the way of his well thought-out plan.

When I started reading this book, I had no clue how it was going to turn out. We know right from the start what Ben’s plan is and there are only two ways it could end – he live or he dies. So now, as a reader, we have to go on this journey with Ben whether we like it or not.

As one book club member pointed out. “People make plans and God laughs.” Ben thinks he has it all figured out. He has planned an elaborate way to die and nothing is going to get in his way. That is until he goes on this journey and through the people he meets and the things that occur, he realizes that dying is easy, living is a struggle. We are faced with death around every corner of our lives. When we drive a car, we can get into an accident. When we are out hiking, we can’t get injured or run into dangerous animals. Those we love can die for no rhyme or reason. So the only thing we can do is accept that we are going to die at some point and continue to live our life until that time comes.

Many in book club, while they liked the book, thought the characters were thin and the dialogue was a little stilted. The biggest criticism was the over description of the places Ben was going that reminded them more of a travelogue than a fiction book. Others called it more episodic. There were great moments in the book but they were left hanging without any ties to each other.

I argue that the author didn’t care about the other characters or necessarily how they interacted. This whole book was Ben’s personal journey. He wanted to die and through these interactions, it made him question whether he was making the right decision. Ultimately I thought it was well done.

This is the second book I have read of Guterson and it is completely different from his first book, “Snow Falling on Cedars” since that book is a crime plot that highlights on the discrimination against Japanese in the United States after World War II and I absolutely loved it. Even though “East of the Mountains” isn’t my favorite, it has stayed with me.


Have you read “East of the Mountains”? What other books provide a reflection on life and death? Let’s discuss?