Category Archives: Memoir

Stir by Jessica Fechtor

23281896At 28, Jessica Fechtor was happily immersed in graduate school and her young marriage, and thinking about starting a family. Then one day, she went for a run and an aneurysm burst in her brain. She nearly died. She lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, and was forced to the sidelines of the life she loved.

Jessica’s journey to recovery began in the kitchen as soon as she was able to stand at the stovetop and stir. There, she drew strength from the restorative power of cooking and baking. Written with intelligence, humor, and warmth, Stir is a heartfelt examination of what it means to nourish and be nourished.”

Woven throughout the narrative are 27 recipes for dishes that comfort and delight. For readers of M.F.K.Fisher, Molly Wizenberg, and Tamar Adler, as well as Oliver Sacks, Jill Bolte Taylor, and Susannah Cahalan, Stir is sure to inspire, and send you straight to the kitchen. – Goodreads

Well, it didn’t send me running for the kitchen. But I did enjoy this read.

See, my mom had an aneurysm when my brother was born. She’s okay. And then my Oma had one. I remember that one. We spent a lot of time in the hospital. Lots of rehab. Lots of bouncing back. Aneurysms run in my family, and I’ve always had fear, respect, and interest when it comes to them. That’s why I picked this book up.

It opens with Jessica’s aneurysm, which happened while she was running at a hotel gym. The story then follows her struggles and healing process, which cooking and food plays a major key in. There are even recipes sprinkled throughout the book.

There’s something about reading books that feature real people that make me understand the “main character”. Maybe that’s because they’re real. But I got Jessica—I understood the pain and healing that she was going through. In a way, it gave me an inside look at what my mom and Oma went through.

It was a slow read for me, and I found many parts to be dragging. Can I really fault the story for that, though? Isn’t that the point of an emotional and physical healing process? I shouldn’t, but it did make me take a long time to read the story.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read, but I probably won’t be shouting about it from the rooftops. If you’re into inspirational healing journeys, this might be for you. I rated it a 3.5/5.

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I received a free copy of Stir from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Stalling for Time by Gary Noesner

8171337An enraged man abducts his estranged wife and child, holes up in a secluded mountain cabin, threatening to kill them both. A right wing survivalist amasses a cache of weapons and resists calls to surrender. A drug trafficker barricades himself and his family in a railroad car, and begins shooting. A cult leader in Waco, Texas faces the FBI in an armed stand-off that leaves many dead in a fiery blaze. A sniper, claiming to be God, terrorizes the DC metropolitan area. For most of us, these are events we hear about on the news. For Gary Noesner, head of the FBI’s groundbreaking Crisis Negotiation Unit, it was just another day on the job.

In Stalling for Time, Noesner takes readers on a heart-pounding tour through many of the most famous hostage crises of the past thirty years. Specially trained in non-violent confrontation and communication techniques, Noesner’s unit successfully defused many potentially volatile standoffs, but perhaps their most hard-won victory was earning the recognition and respect of their law enforcement peers.

This book was so good. After reading Columbine, I wanted a lighter read (so naturally, I reach for hostage negotiations…really, self?). I read a chapter at lunch every day, and let me tell you, it was difficult to put it down.

Noesner’s style is fantastic and made his stories compelling. It reads like a narrative and is written in a conversational, engaging manner. For the most part, it read in chronological order of his career and each chapter focused on an incident.

I was born in 1991, so I barely remember the events surrounding September 11th (near the time he retired). Most of his incidents occurred in the eighties and nineties. Though I’m not old enough to remember reading or watching these stories on the news, I can only imagine how it would feel for those who had. I was surprised at the amount of detail discussed in each chapter. It was thrilling.

You might even say that all of life is a negotiation. – Gary Noesner, Stalling for Time

Even if you’re not in law enforcement, I think there are plenty of lessons to be learned in this book for negotiating in your own life. For example, identifying what someone wants. Then, identify their needs. Don’t take away creature comforts. Don’t let them know they hold power over you. Don’t pressure them. Treat them like human beings.

Much of the book also discusses the adversity that the Hostage Negotiation Team faced when it was first gaining ground in the FBI. Though somewhat easy to sway an individual’s opinion in terms of HNT, it was difficult to sway the entire Bureau.

Overall, Stalling for Time was a fantastic nonfiction read. I highly recommend to those who are interested in crime or crime reporting. 5/5 on Goodreads!

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The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

6398634Can you believe that 2015 is nearly upon us? I can’t! This year flew by and was full of awesome things (getting engaged, getting married, fun trips, etc.) but I’m pretty excited for the new year. If I had to choose a favorite holiday, it would be New Year’s. I love how it feels like a fresh start, and I’m a big fan of making resolutions.

The problem with resolutions is that I usually fail by March. The problem with my resolutions is the lack of definition—“lose weight” or “eat healthier” or “do more at work” aren’t exactly measurable goals.

I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, just in time for 2015. Over the course of a year, Rubin was dedicated to sticking to her resolutions, which focused on certain aspects of her life each month. She did a bunch of research on happiness and incorporated various studies into her resolutions (IE, working out three times a week, doing small acts of kindness for her husband every day, etc).

I am a planner, and I loved the structure of her resolutions for her Happiness Project. She broke the year down into a List of Resolutions, which assigned one topic to each month of the year (IE, family, relationships, energy, etc). For an entire month, she focused on this area. The idea was to achieve more happiness in that area.

To support the List of Resolutions, she had a list of Twelve Commandments. Things like, “less is more” and “be you”. These statements helped her remember the important things when she felt like slipping on resolutions.

The book was laid out by month (and a resolution to coincide with it). The format made it easy to read one month and put the book down. I enjoyed Rubin’s writing style, and found myself smiling at various jokes and anecdotes.

I highly recommend the Happiness Project. 5/5 on Goodreads!

I am not an unhappy person, but I would like to work on my happiness so that it stems from a place of being grateful for all of the wonderful things I do have. For this reason, I will be pursuing my own Happiness Project in 2015! My resolutions and plans will be posted tomorrow, and I’ll do a monthly check-in. Have you read the Happiness Project? Do you want to participate? Shoot me an email at lifebetweenreads@gmail.com!

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The Andy Cohen Diaries by Andy Cohen

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been a little MIA lately and it’s been all about Lauren and her vast amount of reading (and our first giveaway!!!) but I ACED MY FINALS, so I have good reason. I’ve gotten a little reading under my belt though, and now winter break has commenced, so hopefully you’ll be seeing a little more of me – for at least the next month.

Before the intense studying began, I decided to read The Andy Cohen Diaries by, you guessed it, Andy Cohen. You might not know this about me, but I have a huge guilty pleasure – reality TV. My husband actually calls it horrible reality TV and just doesn’t understand my love for it but I get sucked in to almost every Real Housewives show (minus Miami) and practically anything on Bravo or E! in general, actually…

Andy CohenSo, when Andy Cohen (the executive producer of the Housewives shows and host of all the Housewives reunions) came out with a new book, I knew I had to read it. It was touted as having inside scoop and tons of name dropping, “a deep look at a shallow year,” and I couldn’t resist. I tried to read his last book, Most Talkative, but I felt like there was a huge disconnect. He’s quite a bit older than me, and a gay man, so I didn’t understand a lot of the pop culture references from when he was coming up in the industry and I didn’t connect with a lot of what he went through.

Anyway, The Andy Cohen Diaries is totally different! It was literally a diary of one entire year of his life (I think he missed one day of the entire 365) so it’s pretty long. At one point, about three quarters of the way through, I was getting a little tired of it. There is DEFINITELY a lot of name dropping and a lot of details. It’s fast paced and you have to be paying attention to every entry, you can’t skip around and expect to know what’s happening from month to month. There are a lot of people involved and a lot of things going on, he’ll say one thing in, for instance, January and come back to it again in June. It’s weird because even though I was getting almost bored with it around the Spring entries, by the end of the Summer entries I really didn’t want it to end.

I wish that everyone did this. It’s such an interesting way to get a glimpse into someone’s life and to see what they’re actually thinking and what their personalities are actually like. I really did love reading it, but I rated it 4/5 on Goodreads. It just seemed so repetitive, which I understand life can be, but it was as if even he was getting a little bored. I would LOVE to see this type of book from other “celebrities” and highly recommend it if you’re into the Real Housewives (so much juicy gossip on them, even though a lot of it you have to guess who he’s referring to).

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Columbine by Dave Cullen

5632446As an avid reader of fantasy fiction (and someone who is no longer a student), I have a policy: for 20 minutes every day, I must read non-fiction. I try not to impose any rules beside that—as long as it’s non-fiction and I’m learning something, it fits the criteria.

Six months ago, I chose Columbine by Dave Cullen at the recommendation of my coworker, who, as an ex-newsman, has a passion for well-written, well-researched nonfiction.
It usually takes me less than a few days to start and finish a book, so spending six months on this one was an odd venture for me. Every day at lunch I would tuck it under my arm, take my chicken and broccoli downstairs, and read a chapter or two. It wasn’t a difficult read—at least, not in the sense of my reading ability.

It was the most emotional read I’ve ever had, which made it so difficult to get through. I felt so dark and down on the world when I would read it. On April 20, 1999, two boys marched into the doors of Columbine High School and carried out the biggest school massacre of their time. They looked into the eyes of their peers and murdered them ruthlessly. The media portrayed it as a shooting by two boys who had been picked on in school—-the story was much, much different.

Columbine took Cullen ten years to write and research. It is extremely well-written, and offers an all-around look at the suspects, victims, survivors, families of those involved, the community, the media, and law enforcement. He pulls information from the journals, video diaries and websites of the suspects, Dylan and Eric. He pulls information from interviews with the families of the deceased and from the survivors. Media interviews, media stories, leaked photos, police reports, police interviews, witness accounts…it is an amazing read that paints—in vivid detail—what happened in the years leading up to April 20, 1999, and the aftermath.

It is a chilling look into the mind of a psychopath. Both suspects display multiple characteristics of psychopathy, which are laid out in detail through their journal entries and criminal past. One trait of a psychopath is the ability to feign emotion and regret—to his parents and peers, Eric was a normal teenage boy who made mistakes and had run-ins with the law and alcohol. He feigned remorse, expressed a desire to be a better human. In his journal entries, he talks about his lies, and how badly he wanted to kill masses of people.

I cannot sum up the emotions and horror I felt while reading this book. In a society where we toss around words like ‘psycho’ and ‘psychopath’ in jest, most people have no idea how complex and chilling the true meaning is. As an empathetic person, I had a very difficult time wrapping my head around how someone could view the world in such a way.

I rated Columbine a 5/5 on Goodreads, and would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in the field of psychology or law enforcement. I’m definitely planning on picking a lighter book for my next non-fiction choice—this one was a little rough!

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The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

10464963I’m not sure what you would consider this—a novella? A collection of poems? Non-fiction? Whatever it is, I really enjoyed it.

The book (it’s not really a story, and I’ll explain why in a moment) details the lives of a group of young Japanese women who are on their way to San Francisco. Called picture brides, they make their journey by boat to meet their husbands for the first time.

In a poetic way, it details these women’s lives—from the boat ride to their first nights with their husbands to the hard labor in fruit fields and as maids. It details their children, their deaths, their experiences, the arrival of war.

These miniature storylines don’t focus on a single individual. Otsuka refers to the women in the story as “we” or “some of us”, which gives you, the reader, a sense of understanding and kinship.

“We gave birth under oak trees, in the summer, in 113-degree heat. We gave birth beside woodstoves in one room shacks on the coldest nights of the year…”

The book is broken up in to eight chapters–children, work, war, etc. Otsuka has done an amazing job at researching these women’s lives, thoughts, stories, and feelings.

At 144 pages, it was an extremely quick and fascinating read. I gave it 5/5 stars on Goodreads, simply for the beauty of the prose and the depth of research.Lauren11

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Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

12262741After slogging through this (much like the author trudged across the PCT), I was left with mixed feelings. Did I love it? Hate it? Neither. I would say that I occasionally enjoyed it, but really found myself squinting my eyes at another extremely long rant/paragraph about a topic the author had already talked about ten times.

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Coast Trail solo at 22 after the death of her mother, cheating on her husband, and dabbling in drugs. The premise sounded interesting to me, as I loved Eat, Pray, Love and am all for female empowerment and self discovery.

Mostly, I couldn’t help but think Cheryl was a complete idiot for going off on a three-month long solo hike with zero backpacking experience. No, everything she knew about backpacking, she learned from the folk at REI and from her guidebook—which she didn’t read until she started the trail.

She is torn apart from her mother’s recent death, and essentially throws her life into oblivion. She goes on a sex-fueled rampage and cheats on her husband, Paul, whom she married at 18. He’s a pretty awesome guy and hasn’t done anything wrong but support her, so she divorces him to go find herself. He’s pretty cool with it and continues to support her through her hike, though they never get back together.

The last guy she cheated on her husband with was a dude named Joe, who introduced her to heroin. They did a bunch of heroin, she found out she was pregnant, got an abortion, and then decided to hike the PCT.

The entire book is riddled with multiple extremely long passages about these subjects. Just when you thought she was done discussing her two-week stint with heroin, she’s back at it, rambling again. I suspect this is because nothing too crazy happened on the trail, so it felt like filler content.

Sex, drugs, and cancer aside, I loved the bits of the book that talked about her actual journey—the people she met, the places she stopped, the lust for cheeseburgers, the hardships, the fear, the enlightenment—I love every word of it. In fact, despite how terrible the whole experience seemed, it made me want to go on a long hike.

I finally started to love the book about 2/3 in, until I read this passage and decided that yes, this woman is indeed batshit crazy:

When we’d finally laid down the tombstone and spread her ashes into the dirt,  I hadn’t spread them all. I’d kept a few of the largest chunks in my hand. I’d stood for a long while, not ready to release them to the earth. I didn’t release them. I never ever would.

I put her burnt bones into my mouth and swallowed them whole.

That’s literally it, and no further explanation is given. Is it literal? Metaphorical? Did she really just swallow her mother’s cremated remains? We will never know.

3/5 on Goodreads, probably wouldn’t recommend. I am interested in seeing the movie, though, to compare the two!

Lauren11

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Throwback Thursday: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

1845I picked up this book during my senior year English class. We had to write a book report each quarter, and I picked this one because it was short. I didn’t choose the short book because I hated reading—I chose it so I could finish it in a few class periods and get on with the other books I actually wanted to read.

Well, newsflash: not all books on the book report reading list suck.

Within the first few chapters, I was hooked. I was so hooked that I finished it that night, and my English teacher shook her head at me and told me I would still need to read during class. An excuse to take a chunk of the school day to read? Yes.

Into the Wild details the fatal adventure of Chris McCandless. A trust fund rich kid, he decided to get rid of all of his belonging and live in the Alaska wilderness. It details his journey and his past, and ultimately, his fate. Krakauer is a phenomenal writer, and does a fabulous job at describing the scenery. I shuddered when he described the state of McCandless’ remains, his death a result of malnutrition and starvation. He died in an old school bus and he died alone.

The book is well written and researched, but I couldn’t help but dislike McCandless a little bit. He was selfish, naïve, and I felt that his demise was a little bit Darwinistic. This book ultimately made me want to pursue a career in journalism and writing, though, so I hold a little place in my heart for it. If you’re into adventure and the outdoors, this may be the book for you.

Lauren11

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