Wednesday, March 22, 2023

TV show vs. book: Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

TV show vs. book: Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
I recently watched Fleishman is in Trouble on Hulu, with Jesse Eisenberg and Claire Danes, so I definitely wanted to check out the book version afterwards. 

First off: I absolutely loved the series. To be fair, I'm a sucker for any series' with voiceovers (i.e. Sex and the City, etc.) but the cast here was phenomenal, as well—Eisenberg played Toby Fleishman, the main character, and Danes played his soon-to-be ex-wife, Rachel Fleishman. In addition, Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls) played Libby Epstein, one of Toby's good college friends, and the narrator of the story, and Adam Brody played Seth Morris, another college friend. 

It turned out the TV show actually stayed pretty true to the novel. Libby is again the narrator, which is interesting because she and Toby hadn't been close for a while; it was only now (present-day) that they had become close again, since he was in the middle of a divorce and realized he hadn't been keeping in touch with his friends, especially his good college friends. 

I would give the TV show 5/5 stars and I'd give the book 4.5/5 stars. In the third half of the book, we finally see things from Rachel Fleishman's perspective, and realize that Toby may have been an unreliable narrator—by that I mean, although he told the story from his perspective, we were missing Rachel's half of the story, and it's then that the reader gets to find out what's been going on with her, and why she has been literally missing for the past three weeks. (Claire Danes did a fabulous job with this in the TV show, also)

The book tends to wax on a bit long near the end, which is why I deducted a half-star, but other than that, it was a very good read—I couldn't believe it was the author's first book, as well, as she is very talented.

I also found this gem online yesterday—the author did an online-only follow-up to Fleishman is in Trouble, called Fleishman is in Lockdown, which premiered on TheCut.com in July 2020. It was a great mini-sequel and it was fun see what Toby Fleishman would have been up to in 2020 during the height of the pandemic; my only complaint is that we get no update on his ex-wife, Rachel. 

Overall, I highly recommend both the book and TV show versions of Fleishman is in Trouble, and you can find the TV show currently streaming on Hulu.

Click here to purchase the book on Amazon.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - The Golden Ticket: A Life in College Admissions Essays, by Irena Smith {ends 3/28}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

How did you spend the last two summers?
- STANFORD UNIVERSITY SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY PROMPT

By the time Mara is five, David and I begin to believe that we successfully willed into being the charmed life we envisioned for ourselves. Mara is curious and funny and affectionate; Noah acts like the mayor of his elementary school, where he seems to know and like everyone and where everyone seems to know and like him. We discover a family camp in the Sierras and return there for a blissful week every summer. Jordan has friends with whom he tosses a football after school and friends David stealthily helps him cultivate by running elaborate Lord of the Rings-themed games every Saturday. Our garage is full of laminated topographical maps of Middle Earth and boxes of Lord of the Rings miniature figures, which range from a minuscule squatting Gollum to towering Ents. On Saturdays, our house is filled with boys rolling multi-sided dice and yelling about critical rolls. There’s dropped popcorn all over the floor. We order pizza and act like this is all totally normal, like we’ve been the fun house since time immemorial.

While nothing seems to work out like the author expects, she eventually realizes and admits that it all somehow seems to work out.

Official synopsis:
Palo Alto, California, is home to stratospheric real estate prices and equally high expectations, a place where everyone has to be good at something and where success is often defined by the name of a prestigious college on the back of a late-model luxury car. It’s also the place where Irena Smith—Soviet √©migr√©, PhD in comparative literature, former Stanford admission reader—works as a private college counselor to some of the country’s most ambitious and tightly wound students . . . even as, at home, her own children unravel.

Narrated as a series of responses to college application essay prompts, The Golden Ticket combines sharp social commentary, family history, and the lessons of great (and not so great) literature to offer a broader, more generous vision of what it means to succeed. 

Parenting is a hard job, even if you have every qualification imaginable. The author has her PhD in comparative literature and counsels other people’s children through the college admissions process. What this unfortunately means for a lot of the students she works with is helping them to fulfill their parents’ dreams. The comparison between her family life and that of those showing her only their best stories doesn’t help her find peace.

In a unique presentation, the author uses writing prompts from different college applications to tell her own life story, so far. Ending up as a parent of three children with their own challenges is not like the American dream that was sold to her when she came to the United States with her parents as a child. She and her husband are smart people, with plenty of resources at their disposal, but they quickly learn that each child is different, and each of their problems never has the same solution twice.

This was a charming and emotionally engaging memoir that told of the author’s emigration to the U.S. in the late 1970s, to her own childhood and then courtship with her husband, and on to the birth and raising (so far) of their three children. Their struggles are heartfelt and relatable, and illustrate clearly that even the perfect, happy life is frequently not as it appears. This book gets 4 out of 5 stars and would be enjoyed by those who enjoy parenting and family stories. 

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife and a mother to humans and cats. She enjoys snacking, reading, and hoping her children find things like these that make them happy too. Check out some of her other book reviews and family activities on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Golden Ticket!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, March 28th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The Golden Ticket: A Life in College Admissions Essays, by Irena Smith

Monday, March 20, 2023

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Twelve Hours in Manhattan, by Maan Gabriel {ends 3/27}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I close the door behind me and stand motionless as I savor the moment of victory. The carefully carpeted hallway is empty and quiet. I put my hand over my mouth, and I bow my head. And then I cry. For fuck’s sake. I feel like crying has been my default setting lately. But I cry quietly anyway. This time I cry because I am joyful.

I got myself a job in New York City that pays sixty-five thousand dollars a year. I don’t think I have ever seen, let alone made, that kind of money in my life. As I walk slowly toward the end of the hall, I can feel my hands shaking. I pull my phone out of my suit pocket and see that I already have a dozen calls from Pam, Marco, and Miguel. When I turn the corner to the exit, I see Marco waiting for me with anticipation. His eyes widen as he sees me walking toward the door, and rushes to me.

“I got it,” I whisper, trying to prevent a croak. He pulls me toward the elevator hall and gives me a hug. I look for Ms. Van and wave goodbye. She mouths Congratulations to me.

When things go wrong for Bianca, they go really wrong. But when they go right? It’s nearly a perfect fairy tale.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Twelve Hours in Manhattan, by Maan Gabriel {ends 3/27}
Bianca Maria Curtis is at the brink of losing it all when she meets Eric at a bar in Manhattan. Eric, as it turns out, is the famous Korean drama celebrity Park Hyun Min, and he’s in town for one night to escape the pressures of fame. From walking along Fifth Avenue to eating ice cream at Serendipity to sharing tender moments on top of the Empire State building, sparks fly as Bianca and Eric spend twelve magical hours far away from their respective lives. In that time, they talk about the big stuff: love, life, and happiness, and the freedom they both seek to fully exist and not merely survive.

But real life is more than just a few exhilarating stolen moments in time.

As the clock strikes the twelfth hour, Bianca returns back to the life she detests to face a tragedy that will test her strength and resolve—and the only thing she has to keep going is the memory of a man she loves in secret from a world away.

Bianca just failed miserably at a presentation that would have gotten her the job or contract she needed to keep going. Now she’ll probably be homeless and destitute. Is she really a loser, or is our heroine waiting to bloom? She meets a man at a bar who may look familiar, but at least he’s nice—getting to know him is exactly the escape she needs from her own life. 

But that all ends, and Bianca’s real life is pretty depressing, indeed, at the beginning of the story, and only gets worse as it’s all initially presented. Soon, the 12 hours of bliss at the beginning of the book may as well have been just her imagination. 

Luckily, as the story goes on, Bianca’s life is definitely taking a turn for the better. She’s finally got a good job, is living in a nice place, and is regularly spending time with her friends. Maybe adulting isn’t so terrible, if the cards aren’t stacked against her. Then the real fun starts, and the 12 hours of her dream life may be coming back. Is she ready for her dreams to come true?

While the book started out slow, it built toward a much more satisfying ending. This story earned 4 out of 5 stars for being an amusing contemporary story of love and brushes with fame. The main focus was between Bianca and a Korean drama star, but was easy to read and enjoy without having appreciated any Korean dramas previously. 

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a Gemini who has worked in data entry, chocolate tasting, event promotions, online reviews, and standardized test scoring, while reading and reviewing books alongside it all. Check out pictures of her life when she remembers to post at Instagram as PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Twelve Hours in Manhattan!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Monday, March 27th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Twelve Hours in Manhattan, by Maan Gabriel

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Delicious Monsters, by Liselle Sambury {ends 3/23}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“What were you both afraid of?” My voice is so quiet, I’m lowkey shocked that I said anything.

Katie bites her lip and shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t. I thought about telling you ever since you booked me. But I just can’t do that to her. My truth is hers, too. And if I tell it, everyone will know, and she won’t have a say in it. Grace Odlin was not a good friend to me, but I can’t help being one to her. She has the capacity for it. She did. I know she loved me in her own way. But she had to focus on surviving. There are no friends in survival. Everyone else is just a raft to keep you afloat.”

I’m exhaling before I realize it. Sinking back into the dinette cushions. Either Katie is right, and she and Grace were scared of the same thing. Something she won’t talk about. Or she’s wrong, and Grace was terrified of something completely different. Or maybe a bit of each because now we had whatever freaked out Jordan in the mix.

Which is scarier—the supernatural and a house being more than it appears to be, or people who aren’t what they appear or are supposed to be?

Official synopsis:

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury {ends 3/23}
Daisy sees dead people—something impossible to forget in bustling, ghost-packed Toronto. She usually manages to deal with her unwanted ability, but she’s completely unprepared to be dumped by her boyfriend. So when her mother inherits a secluded mansion in northern Ontario where she spent her childhood summers, Daisy jumps at the chance to escape. But the house is nothing like Daisy expects, and she begins to realize that her experience with the supernatural might be no match for her mother’s secrets, nor what lurks within these walls…

A decade later, Brittney is desperate to get out from under the thumb of her abusive mother, a bestselling author who claims her stay at “Miracle Mansion” allowed her to see the error of her ways. But Brittney knows that’s nothing but a sham. She decides the new season of her popular Haunted web series will uncover what happened to a young Black girl in the mansion ten years prior and finally expose her mother’s lies. But as she gets more wrapped up in the investigation, she’ll have to decide: if she can only bring one story to light, which one matters most—Daisy’s or her own?

As Brittney investigates the mansion in the present, Daisy’s story runs parallel in the past, both timelines propelling the girls to face the most dangerous monsters of all: those that hide in plain sight.

Learning what really happened to Daisy and her mom, Grace, while following along with Brittney and Jayden’s investigation of it all years later, took a little getting used to. The background of who these characters really were, and how their relationships with their mothers shaped them into these characters, was a mystery of its own worth untangling. 

While that was all going on, there’s also a supernatural house and a few more creepy characters who are necessary to the mix. Then the reader is left with trying to find the line between good and evil. The line, of course, isn’t always clear, and might even move a bit when someone gets too close.

Overall, this was a thoroughly intriguing book about some very interesting lives. It deserved a high 3 out of 5 star rating, with the author’s description of the setting creating perhaps the most fundamental character to the storyline. This book is recommended to those who enjoy gothic mysteries and family dramas, and the author offers a great list of trigger warnings for those with concerns.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a middle-aged wife and mom who enjoys using her few spare minutes to herself to read. Find out what else she’s been reading on her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Delicious Monsters!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, March 23rd, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!


Delicious Monsters, by Liselle Sambury

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Book Review: Mother of Invention, by Caeli Wolfson Widger

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Five years after she’d released the baby for adoption, when Irene was living in Austin and working as a glorified secretary for a nondescript financial services company, having never returned to Yale, she saw the ad in the Houston Chronicle:

        Config Labs, prominent Bay Area startup conducting a study on the phenomenon of “accelerated gestation,” seeks female volunteers who have experienced full-term pregnancies in a fraction of the typical 40 weeks. Submit a relevant skin cell sample from you and/or your baby and receive an instant stipend. See www.AGvolunteers.com to learn more.

The language was dry and clinical, but it made Irene weep. Until she’d read it, she hadn’t realized just how profoundly lonely her experience had left her. She’d gradually become aware of other accounts of fast pregnancies as a handful of women came forward with their stories, but until she’d seen that ad in the Chronicle, on a bright winter morning in Texas, she’d still felt alone.

What if a normal, healthy baby could be born after nine WEEKS of pregnancy instead of nine months? Has it already happened??

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Mother of Invention, by Caeli Wolfson Widger
Meet Silicon Valley executive Tessa Callahan, a woman passionate about the power of technology to transform women’s lives. Her company’s latest invention, the Seahorse Solution, includes a breakthrough procedure that safely accelerates human pregnancy from nine months to nine weeks, along with other major upgrades to a woman’s experience of early maternity.

The inaugural human trial of Seahorse will change the future of motherhood―and it’s Tessa’s job to monitor the first volunteer mothers-to-be. She’ll be their advocate and confidante. She’ll allay their doubts and soothe their anxieties. But when Tessa discovers disturbing truths behind the transformative technology she’s championed, her own fear begins to rock her faith in the Seahorse Solution. With each new secret Tessa uncovers, she realizes that the endgame is too inconceivable to imagine.

Caeli Wolfson Widger’s bold and timely novel examines the fraught sacrifices that women make to succeed in both career and family against a backdrop of technological innovation. It’s a story of friendship, risk, betrayal, and redemption―and an unnerving interrogation of a future in which women can engineer their lives as never before.

Tessa Callahan has never felt a real calling to be a mother, and even less so when she realizes how much pregnancy and mothering takes from the rest of the life of the mother. Sure, there are exceptions, but the majority of the inconveniences are not usually experienced by a father. When her husband wants to be a father, and claims he will do all the necessary work once she actually has the baby, she eventually warms to the idea, but nature is not on their side. She goes back to devoting all of her time to her successful career, not admitting that she’s a bit relieved to not have the questionable responsibility of a pregnancy and child.

She is enthusiastic when she’s able to work with a business partner to get all the way to a trial for accelerated gestation—women getting pregnant and delivering a full-term baby in just nine weeks! She works closely with the first three mothers-to-be and is genuinely happy for them to be fulfilling their dream of motherhood, without nine months away from their own successful lives. 

Unbeknownst to Tessa, the mothers and offspring of some spontaneous cases of accelerated gestation decades earlier may have different stories about the experience. Irene and Vivian have tales to tell, but the people listening may not be the audience who needs to know the truth. 

The different viewpoints in this book were fascinating. Tessa and her cohort of mothers-to-be knew there were risks, but didn’t realize there were stories similar to theirs that should be studied. The mothers and children of the accelerated gestation that occurred previously were being heard from less and less, but perhaps their experience could help those embarking on the same path with Tessa’s help. 

Overall, this story was definitely 4 out of 5 stars and a great science-fiction story of dystopian possibilities. It could be recommended to those who appreciate strong, smart female characters, womens’ studies, and speculative fiction novels. 

{click here to purchase} 

Becki Bayley was born on a Tuesday, 50+ years ago. She enjoys traveling the world and the universe from the comfort of wherever she really is, by reading books. Check out more of where she’s been and what she’s read on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult: a Memoir, by Michelle Dowd {ends 3/21}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Today is shopping day. When Mrs. Washington arrives home, her three sons run out to help carry the bags. The oldest reaches in and opens a box of cereal, which he begins consuming with one hand while holding a bag under his armpit and another bag with his other hand. Mrs. Washington doesn’t scold him for this. She just laughs.

I’m not sure whether she would care about my hunger if she knew, but she doesn’t seem to even notice I am there. I’m sure I can wrangle some leftovers when they’re through. I hold open the door, careful not to let the dog out, while the boys go back for more bags.

Heartbreaking to imagine the author’s upbringing, and know it still happens, because there are still adults that share her parents’ beliefs and enforce them with their parental authority.

Official synopsis:

Book Review and GIVEAWAY - Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult: a Memoir, by Michelle Dowd {ends 3/21}
As a child, Michelle Dowd grew up on a mountain in the Angeles National Forest. She was born into an ultra-religious cult—or the Field as they called it—started in the 1930s by her grandfather, a mercurial, domineering, and charismatic man who convinced generations of young male followers that he would live 500 years and ascend to the heavens when doomsday came. Comfort and care are sins, Michelle is told. As a result, she was forced to learn the skills necessary to battle hunger, thirst, and cold; she learned to trust animals more than humans; and most importantly, she learned how to survive in the natural world.

At the Field, a young Michelle lives a life of abuse, poverty, and isolation, as she obeys her family’s rigorous religious and patriarchal rules—which are so extreme that Michelle is convinced her mother would sacrifice her, like Abraham and Isaac, if instructed by God. She often wears the same clothes for months at a time; she is often ill and always hungry for both love and food. She is taught not to trust Outsiders, and especially not Quitters, nor her own body and its warnings.

But as Michelle gets older, she realizes she has the strength to break free. Focus on what will sustain, not satiate you, she tells herself. Use everything. Waste nothing. Get to know the intricacies of the land, like the intricacies of your body. And so she does.

Using stories of individual edible plants and their uses to anchor each chapter, Forager is both a searing coming-of-age story and a meditation on the ways in which understanding nature can lead to freedom, even joy.

Oh, dear Michelle. The whole story is of a child, and how she is essentially raising herself. She mentions near the beginning that her mother is still alive, and does not want her to speak badly of the family and their religious upbringing. The author is true to her word, and does not intentionally speak poorly of her upbringing, but the straightforward presentation of her circumstances is hard to misunderstand.

Each chapter also opened with field notes of what she had learned of the plants around her as she grew up at the Field, a religious compound. She grew up expecting the end of the world to come soon, and her mother taught her how to survive in the end days. The field notes gave identifying details of plants, and how to harvest each one for any available nutrients, while hopefully not injuring or poisoning the one who needed it.

Luckily, her family did not completely shun the outside world and medical assistance, and the author got a temporary reprieve from all responsibility for herself when confronted with a medical condition as a child. Living with her grandma between hospital stays allowed her to see a little more of the outside world than her siblings, but also probably kept her from developing some of the same relationships within the cult that the rest of its members appreciated. 

The insights and anecdotes of the author were so interesting. The book was definitely 3 out of 5 stars, and the author obviously gained a lot from her secretive reading to expand her vocabulary and knowledge of life on the outside. Her story could be recommended to those who like stories of children overcoming adversity, and it would be interesting if she told more about how her upbringing influenced her own adult life outside the Field.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a wife and mother. When the kids are grown, who knows who she’ll be? You can follow along at her blog, SweetlyBSquared.com

GIVEAWAY:

Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, March 21st, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult: a Memoir, by Michelle Dowd

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: On the Sly, by Wendy L. Koenig {ends 3/16}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

I still felt the malice of Garret’s stare bear down on me. I was jittery and my stomach was locked into a painful knot. More than one glass shattered on the floor at my feet. Finally Karyn pushed the mop into my hands and took over the bar work. Though the rain had stopped and the air was on, the humidity was still high, making the walls close. I kept trying to gulp in fresh air. If ever there was a case of becoming suddenly claustrophobic, it was then. Karyn said it was just a panic attack. Still, I was glad I had a late crowd to keep both my employees there with me until I left.

The volume in the bar spilled into the street as I locked up. I drove home and parked in front of the house, too tired to go around back. Even before I opened my door, I knew something was wrong. There were no happy whines or yips coming from the other side. Energy zinged through me and all thoughts of sleep left. 

Sylvia generally minds her own business, but when a man is murdered in her bar, she needs the crime solved so she can sleep soundly again.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: On the Sly, by Wendy L. Koenig {ends 3/16}
Sylvia Wilson, a bar owner in St. Louis, Missouri, arrives at work to discover the body of an ex-police officer in her locked bar. The police focus on her as their primary suspect, so she decides to launch her own investigation into the dead man and his accomplices. But when the killer sends her clear messages that she and her loved ones are on his radar, she knows it’s just a matter of time before someone ends up dead.

Sylvia hasn’t spent much time making friends or enemies since moving from Texas to Missouri. Her life is full enough with her brother, her dogs, her bar, and her friend-with-benefits who owns another bar across town. When a man is murdered in her bar, the police think she must have had more to do with it, since it is her bar. 

She starts out trying to find another possible suspect in the case so they’ll let her open her bar and stop looking at her like she’s guilty. Unfortunately, as she starts discovering clues, the killer decides to try and discourage her from investigating any more. 

This sounds like the first book in a series, since it’s identified as "A Sylvia Wilson Mystery." It was good getting to know the characters and some of their histories. The book earned 3 out of 5 stars, and more books in the series would probably be fun to read as well. This story could be recommended to those who enjoy stories of found families, as well as crime thrillers/mysteries.

{click here to purchase - currently free for Kindle Unlimited members!}

Becki Bayley’s favorite part of winter is usually when it ends. She can be found carting her kids to their numerous activities with a book in hand. Posts of where she’s been and what she’s read can also be found on Instagram, where she is PoshBecki.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a *signed copy* of the book, as well as a pair of sunglasses!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, March 16th, at 11:59pm EST, and the winner will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

On the Sly, by Wendy L. Koenig

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