Book Review: Stray: Memoir of a Runaway

Title: Stray: Memoir of a Runaway

Author: Tanya Marquardt

Format: Amazon First Reads Kindle Edition

Published: 2018

This was my pick for the month of August with Amazon First Reads.  Stray comes out officially on September 1, 2018.

Raw.  Powerful.  Emotional.  Heart wrenching.  These are all the feelings I felt reading Stray.  In this memoir Tanya Marquardt takes us on her journey when she was a teenager finishing up high school.  She decided to run away from home when she was 16 because the police in Canada could not do anything about it.

Her childhood left me so sad.  Marquardt has overcome a lot in her life.  She survived through abuse, a rough relationship with her divorced parents, and poverty only to relive it by writing about it.  This book reads a lot like a general non-fiction novel and I had to remind myself that this was in fact a true story.  My heart kept breaking with every turn of the page.

The ending is anti-climactic but again, it is a memoir.  I would have liked more closure at the end of the book, but, that is my opinion.  Overall this book was a powerful, insightful read.  I really commend Marquardt for staying focused on her education throughout her rough spot in her life.  Any more details about this book and it would be giving it all away.

I am giving this book 3 stars.  This book was well written and kept my interest.  It saddened me to think that there are children, innocent children, out there that live this life.  The ending just lacked and I would have appreciated to know the outcome of her transition from high school to college.  Obviously, she became successful as she wrote a book but the book just ends with her at an interview for college.  I felt like I went on this journey with her for a better life and she left me hanging.  It was a bit of a letdown after such a tremendous, powerful read.  Tune in next Thursday for my review of my advance reader copy of Sadie by Courtney Summers!

Book Review: A Marriage In Dog Years – A Memoir

Title: A Marriage In Dog Years: A Memoir

Author: Nancy Balbirer

Format: Kindle Edition

Published: 2018


I chose this book as my Amazon First Reads choice for the month of May.  A Marriage In Dog Years is officially released tomorrow, June 1st so look for it on Amazon soon!

Meh.  I felt meh throughout the entire book.  **Spoiler alert**, I’m going to essentially tell you about this book so if you’re curious about it, stop reading my blog post right now and come back after you’ve read it.  Or heed my warning and know that you really are not missing much by passing on this book.

The book starts out with us finding out she found the love of her life, Sam.  Sam even comes and rescues her on the middle of a busy California freeway when her car breaks down.  It is at this point we realize the marriage is doomed as Nancy tells us, “it will occur to me that I had been so moved by the romance, the love, the chivalry of it all, that I had failed to notice we were not traveling west, but east—away from the sun.”

Nancy and Sam adopt a dog, Ira, and move from California to New York.  Nancy yearns to be a mother and ends up going through IVF treatments to conceive.  Heartbreakingly, she becomes pregnant with twins and loses one.  She does give birth to a health baby girl they nickname the Bear.  It is here we find out that Sam really did not want to become a father, he just knew Nancy really wanted to be a mother and he wanted to make sure he was happy.  Wait, Sam gets even better.

Ira is eleven years old and is diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a matter of weeks to live.  Don’t worry, Ira makes it another year.  As Ira gets ill, the marriage falls apart.  Well, the marriage is already in shambles at this point in time, we just get to hear how it all falls apart.

Sam “accidentally” forwards her a text from his mistress.  He’s cheating.  Nancy and Sam have been in therapy and this gets brought up.  Sam wants to keep seeing the mistress while he works on his marriage.  Nancy agrees.  Sam is a winner, isn’t he?

The book goes on and they divorce…finally.  I cannot believe how long Nancy held on to her marriage, trying to make it work.  Nancy describes it best when she wrote, “when a marriage is in crisis, there’s only so long you can pretend before dull pain turns into searing agony.”  She held on for so long.  I was angry with her for holding on for so long.  Sam was wishy washy and didn’t stick with anything long-term.  She truly deserves better.

So after the divorce comes the death of Ira.  I cried.  We just lost our sweet little pup Rose over the summer and just reading the demise of Ira brought back memories and I let it out.  Dogs become a part of our lives and Ira became her best friend.

Overall, I give this book a 3.  I didn’t care for it and I felt like the author wrote this book with a thesaurus of big words by her side.  I don’t know if I’m dumb or she was showing off or if I was just so irritated with her and how she handled her crumbling marriage I just resented everything she wrote.  I struggled to find the motivation to finish this book, but I did it.  Next week I will be reviewing Wynn In Doubt by Emily Hemmer, catch you next Thursday!

Book Review – Save The Date

TITLE: Save The Date: The occasional mortifications of a serial wedding guest
AUTHOR: Jen Doll
FORMAT: Hardback

I will start this review with a slight disclaimer.  I found this book in Book Pages, in the midst of a page of chick lit books, so I expected it to be fiction when I requested it from the library.  It’s a memoir.  But I decided that the jacket blurb still sounded amusing enough (so what if it wasn’t the genre I expected? – the blurb hadn’t changed, right?), so I read it anyway.  And really, in my defense, it had sounded like chick lit, so I assumed.  Even her name sounds fake (although her website and bio blurb both promise it isn’t.).

Anyway, I’m sorry I read it and that had nothing whatosever to do with genre.

In case you wondered, here’s the blurb:

From a fresh and exciting new voice, a hilarious and insightful examination of the search for love and the meaning of marriage in a time of anxiety, independence, and indecision.

Weddings. They’re fun, festive, and joyful, and at a time when people marry later in life—and sometimes not at all—they offer endless opportunities to reexamine love and what we want for ourselves, regardless of whether our aim is a walk down the aisle. In Save the Date, Jen Doll charts the course of her own perennial wedding guesthood, from the ceremony of distant family members when she was eight to the recent nuptials of a new boyfriend’s friends.

There’s the first trip home for a childhood pal’s big day, during which she learns that her first love has eloped to Hawaii. There’s the destination wedding attended with little baggage beyond a suitcase of strappy sandals and summery party dresses. Regrettably, there is a series of celebrations that mean the end to a valued friendship. There’s also the wedding that offers all the promise of new love.

Wedding experiences come in as varied an assortment as the gowns at any bridal shop, and Doll turns a keen eye to each, delivering a heartfelt exploration of contemporary relationships. Funny, honest, and affecting, Save the Date is a spirited look at the many ways in which we connect with one another.


It sounds like typical chick lit (even if it is the non-fiction version) so I started ahead.  The book starts with a wedding she attended as a child and goes on and on about how she was hooked and weddings are the Most. Amazing. Things. Ever.

Every chapter is part something about her and something about somebody’s wedding.

What I was hoping for with this book was a bunch of stories about weddings she’d attended with a few anecdotes here and there.

Really, with several of these stories, especially in the second half of the book, you could take the wedding out of the chapter and just have Jen Behaving Badly.  Ever. Single. Chapter.

You see, she’s the kind of person that I can’t stand.  She’s one of those in the moment damn the consequences but not in a good way sort of people.  One of the early weddings she talks about is the destination wedding of a friend.  She’s broke, of course, so she immediately goes and books airfare and buys an expensive wedding gift (and I know this because she told us it was an expensive wedding gift) and takes a vacation to the Caribbean, because hello, the opportunity clearly presented itself.

Never mind that if you were really poor there’s no way in hell you’d even consider going, let alone manage to find the funds to do it, so let’s describe her like she really is.  Overtaxed monetarily because she has no stop button.

Every chapter has pretty much the same sort of story line.  1. Ridiculous over the top wedding.  2. Open Bar.  3. Jen behaves like a spoiled toddler.  4. Somebody has to do damage control because she’s a raging alcoholic, and not even the kind that’s just fun to watch.  She’s a TOTAL FUCKING TRAINWRECK.

To the point that in one chapter, she even ADMITS that she “may have been a bit of an alchoholic for a while” – which shows she’s still floating in Denial (capital D for sure) because she had several chapters of being a mess of an alcoholic after that.  Including going for drinks before the wedding so she could drink at the wedding and after the wedding and at the after reception party.  (Side note:  I haven’t exactly been to a million weddings, but not one of my friends has ever had a wedding with a party after the party.)

I read to the end because I was determined there had to be a point to all this.  But there wasn’t.  There was no arc that made her sympathetic in the least.  And she glossed over all the weddings, which was supposed to be the point of this book.

I would have loved it if we could have enjoyed more details about the traditional New Orleans wedding bash – or hell, even more about the gifts that all got stolen (nope, just a throwaway line about how the bride was like “oh well”  – um,  no she wasn’t.).  The destination weddings.  Hell, even a detail about THE BRIDE’S DRESS instead of Jen telling us what she wore to the bash.

I would rather read the 2nd 50 Shades book than read any more of her drivel.  I’m pretty sure the only reason that this book ever saw the light of day was because she wrote for a big NYC magazine and has friends in the Biz.

In fact, the only thing this book has going for her was the fact that she managed remarkably well formatted sentences and exceptional grammar.  But that aside, it’s total crap.  So 2 out of 5, but only because her sentences were pretty.




Book Review – Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Azar Nafisi
2003 (Hardback release)
2004  (Paperback release)

(Another take a book, leave a book find…) Azar Nafisi’s memoir focuses on her years teaching English literature in revolutionary and post-revolutionary Iran during the 1980s-90s and under the watch of a repressive regime.  She has admittedly changed names and shuffled details to hide the identities of her students and colleagues for their own safety.

This book falls under a category which I might call important but far more for it’s content rather than it’s form.  It’s an English professor writing about teaching literature and reads like it was written by an English professor, but with a Persian twist.  Some wonderful and poignant and on occasion overly flowery sentences saturated throughout but often fail to connect in a logical sequence.  To a degree I think this is intentional or at least cultural.  Nafisi herself explains that it’s impossible to write the book in typical narrative form because the times themselves were so confusing, and given her intentional remixing of real life details, it is not the specifics but their combined impact which is important.

Unfortunately, to me, it simply sounded like an excuse for insufficient editing, choppy transitions, and heavy dependence on literary allusions.  The net results is, instead of building a consistent narrative, the book is more like a series of interrelated vignettes.  Once I was able to frame it in that context, reading became easier.

While I tend to love my English teachers as people, my educational experiences convinced me as a whole they are sadomasochistic bunch, taking a perverse delight from misery and genuinely blind to why their students are not delighted by fatalistic prose and the dirty underbelly of fictional characters.  As Nafisi talks about her Western Literature selections for her Persian and predominantly Islamic students, I couldn’t help but wince and go “no wonder they hate us” on more than one occasion.  For instance, her take on The Great Gatsby is that it is about “The American Dream”… She repeats this phrase multiple times and seems to miss why it might make America all that more repellent to a conservative group of students.  While I understand what she meant, as an American, Gatsby is probably the last book I’d like held up as an example of “The American Dream”.

That aside, if you can get past organizational issues and literary opinions, the book is important because it reveals the hidden life inside Iran during a Muslim regime.  Not the political facts of which political leader was in power at which date, but what it was like for average citizens attempting to go about the normal routines of life between bomb strikes and under the watch of morality patrols.  There is a focus on the difficulty of being a woman in the Middle East particularly under radical Islam and shifting regulations.  The t-shirts, blue jeans, and painted nails hidden under veils, black robes, and gloves reveal the impossibility of completely blocking outside influences in a modern age.

Overall, I’d rate the book at 3.5.  Given the subject matter, it manages to avoid being graphic but still portrays the tension and danger of the situation, and I certainly learned things and gained a fuller sense of the world.   So I do recommend it.  But I can’t give it a full five stars, simply because the disordering made it very hard to follow in several places.  If you’re not familiar with at least half the books she covers, it would be very easy to get lost in her literary comparisons.  (Note to self:  Read more Nabokov.)   Some books need to be told out of sequence, but I don’t believe this was one of them.

Book Review: The Naked Truth

The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and (HIV) positive

Marvelyn Brown (with Courtney E. Martin)

Paperback, 2008


Okay, in case you weren’t sure, The Naked Truth is the memoir of a teen who contracts (HIV).

Now, where to start with this review.  Marvelyn Brown grew up in Nashville, TN, somewhere.  I saw this book on the shelf in Nashville’s very own library system, and it sort of jumped out at me, so I grabbed it.  And then I started reading it, and I wish I would have put it back.

Marvelyn (so named because her domineering, uncaring mother thought the name was beautiful *ahem*) contracted (HIV) through unprotected sex because she fell into bed easily and often with guys she barely knew.  The guy, who she chose not to name in the book, swept her off her feet and fed her what she wanted/needed to hear so that she’d sleep with him.  Awesome guy.

For a while, I sort of felt bad for her.  And then I kept reading, and I sort of don’t.  For starters, she managed to get through school knowing pretty much next to nothing about anything important, despite (initially anyway, until she decided she didn’t give a shit) getting honor-roll level grades for most of her life.  Her worries about protection were pretty much pregnancy related (and at some point she sort of wanted a baby anyway), but when she got the (HIV) diagnosis, she was like “okay, whatever” until she actually learned what the disease was from pamphlets.  Seriously?  Public School fail for sure.

Second, while she was somehow the face of (HIV) and everywhere on the speaking circuit, she was somehow broke and didn’t think to have insurance any way other than to go to college for a year and flunk out.  Nevermind that she had a tutor and worked “really hard” and managed a 16 on her ACTs.  For those not in the know, a 16 is a sub-par score.  How does somebody who got honor roll for so many years and still managed to graduate and all squeak out a 16?

Third, in the book, I kept hearing about how she was so charming and wonderful and funny and everything else.  The book was boring and unfeeling.  At first I thought it was because she wasn’t a writer, but then I realized she had a co-writer of an actual author, and… I don’t know what this book’s dysfunction is.  But the way it is written, I just don’t care about Marvelyn at all.  Most of the opportunities she got were only because she got (HIV), and she threw most of them away in a minute – Nashville CARES for a year, a magazine for a year, etc.  And she kept doing stupid stuff, like partying and running herself ragged, going off her meds because her t-cells were fine, moving with no money and no place to live (really, how do you move without a place to move to?!), etc.

Also, I don’t believe for a minute that “everyone in Nashville” knew she was (HIV) positive.  She knew about eight people, and we’re a city of easily half a million, if not more.

When I read Ryan White’s book (who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion), I cared about him.  When I read Paul Monette (who watched many of his lovers and friends die of this new unknown disease before he, too, succumbed), I cried.  But when I read this, I really ended with a “who cares?”

I can’t fault the technical writing of the sentences, although I wonder if the writer and co-writer being from such different backgrounds help muddled the voice of the book.

I flip-flopped for a minute about the rating, but in the end it came down to this.  If you want a book about HIV/AIDS, I could sit here and name a dozen in a heartbeat, and they’re all better than this one.  Nothing comes from this one except the “I’m a stupid victim” mentality, and really, it’s not worth it.  There’s so little about her disease that you may as well not be reading a (HIV) memoir.

Thus, I give it a 2/5 and tell you to pick a different one and only read this if you don’t have any other choice.

Book Review – From Pain to Parenthood

From Pain To Parenthood: A Journey Through Miscarriage to Adoption

Deanna Kahler

Paperback, 2013

I got this book through an email list that I subscribe to because it was offered to me at just the right time.  A very good friend of mine was celebrating pregnancy, about a year after mourning the loss of her first pregnancy.  On the other hand, somebody I had gone to school with was biting her nails because she was waiting for somebody else to deliver a baby so she could adopt her child after infertility.  So I really wanted this book, because I was hoping that this book would give me some sort of insight that would help me understand what they had gone through, something that could answer questions I had without me having to ask them.

The author, Deanna Kahler, is a writer, but this is her first memoir, and it reads like that.  It’s clear that her emotions and memories are all over the place still, because the book lacks the polish that a memoir should have.  In a way, this reads more like a blog or journal – there’s a lot of free thought/words flowing type of writing going on, but it lacks the smoothness and pizazz of a finished memoir.  Also, a lot of the stuff she says gets repeated in the next sentence or paragraph.

It doesn’t make the feelings she has any less important, or any less there, but it makes it harder to let the story engulf you and to feel it on an emotional level.  In fact, the book is very passive.  Part of the problem is the issue that all first person books have if not written really well – short choppy “I” sentences.

Also, the book suffered from an identity crisis.  Part of the book was clearly memoir, but then it would suddenly morph from “I felt this” to “so when one has this problem…”

In the end, I’m sorry I didn’t like the book more than I did, I really am.  Unfortunately, the way the book was written, I couldn’t get anything out of it.  Maybe it was because I am clearly an outsider.  I’ve never been pregnant, I’m not trying to have a baby, and I don’t have fertility issues that I know of (aside from an ever-louder biological clock).  So, maybe somebody who has struggled with these issues would get more out of it than I did.

But, that plays into my review too.  The book feels like a draft.  Like one major edit would make it incredible.  And because of that, I have to give it a 2/5.  If you need this type of book, don’t feel bad picking it up, but there’s probably something more polished out there somewhere.

Book Review – Sex Changes by Christine Benvenuto

Sex Changes: A memoir of marriage, gender, and moving on
Christine Benvenuto

I’ve been reading more about transgender issues lately in an attempt to understand them better. I know a couple people that fall somewhere to the left of the male/female spectrum. When I found this book, I thought it would be an interesting take on the issue.
The author is a woman of some age (they never really told us, but I’m guessing about 40), who has three kids, Adam, Bibi and Lilly (not their real names), oh, and a husband, Tracy (not his real name), who is a woman trapped in a man’s body. The book picks up pretty much when he declares that to his wife.
Before I go any further with this review, a bit of a side note – I do believe firmly that I should refer to “Tracy” by whichever pronoun Tracy prefers, but since the book referred to Tracy as “he” the whole time, I’m going to as well, just to make the review all streamlined and stuff.
The book is done in three parts. Part one is called, originally, Part One. It deals with the author finding out what’s going on with her husband, and getting to the point where Tracy finally moves out. We find out that they’re Jewish, that they’ve spent much of their marriage living separately because of work and whatever, and that there are three kids. That’s about it.
And I have to say that I have never, ever, ever in my life read a memoir about a more unsympathetic twat in my life. I’m serious. I have no sympathy at any point in this book for this woman because of how she is. Keep in mind, this is how she’s telling her story, how she wants it known and (hopefully) how it really went down. And all I read in the first 120 pages or so was about a woman whose husband came to her with a statement (“I feel like I’m a woman trapped as a man”) and she said “no” and “don’t tell the kids.”
I’m not going to use this review to argue with how she should have handled the situation, one way or another, but before any of my readers get up in arms, remember that there’s a difference between playing along and having compassion, and I at least expected a little compassion. Yeah, I expected the “my marriage is over” part of things, and no, I never expected her to go dress shopping with Tracy (which she totally didn’t) but I did not, at any point prior to having the book in my hands, expect this to be the memoir of a woman who was all “I’m such a victim, feel bad for me!” about everything.
I read through to page 120, and all I could think was that I wanted to bean this chick with a baseball bat a few dozen times. And while I don’t at all agree with the way her husband went about being towards her during the transition, I can’t help but wonder if maybe a gram of compassion from Christine at any point could have softened the entire situation for all involved.
So I started trying to figure out why I hated this woman so much. Yes, a lot of it was her actions. “I couldn’t believe everyone was taking HIS side, but then again, we live in the Valley of the Politically Correct!” A lot of it was the fact that she had gone to the trouble of writing a memoir and had somehow managed to not put a detail about ANYTHING in this book. (No, I’m not asking for her street address, but I want some idea of what’s really going on other than her being Jewish in the Valley of the Politically Correct [her term] somewhere in, I think, New England, which is about as vague as saying you live “over yonder” and pointing while on vacation somewhere.)
Then there’s her style. Her style of speaking and doing and everything. At one point, the author is talking about her 8=year-old daughter. “I was in shock. I knew my little girl to be precociously verbal, but even so her words added shock to shock.” Wait. What? Or, another favorite. “Over the years, Lilly has become more articulate about her feelings. When she was six, she began to pontificate on the subject of having a dad who is a girl.”
It’s like the author was so busy telling us what her feelings should have been that she didn’t feel anything. There’s nothing at all comfortable about this woman. Nevermind the fact that she stripped out so much of anything, whatsoever that would have connected us with her…
We hear about the half-assed friendships she had (“it wasn’t until I lost these people that I realized I had never really been close to them”), how nobody cared about her because it wasn’t politically correct to do so, etc. I don’t know what she’s been doing in therapy all these years, but seriously, all she’s telling us is how much of a fucking victim she was through all of it, sad and alone and stuck with the kids. Nevermind the fact that she starts her damn story out by talking about how, because of work, she was often the only parent with the kids anyway.
Part 2 of the book is almost a totally different book the way its written. She finally gets to the part about how the kids are feeling, but again, we had to hear about her “precociously verbal” children and a load of other shit that just made me want to hit her.
At one point, she listed all the things she had to do in her day, starting with her 4:30 AM getting up to exercise while checking email and read the paper while listening to NPR. In this, she refers to the kids as Ms. 7 and Ms. 4 and Mr. 13 (o_O), talks about taking three kids to three schools in three cities, and even gives us about a third of a page on getting “Ms. 4” to the center of town to get the bus to the school that she’s teaching in that day. Now, I get it that lives get complicated the more people you’re responsible for. But your son is 13, which totally means he can get his own sorry ass up with an alarm clock, and if you’re so damn busy, why are you doing things like driving across town to get your kid to a bus to take her THE SAME PLACE YOU’RE GOING ANYWAY. Also, there’s a potty training incident, which makes me wonder why she doesn’t have a change of clothes and a box of wipes in the car for the kid (really, she had to take the kid home to wash her clothes?). Oh, and seriously, she put listening to the radio on this list, so…
Folks, life lesson. Don’t overcomplicate your life and then complain about it. Seriously. And this list was TWO PAGES LONG and barely covered her getting to work with just a sentence or so gloss over about her work day.
And again, it’s another example of the disconnect we get with this woman. She wrote her kids up as Ms. 7 and Mr 13. Who does that?

I marked page 192 because it’s the first time she really talks about dealing with Tracy on an emotional level and her acceptance/understanding/adjustment to the Trans issue. Up to this point, all she’d managed to do was tell him he couldn’t be a woman and have a few convos with the kids. It took almost 200 pages to get to a point where she talks about transgender issues as anything but a slight to her marriage.

So I’m giving this book a 2 for several reasons.
The first is that if I hadn’t been reviewing it and so hell-bent on getting to the end of this for some reason other than her victim mentality, I would have put it down before the second part. The fact is that if the entire memoir had had the feel of the 2nd part (and sort of the third, even though that’s sort of just summation), I would have like d it a whole lot more.
But the second reason is because of all the things this book is missing. I don’t care that she changed names (a fact that we had to read any time she named anybody – hello, make a note at the front) and that she wanted to protect herself (although the whole small town that she never moved out of knows what’s going on, so…), but you can’t strip everything and expect there to be anything left when you’ve finished. If she would have loosened up a bit and relaxed for a minute, we might have got something out of this that was helpful.
Really, don’t bother. Even if you’re in her situation, going it alone has got to be better than this.

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