Review: My Name is Lucy Barton

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RATING: 4 STARS

If you’ve ever been hospitalized, in between the routine tests and  x-rays, there are long periods of time spent alone. Free from the responsibilities of your life, long stretches of time will be spent not only healing physically but emotionally as well. This is the case in Elizabeth Strout’s latest book, My Name is Lucy Barton. Lucy Barton is a tender-hearted writer, who reflects on her own dysfunctional family, and tries to find her own story.
Set in the 1980’s, she spends nine weeks in the hospital after complications from an appendectomy. Lucy weaves her story back and forth between today and her childhood memories of poverty and mistreatment. 
During her illness, her mother, who she hadn’t seen in many years, visits her for five days in the hospital. The sole presence of her mother triggers Lucy’s childhood memories of her life in rural Illinois and her dysfunctional family. We learn about Lucy’s life story through short small life events. As Lucy’s mother rambles on about bad marriages, she is oblivious and unable to give Lucy what she craves the most – the demonstration of her love. As an adult, Lucy looks back with a fresh perspective and shares her life story in a simple manner. I felt an emotional connection with Lucy’s compassionate storytelling.
Although it’s a story of a woman’s ordinary life, Elizabeth Strout reveals the universal lesson about the human condition, that teaches us how to learn from our mistakes and live a better life. Highly recommended for those who enjoy women’s literature, relationships between mothers and daughters and skilled writing.
 

I received an advance reader edition of this book from Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: She’s Not Herself

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RATING: 3.5 STARS

She’s Not Herself: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness is Linda A. Shapiro’s memoir of growing up with a mother who suffered from severe depression or bipolar disorder. Growing up in a wealthy family, as a first generation Jew in New York, her father is oblivious of the emotional damage Linda and her brother suffers on a daily basis. Her father’s explanation for her mother’s erratic behavior is that “She’s having one of those days.”  She delves into the devastating effects her mother’s illness had upon her own self-image and self-worth. Over time, Linda overcame her problems and marries, has children and becomes a successful Psychologist.

Occasionally the writing is dense, yet it’s an insightful, heart-wrenching memoir of growing up with a mentally ill mother.

I received a copy of the book from Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Review: The Good Shufu

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THE GOOD SHUFU          By TRACY SLATER

RATING: 3.5 STARS

The Good Shufu is Tracy Slater’s memoir about the early years of her relationship and marriage to a Japanese man. Slater is a highly educated Feminist scholar from Boston who traveled to Japan to teach ESL to Japanese businessmen, and finds herself falling in love with one of her students. The Good Shufu was advertised as how an American writer and academic adapted to the male dominated Japanese culture. However, it focused more on Slater’s relationship challenges, her role as a “shufu’ (housewife), and dealing with her infertility. Although it was interesting in parts, I expected to learn more about her adaptation to Japanese culture rather than her relationship struggles.   

An advance copy of the book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Review: My Paris Dream

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My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine by Kate Betts

Published by Penguin Random House Company

RATING: 4 STARS

Kate Betts is an award-winning magazine editor and author who has held top positions at  Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. In 2003 she was named editor at large at Time magazine where she created the first globally published style supplement, Time Style & Design.

In her memoir and coming of age story, My Paris Dream, Betts recounts her experiences of living in Paris during the late eighties. After being brought up in Manhattan, and graduating from Princeton, she is anxious to escape the traditional expectations of her parents. While her friends are entering law school or working on Wall Street, Betts is determined to follow her dream and explore Paris, as she did during her boarding school summers. Betts is part of the 1% who is lucky enough to secure an internship at a Paris magazine through her godmother’s well-connected husband. She is content, but bored with her minimum wage earning job, yearning to fit into French culture while trying to find work as a fashion journalist.

During her stay with a wealthy Parisian family, she meets her boyfriend, Herve, who is from Brittany, takes her to see a costumed band of wild boar hunters tear through the forests of Brittany. After her boar-hunting article is published, John Fairchild, the publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, (who is also attended Princeton) notices it, et voilà – he hires Betts for the Paris bureau. She begins covering American “It” girls and becomes rewarded for her efforts and is initiated into the elite ranks of Mr. Fairchild ‘s influential trusted few and sat next to him in the front rows of fashion shows of top designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent and Claude Montana.

Betts is enamored with Paris, it’s hard for her to discern if she loves the beauty of France and the French lifestyle, or is this  clouding her thinking towards her true feelings for Herves. She admires the French focus on family and the traditional August vacation over career, yet she realizes she’ll always be an outsider. Unfortunately, Herves friends are only too happy to point out her faux pas when she doesn’t follow certain “rules” of French culture. She doubts her acceptance into French culture. Homesick for New York, she decides to return home.

I can relate to her cultural experiences because I nearly moved to France in my early twenties, after being engaged to a Frenchman. I had a similar experiences of feeling like an outsider. The French will accept you as friends forever, but not as family. The French tend to make the majority of their friends when they’re young and continue the friendship into adulthood. They prefer staying with their established group of friends, over accepting new ones. .

My Paris Dream was an interesting memoir. Highly recommended for Fashionistas, or those who want an inside look into the life of a French fashion journalist.

I deducted one star due to Betts’ constant name dropping and of mentions of connections, as it took away from the focus of the coming of age theme of her memoir.

This book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Asylum by Simon Doonan

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“The Asylum”: A Collage of Couture Reminiscences..and Hysteria by Simon Doonan

Publisher: Blue Rider Press         Expected Publication date:September 3, 2013

** I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Simon Doonan, the creative ambassador for Barneys New York, describes his comical adventures of his forty years in fashion. Over the years, Simon and “Lizzie”, his psychologist friend, have discussed the similarities between the worlds of psychiatry and fashion. The similarities between the two inspired him to name the title of his upcoming book, “The Asylum”.

“Comparing and contrasting the fashion world with the shenanigans of the folks at  Lizzie’s house of horrors proved both surreal and illuminating…In her profession, insistence upon the existence of patterns of any kind constitutes a red flag, a symptom of a fairly serious disorder. Eccentricity and extremism are common in Lizzie’s world…yet they’re also the foundation of great style”.

Doonan’s breezy conversational style of writing makes it a quick and fun read. With a  knack for witty storytelling, he gives us a sneak peek behind several famous fashion personalities. Here’s an example of his experiences working with the eccentric Diana Vreeland:

“I have many happy memories of working with Diana Vreeland. I remember DV engaged in a cold war with the conservation department. Obeying strict guidelines issued by the teams of lab-coat wearing, white-gloved conservation ladies was not in the Vreeland wheelhouse. Though much of the Met fashion archive was antique and disintegrating, Vreeland loved nothing more than to drag an 18th Century coat out of its tissue paper coffin and – quelle horreur! – try it on for size! As far as the conservation department ladies were concerned, this was the equivalent of throwing acid at the Mona Lisa.”

Jetting all over the world, surrounded with fashionistas and hustlers, his stories are fascinating. Between hanging out at a sleazy Times Square strip club with famous fashion designers, jet setting to South Beach with Donatella Versace, his unusual and quirky stories are told in incredible detail.

This memoir is a well written, comical and easy to read. I highly recommend reading this entertaining book.

4 STARS