Audiobook Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

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Image: Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

To say that I like memoirs by female comedians is an understatement. I’ve listened to all the most popular audiobooks, including those by Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Samantha Bee, Sarah Silverman, Mindy Kaling, and Chelsea Handler.

So color me surprised that it took me eight months to get around to Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.

I’ve been a fan of Schumer’s stand-up and have enjoyed watching clips from her show, so I was confident that I’d enjoy this book.

Memoirs are successful when they’re relatable, when they illustrate the arc from starving artist to established fame with a sense of groundedness. After all, nobody wants to read the memoir of a spoiled brat who had everything handed to her and has absolutely no understanding of how the average person lives. (Exhibit A: Ivanka Trump).

Amy is certainly no Ivanka. In fact, it was interesting to hear that her parents accumulated their wealth from their luxury baby furniture business but lost it all to the point where she recalls her dad getting his sportscar repossessed when she was young.

This riches-to-rags-to-riches story brands Schumer as an underdog who had to crawl out of her family’s financial ashes and climb her way to the top. And after listening to all her anecdotes about bombing in comedy clubs and obsessively perfecting her jokes, you can tell how hard she works.

You never get the sense that she takes her fame for granted. For example, after working in the service industry for years, she makes a point to tip extremely well. She supports causes that matter to her and came to the aid of those affected by the 2015 shooting at a film screening of her movie Trainwreck.

If you’re under the impression that Schumer is a sex-crazed party girl with tons of stories about boozing and one night stands, then you’ll be disappointed with this book. Unlike Chelsea Handler, Schumer spends a great deal distancing herself from her onscreen persona and prefers to discuss more serious topics.

Some of these stories can be told with humor, like her penchant for shoplifting that led to her grand larceny arrest at age 21. But others are uncomfortable and downright depressing.

I appreciated hearing her open up about her father’s alcoholism and multiple sclerosis, and my heart broke for her after learning that her first sexual experience was being raped by a former boyfriend.

These stories make her real, but they’re not the superficial “Stars, They’re Just Like Us!” tabloid tales you might expect to read. If you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud fest, you’re better off sticking to Schumer’s stand-up.

With that in mind, I’d recommend this book, because I learned a ton about a woman who seems like a genuine, kind-hearted person who’s passionate about her craft. She’s also an unapologetic feminist who has faced countless criticisms about her body—including the tramp stamp that gave the book its title—and refuses to be anyone other than herself.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo doesn’t quite enter the echelon of comedic memoirs that made me laugh until I cried, but it sends an empowering message to readers, and to women especially.

To Ms. Schumer: Get it, girl. Wishing you all the best!

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Audiobook Review: The Guest Room

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Image via Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

I have to admit that I was surprised that my fellow book club babes felt so negatively toward Chris Bohjalian’s The Guest Room. I was already a fan of the author after reading The Sandcastle Girls, his heartbreaking historical fiction novel about the Armenian Genocide. Honestly, there are so few Armenians left in existence, let alone Armenian writers, which compels me to appreciate the creative folks who share my heritage.

So even though some of the ladies at book club agreed with my 3-star rating, I was much more sympathetic about liking this story. However, since I recognize my own cultural bias, I wanted to share a plot summary written by my friend Kat, because it’s absolutely hilarious. She actually re-enacted this description during our meetup this week, and it’s safe to say that her sassy summaries will be a regular feature hereafter:

So basically you got a 40ish older brother (Mr. No Backbone) who throws a bachelor party for his immature womanizing 30ish baby brother at his home (*cough* damn fool *cough*), of which he shares with his devoted wife and 9-year-old daughter.

Said baby brother and even more hounddog groomsmen decide to hire strippers of which they pay extra to have sex (i.e. tag team) and guest what, oh, the strippers were sex slaves who took that very opportunity to kill their bodyguards/ captors right there in the house.

So now the strippers are on the run (literally 10 blocks down the street… They so smart 😐), the house is a crime scene, the older brother’s marriage and family are falling apart (🙄), and there is a whole lot of media coverage & legal heat on all the groomsmen (ya damn skippy 😏).

I couldn’t get jiggy with this because the characters were utterly stupid, and it was like as the story went on, the author kept dumbing everyone down for cheap thrills and sad attempts at creating suspense. Uh no! This gets 3 stars if I’m being nice, and a 2.5 if I’m keeping it real. Read at your own risk, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I have to agree with Kat that you question the judgment of the characters throughout the novel, correcting their decisions in your mind as a desperate attempt to prevent this bachelor-party-gone-wrong from getting even worse.

However, I pitied Richard, the relatively innocent bystander dealing with the aftermath of his brother’s mistakes, and Alexandra, who never asked to be abducted from her family in Armenia and forced to live as a sex slave. Having the POVs shift between these two protagonists, as well as to Richard’s wife and daughter, allows you to get in the minds of everyone affected and form your own conclusions about how you would feel and act in the same situation.

My only major complaint with The Guest Room was that it had too much feeling and not enough acting. Bohjalian is wonderful at writing inner turmoil, but this was not the sexy thriller my book club and I had been hoping for. As Kat concluded, read at your own risk, but as long as you know what kind of story you’re getting yourself into, I thought that it was enjoyable.

My final words of wisdom if you plan on adding this to your to-read list: definitely get the print version! Unfortunately, the audiobook is terrible with accents, and Alexandra sounds like an awful stereotype of a foreign bimbo. The Guest Room is a story with a ton of potential that didn’t quite deliver, and the poorly executed audiobook is another testament to that.

Audiobook Review: All the Birds in the Sky

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Image via Goodreads

Rating: 2 out of 5

I’ve been dreading writing this review as soon as I realized that this novel was not going to get any better. With all the hype surrounding Charlie Jane Anders’ novel All the Birds in the Sky, I’m not surprised that it was nominated for my book club last month. I am surprised, however, by how many readers actually gave it a high rating.

I’m already three book reviews behind on this blog, so I’m not going to waste your time like this book did mine. Instead, let me sum up my thoughts in a simple literary recipe:

  1. Take one hideously executed mashup of fantasy and sci-fi.
  2. Add two boring, unlikeable love interests playing to stereotypical gender norms (He’s the tech genius! She’s the earthy pagan witch!).
  3. Mix the genres and characters until so poorly combined that you can’t tell if the story is meant to be romance, coming-of-age, apocalyptic, or a gross hodge podge of all three.
  4. Set the plot in the heart of San Francisco, but describe the city with so much hipster pretension that even people who live and work there like myself want to vomit.
  5. Finally, garnish with a big pinch of the absolute worst sex scene that I’ve ever read. Magical nipple-blowing…that’s all I’m going to say.

In my humble opinion, the only reason that All the Birds in the Sky received so much hype is because the author happened to co-found and run io9, a well-known Gawker Media publication. I’m sure the marketing budget for this book went through the roof. Add the fact that Charlie Jane Anders is transgender, and you have all the makings of a unique, diverse, intriguing tale–except that it falls right on its face.

An utter disappointment, made even more annoying on audio, and quite possibly my least favorite book of 2016. Not recommended in the slightest.

Audiobook and Movie Review: Me Before You

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Image via Amazon

Audiobook Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Movie Rating: 4 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

Between starting a new job and moving in with my boyfriend, life has definitely been more hectic than usual! Thank goodness that my book club provides the accountability I desperately need–otherwise who knows how long I’d go without blogging!

Last month’s book club selection was the crazy popular Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. We discussed the novel at the beginning of the month, then watched the movie adaptation the week after. Instead of publishing my reviews separately, I’m combining them to better share my thoughts on reading this story and seeing it on the silver screen.

And if you happen to be living under a rock, let me offer a quick and dirty summary: Me Before You tells the story of Louisa Clark (played by Emilia Clarke, aka Daenerys from “Game of Thrones”), a recently unemployed English woman in her mid-20s who takes a job as a caregiver to a quadriplegic man in order to financially support her working class family.

Contrary to her expectations, her client Will Traynor (played by Sam Claflin, aka Finnick from “The Hunger Games”) is not an elderly invalid, but an attractive, wealthy 30-something guy who just happened to have the worst case of luck after a terrible automotive accident. Will, depressed that he can no longer live the mobile, active lifestyle he once did, has scheduled his assisted suicide in six months’ time. It’s up to Louisa to see if she can get him to change his mind. (Spoiler alert: She doesn’t.)

First, let me address what’s good about this novel. I appreciated that Louisa’s character was well-developed and that her relationships with her parents and sister were important to the overall story. Sure, Hollywood was never going to cast a plus-size actress to match her curvy physical descriptions, but the movie depicted her eccentric fashion sense which had made her so endearing in the book.

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Image via Zimbio

That being said, although most of my friends rated the book higher, I felt a bit cheated. I had seen the sappy film trailers before I started reading, so I was expecting much more romance in this romance novel. The fact that Louisa is stuck in a dead-end relationship for the majority of the story and doesn’t even kiss Will until their final trip together is a massive disappointment. Sure, this could reflect the theme that life is full of missed opportunities and unrealized potential, but ugh–what a bummer!

And while I could write thousands of words about the controversy of assisted suicide and the outrage of the disabled community over Will’s ultimate decision to end his life, I will say that the book better addressed Will’s autonomy than the film by allowing him much more time to explain his reasoning and having the support of many secondary characters. Yes, Louisa is the protagonist, which inherently limits the story’s perspective, but I applaud Moyes for opening the minds of the able-bodied in a respectful manner. I have always supported a person’s right to die with dignity, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book positively impacted those on the fence about the issue.

It’s not difficult to predict Will’s choice, given that there’s a sequel called After You, but I do wish that Will could have had his own POV. By ending with the chapter of the Traynor’s legal defense, the act felt clinical and detached. Listening to the book on audio may have added to that effect as well. Watching the movie finally brought the tears out of me that were missing before, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for love stories.

Readers will feel rushed while watching the film, but Moyes’ screenwriting eliminated parts of the story that seemed anomalous in the first place: Louisa’s past sexual assault, Mr. Traynor’s affair, and the inclusion of Will’s sister. I would have much rather removed these elements in the book to make more room for some steamy, intimate moments.

All in all, despite its challenges in accurately representing the thoughts of real-life disabled people, I liked the book. It wasn’t nearly romantic enough for me, which is why I only rated it 3.5/5, but I’m glad that I got to learn what all the buzz was about. However, I’ve heard poor reviews of the sequel, so I’ll be passing on that. Thankfully, I just finished a proper romance novel with a happy ending–stay tuned for my review!

Audiobook Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Image via Amazon

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

On Wednesday, the real-life Book Club Babes met to discuss our latest selection: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. None of us had heard of this novel or its author before, but with over 96,000 ratings and 15,000 reviews on Goodreads, it was clear that this book had some major buzz.

The protagonist A.J. Fikry begins the story as a curmudgeonly middle-aged man, grieving the loss of his wife and dealing with the challenges of running his failing bookstore on a small island off the east coast. He doesn’t particularly like Amelia, the sales rep from Knightley Press, or the annoying tourists, or anyone for that matter.

Then a two-year-old named Maya is abandoned on his store’s doorstep, and A.J. must learn how to embrace life once again. This book felt like a coming-of-middle-age novel, because over the course of a decade, the reader sees how A.J.’s character evolves to become more empathetic and optimistic. I’m not that fond of stories about parenthood, given my lack of desire in parenting myself, but it’s heartwarming to watch how Maya changes A.J.’s life for the better.

My book club agreed that this book was cute and charming, and we were all pleasantly surprised to learn that it featured characters of color. According to the author, “A.J. and Maya are both mixed-raced, as am I! A.J. is half-Indian and half-Caucasian, and Maya is half-African American and half-Caucasian.” This book demonstrated that characters can be diverse without race relations dominating the conversation, because skin color doesn’t make a family.

If you’re looking for a book that makes you smile and enjoy the love of reading even more, then check out The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It’s short and sweet, clocking in at only seven hours on audio, which is perfect for readers with busy schedules. As the Book Club Babes declared, this novel may not be an unforgettable masterpiece, but it puts you in a good mood, and that’s what stories are supposed to do.

Audiobook Review: Why Not Me?

Image via Goodreads

 Review: 4 out of 5

When I heard that actress Mindy Kaling was writing another memoir, I didn’t think twice about buying it. I had enjoyed her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, but had hoped for less childhood stories and more gossip about her celebrity life. Why Not Me? is a great sequel that divulges more of these details.

Kaling focuses on the ups and downs of fame and how exhausting it can be as a role model to curvy women of color. She has a refreshingly honest perspective on living in Hollywood: she looks good because she has a horde of people to make her attractive, and she puts on a smile even when she’s having a bad day, because there’s nothing that pisses off the masses like an extremely wealthy person with an awful attitude.

Even though she’s the creator of her own show with her own name in its title, at the heart of it all, she’s another 30-something woman who just wants to make friends and fall in love. I admit that I don’t follow her closely on television since I gave up watching “The Office” and have never seen an episode of “The Mindy Project.”

However, the reason why I like her memoirs is that she’s relatable, hilarious, and the kind of woman I’d like to go shopping and grab frozen yogurt with. Spending extra money on the audiobook version is worth it, because it further enhances the feeling that you’re listening to a good friend.

And perhaps if I were one of her besties, then she would give me the real scoop on her relationship with B.J. Novak. Because as adorable as her “soup snakes” versus soul mates metaphor was, I just want to hear the hookup stories. Kaling reveals that she loves doing sex scenes on camera, but won’t spill about what goes on behind the scenes? Talk about disappointing!

As much as I love to read about drunken escapades and one-night stands a la Chelsea Handler, that’s not who Kaling is. She’s a theater nerd/sorority dropout/hopeless romantic, and that’s what makes her endearing. I wish her show the best of luck on Hulu and hope to read more of her memoirs in the future!

The First Book Club Babes Selection: Uganda Be Kidding Me

I know that I’ve been late to inform you of the first Book Club Babes selection for this month, so here’s a quick update. For July, my real-life book club will be reading Chelsea Handler’s Uganda Be Kidding Me!

After listening to everyone’s preferences, it was decided that our first book should be fun, lighthearted, and easy to read. A small group of eight women attended the selection committee meeting and narrowed down all our recommendations to the comedic memoir genre.

Our original choice was Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, but since a few people had recently finished the book, we went with Chelsea Handler as our runner-up. I was the only one in the meeting who had read this book, so I’m excited to share the laughs with everyone!

It’s been several months since I first posted my review in the beginning of March, so to celebrate our kickoff book club pick, I’ve reblogged my thoughts on the audiobook version below. Feel free to add this memoir to your reading list this month if you’d like to virtually follow our book club experience!

Enjoy!

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

Chelsea Handler knocks it out of the park again with her latest comedic memoir, Uganda Be Kidding Me. Published in March of last year, the book retells Handler’s traveling escapades in the past few years, including a ski trip at the private Yellowstone Club in Montana and a brief stint in Montenegro.

The majority of the memoir, however, covers her African safari trip with her close friends. A self-labeled ‘professional alcoholic,’ they spend their time guzzling cocktails and hitting on their South African guide named Rex.

“There’s a difference between being a class act and being classy. Peeing off the side of a jeep doesn’t mean you’re not classy, it just means you’re a free spirit with a small bladder.” – Chelsea Handler

Many readers will hate Handler for being the typical ugly American tourist, who keeps asking where the tigers are in the bush and complaining about her bit of vacation weight gain.

And yes, I admit that she is outrageous and abrasive. I’ve seen her talk show “Chelsea Lately” and read her other books, My Horizontal Life and Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, so I know her particular brand of humor well. She is the exact opposite of politically correct, making wise cracks at every minority imaginable–little people, blacks, Asians, and the LBGT, among others.

Sometimes I just have to rock myself back and forth and say, “You’ve offended so many people at this point. Don’t try to keep track now, girl.”

The reason why I enjoy her despite her offensiveness is that she’s also self-deprecating. She has been famous long enough to know just how dependent she is on her countless assistants. It may be humble-bragging when she declares that she doesn’t pack her own suitcases or make her own margaritas, but it also goes to show that you can be a hot mess no matter how much money you make.

Case in point: Last weekend I was visiting my family and had to try to keep quiet late one night in my old bedroom, because I was laughing so hard listening to Handler share her embarrassing story of when she shit herself in her swimsuit while kayaking in the Bahamas. The joke builds and builds on itself until she sneaks into a guest house in the wee hours of the morning, only to drunkenly open the front door for someone without her bikini bottoms on. It had me giggling like a crazy person and was easily the most hilarious portion of the book.

Ultimately, Chelsea Handler is the woman you’d want at a party, because she’s unapologetic about who she is, and she definitely knows how to have fun. She also loves her dogs dearly and never, ever wants children, so I have a feeling we would make fast friends. She may not be the best role model, but I think she’s better than that, because she’s real.