Nonfiction Review: Good Mourning

Good Mourning, Elizabeth Meyer, Caitlin Moscatello

Published August 25th 2015 by Gallery Books

Hardcover, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley


In this funny, insightful memoir, a young socialite risks social suicide when she takes a job at a legendary funeral chapel on New York City’s Upper East Side.Good Mourning offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most famous funeral homes in the country where not even big money can protect you from the universal experience of grieving. It’s Gossip Girl meets Six Feet Under, told from the unique perspective of a fashionista turned funeral planner.

Elizabeth Meyer stumbled upon a career in the midst of planning her own father’s funeral, which she turned into an upbeat party with Rolling Stones music, thousands of dollars worth of her mother’s favorite flowers, and a personalized eulogy. Starting out as a receptionist, Meyer quickly found she had a knack for helping people cope with their grief, as well as creating fitting send-offs for some of the city’s most high-powered residents.  Meyer has seen it all: two women who found out their deceased husband (yes, singular) was living a double life, a famous corpse with a missing brain, and funerals that cost more than most weddings. By turns illuminating, emotional, and darkly humorous, Good Mourning is a lesson in how the human heart grieves and grows, whether you’re wearing this season’s couture or drug-store flip-flops.

This book had a lot of potential.  Sadly, the stories pitched in the blurb were too short to really sell the book as a whole and honestly, Elizabeth Meyer really thinks way too much of her wardrobe for me.  Meyer started in the funeral business as a receptionist soon after the death of her father.  The other receptionists don’t see past her Gucci heels on the first day of work and never warm to her and frankly are quite cruel.  She moves from answering calls to dealing with families and helping them plan incredibly detailed – and expensive funerals.  I am not discounting how unfair the treatment by her coworkers was – but when I read

For the pittance I was making, my job was less a job and more charity work for the Upper East Side.”

If that’s your attitude I’m sure that the people who are counting on that pittance for their income aren’t going to like you.  I get that Meyer couldn’t disclose a who exactly she helped at the funeral home, but it just felt like there could have been richer stories.  I mean a corpse with a missing brain?  Where did it go?!  Who would have taken it?  Couldn’t there have been some follow-up to find out?  

I do applaud Meyer for talking about death and wanting to get people talking to their families and preparing for the inevitable, but in the end this would have been better with less fashion and more detailed anecdotes.  

2 stars

Thank you Gallery Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

All quotes taken from an unfinished galley copy in advance of publication.

Nonfiction Review: The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue, Piu Marie Eatwell

Published October 5th 2015 by W.W. Norton

Kindle Edition, 352 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


Doesn’t this title make you want to pick this book up immediately?  What a totally bizarre story!  In 1897 Anna Maria Druce requested that the coffin of her father-in-law be exhumed with the goal of proving that T.C. Druce had faked his death.  She suggested Druce was actually the 5th Duke of Portland who had been posing as the owner of the Baker St Bazar selling furniture and other commodities to London’s wealthy.  Anna Maria proposed that her own children should inherit the Portland title and vast wealth rather than the distant relative living as the current 6th Duke.  

This case went back and forth from legal court to the ecclesiastical for 10 years to determine who had access to the grave site and who could possibly stand to inherit.  Witnesses and claimants traveled from New York and even Australia to testify.  So were Druce and the Duke the same person?  I’m not that easy that I’ll tell!  You have to read the book to find out!  What I will tell you is that this is a book about double lives, secret marriages, lies between parents and children, and estates with underground tunnels.  There shady attorneys and private investigators and determined policemen.  What a world those Victorians lived in!  

Eatwell lays out the history and the facts so cleanly that this nearly reads like fiction.  You’ll be caught up until the final page of the postscript to learn all that she uncovered.  She puts it all into perspective to say that the Druce affair was significant because of the light it shed on the lies, deceit and hypocrisy practised by society at the time and their tragic consequences.”  While this was a bizarre and entertaining story it certainly does leave you thinking about what life was like for those as fortunate as the Duke of Portland and those unfortunates trying to clamor for a share of his wealth.

Thank you W.W. Norton and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 

All quotes taken from an uncorrected galley copy in advance of publication.

Nonfiction Review – Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik

Published October 27th 2015 by Dey Street Books

ebook, 240 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate, irreverent look at the justice’s life and work. As America struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stays fierce. And if you don’t know, now you know.

A few things I took away from this delightful book that should convince you to read about an amazing woman.


  • RBG is in her 80’s and does 20 push-ups a day.  20 PUSH-UPS A DAY.  If that doesn’t tell you she’s a bad-ass that you should want to read about, read on.  
  • This woman was a mother of a 1 year-old, 1 of 9 women in her class at Harvard law when her husband Marty was diagnosed with cancer.  Marty was also a law student, a year ahead of RBG at Harvard.  RBG came home from law school every day, spent time with her child, typed up the notes she had other students take for Marty while he was being treated and then did her own law school work.  She’s super human.
  • RBG cooked her last meal in 1980.  Her daughter is quoted as saying “Mommy does the thinking and Daddy does the cooking.”  
  • RBG is an opera lover (something she shares with Justice Scalia in a truly fascinating friendship) and has said “If I had any talent that God could give me, I would be a great diva.”  Notorious RBG, Supreme Court Justice to opera diva, amazing.


  • RBG and Marty had what appears to have been a true partnership.  What an amazing couple.  I cried an embarrassing amount on the train while reading his last letter to her after more than 50 years of marriage.  I think everyone can only hope to be so lucky in love and friendship.


  • As an attorney she argued for equal gender rights not just for women, but for men – and this book shares her written opinions with legal commentary, not just her personal life.  This is a fast read, but not all fluff.  She taught law and worked for the ACLU before donning her judge’s robes.  RBG has done amazing work to help to empower everyone – not just women.
  • You can’t spell Truth without RUTH.

Read this!  If you haven’t had enough RBG check out the Tumblr site that was the inspiration for the book.  You will soon find yourself shopping for Notorious RBG merchandise like me!  My daughter calls my RBG tote my “King Bag” I need to work on reminding her that RBG is way cooler than a king!

5 stars!  

Thank you Dey Street Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes taken from an uncorrected galley copy in advance of publication.  

Nonfiction Review: Romantic Outlaws

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley

By Charlotte Gordon

Random House, 2015

Source: e-ARCs from Edelweiss



You guys. This book was my white whale of 2015.

Let me tell you a (not)secret: I do not read nearly as many books as my sister. To date, I have read about half as many books as my 2015 goal – in part because I spent so much time not-reading Romantic Outlaws.

I started this book in March. I finished it in September. More accurately, I started and stopped this book in March and then read this book in September, but it weighed heavily on me in the interim.

Anyway, you should read this book, but I won’t pressure you about when. Take your time.

I chose – and labored over – this book because Amanda said: ‘hey, let’s read this!” All I knew of Mary Wollstonecraft I remembered from Mr. Nall’s AP European History class, and she sounded like someone I should know more about, having written A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, well before the first-wave feminist movement began in earnest.

I went into this book with no idea what I was getting into with the Marys.


I too, think I read this book forever.  This is not a read for the faint of heart – it is 672 pages.  But it was completely fascinating and worth all of the time it took.  I really didn’t believe a nonfiction book this long would keep me enthralled but I was hooked.  Occasionally I was thrown off by too many Marys, but I really loved how we flashed back and forth from mother to daughter.


Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759, and died in 1797, when her daughter Mary Shelley was born. Mary W had unquestionably shitty parents – an abusive father and a checked-out mother – and she spent her childhood moving around as her father dodged debts or chased various schemes. Mary W decided she wanted more out of life, and took initiative to make things happen – starting with her writing. She wrote articles, then books, and then decided to document the French Revolution in real time. She willingly went to Paris during the terror while blood is running in the streets. There Mary, not one for social conventions, fell in love and had a child out of wedlock. She was up for the challenges she faced from society, though she had more trouble with her rocky relationship and her own depression. Back in England a few years later, Mary met and eventually married William Godwin, who had once called a husband’s legalized possession of a woman in marriage “odious selfishness.”

Mary Shelley grew up with her father, William Godwin, who remarried shortly after his wife’s death. Godwin, while an interesting person, turned out to be not a winning parent himself. Mary S, singled out her whole life as the child of intellectual heavyweights, went through a rebellious teenaged period which resulted in her running off with the poet Percy Shelley. The married poet Shelley. This was a bad scene, made worse by the fact that Mary’s step-sister and rival, Jane, tagged along. Then Jane changed her name to Claire, and there were pregnancies and rumors and the poet-playboy Lord Byron and before long, the girls and the poets were nicknamed “the league of incest.” All the while, Godwin was either not-speaking to his daughter, or asking her to get Shelley to send money. Along the way, Mary Shelley developed into a talented writer herself, truly the equal of her husband. Mary and Percy marry, eventually, after his wife’s suicide. Seriously – these stories are fascinating.

The book flips with a chapter on Wollstonecraft then a chapter on Shelley. At first, I found this jarring, but when I tackled this book in September I just decided to take notes along the way. Once I actually got into this book, it was a page-turner – in part, because of the scandals and antics, but also because of the impact that mother & daughter had on writing, on feminist ideology, and on the societies in which they lived.


Do you ever have that experience when you’re really into a book then find that it relates to everything around you?  As I was reading about Mary W making the choice to stay in France during the Revolution and what she wrote about the revolutionaries I was also reading The Secret History of the Pink Carnation books.  That series focuses on the English nobles who, at times, actively worked with the displaced French nobility.  I had a whole new perspective on my fun historical fiction read.  

Then I met Lord Byron – the Justin Bieber of his time. Seriously, I need to read more about him.  But I then flashed back to Almost Famous Women and the story of poor and illegitimate Allegra Byron.  Does this happen to anyone else?  I swear I referenced this book all the time in conversation and I talked my husband’s ears off.  These Marys were just amazing! I have 21 pages of highlights in my kindle from this book.  I won’t give you all of those – but will leave you with Gordon’s words:

Even those who revere mother and daughter do not fully realize how profoundly they changed the moral code of the day… Not only did they write world-changing books, they broke from the strictures that governed women’s conduct, not once but time and time again.  Their refusal to bow down, to subside and surrender, to be quiet and subservient, to apologize and hide, makes their lives as memorable as the words they left behind.  

So Holly, when are we going to start reading A Vindication of the Rights of Women and Frankenstein?

Read this! Nonfiction November is coming!

Thank you Random House for these advance read copies in exchange for honest opinions!

Review: Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship, Robert Kurson

Published June 16th 2015 by Random House

Hardcover, 304 pages

Source: Goodreads giveaway


From Goodreads

Finding and identifying a pirate ship is the hardest thing to do under the sea. But two men—John Chatterton and John Mattera—are willing to risk everything to find the Golden Fleece, the ship of the infamous pirate Joseph Bannister. At large during the Golden Age of Piracy in the seventeenth century, Bannister’s exploits would have been more notorious than Blackbeard’s, more daring than Kidd’s, but his story, and his ship, have been lost to time. If Chatterton and Mattera succeed, they will make history—it will be just the second time ever that a pirate ship has been discovered and positively identified. Soon, however, they realize that cutting-edge technology and a willingness to lose everything aren’t enough to track down Bannister’s ship. They must travel the globe in search of historic documents and accounts of the great pirate’s exploits, face down dangerous rivals, battle the tides of nations and governments and experts. But it’s only when they learn to think and act like pirates—like Bannister—that they become able to go where no pirate hunters have gone before.

Yo ho yo ho! It felt like fate that I won this ARC of Pirate Hunters just as my boss recommended that I read Kurson’s first book Shadow Divers – that one it is on my TBR now because Pirate Hunters totally held me captive!  Sorry- well kind of sorry.  Pirate John Bannister was quite a man.  He had been a successful British merchant captain when he all of a sudden turned pirate with his ship and ended up being hunted down by the British Navy.  His ship was sunk -possibly filled with treasure – in the Caribbean.  Kurson could really only speculate about what caused Bannister to completely change his life – but it was totally fascinating to read about the golden age of piracy and what could have spurred such a change in direction.  

Pirate hunters Chatterton and Mattera brought Bannister back to life as they tried to find the Golden Fleece.  I was so impressed at the depth to which they immersed themselves into Bannister as a man.  I wouldn’t have expected the men diving for treasure to be students of history – and that was my mistake.  Kurson details the incredible research that Chatterton and Mattera had to do to find any location where the Golden Fleece might have gone down.  Finding primary sources at libraries in Europe sounds just as amazing to me as the actual diving!  I was on edge every time they were out in the water waiting to hear what they might find.  The reader goes reader back and forth from the history of the ship and of the golden age of piracy to the personal histories of Chatterton and Mattera -and they were nearly as interesting as Bannister himself.  I loved this quote from a treasure hunter Chatterton and Mattera went to for help:

Treasure shows who you really are.  It strips away every facade you’ve  constructed,

every story you believe about yourself, and reveals the real you.

That kind of gave me the chills – and now I want to learn to deep sea dive of course.  I am slow with reading non-fiction but this moved fast and I wanted more of this story!  I hope to eventually read some more of what happened with their discovery and I definitely need to read up on piracy!

4 stars!

Thank you Random House and Goodreads for this First Reads giveaway copy!

Review: Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World, Rachel Swaby

Published April 7th 2015 by Random House

Paperback, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


From Goodreads…

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?      

Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.


This book was totally inspiring! I almost wished I’d stuck with my original college goals in science after reading Headstrong.  Swaby chose 52 amazing women to highlight and by specifically only including women whose “life work has been completed” she really makes you think about how far women have come in the fields like medicine, physics, and chemistry.  For example, the first woman featured, Mary Putnam Jacobi who to enter medical school in Paris had to enter lectures through a separate door and maintain a buffer of empty seats around her.  Or chemist Ellen Swallow Richards who was the first woman admitted to MIT in 1870.  Richards was admitted tuition free – so that if anyone complained about her being a student the school could claim that she was not establishing a precedent for the admission of females.

These women were amazing!  They were brilliant and all around inspiring.  Virginia Apgar – besides coming up with the Apgar test to evaluate newborns – “always kept the following things on her person: a penknife, an endotrachial tube, and a laryngoscope, just in case someone needed an emergency tracheotomy.”  And its the BOY Scouts who are prepared?!  I could have pulled a quote from any chapter that was this cool!

At the same time this book made me kind of want to tear my hair out reading the stories of these geniuses that were unpaid, relegated to work in closets or not given credit for their ideas. Barbara McClintock, who won the Nobel Prize for genetics, was asked if she was bitter that it took so long for the Nobel to come to her she said “When you know you’re right you don’t care.  It’s such a pleasure to carry out an experiment when you think of something.  …I’ve had such a good time, I can’t imagine having a better one.  …I’ve had a very, very satisfying and interesting life.”  I really don’t think I could be that big of a person!

This was a short book despite the lengthy list of women included and for non-fiction it was a really fast read.  TJ at My Book Strings did a great post pairing Headstrong with a children’s book: Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women.  I cannot wait until Babycakes is just a bit older so we can read this one together!  She’s a “mathmagician” she tells me so I cannot wait to show her what amazing women can do.


I loved that Swaby points out that if she wrote this book 5 years from now that her book would be much more diverse- I hope she comes out with another book then!  It’s going to take me 5 years to read all I can about the women that particularly intrigued me in Headstrong.

Headstrong was kind of like an excellent meal at a tapas restaurant.  Lots of pleasing small courses- sometimes you’re just left wanting more but you still leave totally satisfied!

4 stars!

Thank you Random House and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes taken from an unfinished advanced readers copy.

Review: A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment

A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, Scott Carney


Published March 17th 2015 by Gotham

Hardcover, 304 pages

Source: ARC provided by publisher


From Goodreads…

When thirty-eight-year-old Ian Thorson died from dehydration and dysentery on a remote Arizona mountaintop in 2012, The New York Times reported the story under the headline: “Mysterious Buddhist Retreat in the Desert Ends in a Grisly Death.” Scott Carney, a journalist and anthropologist who lived in India for six years, was struck by how Thorson’s death echoed other incidents that reflected the little-talked-about connection between intensive meditation and mental instability.

Using these tragedies as a springboard, Carney explores how those who go to extremes to achieve divine revelations—and undertake it in illusory ways—can tangle with madness. He also delves into the unorthodox interpretation of Tibetan Buddhism that attracted Thorson and the bizarre teachings of its chief evangelists: Thorson’s wife, Lama Christie McNally, and her previous husband, Geshe Michael Roach, the supreme spiritual leader of Diamond Mountain University, where Thorson died.

Carney unravels how the cultlike practices of McNally and Roach and the questionable circumstances surrounding Thorson’s death illuminate a uniquely American tendency to mix and match eastern religious traditions like LEGO pieces in a quest to reach an enlightened, perfected state, no matter the cost.

Aided by Thorson’s private papers, along with cutting-edge neurological research that reveals the profound impact of intensive meditation on the brain and stories of miracles and black magic, sexualized rituals, and tantric rites from former Diamond Mountain acolytes, A Death on Diamond Mountain is a gripping work of investigative journalism that reveals how the path to enlightenment can be riddled with danger.

I started A Death on Diamond Mountain soon after reading Into Thin Air and I think that altered my expectation from what this book would be about.  The fault is totally mine.  I expected more of a discussion about Ian Thorson’s decision to be on the mountain and in such rough conditions so it took me a bit to adjust to the discussion of enlightenment and spirituality.  Once I realized what I was getting into the book’s path made much more sense to me and I was more into it!

Carney gives an abbreviated course of the history of Buddhism while also going back and giving Thorson’s personal history as told by his letters and diaries, his family and friends.  Carney also gives a history of Geshe Roache and Christie McNally and what brought them to Buddhism and then to their leadership roles at Diamond Mountain.  This was all intriguing and a bit shady at times.

This book left me feeling just sad for Thorson and his family.  He seemed so earnestly in search of something greater and yet caught up in a world over his head.  I feel like he was led astray by a fraud and it killed him.  My education is all in mental health and so that side of me wonders what would have happened if he’d turned to therapy instead of to enlightenment.  What leads people down one path versus another?

I wish Carney had been able to talk to Roach or McNally for their side of the story or to have more about where McNally is now.  It felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing for me. However, this book definitely did leave me thinking.  What drives someone to end up hiking rural India or Tibet for the path to enlightenment?  What are you really searching for if you go?  Also, how do you let someone go so far down this path like McNally:

She worried about him hurting himself further.  Then again, he was so close to greatness.

Greatness but also death!  This was an interesting read, but one that left me with more questions than answers.

3 stars

Thank you Gotham for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: That’s Not English

That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, Erin Moore

Published March 24th 2015 by Gotham

Hardcover, 240 pages

Source: ARCs provided by publisher


Holly –

I think it’s fair to say that I am something of an Anglophile. Amanda and I were fortunate in getting to visit London several times on family vacations growing up, and something about that city still feels a bit…magical to me. Maybe it’s the fact that the sheer age of some of the buildings boggles the mind of this Midwesterner, maybe it’s the palaces, maybe it’s my love of Henry VIII – regardless, England feels both familiar and foreign at the same time. I could happily wander London and not feel like a stranger, while at the same time, not lose my sense of wonder at the place. Speaking of which, I am probably due for a visit across the pond to visit my favorite Brit (that’s a test to see if you’re reading, Katie!).

Anyway, that sense of commonality while also being thousands of miles apart in space and in thought, is the premise of Erin Moore’s That’s Not English. Moore is an American ex-pat living in London and raising her daughter there. She takes 31 words that mean different things (or nothing) in American English and British English, and uses each word as a starting point to highlight historical, social, and cultural differences. For instance, “moreish” offers a treatise on snacking habits of Americans and Brits, while “quite” demonstrates American overenthusiasm versus British understatement.

Overall, this is a funny, poignant little book full of conversation starters. My favorite word was “crimbo,” an irreverent nickname for the Christmas season which I was not familiar with. I also appreciated a reference to “the little black dress of swears” (you can guess what word that refers to) and a letter from Jane Austen to her sister used as background for the word “sorry.”


As usual, I agree with my sister– England does feel like a magical place, but also somewhat familiar every time I’ve been.  Maybe it’s that we were blessed to go at an early age combined with loving reading anything I can set in England.  I thought I knew what I was getting into but I’m still shocked at “crimbo”!  Do Americans know this term?  My favorite thing might have been this “Americans are really earnest – in a way that the English find faintly ridiculous.”  Well- we generally are I think!  This was a fun and engaging read, definitely a book for anyone who wants to be sure they’re speaking the Queen’s English correctly!  I quite liked it.

Some people still think of the English spoken in England as the mother tongue, and the English spoken in America as it’s wayward child. But it isn’t true. Today’s English English, like American English, evolved as a dialect from sixteenth-century English, and neither can claim to be closer to the original.”

Thank you Penguin Random House for these advance read copies in exchange for honest opinions!

Review(ish) – Yes Please

Sometime last year, my two besties from high school (and loyal GIAO readers!) and I started talking about reading a book together to discuss and review. Initially, that book was going to be Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices. Then, we took it down a few notches and decided to read Amy Poehler’s Yes Please together.


This led to a series of texts and emails over a few weeks about the book, about the virtues of reading, and about coolness. Reading is obviously a pretty solitary activity, but discussing a book with friends can be all sorts of fun. I highly recommend it (and guys, let’s do it again!).

So, here’s what we thought about the book (texts and messages have been edited to sound way more put together than the conversation actually was. My buddies are Bestie 1 and Bestie 2 – they are both brilliant and hilarious.

H: How’s the book going?

Bestie 1: I’m about halfway through – she is funny, but I can’t stop comparing it in my mind to Tina Fey’s book which I thought was funnier. Not a fair comparison, but that’s what’s happening.

H: I am also comparing to Tina Fey, but not sure who wins the comparison yet. I noticed they are both no dummies: UVA and Boston College. With Bossypants, I sort of regretted that I never watched 30 Rock and am now sort of regretting not watching Parks and Rec.

Bestie 2: Interjection: Amy Poehler has a site called Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls that posts cool stuff women achieve worldwide. Also, I have spent more time in the past 12 months reading other women’s advice than is really necessary: Sonya Sotomayor, Ariana Huffington, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton (albeit indirectly), Tina Fey, Rachel Maddow, Mindy Kaling. I’m sure I’ve got more.

Bestie 1: Half the point of reading is to understand people and who they are and what they did to make them who they are so I would say it was all time well spent.

[Break for messages about when we can all get together for a weekend. Insert note from #2 –  For-freaking-ever H lived on the East Coast near Bestie 1, but she recently came to her senses and moved back to the Midwest where Bestie 2 lives.  Bestie 2 is ridiculously excited about this because now we can force Bestie 1 to come visit and freeze her ass off in the 11 months of the year it is cold here.]

Bestie 1: Things I have thought while reading Yes Please: Amy Poehler is cool. I wish Amy Poehler would stop trying to convince me she is cool. I wish Amy Poehler was as cool as Tina Fey. I wish Amy Poehler was as cool about her coolness as Tina Fey. I wish I was as cool as either one of them.

Bestie 2: She’s also more blatant about her messages than Tina – Say what you want, like who likes you, etc. Tina more told parables that were entertaining along the way that you enjoyed reaching the moral of the story.

[Break for messages about bread, cheese, and wine — in copious amounts. Priorities.]

H (the open-minded optimist): I am 40% done with the book and I don’t feel like Amy is overselling her coolness really. Hmmm.

Bestie 2 (in a moment of delusion): She’s growing on me.

Bestie 1 (always agreeable): I have also turned around on the book – I am almost done now and the final third warmed me back up to who I thought she would be. Not that I was ever really not enjoying it.

[Break for messages about Bestie 2’s new puppy! Yay puppies!  That puppy is amaze-balls.]

H (bringing us back to order): Am I the only one not finished with this book yet? Working on it now! She lost me a bit waxing poetic about her Parks and Rec castmates since I have never watched it.

Bestie 2 (feeling herself again): I have no patience. I skip things I’m not interested in. Only reason I’m still reading this one is to chat with you besties about it.

Bestie 1:  [radio silence]

H: Okay, here’s my final thoughts. From reading this, I think Amy Poehler is pretty cool, but I am definitely not a super fan – she joined SNL long after my days of watching it, and I really haven’t seen her in that much. I really don’t have anything bad to say about the book – I just don’t have anything great to say either. It was okay.

Bestie 1: I am glad we read this book together because I like doing things with you guys and texting funny things to each other. As for the book – it was good, but I just wish it was better. I like Amy Poehler – she is smart and funny and I like that she encourages girls especially to be smart and funny. I honestly just thought she would be a better writer. I was under the impression that she wrote more (I had the mistaken presumption that she created and wrote Parks and Rec like Tina Fey created and wrote 30 Rock). It was a good breezy read. I have been reading a book about the Cook County criminal courthouse, busiest in the US. Interesting so far. [H interjection: that one sounds less breezy!]

Bestie 2 (a.k.a. crabby-pants-mcgee): Umm I have decided that I don’t have to finish everything I start.  

So there you have it.

Review: Lives in Ruins

Lives in Ruins: Archeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble, Marilyn Johnson


Published November 11th 2014 by Harper

Hardcover, 272 pages

Source: E-ARC from Edelweiss


From Goodreads

The author of The Dead Beat and This Book is Overdue! turns her piercing eye and charming wit to the real-life avatars of Indiana Jones—the archaeologists who sort through the muck and mire of swamps, ancient landfills, volcanic islands, and other dirty places to reclaim history for us all

Pompeii, Machu Picchu, the Valley of the Kings, the Parthenon—the names of these legendary archaeological sites conjure up romance and mystery. The news is full of archaeology: treasures found (British king under parking lot) and treasures lost (looters, bulldozers, natural disaster, and war). Archaeological research tantalizes us with possibilities (are modern humans really part Neandertal?). Where are the archaeologists behind these stories? What kind of work do they actually do, and why does it matter?

Marilyn Johnson’s Lives in Ruins is an absorbing and entertaining look at the lives of contemporary archaeologists as they sweat under the sun for clues to the puzzle of our past. Johnson digs and drinks alongside archaeologists, chases them through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and even Machu Picchu, and excavates their lives. Her subjects share stories we rarely read in history books, about slaves and Ice Age hunters, ordinary soldiers of the American Revolution, children of the first century, Chinese woman warriors, sunken fleets, mummies.

What drives these archaeologists is not the money (meager) or the jobs (scarce) or the working conditions (dangerous), but their passion for the stories that would otherwise be buried and lost.

When I saw this book available on Edelweiss I knew I had to read it.  I dreamt when I was little of being a paleontologist and then an archaeologist  When I realized the reality of living on dig sites and camping I also realized this dream was not for me.  I still love reading about archaeological finds and this book did not disappoint me.

Marilyn Johnson takes us all over the world, looking at current sites and discussing past breakthrough finds and even talks about who Indiana Jones is to the real archaeological community.

“It’s tongue-in-cheek, but if you scratch any archaeologist, deep down inside they want to be him, one way or another.”

Johnson digs in to the profession by attending field schools in the Caribbean and on Cyprus, attending conferences, and interviewing archaeologists in the US, Europe and South America.  She shares stories of sites that sound fascinating, but what really struck me was the sense of loss in this field.  Finds are lost to treasure hunters, to war and  weather and to those that just don’t care about history when they’re trying to build a new parking lot every day.  I don’t mean to say the book was all doom and gloom at all.  Johnson and those she interviewed were very hopeful about the finds yet to be uncovered.  I thought the way that archaeologists are looking to the future was really cool!  Finding sites and waiting years to even begin to think about digging-can you imagine the patience!  Finding sites and covering them back up because they know that technology will be able to do so much more in the future.  I just don’t think my curiosity could handle that.

By far what I found the most interesting was the participation between the U.S. military and archaeologists.  From supporting historic native sites that are now on current military bases and  determining how to handle sensitive sites in war zones – I had no idea of the amount of time and attention given.  By choosing the sites she did Johnson makes an excellent case for how important archaeology is, despite the hard work, poor wages and sad lack of funding.  She makes the reader really think about what is still to be found and also what future archaeologists will think about us!

Lives in Ruins definitely piqued my curiosity for more nonfiction reading about archaeological sites and the individuals she interviewed.  I also will be checking out Johnson’s book about librarians, This Book is Overdue.

4 stars!

Thank you Harper Collins and Edelweiss for this advance read copy in exchange for an honest review!

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition.