This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips (2018)

busy phillips

It would be a stretch to call myself a super-fan of Busy Phillips — I was too old to be a fan of Freaks and Geeks or Dawson’s Creek; Cougartown never appealed to me — but I know who she is and watched her (now cancelled) talk show in E! Nevertheless, I like to listen to audio-book memoirs when they are read by the author. While the stories themselves are a bit dull, Busy does not disappoint in her delivery, with lots of energetic storytelling and great imitations of her family and friends, making them distinguishable characters.

Covering her life from birth to the present, Busy tries to highlight for readers the events that shaped who she is today. Some of the events are heartbreaking, such as her rape and unplanned teenage pregnancy (her story launched the #youknowme pro-choice moment on social media,) but she spends far too much time talking about her teenage years, pre-fame, and those chapters stretch on and on.

Her discussion of show business and its uglier sides — people stealing credit and commonplace sexual harassment she experienced — are interesting and insightful in creating for readers a true sense of the day-to-day challenges facing women in Hollywood. As with any actor’s story, it is a harsh reminder of the vulnerability they must bring to their work every single day; to face being judged –harshly — over and over again in order to have the career they want.

Busy extends her intimacies with readers by reflecting on her struggles with anxiety, pre-natal and post-partum depression, her martial challenges, and even her financial crises.

Her love of her friends comes through loud and clear (on the audio-book she often cries while telling sad anecdotes) and so does her love for her family. Liberally applied swear words and frank discussions about drinking and drugs are prevalent too, but the overall effect is funny and light-hearted. Busy seems thankful for her good fortune and her long-lasting career. She also relishes (so it seems) telling stories about crappy things other famous people (mostly men) have done to her. For the record, I don’t blame her one bit for calling them out on their bad behavior. She’s famous enough to survive any push back from them, and in the wake of #metoo, it’s nice to see actresses able to tell their stories freely, without fearing consequences.

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb (2019)

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

lori gottlieb

What a delightful surprise this book turned out to be! When it was recommended I was unsure whether it would be something I would enjoy, but given that I read library books at no cost and with no obligation, I dove in. Gottlieb has written a book that defies genre: not a memoir exactly, nor is it book explaining psychotherapy, nor is it the “behind-the-scenes” tell all it has the potential to be. While the author reveals (heavily cloaked) stories of some of the patients she works with, she does not stop there, also revealing her own emotional struggles and the ground-breaking work her own therapist guides her through. The result is raw, unflinching, and heart-achingly tender. In a world looking for fast-fixes and magical cures, ideally delivered through their smart-phones, Gottlieb reveals the power of offering someone attention, acceptance, patience, and honesty.

Gottlieb lays out the story in three sections: the first tells readers of her path to becoming a psychotherapist; the second reveals some of her most challenging patients; and the third of her own recent explorations on the therapists couch.

When she is exploring her sessions with her clients — who become characters in the story and who we cannot help but come to sympathize with and root for — she expertly lays out theories in psychology and psychiatry to help readers understand the questions she asks and the information she seeks. While the patients cannot see what they are hiding behind, with the help of Gottlieb we — the readers — begin to see the way. While the patients have to unravel the complexity of their emotions in slow-motion, the author guides us so we can learn something about human nature and, perhaps, ourselves in the process. While listening to the sessions, we learn the stories that we often think define us perhaps imprison us. That the hard truths we fear facing, that we bury them so deep they must be excavated — as gently and skillfully as with fragile fossils, — are still there affecting our daily lives even when we try to pretend otherwise.

With equal candor and vulnerability, she tells of her journey on the therapist’s couch. She enters therapy after a shocking end of her engagement and thinks — being a professional — she knows exactly what she needs to accomplish. She is shocked to learn that her therapist thinks that something other than her break-up has brought her to his couch, drowning in grief. Gentle guidance and some probing sessions reveal her own fear of growing old alone, of facing a life without a plan B, and of not getting the happy ending she so desperately wants.

The overall impact is mesmerizing: as flies on the wall we get to witness the rawest of human emotion and the thrilling hope that help is out their for all of us, even the most damaged, if we can reach out for and accept it when it is being offered.

 

 

What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka (2018)

PI Roxane Weary Book #2.

In the follow up to Roxane Weary’s debut, The Last Place You Look, readers will get more of what they love from the titular heroine: a hard-drinking, whip-smart private eye who keeps her tender heart hidden from almost everyone. It is her heart that is her greatest weapon, compelling her to keep looking for answers even when everyone else has stopped.

Hired to follow a woman suspected of cheating, Roxane gets more than she bargained for when the woman is shot and killed just days later. Stunned, she turns to the man who hired her for more information and he begs her to look into the case separately from the police. It looks like he killed his wife and he knows that the police suspect him; he also knows there is more going on than it seems on the surface.

Roxane refuses to let an innocent man be arrested for a murder he did not commit, and frankly doesn’t want a murderer roaming her city, so she does what comes naturally…she stirs up shit and gets way more than she bargained for. She finds herself in the middle of a case that involves counterfeiting, fraud, theft, and multiple murders; and that’s just for starters.

As the title suggests, Roxane is unwilling to stop digging even though the police see convinced they have the murderer. She knows there has to be more to the incident than the evidence suggests. What she doesn’t expect is just how far-reaching the crime ring extends and that the bad guys are more than willing to threaten her friends and family  as a way to keep Roxane quiet.

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka (2017)

PI Roxane Weary Book #1

the last place you look2

Roxane Weary has all but neglected her private investigation business in the wake of her father’s shooting death in the line of duty. When she is woken up from a devastating hangover by a client, she stumbles through the interview with little coherence. She is being asked to do what? Find evidence strong enough to save a man on death row from execution? A black teenager, Brad Stockton, was convicted of the double murder of his high-school girlfriends parents and sentenced to death. Sarah, his girlfriend, went missing the same night. Now, Brad’s sister is certain that she has seen Sarah — after fifteen years! — back in town. Will Roxane investigate?

In need of money, she accepts the case knowing that the likelihood of finding a missing person and that person having the information important enough to stop an execution is all but impossible. Without a formal plan she starts her investigation: reviewing the police reports, re-interviewing friends of Brad and Sarah, and asking questions where Sarah was seen just days ago.

Then two rather remarkable things happen: the local police protest greatly to her presence in town and try to prevent her from asking questions about the closed case; and she turns up information about another teenage girl from the same small town who went missing just one year before Sarah and was found murdered in a local park a few months before Sarah’s disappearance.

No PI believes in coincidence and Roxane is knows that she must be on to something. She digs deeper and uncovers a terrifying pattern: other teenage girls in this town have gone missing; either never to be found or to be found dead and buried in the woods. Why then, isn’t a more of an effort being made to find out who is doing this?

Her own life is a terrible mess — too much drinking, a string of affairs with men and women that are messing with her head, a strained relationship with her grieving family — and she tries to keep from skidding over the edge. The people working to silence her are hoping that she will self-destruct before she can implicit anyone or turn up real evidence that cannot be ignored.

When yet another girl goes missing, Roxane no longer hopes the authorities will save the day and she steps in and does it herself.

A fantastic debut, fast-paced and thrilling, and a wondering introduction to a LGBTQ heroine. Cannot wait to read the next one!

The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran (2018)

Claire Dewitt Book #3

the infinite blacktop

“Kill all the wise men. Burn all the books. The kingdom of the truth is your birthright and the only thing standing between you and the kingdom is your own monstrous, idiotic, self.” Epigraph, The Infinite Blacktop

In the most recent installment of the Claire DeWitt series, we find our titular detective lost and lonely, sick to death of ruining other peoples lives by digging up their secrets and exposing their lies. This is not Claire’s first time in this situation, several times before she’s found herself out of ideas and at the “end of the rope…under [it] was just  nothingness, just blackness.” 176

Our present-day story begins with Claire being hit by a driver who seems intent on killing her in the crash. When she comes to at the scene she is vividly aware that whomever tried to kill her would most likely be waiting to finish the job. That won’t do.

“I was Claire DeWitt and I was the best detective in the world. Claire Dewitt always wins.” 3-7

She hijacks her way out of the situation and hits the road to Las Vegas. As she fights fatigue (with pills and coffee) she begins to reminisce about two other cases she has worked in the past: one in her teens and one in 1999, linking the two together were her devastating heartbreak at the state of the world and an almost suicidal desire to escape from the ugliness in her life. Could one of these other mysteries connect to the present-day mystery in which someone was trying to kill her?

Mulling over her years as a teen detective, she begins to wonder about the circumstances that led her (and her two best friends) to the work. Despite their utter commitment to the crimes they solved, they could not seem to make people care about the truth they uncovered. The girls all felt, at times, how hopeless it was to search for answers no one cared to learn.

The case in 1999 also found Claire nearing rock-bottom, searching to close a case that everyone had long since stopped caring about, trying to solve a murder that no one even remembered. Nothing seemed to matter in the world, no one loved her, no one wanted her help, and no one valued her contributions. Why in the world, she wondered, did she persist? Because without the work, she had nothing.

At each crossroads, Claire is exhausted, stressed out and strung out, and ready to give up. Over and over again she finds herself beaten and bloodied, drunk and high, friendless and hopeless. Yet somehow, each time, something or someone in the case convinces her to keep going and just when she thinks the loneliness will consume her, she is reminded that she has friends.

That one act of kindness, that one kind person are enough at least for now. She can keep searching for the truth, that she is strong enough to face another day.

 

“In my mind’s eye the rest of my life poured out ahead of me: black tar on an endless road, dark and alone. It would be a long series of empty moments that took me down an infinite highway to nowhere in particular. Happiness would always be around the next corner — but never here, never now, never on this road.” 171

 

 

Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran (2013)

Claire Dewitt Book #2

the bohemian highway

As much as I hated to see Sara Gran’s first novel Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead come to an end, I was consoled by the fact that my library had book two ready for me the next day. I dove right into The Bohemian Highway and finished it in just one day as well.

While in the first novel Claire was like a rocket-launched pinball, careening around New Orleans in search of clues, in The Bohemian Highway she is a much slower moving storm; churning and cycling, at times almost drowning in her own emotions.

In the opening chapters, Claire is called to the scene of a murder in her hometown of San Fransisco at the request of the police. The victim is her one-time boyfriend Paul, dead in the home he shares with his wife in an apparent robbery gone wrong. Usually so calm in the face of new cases, she is stunned at the depth of her shock and grief. Paul was a good man, a man who would have loved her if she had let him get close.

Immediately, Claire knows that this was not a random murder and she agrees to pursue her own investigation alongside the police.  Following multiple lines of inquiry — aided by Claude, her newly-introduced assistant — she dives into Paul’s life in search of clues… and she gets nowhere.

There are no insights, no whispers of the stolen goods, no witnesses, nothing substantial she can build her case on. The lack of movement unsettles Claire and to dull her anxiety and grief, she amps up her drug use, which pushes her further and further from where she needs to be.

Paul’s murder consumes her and in her hazy state his murder begins to conflate with other cases she struggled to — and in one case, never was able to — solve. Somehow, she catches break and begins to follow the clues to the murderer’s front door.

While not as breathlessly rollicking as the first, this novel seems to set the tone for who Claire Dewitt will develop into as a long-term character. Gran has begun to establish Claire’s daily life and to explore the person she is on her home turf.  While she is still an unpredictably antihero, in Bohemian there is more structure and pattern to her life (and I predict we’ve seen the introduction of more recurring characters.)

Claire Dewitt and The City of the Dead by Sara Gran (2011)

“[Detection] was a door to another world; a world where, even if we didn’t understand things, we were sure they could be understood. A world where people paid attention, where they listened, where they looked for clues. A world where mysteries could be solved. Or so we thought.” 46

city of the dead

Wow! This book is…dazzling. Complex. Almost psychedelic. Unusual to the point of magical. I didn’t just read it, I devoured it in a matter of hours and nearly cried with joy when I found out Claire DeWitt stars in two more books in the series. If you are a fan of mysteries, prepare to have your mind-blown.

Claire DeWitt is a globe-trotting private investigator who defines herself as “the best in the world.” She solves cases in her own idiosyncratic, unorthodox way, like a ancient seer: reading the signs, listening the wind, casting the runes. She’s impossible to describe and magnificent to behold. Her methods are part witchcraft, part shoe leather. Part bullshit, part dead fucking serious.  Her talisman is a 50-year-old guide to detecting that she consults constantly, and that she views as her spiritual text.

On the heels of a mental breakdown, Claire reads the signs that it is time to return to work and immediately receives a call from a man in New Orleans. He needs to find his uncle, missing since Hurricane Katrina; she agrees.

Set in catastrophically broken, post-apocalyptic post-Katrina New Orleans, Claire must follow the clues that lie hidden beneath the debris of the storm: sometimes literally, sometimes in the form of the rage and hopelessness that permeates the city now. Here, Claire arrives and knows immediately that this mystery will fight her, it will not want to give up its secrets, it will test her over and over again. She also knows the man hiring her thinks he wants the truth, but will not be ready for it when it comes.

“Some people had drowned right away and some people were drowning in slow motion, drowning a little bit at a time, and would be drowning for years.” 77

Among the rubble, the trash, the mud Claire searches for the answers. She must face down one murderous gang member after another. She must force people to give answers they are hiding, even from themselves. Familiar with the reluctance people feel to help her, given her unusual methods, she continues on. She finds clues in the most astonishing places — and sometimes she doesn’t even recognize them as clues — but they appear to chase her down, puzzle pieces almost begging her to put them into place.

Circling slowing, Claire finds the why of the man’s disappearance and, circling tighter and tighter, she works to uncover the who.

I cannot say enough good things about this book, it blew my mind. Be warned: it is boundary-breaking and complicated and unconventional in every way, but keep reading…it is absolutely worth it.