“Wildflower” by Drew Barrymore


asteriaiconThe first distinct memory I have of watching a movie was when I was around 4 or so. I was with my dad at one of his friends’ houses, and their kids were watching ET on TV. I remember really liking Gertie, probably because she was the only girl and not terribly far from my own age, and so began my interest in Drew Barrymore. I have watched quite a few of her movies over the years, and always enjoy her acting. I found her book available on Overdrive, so I decided to give it a listen.

The audio was read by the author, which I always like. It adds to the whole experience, and it almost feels like you are having a conversation with them. She seems so genuinely optimistic and friendly, and her quirkiness is so endearing. She feels like a best friend. Her voice is so melodic, and it always sounds like she has a smile on her face.

The book contains stories from her life, not in chronological order, but rather bouncing all over the place. While I do prefer chronological order, this feels more like sitting on an overstuffed couch and having a long afternoon talk with her over tea.

Barrymore has led a very interesting life, even by Hollywood standards. She began acting at a very young age, with her mother taking advantage of that, causing her to emancipate at the age of 14. She was not close with her father, so she ended up getting her own place, where she did not even know how to do laundry or cook or even wash dishes! She grew up fast, dropped out of school, and worked many jobs including at a coffee shop just to get by. She educated herself, which I give her huge props for, and became an avid reader, enjoying the works of Tolstoy, Harper Lee, Kurt Vonnegut, and Jane Austen.

Barrymore talks about getting the role of Gertie, filming ET, and working with Stephen Spielberg, who was like a father to her. She even met Princess Diana during the world promotion tour, and gave her a little ET stuffed doll. Barrymore discusses when she jumped on David Letterman’s desk topless, and how she now insists on modesty clauses and no sex scenes in all of her roles. She actively sought out Adam Sandler, feeling the need to work together on some compilation, and they have since been in 3 movies together, all of which I think are awesome! They really complete each other on screen, and are great friends off screen.

She is also very close with Cameron Diaz, having worked on a few movies together as well. Diaz is a godmother to Barrymore’s children, and they were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings.  They have gone on many adventures together, including camping, sky diving, and swimming with sharks.

Barrymore is very candid, and talks freely about postpartum depression, parenting, and how to make better choices than what she feels her parents made. She leads a more settled, simpler life now, learning how to balance life and work, and seeks to give the life she felt she missed out on to her kids. She also writes very lovely (and very personal) letters to each of her daughters, telling them how much she loves them.

Perhaps my favourite part of the book is when she discusses her love of nature and flowers, even calling her business “Flower”. She has a love of avocado trees, having one in her yard when she was younger, and she has since put a stipulation in her will that when she dies she wants to be buried under an avocado tree, preferably with a view of the ocean. I just love this idea!

I came away with a much bigger and better appreciation for such an incredible woman. She has lived an incredible life, trying to leave this world a little better than when she found it. She promotes body positivity and advocates for mental health issues, and travels to Africa to help build schools. She has never lived a dull moment in her life, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Barrymore!

“Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family” by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold


asteriaiconI remember being around 10 or so, and bringing home the beautiful Scholastic flyer of books for sale. Remember those? It was like Christmas! I loved those flyers! I would meticulously circle all of the books I wanted to read (which was A LOT). When it came time to send in my orders, along with my mom’s hard earned cash to pay for them, my mom had bought a couple of my choices as well as The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank. I was so upset; I wanted to read wild adventure books, not real life sad stories about a girl dying. The diary sat on my bookshelf until I eventually read the book in high school, but I really did not get the full impact of it until later on in life when I read it again my 20’s.

When looking for a new book to read on audio, I found this book, which is a different look at Anne Frank’s story. Miep Gies was the woman who, with the help of her husband, hid the Frank family during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. Gies was an employee of Otto Frank, and a very trusted friend. He entrusted his life, and the lives of his family, in her hands where she kept them hidden above the workshop for over 2 years. Gies did everything she could to keep them as comfortable as possible in such incredibly challenging times. She brought them food and supplies, and even small gifts. Gies herself was a Jewish woman, having been born in Vienna, Austria, and had traveled to Amsterdam to visit family. She loved life in the Netherlands, however, when the Nazi power began to take hold, her visa was revoked and she was to go back home. She ended up marrying a Dutch man, Jan Gies, and becoming a Dutch citizen, thus saving her life.

Gies was incredibly smart and cunning, finding ingenious ways to bring supplies to her friends. She made friends and allies throughout the city, some hiding Jews themselves, all doing their best to keep their secrets safe from the Nazi’s. She would carry only one shopping bag at a time, and visited multiple vendors to get what she needed, using stolen and illegal ration cards to obtain enough food for all of those hidden.

Gies was there in the building the day the Frank family were captured by the Gestapo. Someone had betrayed them, though it has never been revealed who. She herself could have been executed for her role in hiding the Frank’s, however one of the officers was from Vienna, and he decided to let her live. Once the Frank’s were gone, Gies went upstairs and found Anne’s diary and loose pages scattered across the floor. She picked them up and hid them in her desk, planning on giving them back to Anne when she returned after the war. Only Anne never returned. Anne died in Bergen Belsen in February or March of 1945, just shy of the camps liberation of April 15, 1945.

When Otto returned, once they knew Anne was not going to be coming home, Gies gave Otto the diary, and after much persuasion, she convinced him to publish the last written words of his youngest daughter. She felt the world needed to know it all, know what happened, know what life was like during the occupation, hoping to educate those who could never understand what they went through.

The book was so beautiful and so touching it brought tears to my eyes a number of times. It is just such an emotional and thought provoking read! I would highly highly highly recommend it to anyone, though I would suggest keeping a box of tissues nearby!

I remember after reading Anne’s diary, I was so thankful for the life we live in Canada. I may not have everything I want, but I definitely have everything I need, and know that what we take for granted here are things people are desperate for in other places of the world. Few live to experience such atrocities as those experienced in WWII. I am a firm believer in educating people about these events, for without education, without learning from them, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. It’s a harsh reminder of what human beings are capable of doing to each other, what happens when we let fear and hate rule over reason and acceptance.

Gies was a remarkable woman, doing what she felt was right; risking her life at a very dangerous time, doing something all too many were afraid to do. I only hope we never have to be put in her shoes, and heaven forbid we are that we can act in her image.  Her story speaks for all of those heroic people who helped save the lives of many Jews, for people who were not so lucky as Gies to escape execution. Perhaps now more than ever, her story is a poignant reminder to stand up for what is right, to stand against persecution and that the actions of one person really do make a huge impact. The world remembers Anne Frank and her family thanks to Miep Gies.

“Choose Your Own Autobiography” by Neil Patrick Harris


asteriaiconI love me some NPH! I have tried to read the physical book and found it a little difficult, I think mainly because you want to read the book page by page, and it really isn’t set up that way. I remember loving choose your own adventure books when I was younger, but I think I had a hard time with a biography set up like that. When I found the book available as an audiobook, ready by NPH himself, I couldn’t resist giving it another try. Having Harris read his own story made all the difference, and having it read in chronological order was far more comfortable. There really is nothing better than NPH calling himself NPH!

Throughout the book, Harris peppers in some magic tricks, card tricks and cocktail recipes. There are also little blurbs written by celebrities he has worked with and made friends with over the years, telling stories about how they met and funny antidotes.  It is interesting to hear about all of the different people he has worked with over the years, who have shaped his career and his personal life.

I have always liked Harris and remember him from his Doogie days. His autobiography though made me love him even more. He has lived quite a wonderful life. He is honest and candid, and discusses every aspect of his life, from growing up, to acting in his various roles, his hosting gigs, his drug use, and struggles with his sexuality. He has seen and done it all; he is really the triple threat! But it is his love for his husband and children where his emotion really shines through. He had me laughing out loud so many times throughout the book, but it was that family love that brought me to tears.

“The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo” by Amy Schumer


asteriaiconI had never heard of Amy Schumer until Trainwreck came out. I watched the movie, but felt it was just…meh. She can be funny, but a lot of her humour just isn’t my style. Still, I have read a few other female comedians’ books, so I thought I would give her book a try. She read her own audiobook, which I always appreciate, and I enjoyed her story in her own voice.

Amy Schumer has lived an interesting life. She came from a very affluent family who lost it all. She understands life as a rich girl, and as a poor girl. She understands hard work, having worked her ass off on the comedy circuit to become a famous actress and comedian. She surprisingly is an introvert, and values quiet in order to recharge. Schumer is very passionate and vocal about social issues such as gun control, rape and feminism. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she does not seem to have a very strong relationship with her mother. Her father however, battles multiple sclerosis, and this is perhaps where I connected to her the most. She does not give a shit what you think of her, and she strongly promotes self-love, calling out body shamers and Hollywood for telling her to weigh less than 140lbs.

Schumer is a very sexual being, and I sometimes valued it, and sometimes was kind of bored with it. She is very open about sex, her vagina, and about her sexual experiences both good and bad. I appreciated her honesty on rape and domestic abuse. I feel it needs to be discussed openly if it is ever to change, and I am glad we are finally starting to see culture openly discuss such things. But having said that, I didn’t care who she slept with or how big their dick was. I don’t want to come off as a prude; I think sex is a natural part of life and nothing to be ashamed of, however, I just feel some things I don’t need to know. I do not need to know your vag smells like a barn yard animal, or a famous hockey player’s dick is too big.

I love that she isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and promotes loving yourself and your body. She calls out beauty standards, and tells people to embrace their size. Yet, she can still be self-deprecating, which I find sad. It is hard to hear someone so outspoken call themselves a fat ass.

In general, I have a new appreciation for Amy Schumer than I had after Trainwreck. I may not find her brand of humour appealing, but I definitely appreciate her as a person. I love her honesty and openness, her ability to fight for what she believes in, and her stance on body confidence. I have noticed since reading her book that she has a new movie coming out pertaining to how one views themselves, and have seen her pictured at a March for Our Lives rally. I am looking forward to seeing what else she does in the future both on and off camera.

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed


asteriaiconThis is another book that I sold a ton of while working at the book store. However, it really didn’t capture my interest. I remember the author being interviewed by Oprah, which made me lose interest even more. Then Reese Witherspoon picked it up, and decided to make it into a movie, where it became a pop culture reference on the Gilmore Girls revival, and I started to question if I was missing something. I found the audiobook online available through the library, so I finally caved and downloaded it.

The book is the story, as the subtitle suggests, of how Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail at age 22. Strayed had decided to hike the trail to help find herself after her mother died and her marriage fell apart. I am so mixed about this book. The parts of the book where she discusses the actual hike were fascinating. The parts about her sexual conquests and how every man she met on the trail wanted to screw her, were not! I mean seriously, she is unbathed, her clothes all sweaty and dirty and smelly…who would want to even think about sex…yuck!

I found the recanting of her mother’s death heartbreaking, and I had to skip parts so I wouldn’t cry while listening to the book at work. I cannot think of life without my mother, she is my best friend, my rock, my anchor. I would be lost without her. I also skipped the part about a dying horse, I found it rather irrelevant, and didn’t enhance the story at all.

I didn’t really like Cheryl. She simply wasn’t an overly likeable person and I couldn’t relate to her. I could understand her making the rash decision to hike the trail after her mother’s death…I am quite sure I will do some crazy things too. But after that, nothing she did came close to something I could wrap my head around. Cheat on and eventually leave her husband? Nope. Date a drug addict and get addicted to heroin as well? Nope! Sleep with any man she encountered? Nope!

At least if you are going to choose to hike such a large and difficult trail, particularly as an inexperienced hiker, perhaps you should do some research? Maybe read a guide book? You have to actually read it though; you can’t just buy it and hope to learn by osmosis. And you should probably read it before you actually hit the trail…just a thought. Maybe put more time into carefully planning the whole thing, make sure enough money is in each supply box, maybe pack more clothing in the boxes, try to bring only necessities, plan a little more for safety. She was lucky to survive after some dangerous mistakes and miscalculations!

I have respect for her for taking on the journey and all that it entailed. It certainly is not something I have any desire to do! I just wish it could have been more of her finding herself and less of her sleeping with the various guys. I wish she could have learned from her mistakes along the way and came out a better person, a more mature person ready to take on the world after doing a badass hike! I know she mentioned at the end in the briefest of sentences how her life has evolved post PCT, but it was rather unmemorable after all that she had been through. I hope she has found happiness and peace after everything, and is a very strong, independent woman who appreciates all that she endured!

“Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America” by Les Standiford with Det. Sgt Joe Matthews


asteriaiconI grew up watching America’s Most Wanted. We often invited John Walsh into our home and hoped that none of these horrifying crimes every happened close to us. I had never known John’s drive was due to the personal loss of his own son until I stumbled onto this book when I worked at the bookstore. I immediately downloaded it when I noticed it was available as an audiobook through the library.

Adam Walsh was only 6 years old when he went missing from a Sears in 1981. Eventually, his head was found, and the Walsh’s had to give up hope of him returning home. His body was never found. There were a number of critical errors made by police, and it took 27 years before the truth finally came to light. It is a sad twist of irony that America’s Most Wanted helped catch hundreds of criminals, but couldn’t help solve the crime that mattered most to its host. Walsh, though, was able to help the United States transition into modern crime fighting, help develop a sex offender database, and I believe a missing children database to be used country-wide, and allowed police officers to track crimes outside of their area.

There was a potential suspect, who repeatedly admitted to kidnapping, sodomizing, killing, and decapitation Adam, and then would deny it completely. As a result, he was not fully investigated properly. Eventually, as science evolved and evidence was found, Ottis Toole was convicted of killing Adam Walsh, but unfortunately, it came after Toole’s death, though at least the Walsh’s got answers.

The writing of the book was aided by the detective who finally put the pieces together. While compelling, it does mean you need to keep some perspective as you read. The other detectives investigating are described through the eyes of Det. Sgt Joe Matthews, and therefore may not be 100% accurate, or they may be painted in a darker light than was actually true. Perhaps they were not as egotistical and inept as they were made to sound. Still, one does have to remember this was 35 years ago, and things were very different. The world knew of serial killers, but they were not so fearful of them, and they were not so sensationalized in the media and movies. Plus, this was a pretty high profile case, and I am sure the detectives were not equipped to handle such a difficult case. Not to mention that technology is so much more advanced today, they did not have the tools and techniques, or even the knowledge of crime scenes that we know and use today.

I cannot say that I enjoyed this book. I do not feel the subject of a kidnapped and mutilated body of a child to be something that one can call enjoyable. It is mind-blowing to hear about all of the mistakes made by detectives, but I do understand that it was a different time and we cannot measure them by today’s standards. I appreciate all of the hard work that went into this book, and I am happy at least that the Walsh’s can finally find some closure. Hopefully, one day, we will live in a world where such tragedies do not happen!

“How to be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran


asteriaiconI know Artemis reviewed this book a few years ago, and I remember her raving about it while we worked at the bookstore. I even picked it up at a garage sale, complete with her staff pick sticker on the cover. When I found it available as an audiobook through the library, I knew it was time to give it a go.

I loved this book and would recommend it to any females, particularly ones who believe themselves to be feminists. It is a very open and honest account of life as a woman, from pubic hair to periods, to strip clubs and porn, to motherhood and abortions. Moran tackles some very serious topics with wit and humour, and I had to fight hard to not laugh out loud a few times.

I found Moran’s honesty and candor to be empowering. She made me proud to be a woman and a feminist. As someone who has been adamant about not having children, she made me feel that my decision is okay. While I knew this was my choice, and I am happy about it, I have always heard that I will regret it and how selfish I am for making such a choice. I have had the arguments thrown at me that motherhood is my responsibility …after all that is what women are for, and how dare I take this opportunity away from my own mother to become a grandmother. Thank you Caitlin for giving me the power and courage to rightfully say “Fuck Off”! It was just a nice little reminder that my choice is as valid as the next, my experiences as real and worthy as the next, and at no point do I need to justify my choice to anyone!

I do not want to go into too much more, as I think Artemis did a great job of reviewing this book further below. But I do want to say that it was immensely enjoyable and damn worth the read! There were so many aspects of womanhood that I had never really considered. I know that sounds silly, but honestly, so much of life just seemed …there. I didn’t consider pubic hair or shaving my legs as anything other than normal. I didn’t think about the porn industry and what it has done to our sex lives. I never considered periods as anything other than a pain in the ass. I guess I never considered so many things through the lens of “life as a woman” so much as just merely life. It was definitely an eye opening book, and one that I will definitely reread again and again!

“On Fire: The 7 choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life” by John O’Leary


asteriaiconA friend of mine recommended this book to me. She had seen the author speak in person, and felt I would like it. John O’Leary was 9 years old when he suffered a terrible accident, receiving burns to 100% of his body. He was most certainly going to die, but fought hard to survive. He spent a grueling 5 months in hospital, receiving numerous skin grafts and having his fingers amputated due to infection. In spite of it all, he remained positive, and currently speaks to audiences all over North America about overcoming adversity to find what you were meant to do with your life.

The 7 choices he discusses in his book are:

1.       Denial v. Self-Acceptance

2.       Entitlement v. Owning it

3.       Indifference v. Purpose

4.       Victim v. Victor

5.       Stagnation v. Growth

6.       Success v. Significance

7.       Fear v. Love

The author goes in depth into each choice, and illustrates how he has done so throughout his journey. How you have to own your actions, rather than feel entitled to everything. How you have to find purpose in your life, rather than live idly day by day. How you have to be the victor of your own story, not go through life as a victim of your circumstance. One needs to grow from what they have learned, not sit miserably by and dwell on the past.

I really appreciated this book, and I am not one for self-help books. While the author is clearly spiritual and there is a religious undertone to the book, the message he was trying to convey still came through clearly. I believe much as O’Leary does; do not take your life for granted, be grateful for each day, learn from your mistakes, try to learn something new each day, and try to look at things in a positive light. My fiancé always tells me I am too positive, too nice, too forgiving, too ready to excuse people’s actions. I personally choose to look at the world in a more positive light, and believe in the good in people. If you want to see the good, you have to be the good kind of attitude. I am a believer that this is my life, I make no excuses, I own my mistakes. I am responsible for my own decisions and actions.  I am not a victim of circumstance, but rather a survivor, a fighter.

I have made tough choices, I have cut people out of my life who I felt didn’t have the same values or who made me feel like a lesser person. I have made new friends and surrounded myself with positive people who want to make a difference in the community. I may not believe in the power of prayer, but I do believe in the power of surrounding yourself with people who lift you up, help you through your rough patches, and show you how to stand on your feet. People who empower you, not belittle you. If it wasn’t for these kinds of people in my life, these lessons, this way of thinking, I wouldn’t have survived to adulthood. I wouldn’t live a comfortable, content life. I wouldn’t have been able to travel to Rome with my mom if I played victim and didn’t rise from my own personal challenges. I have a ways to go I think before I am living my life by O’Leary’s rules, but I feel I have made a very good start. I feel I am on the right path to a “radically inspired life”.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world” – Desmond Tutu

“My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor


asteriaiconI remember seeing this when I worked at the book store and thought it sounded interesting, but I just never got around to it. I had heard an NPR podcast with her as the speaker, and I really enjoyed it, so when I had found it as an audiobook read by the author, I jumped at the chance to finally read this.

Jill Bolte Taylor was a 37 year old, Harvard educated brain scientist who had a stroke in 1996. She was in a unique position to know and understand exactly what was happening to her. Where most people would think it would be terrifying, she found it cool and fascinating, and decided to write about her experience in a hope to educate others.

Taylor delves into the science and physiology of the brain, how it works, and what exactly happens during a stroke. She documented each step of that day, when she realized she was having a stroke, trying to call to get help, how she was treated as a patient, the rehabilitation with her mom’s assistance, and how she feels about the standard treatment for stroke patients.

I think I enjoyed the brain science and the play by play account of what happened during the stroke the most. It was fascinating to hear how the brain responded, how it affected the various functions of the brain and body from speech to memory and logic. It was hard to imagine how frustrating it must have been to have to constantly remind yourself what you are doing, and how many precious minutes it took to remind herself enough to call for help. I was surprised to hear her thought process on getting help, struggling to remember a friend’s phone number, or how she spent almost an hour retrieving her physician’s business card and calling for assistance, and at no point thinking to call 911. As someone who works in the medical profession, I also enjoyed hearing her talk about how she was treated as a patient, and how she stresses the importance of treating stroke victims as wounded, not dumb. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and need to be met at their level, with every attempt made in order to not hinder progress.

The final portion of the book was the hardest for me to really wrap my head around. Taylor talks about respecting her cells, thanking them for all that they do and telling them how much they are valued. She consults angel cards daily, and discusses promoting happiness and calmness in your life. She mentions prayer, and her belief in its abilities to help heal. While these are not methods I practice or believe in, ultimately it is her story, and whatever works for her is really all that is important.

Having her read the audiobook added to the whole experience for me, hearing her tell her story in her own voice. I cannot say I didn’t enjoy it, it isn’t something for me to enjoy or not really, I just struggled with it a bit more than I thought I would. It might not have been entirely what I was expecting it to be, but I still feel it is an important read. I appreciate all that she has done to promote education to stroke patients and their families, and discussing first-hand experience with the medical profession to allow better care for stroke patients in the future.

“If You Ask Me (and of Course You Won’t)” by Betty White


asteriaiconI LOVE me some Betty White: who doesn’t!? I grew up watching her on Golden Girls, and the countless other appearances she has made on television shows and commercials. I can’t imagine a world without Betty White!  The audiobook became available, and I burned through it in a morning one day. It is really quite a quick listen, and the Betts reads it herself.

I loved learning all of the things that make her awesome. She started on television when TV was just becoming a thing, and her first regular show she appeared on was Hollywood on Television, where she made $50 per week. But her real passion is animals, and as a child she wanted to become a forest ranger or a zoo keeper, something that just wasn’t done by women at that time, which is sad and frustrating. She was, however, made an honorary forest ranger by the United States Forest Service. Despite her many years in acting, she still has stage fright, something she never got over, and loves to write, preferring to write long hand over using a computer.  She likes puzzles and games, and keeps a stack of crosswords around at all times. She has rooms dedicated to stuffed animals, and even talks to them and introduces new ones to each other!

Betty talks a lot about being in Hollywood, what it is like being on award shows and how much she loathes the red carpet, what it was like being on shows such as Hot in Cleveland, Golden Girls, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the movie The Proposal.  She also discusses reasons why she may turn down roles, what it is like to receive letters from fans, what interviewing is like, and her appearance on Saturday Night Live. But the real magic to me was when she discussed her love of animals. You could hear that love in her voice, and it was just so genuine. She discussed meeting a horse named Butterscotch, a beluga whale named Beethoven, and the amazing gorilla Koko.

It was so nice to get a sneak peek behind the curtain that is the amazing Betty White. I think the only sad thing for me was that it didn’t have the humour in it that she is so well known for. Still, it was fun to get to know her a little bit more, and I can appreciate how far her career has gone, how hard she had to work as a woman in Hollywood. She really did pave the way for modern television, and women’s roles in Hollywood.