Category Archives: Books

Freddy & Fredericka: The Most Fun(est) Prince & Princess

Books - Chicago

I’m supposed to be studying for the FSOT. The Foreign Service Office Exam. The reading list is not a joke. To procrastinate and distract myself (I know) I have been trying to read other things between heavy books on conflict resolution and Middle Eastern history.


This particular book, I finished a few weeks ago. Freddy and Fredericka, by Mark Helprin. After reading Winter’s Tale this was a humorous change. As with his other works, it was incredibly smart. Usually when you’re in public reading a book– on the bus or at a restaurant bar, or waiting for your abs class to start– you read a funny passage in a book a chuckle to yourself, very quietly, or even silently in your head. Not so with this book. I laughed out loud at the gym, on the bus, and at work while eating my lunch. I couldn’t not laugh. Sometimes I actually cried I was laughing so hard.

Freddy and Frederica are the Prince and Princess of Wales. They are every vapid, silly and spoiled stereotype. We can already trust that Helprin writes an intelligent, witty and incredibly insightful story. Freddy and Fredericka are set to inherit the throne of England, but one thing stands in the way. Freddy must first pass a test; Craig Vyvan, the falcon, must lift off into the sky from Freddy’s outstretched arm. He has five chances to do this, but so far Craig Vyvan has not chosen to fly anywhere. Needless to say the kind and queen are quite worried and call on an ancient celtic magician (Merlin?) who nowadays works in a dildo factory in Naples, to teach Freddy and Fredericka all the lessons they need to learn before becoming Kind and Queen.

The task they are given, as Brits, is to reconquer the Colonies, those insolent ungrateful revolutionaries, and they are supposed to do it with no money, and initially, not even any clothes. By the end of the story Freddy and Fredericka have traveled from New Jersey through the Deep South, North to Chicago, and West to the Rocky Mountains. If they don’t conquer America in the traditional sense they do in a much more important and almost magical sense. They understand during their travels, while working menial jobs and finding joy in earning your own way that there is true happiness and contentment in finding out who you are truly. Instead of being trite, Helprin succeeds in writing a spectacular story about the American Dream and how it’s there for anyone who is willing to look inside themselves to achieve it.

H.H. Holmes: The Hare Reads

Books - Chicago

DWCityYes, I know, as soon as the movie is announced the book gets immensely popular. Devil in the White City was originally recommended to me by my mom, we share a love of murder mysteries and we both burned through Patricia Cornwell’s Dr. Scarpetta series faster than was strictly necessary.

Devil in the White City is doubly interesting to me because it’s not just a murder mystery. Erik Larson gives us intelligent historical context that is easy to read through. Those of us living in today’s Chicago will marvel at the Chicago of the 1890s during the World’s Fair. Readers will recognize areas of Chicago that were brand new and home to the rich– industrialists, bankers and business men as well as the very poor.

Daniel H. Burnham brought Chicago, and the world, an exposition that surpassed everyone’s expectations. There were exhibitions from the furthest corners of the globe as well as new inventions (Ferris’s Wheel). He built entire cities from the ground up and extensive gardens from nothing. All this to delight thousands and satisfy his competitive streak– this Fair was going to be better than the one in Paris if it was the last thing he did.

H.H. Holmes was busy dazzling his audience too. There’s still speculation as to how many people Holmes actually killed. Holmes himself confessed to 30 murders, but the number of bodies may actually be much higher. There were so many that police had no way of matching them up or putting them back together. Holmes, while being the first serial killer (in the modern sense of the word) was also a world class con-man. He was originally caught for insurance fraud, the rest of his crimes came to light only later. He used his charm on women and men alike and did a booming business in his “Murder Castle” during the World’s Fair.

Burnham’s and Holme’s stories unfold simultaneously and sometimes overlap creating a suspenseful and truly scary story.

Whether you read this book for a gripping history lesson and a unique insight into 1890s Chicago, or you just want to read it before seeing Leonardo DiCaprio take the role in the movie, I highly recommend this novel. You won’t be able to put it down until it’s done.

10 Books Every #GirlBoss Should Read

photo by Michele Barp

photo by Michele Barp

By now you’ve realized I love to read. Today I’m sharing a reading list I think you’ll enjoy. Take these camping, to the beach, on a road trip or as a companion for those long hours by the pool that we are all looking forward to so much. Get reading girlboss, and make the most of your spiritual, professional and family life. #likeagirl!

  • I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai This choice should not be a surprise. Written by Malala herself, she gives us countless things to look up to, and her courage cannot be matched. In this day and age we fight for a lot. The right to go to school, for the right amount of maternity leave, to be paid equally, to be treated equally…Malala is an inspiration and an example to follow.
  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg  I liked Sheryl’s book, though at times it seemed like she was giving advice from a position of privilege and a life of relative ease in the scheme of things, she has excellent insight into what it means to be a professional woman today, and what it means to navigate the seemingly outdated ways that men treated woman, or even how women treated each other. While there are certainly ways that men can change the way they think, we need to change the way we think too. What we are worth, what we can ask for, what we can say, and when we can say it. Sheryl has invaluable advice for anyone who wants a successful career, to raise a family or some version in between.
  • #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso This is the book that coined a new term, a term that we use all the time to inspire us and challenge us. Another successful woman, Sophia takes us on the path to her success, from dumpster diving and less-than-fulfilling jobs to what she is today. All past experiences shape who we are, and Sophia’s book seems to be written especially for those who think they are on the outside looking in when it comes to ‘corporate America’. Well you’re not alone, and Ms. Amoruso has some priceless knowledge to drop on you.
  • Bossy Pants by Tiny Fey Tina Fey’s memoir is funny, insightful and important. Like Amy Poehler and like Lena Dunham (and countless other woman who are not on this list) Tina has risen through the ranks of an industry (media/entertainment) that is male dominated, as well as become successful in comedy, which is also very male-centric. He point of view is an important one and she tells her story with her familiar brand of wit, humor and intelligence.
  • Yes, Please by Amy Poehler Another memoir, and another important experience to add to those mentioned in this blog. Amy’s memoir is full of lists, poetry and stories making it as entertaining to read as she is to watch on the big screen.
  • Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham This book sparked some controversy when it was published, but I still think it deserves a place on this list. Whatever you believe about Lena herself, the book an interesting look into the life of a young successful actress. There’s still a dichotomy, today, in women’s roles, and how women are treated in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera. There’s also still a difference in how they are paid. I like Lena’s perspective because she’s young and has come a long way, but still has so far to go in terms of her life and her career.
  • How to Build a Girl Caitlin Moran This book is different from the others on this list because it’s fiction, but it offers a refreshing and intelligent perspective nonetheless. All about self-invention and re-invention, Caitlin Moran tells the story of Johanna Morrigan who re-invents herself only to realize what she’s become may not be enough. This novel explores many important questions and gives great insight into what becoming a woman might really require from a young girl.
  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay This is a collection of essays. I put this in the list because it offers something different from memoir, autobiography, self-help and even fiction. Roxane Gay’s insights are sharp and very intelligent and she takes a close look at what it means to be a woman today by examining our culture and the state of feminism today. Roxane uses her own life, her own ‘evolution as a woman’ and gets us to examine ours in the process.
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened Another memoir for the list, this one by a blogger. The Bloggess, no less. Also very funny and also a meaningful exploration of what being a woman means today, this is great book. It’s light and it represents what makes us truly who we are– all the ‘dark’ stuff that we want to keep hidden is the stuff that we should use to make us better people.
  • How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran Another book by the same author as How to Build a Girl, Moran’s funny memoir is another point of view, from another smart woman. I laughed out loud several times while reading this, you can’t help it. I love Moran’s take on everything from getting her first period, to boys, to family life in England, and everything in between. Fun to say the least, and a poignant important look at our gender at the most. A great book.

On the Bookshelf: The Homesman

Books - Women - Women's Issues
The Homesman, photo by James Terrell

The Homesman, photo by James Terrell, Flickr

I like reading books before the movie comes out, and when I found out that Hilary Swank would be playing the heroine in a movie adaptaion of Glendon Swarthout’s novel The Homesman I went right to the library to pick it up. It was a small book and it read very much like The Red Pony. Short, intense, and full of emotion. I read the book quickly in one sitting. Glendon’s writing is like Steinbeck’s or Hemingway’s. He is in the same category as Sam Shephard (playwright) and even Clint Eastwood (actor, director).

There is no mercy as you read this book, it plows ahead just as if you were living in 1854, and your survival was dependent upon how strong you were, how kind your neighbors were, and how long you and your crops could survive the fierce weather.

The Homesman is a story of pioneer life, and how harsh it was for those setting out to stake their claim west of the Mississippi. Whether it was the Native Americans resentful of being pushed off their land, the harsh weather, illness and little or no access to the normal comforts of civilized life, to say that the life of a settler traveling west was difficult is an understatement.

In this novel Mary Bee Cuddy (played by Hilary Swank) rescues a claims-jumper, George Briggs (played by Tommy-Lee Jones), and takes him on a treacherous journey across the US to deliver three woman, who have been driven insane by life on the frontier, back to their previous homes where they can be cared for.

This story appealed to me because it is about an independent woman, who survives on her own in a harsh environment. She is able to take care of herself and prosper. There’s a dark side to this story and that is Mary Bee was actually quite lonely. Even though she was independent and smart and musically talented, she was still lonely, she still wanted a companion, someone to share her life with. While she wasn’t the most beautiful, she was a capable companion, someone strong and able to survive. But getting rejected twice is too much for Mary Bee and she is tested to her limit, just as the other women of the frontier are. Her rejection is ironic, as the very things that would make her a great partner in the American frontier are the things that the men are most intimidated and repulsed by. They want a sweet, pretty wife, and that’s what they get. But these women can’t always stand up to life on the frontier. They aren’t strong enough.

Perhaps we all have that one thing that will put us over the edge. That one tragedy, or string of tragedies that is just too much. The three women that Mary is responsible for are pushed past their limits by sickness, death, extreme hunger, natural disaster, and mental illness. Mary and George Briggs (whom she finds hanging from a tree, in penance for stealing someone’s land) traverse Nebraska to bring these three woman back to Iowa, and then back to their homes. The journey tests both Mary and George in a very short amount of time, and it might be more than either of them can handle.

On the Bookshelf: AHS Inspired Booklist


American Horror Story ends next week but if you’re like me you wish it could go on and on. Lucky for you I found these great books to keep you busy until the next season starts– and it will Oct 2015!


The Night Circus

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Cirque du Reve opens only at night,  and lasts only until dawn. What you see within its walls is more than just magic. Blending history seamlessly with fantasy Erin Morgenstern tells the story of two young magicians set up in a deadly magical rivalry. Celia and Marco work tirelessly to please their mentors in order to come out on top in a contest where there can only be one winner. What their puppet masters don’t expect is that Celia and Marco will fall in love. What Celia and Marco don’t expect is how much that love will really cost.



Miss Peregrine

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This book was inspired by a collection of black and white photographs found by the author which depict real people in same situations that the characters of American Horror Story find themselves in– born with some deformity or with a special ability that made them stand out from the rest. The novel follows a young boy who discovers Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, their talents, and who comes into his own as a young man in the process. The photographs which inspired the novel are real, and done before it was possible to do much more than rough dodging and burning and certainly before Photoshop was invented. **They are included in the book and set the mood really nicely for the whole story.

image via

image via

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

If you want a book as startling and hard hitting as the TV show itself, read this novel. Alice Hoffman is a formidable writer. Coralie Sardie is extraordinary. She can swim further and faster than anyone else, breathing under water for long periods of time. She lives in her father’s museum where he keeps other extraordinary beings. Set at the turn of the century in New York City against the backdrop of rising labor unions, new scientific discoveries, the burgeoning middle class and the newly constructed Coney Island, Coralie makes an incredible journey searching, and finding the true meaning of her existence.