The Groom Will Keep His Name – Matt Ortile

I think Matt Ortile should meet Nicolas DiDomizio, author of Burn It All Down, or at least read his blog, and this interview I did with him. I’m saying this because I have a feeling he could learn from monsieur DiDomizio, especially in the relationships department, which is something this memoir does focus on, among other things.

Though I, of course, know little about being a Filipino gay adult male, I do know something about dating the wrong people and almost being attracted, at times, to things that wouldn’t work out or don’t seem to work or couldn’t work out. I also know what it’s like to get attached to someone who knows a lot about you, has listened to you open up about yourself—parts of yourself you’ve never shared with anyone before—and does not reject you for all that you are insecure about. It’s hard not to wish for a future with a person like that and it’s hard to let them go. Whatever your age, you can’t help but wonder, ‘‘Is anyone else going to ever care to know as much about me and accept me for who I am, good and bad?’’ I get you, Ortile.

It would be frivolous, and almost insulting, to not discuss the more political and cultural aspects of this book. Matt Ortile writes about struggling with some of his own Filipino customs, growing up among other Filipinos who bullied him for being different, and then coming to America and almost reinventing himself by trying to be the perfect immigrant student and simply not create tension of any kind. He pauses upon his university experience for quite a bit, as it has marked him profoundly and has made him realize some of his shortcomings, especially with regards to speaking out about what matters to him, regardless of whether he makes people uncomfortable or not.

Probably the best aspect of this book is its tone, which screams, ‘‘Here I am, this is who I am, I am imperfect and make mistakes, but I know that I must do better—choose better for myself and others—and while I am not there yet, I am on my way and this memoir is a testament of my promise to grow into the man that I know I can be and wish to be.’’ I think the journey will be long for Matt Ortile, but I don’t doubt that he’ll exact change within himself even further and perhaps beyond himself.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Little Miss Little Compton – Arden Myrin

This is a decent book to read when you have low energy, because Arden Myrin has enough for two. This is an unconventional celebrity memoir, in the sense that, from my experience as a celebrity memoir reader, these works typically focus quite a great deal on the parts that lead to their ascension to the ranks of star. Myrin did not spend many chapters discussing the topic, perhaps because she is not as well-known, but she did discuss her family and childhood quite a bit, as well as the many different appearances she’s made on TV.

This is the type of book whose chapters you can read in no chronological order. Sometimes Myrin repeats herself, so events or pieces of information come back—ensuring you remember or don’t miss anything—and besides, Myrin focuses more on comedic effect than personal reflection. I can tell she’s done some introspection, because of the way she discusses herself—how she’s had trouble seeing her own worth and picking the right guys since her own father was far from a role model—but she is not one to focus entire chapters to thinking and inward-looking. She writes about actions and dialog between people more than anything else.

This can be good, if you want something light and fast. It doesn’t feel edited, seeing that the author uses lots of exclamation marks, all caps, repetition and an overall super casual tone. In order words, it does not seem professional which, for a memoir, is surprising and once again, unconventional. At the same time, it was different and different can be good, especially when you feel a little unconventional and different yourself. I was reading this book before and a little during my participation to a four-day pageant event. Being more reserved and introverted, I felt quite out of place at times at the event, so having this book with me was a source of comfort. Away from home, comfort can be rare and invaluable but Myrin managed to provide me with that through her light humor and positivity.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Black Widow – Leslie Gray Streeter

I’m starting to really enjoy reading books—oftentimes memoirs—written by journalists or reporters or magazine contributors. That’s probably because, not only are they well-written, but also because I, myself, have started writing for my university’s main magazine and am loving the experience. The process is hard—a lot of editing and researching to be done—but it makes me feel like I’m actually learning to write better and, of course, has made me develop more respect and admiration for professional writers.

Leslie Gray Streeter is such a writer. She writes a column, à la Carrie Bradshaw, fun and quirky, but not really since she is not having sex until marriage. She’s had a couple of bad relationships, so in the love department there is usually little meaningful development. That is, until she reunites with Scott, a former classmate whom she marries and who eventually dies from a heart attack. This is more than a story about grief, though that is, quite certainly, a main aspect. It’s also a love story, as James Patterson so rightly states in his blurb of the book. It’s also about building a modern family and struggling to keep said family. Grit. Determination. Support. Not many older women would want their mothers around, but Leslie knows when she needs help and she’s learning to ask for it and accept it.

Though I have never lost a husband or someone who I had an intimate relationship with, I related tremendously with Leslie’s motherhood experience. Not because I have a kid myself—not yet—but because my father passed away when I was a baby, as is the case for Brooks, Scott and Leslie’s baby. I was very touched by how worried Leslie was about Brooks—how he might grow up feeling a certain way about not having a father—and how she tried to do her best being strong for the both of them. I don’t know how Brooks will feel when he will be old enough to understand what loneliness is and wonder about what his life would have been like if he had had a father to care for him, but I think that with a mother like Leslie he will be just fine.

Beautiful.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for a copy in exchange for a review.

Little Weirds – Jenny Slate

This book is weird. I’m sure you saw that coming a little—what with that title and all—but it’s good to repeat because it truly is Weird with a capital w. Not just because Jenny Slate’s writing is uncharacterizable. Something between poetry and prose, making me wonder if this was a memoir or collection of poetry. Or both? But also because of the highly sexual and tremendously unexpected imagery. The kind that makes you wonder if a human being wrote this or a half-human, half-giraffe with an addiction for chocolate poutine and a need to externalize every single one of their half-human, half-giraffe thoughts.

If your instinct tells you—shit, this review is getting really weird and I don’t think I have the stomach for it—please do exit on your left. But if you are intrigued, please proceed, continue, go ahead, have fun, enjoy your moments of imaginary bliss and disconnection from human life, in favour of papery disillusion and a not-drug-induced cheeseburger atmosphere.

You might, at some point, actually wonder what the hell I’m talking about. Who the hell is this Jenny Slate whose writing seems to have completely taken over my brain and destroyed my coherent cells and turned me into an ice cream cone collecting food from the sky. Well, you would be very right in wondering that, and certainly at times I did ask myself the same thing about Jenny Slate herself. But then my infected brain realized that to understand the incomprehensible, one must become incomprehensible in return and let our minds be attacked by the crazy.

In all seriousness, I seriously enjoyed this. It is an experiencefirst and foremost. BUT, and here’s the thing that surprised me the most, Jenny Slate had some actually meaningful and insightful things to say through the vacuum of weird thoughts. And the good thing is that, because they were so unexpected, most of them stood out like a naked Barbie doll on the cover of a book in a room full of horny teenagers (that did happen, everyone was staring, it was a real social experiment). Here is one such quote for you to admire and ponder:

I jumped out of their hands and into their mouths and I yelled EAT ME way before they even had a chance to get horny and notice me and lift me up. – page 41

You might reconsider your subscription to my blog after reading that. Really, that’s what she considers worth admiring and pondering? Okay, chill, I can’t write down the entire mind-shattering context, but really think about it before jumping off your horse. When I read that, I immediately thought of how hard I try in friendships. How desperate I am to have a meaningful connection that I don’t let anyone really miss me or want me, maybe because I’m scared that if I give them too much space, I’m also giving them too much opportunity to completely forget about me. But that’s something I’ll be discussing with my therapist.

Cheers.

(Oh, yes, and please read this book because I loved it.)

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for allowing me to experience Jenny Slate in exchange for what you probably wished was more comprehensible of a review, but I hope you will forgive me.

All the Colors Came Out – Kate Fagan

This book has the most beautiful cover I’ve seen this year. It’s more astounding in real life, so if you ever get the chance to get your hands on the hardcover copy, go for it. Having read Kate Fagan’s former book – What Made Maddy Run – I was very interested in this book, particularly because she discusses herself and her family, whereas her first book focuses on another family entirely and one particular tragic event.

Both are good, honestly, but very different. In All the Colors Came Out, Kate Fagan talks mainly about her father who was diagnosed with ALS a couple of years ago, and chronicles everything that happened after the diagnosis until the day he dies from the illness. She also reflects on many childhood memories and tells us what it was like to grow up with a father like hers and what lead to their distancing later in life.

Seeing Kate Fagan try to reconnect with her dying father was very beautiful. Spending time with her family and writing about it also made her understand her own mother and wife better. Her sister is not mentioned as much, but with reason since she is busy raising kids and does not live with her father anymore. Kate, on the other hand, decided to spend half the time with her father and half with her wife, so she can take care of him and make up for all the times she prioritized her career over her family.

Although this is a short nonfiction book, with less than two hundred pages, it is not the type of book you can easily read in an afternoon or one sitting. It may be short, but it is filled with experience, wisdom, regret, hope, love, understanding, lessons and sadness. Normally, a book this size would take me an entire day to read at most, but I’ve spent the last three days reading it little by little. There is no clear ‘‘storyline’’ per se, even if it’s divided in multiple parts. At times it feels random, like Kate wrote all that was on her mind out of order. At times the chapters also feel like blog posts, barely edited, just Kate and what’s cursing through her. Reflection after reflection. But one thing it always is is authentic. I wasn’t always very happy with Kate, because some of the things she says and does are selfish or childish and I expected better from a grown woman, but what softened me was seeing how well Kate tried to understand her own shortcomings and how she maybe didn’t deserve me being so hard on her.

I feel honoured to have had the chance to get to know Kate’s father and Kate herself better. Though I cannot compare this to anything I’ve read before, I think you’ll like Kate’s writing style and personality if you enjoyed Shrill by Lindy West.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

I Tried to Change So You Don’t Have To: True Life Lessons – Loni Love

I can’t believe this was published over a year ago and I only learned of its existence recently! That is such a tragedy. I love Loni Love. It’s very hard not to. I noticed her good heart while watching segments of The Real on YouTube and I absolutely knew I would love reading her words in this memoir. My good feeling about this book was validated immediately as I started the first chapter. While she may not reinvent the wheel—other authors have discussed facing challenges and growing up in a rough kind of environment—her spirit is felt all over the pages and it’s such a positive spirit to be surrounded by.   

Loni Love did not have it easy growing up. She’s had to take care of herself, and while this meant she missed out on being taken care of by a loved one, it did teach her responsibility and independence fairly well. But Loni knows to welcome people and their affections in her life nonetheless, and her good intentions are certainly recognized by the right people. She’s had close people take advantage of her goodness and willingness to give attention and affection, but she’s also learned from negative experiences.

She’s totally right: at any given moment, we have the choice between crying about our own misfortune over and over, or trusting that God (if you believe in Him) has a better plan for us and only asks us to have faith in ourselves and Him. I admit that that’s something I struggle with on an ongoing basis. Even if it’s for a minute, I tend to throw myself different self-pity parties that are at times hard to get out of because no one else is pulling me out and I have to, as I’m drunk to the core, notice my own need to take a breath of fresh air. The good thing is that Loni’s positivity is contagious and her belief that she can make something of herself (which she has!) so strong that it’s hard not to believe her ourselves.

The only downside to this memoir is that it is pretty damn short. At the beginning, she takes it slow, slowly discussing her upbringing and what led her to pursue a degree in engineering. Then, very fast it felt, we were thrown into the period of her life where she was on her way to success. It felt like there were parts missing, but I’m sure we’ll get those parts eventually as this will probably not be her last publication. On the very bright side, I rarely, rarely, if ever, highlight a physical book (because I like to keep them in pristine condition), but I absolutely had to highlight some sentences in this one that made me laugh super hard. Because of its length and the author’s fairly light tone (over the top at times, but hey that’s Loni and I love it), it’s the kind of book that you can breeze through in an afternoon. Again, I cannot believe I didn’t know about it sooner. Thankfully, it’s never too late to hear the words of wisdom of someone you love and respect.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Bamboozled By Jesus – Yvonne Orji

I feel like fate brought me to this book, which is oh-so-appropriate, considering this book’s premise and its many positive messages. I initially became interested in it because, for the past few months, I rekindled and further developed a relationship with God. I used to pray often when I was younger, and believe in God’s presence in my life, but somewhere along the way, I stopped believing and praying (unless I was alone at night and got really, really scared). My and God’s relationship is only at its beginnings though, so I thought that by reading this book, I would get to know Him and the author better. It’s only when I actually opened it that I realized that it was written by the actress who plays Molly’s character in the TV show Insecure, which is such an amazing series. Molly’s character spoke to me on so many levels that I knew before I even read the first page that I would really like this book.

I didn’t know, however, that it would become one of the best books I’ve read all year. From the get-go, Yvonne is candid, confident and a hella amazing writer. I am a little sorry to say that I’m surprised. It’s not that I assume all entertainers to be amateur writers or to use ghost-writers, but Yvonne not only uses vocabulary in a very appropriate way and shapes sentences that flow very well, she does that WHILE letting her personality shine through. Sometimes she’s more formal, other times a little more relaxed. Sometimes she shares professional stories, other times more casual or personal ones. She does all of this while being herself and speaking to us as though we are right in front of her and she already knows we are worthy of her time and wisdom. It started slow for me, as I haven’t read a Christian book in a long time, but by the end of it, I didn’t want to let it go. And maybe I don’t have to. I’ll definitely watch the author’s YouTube videos and pay closer attention to her presence on screen. Overall, I believe she did a really good job of connecting daily moments and Bible moments, so much so that I feel like buying a Bible today. I used to own one, and even started reading it, but I wasn’t so into reading it from start to finish. I think I will follow Yvonne’s advice and just read whichever parts speak to me in the moment, or open it at a random page and analyze whatever I stumble upon. All that to say that Yvonne Orji delivered here an absolute gem that I look forward to rereading in the future (this time with highlighters!)

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review!

Initiated: Memoir of a Witch – Amanda Yates García

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received: Hachette Book Group Canada
Published: 2019
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Recommended Age: 14+
Genres & Themes: Adult, Memoir, Nonfiction, Witches, Witchcraft, Feminism, Spirituality, myths, Mother-Daughter Relationship


REVIEW:

I don’t know why I thought this would be a *fun* read. I guess because I find witches, witchcraft and powers usually fun, especially when I stumble across them in my fantasy reads or the fantasy movies/TV shows I watch.

So I started this memoir expecting to be highly entertained and, I admit, I didn’t take it all that seriously. Of course, a part of me believes in the unexplainable, so while I had my prejudices about witches and magic, I was still open to be educated by the author. Continue reading

All Boys Aren’t Blue – George M. Johnson

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Received: Raincoast Books
Published: April 28th, 2020
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Recommended Age: 14+
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, Memoir, LGBTQIA+, Family, Identity, Sexuality, Assault, Grief


REVIEW:

I feel honoured to have had the chance to read about George M. Johnson’s positive and negative experiences growing up. I also feel humbled by the fact that the author trusted us with his secrets and wanted to make this book a safe space for other people out there who may struggle with the same issues he did or want to become more educated on them. Continue reading

Strong Looks Better Naked – Khloé Kardashian

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Strong Looks Better Naked by Khloé Kardashian

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Received: Library
Published: 2015
Publisher: Regan Arts
Recommended Age: 13+
Genres & Themes: Adult, Self Help, Health, Love, Memoir, Growing Up, Celebrity Life, Family


REVIEW:

Khloé is the Kardashian I relate to the most and am most excited about seeing appear on the screen. She is so relatable. She’s been through so much. I loved the way she opened up to us in this book. She shares her ups and downs, her journey to a healthier, stronger, more love-filled life. Continue reading