What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love

What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love by Carole Radziwill; 2005

I’m a Real Housewives addict, and have been for years. Like an embarrassing amount of years. When Carole Radziwill joined the cast of the NYC wives a few years ago, she was a refreshingly level-headed voice of reason. Here was a woman who had a real career: a former award-winning ABC News producer turned writer. Carole also has ties to the Kennedy family. She was married to Anthony Radziwill, a prince (of Poland), and the cousin of John F. Kennedy Jr. John’s wife, Carolyn Bessette, was Carole’s best friend.

What Remains has been circled around in the housewives for a few years, which is where I first heard about the memoir. What Remains focuses on the summer in “year five” of Anthony’s fatal battle with cancer. That summer was intended to be spent at Martha’s  Vineyard with John and Carolyn, while Anthony was most certainly losing his battle with cancer. Within three weeks, Carole lost her husband and two best friends.

Carole met Anthony at ABC News, where they were both producers. Their romance was slow-burning, and Anthony ultimately proposed after he discovered he had a relapse with cancer. From there their lives revolved around cancer treatments, recovery, and relapse – rinse and repeat for five years. Anthony’s spirit during the majority of this time is admirable, if not heartbreaking in hindsight; he maintains a plucky, fighting spirit throughout most of his sickness, but often seemed to be in denial. John and Carolyn are beside Carole and Anthony throughout the cancer, and Carolyn is Carole’s main confidante.

“I had prepared for the approaching sorrow, but not, as it turned out, for the one that was nearest.” The week before July 16, 1999, John and Carole would talk late about night about Anthony’s impending funeral arrangements and the eulogy that John had already written for Anthony. Then, Carole received a phone call in the middle of the night: John and Carolyn had never arrived from their expected flight. A few days later, their plane is discovered in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Vineyard. In the very few weeks remaining in Anthony’s life, Carole and Anthony spend it mourning the loss of their best friends. Three weeks later, Anthony lost his battle to cancer.

A side note: what I really appreciated about this memoir – apart from its honesty – was that it was not about name-dropping. Carole occasionally refers to her ties to fame on the housewives, but its hardly the center of her story. Similarly, in What Remains, Carole writes a lot about how she, and even Carolyn, were removed rom the “inner circle” of Kennedys; Carole and Carolyn each had distinctly drawn roles of wives and in-laws, often outside of the immediate family. Often, Carole seems uncomfortable around her in-laws.

I’ll admit that I mostly read this because I was curious about Carole’s writing; I wasn’t blown away, but she is certainly a graceful, talented, and efficient writer. She is definitely admirable for all that she has gone through and achieved.

This memoir was, obviously, extremely sad all around and depressing. It was so jarring to read about Carolyn and John’s seemingly idyllic life and their aid to Anthony, when they were closer to death than he was. The sadness resonated with me even more when I considered that Carole has never remarried, and is still affected by the loss of her husband and friends. A recommended read for Carole Radziwill fans.

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Open

I had held off on reading this book for numerous reasons. The cover bothered me, I thought it would be boring, and I wasn’t all the familiar with Andre Agassi. Overtime I saw this book in the middle of my (rather daunting) to read pile, I asked myself why I even bothered to snatch it up at the book sale last year. Then I started to read it.

For a ninth grade dropout, Andre Agassi can write. I will admit that I was biased from the beginning because I love tennis. While I did find his descriptions of tennis matches amazing, I can see how some people wouldn’t. What I really loved about this book, however, was Agassi’s full commitment to being “open.” He tells the brutally honest story of growing up and hating tennis, his brief stint with drugs, and his failed marriage to Brooke Shields.

Perhaps most importantly in the book, and in Agassi’s life, is his charity work (besides his gorgeous family with current wife and tennis queen, Steffi Graf). Agassi built a charter school for underprivileged children in Nevada, his home state. For a lot of Agassi’s career, he couldn’t motivate himself. He writes about how he was disappointed to reach number 1 because it was never his goal, and that he did not know what his goal was. When he began to play for something bigger then himself, however, he found his stride. Once Agassi began fundraising, every game he played was for the kids who would one day attend his school. This was the motivation that had been missing from Agassi’s life previously.

Andre ends his autobiography with a word of encouragement to his children: “I hope it [Open] will be one of many books that give them comfort, guidance, pleasure. I was late in discovering the magic of books. Of all my many mistakes that I want my children to avoid, I put that one near the top of the list.”

I put this book near the top of my list of favorite books I read this summer/year. I would definitely recommend it to any tennis fans out there. I finished it just in time for Wimbledon! #win

Zoo

Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge; 2012

All I can really say about Zoo is LOL.

I was looking for something easy to read one night before bed, so I checked out Zoo from the library, figuring I could watch the show after reading it. Zoo is by James Patterson AKA probs really Michael Ledwidge.

In short: all over the world animal attacks are growing in frequency and brutality. Lions begin coordinating their attacks in Africa; household pets go missing; dog bites increase with alarming frequency. Enter Jackson Oz, a GENIUS who has dropped out of his fast-track PhD program because of his radical views on evolving animal behavior. As animal attacks increase with more cunning coordination and brutality, Oz must convince the world leaders that it is, in fact, REALLY HAPPENING. Sounds like a cool idea, right?

Most ridiculous parts:

  1. Oz is supposedly a “genius” yet it takes him many years to figure out the cause of the strange animal behavior, even though it ends up being something relatively straight forward (straight forward for a genius biologist that is). He also acts and thinks like a twelve-year-old (for example, when grizzly bears are attacking his car: “I assumed he wasn’t from AAA.” ha ha.) AND thinks nothing of keeping a chimpanzee in his apartment as a pet even when he is trying desperately to share his message with the world about changing animal behavior and is confidently waiting for animals to run rampant. K.
  2. The “science.” This book essentially consists entirely of half-formed ideas and explanations with little to no scientific backing. Here’s an example: “We’re calling the unfortunate new experiment Z-O-O…those letters stand for something, but f*** if I can remember what.” If you were wondering, they NEVER remember what those letters stand for. Before reading this I thought Congo was the most ridiculous book, but at least it had some convincing science behind the absurdity.
  3. The quantity and violence of animal deaths and the lack of remorse toward them. Ditto for human deaths.
  4. The end. This may be interpreted as a spoiler for some, but I feel that it is my duty as a reviewer to reveal that there isn’t a resolution to this book. There isn’t a resolution as in there isn’t a complete explanation or solution for dealing with all of these animals gone rogue. It ends SO abruptly that I am convinced Ledwidge/Patterson was just like ‘K I’m done here’ one day when he realized he couldn’t figure out how to tie up all of his loose ends.

Pros: I laughed a lot while reading this.

In other news, I started watching the show on Netflix and it already makes a million times more sense than the book.

Outlander

I was obsessed with this book. Let me just begin by saying that I am super glad I am single right now, or I would probably find my current boyfriend very lacking when placed next to the strapping hero of Outlander, Jamie Fraser.

Outlander begins with Claire, a World War II nurse who is on her second honeymoon in Scotland. Her and her husband, Frank, are trying to reconnect after years apart in the war. Claire, however, accidently steps through a standing stone and gets transported back into eighteen-century Scotland, where she meets the ruggedly good-looking James Fraser (played by Sam Heughan in the Starz adaptation **heart-eyes emoji**), who she is forced to marry for her own safety. Thus begins one of the most romantic storylines I have ever read.

SPOILER ALERT. In the end, Jamie is taken hostage by his British Rival, Jonathan Randell (great great great great grandfather to Claire’s first husband, Frank). Jamie is tortured at length, and I honestly had an upset stomach for the final 200 pages. I loved this book up until that point, and then it was just too much.

As depressingly honest as this is, I will not be continuing with this series for the sole reason that I am convinced that being obsessed with a love affair like Claire’s and Jamie’s is not good for my health. I would, however, highly recommend the first book in this series to all of my lady friends looking for a good romance to distract them from our modern day Tinder romances.

-A

It

It, by Stephen King; 1987

Beep, Beep Richie! IT has definitively proven to me that you have to pick up the right book at just the right time. I started this in October 2014 thinking that it would make a good Halloween read. I dragged myself through 250 pages; it wasn’t as scary as I had hoped it would be, and it was mostly just about eleven-year-olds hanging out in the woods. Every sixth months or so I would pick it up and read a little more, but I couldn’t get into it. Finally, about two weeks ago I decided to finish what I started, picking up at the 400 page mark and I was immediately hooked.

In a nutshell: It/Pennywise is an entity of evil, its origins unknown; it emerges every three decades to prey on children in Derry, Maine, and marks period of an uptake in violence in the town. It shapeshifts to assume the form that induces the most fear in its victim, and often takes the form of Pennywise the clown to lure children, which it prefers. It can also control people and use them to do its bidding. In October 1958, the period of violence begins with the murder of Georgie Denbrough. The following summer, seven friends meet, driven together by resident bully Henry Bowers and his cronies. They crown themselves the Losers; led by Bill Denbrough, Georgie’s older brother, they decide to try to defeat It and end the child murders. 27 years later, they are called back to Derry as adults to finish what they started, the summer of 1958 now less than a memory.

IT is about much more than just a killer clown, although yes, there is a terrifying killer clown. First and foremost, IT is about friendship, the magic of being a kid, and overcoming the darkness in life. The novel also focuses on King’s usual theme: the ugliness lurking beneath a small town, the evil decaying the town from the inside, out.

As with any Stephen King book, there are some pacing issues. I assure you that if you’re dedicated to reading IT then pushing through the slower sections is completely worth it. After the 400 page mark there’s a dramatic shift. It as a whole and It itself become a whole lot scarier. I admit that there were a few nights where reading this before bed impacted my sleep.

When I muscled through other long books this year – City on Fire, I’m looking at you – when I finished I was just like, thank goodness. But the payoff of reading IT was enormous. I’ve never doubted King’s storytelling prowess, but IT really substantiated his gifts. Not only was this his scariest that I’ve read, but it was the most well-written, too. I felt so accomplished when I finally finished this, and sad, too! I hadn’t even realized how attached I’d gotten to the Losers. The more days that have passed since I’ve finished this, the more it’s growing on me and the more I like it. For someone who hasn’t read IT, this will sound strange, but for those who have it will make sense: IT is endearing.  IT will stick with me for a long time. And it’s certainly a book I would want to revisit later in life.

Drive away and try to keep smiling. Get a little rock and roll on the radio and go toward all the life there is with all of the courage you can find and all the belief you can muster. Be true, be brave, stand. All the rest is darkness.

Will never look at the word “float” in the same way again! Or balloons. Or storm drains. Or bathroom sinks.

The Vacationers

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub; 2014

I picked up The Vacationers at a library sale a couple of months ago, a book that I feel like I’ve been seeing everywhere for a couple of years now. I have to say that it definitely didn’t live up to the hype for me.

FullSizeRender 2The Posts – Franny and Jim, their adult son, Bobby, and eighteen-year-old daughter Sylvia – jet off from Manhattan to Mallorca, Spain. Accompanying them is Franny’s best friend Charles, and Charles’s husband, Lawrence. Bobby’s much-older girlfriend Carmen also comes along for the two-week trip, which was organized to celebrate the Post’s 35th wedding anniversary. What ensues is mostly a lot of eating, predictable tensions and secrets among family members, an attractive young Spaniard, and many, many affairs. The Vacationers is about a dysfunctional family, but its characters and their dilemmas don’t stray far from cliche. I found the Post’s thoroughly unlikeable – only Charles and Lawrence offered up any hope for me in terms of caring about what happened at the end.

Pros: it’s a short, easy breezy read, and definitely one to read on the beach. I read it at the shore this weekend in a couple of days. Straub is also a terrific, graceful writer; I’m definitely curious to check out her new book Modern Lovers one of these days. Also, the descriptions of food in this book are mouth-wateringly good and will make you want to jet of to Mallorca tomorrow.

Verdict: to borrow for your beach bag.

-M

Devil in the White City

“That night the exposition illuminated the fairgrounds one last time. ‘Beneath the stars the lake lay dark and sombre,’ Stead wrote, ‘but on its shores gleamed and glowed in golden radiance the ivory city, beautiful as a poet’s dream, silent was a city of the dead'” (333).

In Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, men squabble for power and wealth in the end of the 19th century. Larson’s nonfiction is set in Chicago in 1893, the set of the World’s Fair. Larson tells the story of two blue-eyed men thirsty for power of a different kind. Daniel Burnham is the charismatic architect who envisioned and oversaw the creation of the World’s Fair. H.H. Holmes is the charismatic doctor who killed numerous women during the World’s Fair.

Both men wanted what most men in Chicago wanted at the time, notoriety and success. Ambition seemed to me the prevailing theme behind Devil in the White City. Ambition led Chicago to win the honor of hosting the World’s Fair, ambition led to H.H. Holmes marrying numerous women, and perhaps even killing them, and ambition led to the incredible success of the World’s Fair, including the creation of Ferris’s wheel.

While this book had some tedious sections about Frederick Law Olmsted (the landscape architect for the fair), the overall feel of this nonfiction thriller was one of heightened anticipation and horror. I couldn’t read the last 100 pages at night.

In the end, the character that intrigued me the most was Sol Bloom, a minor character who was in charge of the Midway at the World’s Fair. Bloom, who started life as a poor son of an immigrant, became famous for his success at the Fair. He was 23 years old. Bloom has one of the last quotes in Devil in the White City, and it is a great one.

“‘But one thing was quite clear…’ he wrote. ‘[B]eing broke didn’t disturb me in the least. I had started with nothing, and if I now found myself with nothing, I was at least even. Actually, I was much better than even: I had had a wonderful time'” (381). In a time when most of America was thirsty for fame, success, and money, Bloom’s opinion on a life well lived was refreshing. It doesn’t hurt that he ended his life as a successful politician who helped create the United Nations.

-A