I will never understand book packaging. I’m sure an art director can explain to me why there are so many book covers with headless women, close-ups of feet, unattractive fonts, or brooding men walking through a thick mist. One of the advantages of reading and reviewing advance copies is that sometimes all you have to go on is the title of the book and the first few pages. Some manuscripts don’t even come with a blurb! Because of this phenomenon, I often end up reading memoirs that I think will be one thing but turn out to be another. I’ll be on page 50 before I realize I’m reading a book from a Christian imprint or one about the challenges of infertility. Sort of akin to going to your favorite restaurant, finding out the menu has changed, and then against all odds, enjoying the new offerings more; even without the Chicken Cavatelli you love so much.
Cicirelli, Dave. Fakebook: A True Story. Based on Actual Lies. Sourcebooks. Sept. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781402284151. pap. $14.99. MEMOIR
On a clear October day, Cicirelli quits his art director job in New York City and starts walking with no`thing but a knapsack, a laptop, and his iPhone. His travels take him across the George Washington Bridge and up into Amish country. He hops a freight train out west to Arizona, briefly joins a cult, and somehow ends up on the other side of the Mexican border, passportless and alone. Except he doesn’t actually do any of this. Instead, using his Photoshop prowess honed during art school, Cicirelli embarks on a completely made-up life journey broadcast to hundreds of friends through his own status updates on the social networking site Facebook. But as his experiment progresses and more of his friends buy in to these stories, the lines between “real” Dave and “fake” Dave start to blur.
VERDICT This lighthearted account of Cicirelli’s six-month experiment in duping his Facebook friends is so unbelievable that readers will question how anyone could have bought in to his absurdities. Those who spend a little too much time on Facebook will find this an enjoyable read—if they can shut their browser down long enough to find the time to read it.
Rockefeller, Eileen. Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself. Blue Rider: Penguin. Sept. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780399164088. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101615621. MEMOIR
In this memoir, Rockefeller, the youngest daughter of David Rockefeller and great-granddaughter of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, shares her experience growing up in America’s version of the royal family. A member of the fourth generation of Rockefellers known collectively as “the cousins,” Rockefeller and her siblings were taught to blend in wherever possible. But however much she tried to camouflage herself, Rockefeller’s childhood still included regular trips to the family’s private island and a one-on-one poem recitation to Georgia O’Keeffe. Through the use of dance therapy, Rockefeller learned to deal with issues of self-consciousness she developed through the constant effort to assimilate with “regular people.”
VERDICT Readers who are looking for a juicy tell-all won’t find it here but the writer’s accounts of founding the Institute for the Advancement of Health and co-founding The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning provide important insight into the history of American philanthropy.
Heaney, Katie. Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date. Grand Central. Jan. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781455544677. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9781455544677. MEMOIR
At the age of 25, blogger Heaney (The Hairpin, The Awl) has never had a boyfriend but she has had a lot of cringe-inducing false starts. Starting with Cody the T-Ball Player and working all the way up to her first tepid online date, Heaney invites readers to pull up a chair, have a glass of wine, and revel in her awkward advances toward men. But although this book is packaged as a dating memoir, it’s really about the rich, complex female friendships she enjoys throughout college, graduate school, and young adulthood.
VERDICT Every twentysomething woman will relate to at least one of the disastrous attempts at courtship in this memoir. And then she’ll want to buy copies for all of her girlfriends so they can discuss it over a few glasses (bottles?) of wine at book club.
Janzen, Rhoda. Mennonite Meets Mr. Right: A Memoir of Faith, Hope, and Love. Grand Central. Oct. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781455502875. pap. $15. MEMOIR
Hope College English professor and memoirist Janzen (Mennonite in a Little Black Dress) has started dating the most unlikely character: a manly, truck-driving recovering alcoholic named Mitch who abandoned all of his vices after finding the Lord. When Janzen’s doctor tells her she has advanced-stage breast cancer, Mitch vows to stay by her side. So Janzen decides to check out Mitch’s Pentecostal church to see this place that reformed her boyfriend into the kindhearted hunk she knows and loves.
VERDICT Janzen’s characteristic humor and huge personality help her tackle some tough subjects: interfaith relationships, dealing with a serious illness, and caring for an aging parent while getting serious about the person you love.
Turnbull, Sarah. All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti: Life and Longing. Gotham: Penguin. Sept. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781592408689. $26. MEMOIR
When Australian writer Turnbull’s (Almost French) husband Frédéric comes home to their newly renovated Parisian apartment and announces that his law firm would like him to move to Tahiti, the couple can’t come up with a good reason not to move to the archipelago immortalized in the paintings of Gauguin and Matisse. They settle in Mo’orea, one of the 118 islands that make up French Polynesia. Turnbull adjusts to island life by swimming regularly in the lagoon behind their house and adding high-color accent pillows to their couch at the request of their Tahitian housekeeper, Nelly. All is not paradise for the couple as they navigate a new culture while struggling to conceive their first child. While dealing with IVF treatments, Turnbull quells complaints from locals weary of foreigners and puts a stop to mysterious nighttime “visites” from islanders stealing frivolous items like damp bikini bottoms.
VERDICT This glimmering account of what it is really like to live for a few years in an island paradise will have broad appeal but will resonate especially with armchair travelers who’d like to visit Tahiti—and with anyone who has undergone IVF treatments.