Review: Gunn’s Golden Rules

Gunn's Golden Rules, Tim GunnTim Gunn is best known for his work on Project Runway, where his “Make it work” anthem rings repeatedly in the ears of designers and viewers alike. It’s been Gunn’s mantra for at least a decade, so of course it had to be the title of his book.

Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making it Work is something of a modern manners book — with a dash of memoir and a heaping spoonful of gossipy stories. By following the rules he sets out, Gunn believes that anyone can make their own lives better.

This, I liked

I’m a sucker for good manners. I believe that the little things — holding open doors, saying “please” and “thank you,” and knowing your soup spoon from your teaspoon — are what separate us from lower life forms, and are the only things that can save humanity from total ruin.

Upon hearing the word “manners,” a lot of people roll their eyes or start freaking out about which side of the plate their napkin should go on. There’s a lot of outdated manners advice out there; people either try to follow some of it and lose their minds, or ignore it completely and behave rudely.

And that’s one of my favorite things about Gunn’s book. He distills all advice down to a single thought: “Manners are simply about asking yourself, What’s the right thing to do?”

This is glorious advice, because doing what’s right generally matches up nicely with having good manners. It’s someone’s birthday? The right (and nice) thing to do is send a card. See someone trying to dash through the rain? The right (and nice) thing is to offer to share your umbrella.

Gunn goes into much more detail, of course. He shares 18 rules, everything from “The world owes you nothing” to “Be a good guest or stay home” and “Take risks!”. I agree with all of them, and hope I can remember them going forward (hello there, “Use technology; don’t let it use you”!).

That, not so much

Gunn illustrates each of his rules by telling stories of the true, ridiculous things he has seen in show business and academia.

While I like that idea, I think his execution was flawed. Most of the stories feel less, “Here’s a valuable illustration of this rule” and more like, “Here’s this story that makes so-and-so look bad, and probably feel bad, too.” This is completely counter to the premise of the book: how to make life better for yourself and others.

I don’t think this was Gunn’s intention — he’s never outright mean or snarky — but for me it detracted from the book’s merits.

Same with the stories he tells about his mother (and to some extent, his father). He uses her behavior to illustrate how not to behave, and goes into detail many times about how frustrating and challenging their relationship is. Is airing your dirty laundry and clearly unresolved feelings about how you were raised “the right thing to do”? I’d say no, but that’s just me.

Take the good, leave the bad

There’s a reason I don’t read things authored by people who make any part of their living on reality television: it’s always feels just a little bit seedy.

I didn’t enjoy the alternatively gossipy and preachy feel, but overall I enjoyed Gunn’s Golden Rules. If nothing else, it was an excuse to read and talk about manners — something we can never have too much of.

(I read this book as part of the Monthly Motif Challenge. August’s challenge was to read a book from a genre that you don’t normally read from.)

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Review: Seven Deadlies

Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary Tale, Gigi Levangie14 year-old Perry Gonzales is what her teachers would call “precocious.” She’s the smartest student at the prestigious Mark Frost Academy, and is often called on to tutor students older than herself.

In a series of college admissions essays (yes, she’s only 14, but there’s no time like the present), Perry writes about seven of her clients, each of whom typify one of the “seven deadlies” (sloth, lust, etc.). She tries to help them save themselves, but in the end each is destroyed by their greatest flaw.

Well…huh

I spent the first few chapters of Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary Tale thinking, “This is kinda weird,” the middle few thinking, “Um…okay?” and then last couple like this:

via GIPHY

I’m not alone in this reaction — the reviews are overwhelmingly negative. I think author Gigi Levangie was going for social commentary, and did well in some spots, but the book never really came together.

Something about the book made me expect some kind of twist — Perry’s really just too unbelievable a character to be real. But the last couple chapters were over-the-top ridiculous, and I finished the book with a grateful sigh.

Seven Deadlies had some shining moments (Perry’s mother is amazing), but overall was a dud. Lamesauce.

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Writing Prompt #8: Oh So Lonely

Writing Prompt(This month’s writing prompt is Oh So Lonely: Write about what you do when you are alone — do you feel lonely or do you enjoy your own company?)

I’m a textbook introvert. Being alone is what helps me recharge after a long day or a big event (concert, party, meeting strangers, etc.). I enjoy being out and about, doing things with friends and family. But the only way I can have the energy to do those fun things is if I have time alone to build up that energy.

I’m an only child, and the daughter of an introverted reader. Growing up my friends were Laura Ingalls, Claudia Kincaid, and James Herriot. Books were the things I could turn to when I was tired of being bullied at school, or when I was sick of trying yet again to understand my math homework.

Even now, my favorite way to spend a day is with a book. It’s nice when my husband is nearby (usually playing computer games), and I can read him a particularly funny or poignant part.

I do get lonely sometimes — usually in a crowd. I have “high-functioning” anxiety, which means I’m “social enough to get invited to things, but so often find [myself] standing in a room where it feels like no one knows [me].”

I move to the edges of the room, look at what’s on the host’s bookshelves, smile at my husband (who’s having a good time) so he doesn’t notice my fear and have to make an excuse for us to leave early.

The last couple of years have brought a shift, however. I saw a therapist who encouraged me to come out of my shell. Slowly I started doing more things with people, and found myself enjoying being in a group more than any other time in my life.

The last year was terrible, and I spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts — not a great thing even in the best of circumstances. Getting out of my head and into the world saved me, and I don’t think I can ever go back to being quite as introverted as I once was.

Just don’t expect me to be thrilled by the idea of going clubbing.

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Review: Croak

Croak, Gina DamicoLex Bartleby is 16 and a complete nightmare. Her grades are in the toilet, she’s constantly fighting with classmates and her family, and she’s this close to getting expelled. So she’s mad, but not surprised, when her parents drop her on a bus to the middle of nowhere to stay with her Uncle Mort for the summer. He’s got a farm in upstate New York, and supposedly shoveling cow crap will magically change Lex’s bad attitude.

But it turns out that Mort isn’t a farmer so much as…well, a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to spend the summer showing Lex the ropes.

Being a reaper is tough, but Lex is actually really good at it. Her only problem is a frequent desire to find and punish murderers — a definite no-no.

On top of that, Lex and her reaper partner keep coming across unexplainable deaths. The only thing the victims have in common are milk-white eyes. People whisper about a reaper gone rogue.

Can Lex and the other reapers uncover the truth before it’s too late?

So cool

It’s been a long time since I last read such an original YA novel. Not only is the main premise — teenage girl becomes a Grim Reaper — different, the world building blocks are unique as well (Jellyfish. That’s all I’m saying.).

Lex is a fun character. She’s prickly and not a fan of authority, but she’s also curious and has a strong ethical barometer. She’s a strong person, and by the end of Croak it’s clear she’s going to be powerful when she grows up.

Which is good, because this book got real, fast: it starts with a lot of eye rolling during a meeting in the principal’s office, and within just a few chapters shows Lex reaping souls from badly burned plane crash victims.

It’s been a long time since I last read such an original YA novel.

I love that author Gina Damico let the characters dwell on the ethical dilemma of a vengeful reaper. They show up at the exact moment of death, pausing time and occasionally stepping around the person who pulled the trigger or wielded the knife. The reapers’ responsibility is to take the victim’s soul, not kill the criminal. But that’s what Lex wants to do, and she has trouble hating the idea of a reaper who would do so.

While the “Whodunit” isn’t exactly a surprise, the why and the how are. Big Stuff goes down in the last few chapters, setting us up nicely for the next book in the series (seriously, are there no standalone YA novels anymore?).

Croak was so much fun, and so interesting to read. Plus, death puns!

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Review: Friday’s Child

Friday's Child, Georgette HeyerViscount “Sherry” Sheringham is beyond furious. His considerable inheritance remains in the clutches of his greedy uncle until Sherry marries — and Miss Isabella Milborne has just refused his proposal. Sherry is determined to get his money, and vows to marry the first woman he meets on his return to London. This happens much sooner than he expects.

On the road just outside his mother’s home, Sherry sees Hero Wantage sitting on a low wall, looking miserable. The family that took her in as a child has not treated her well, and now plan to send her off to be a governess.

So the two strike a bargain: Hero will marry Sherry so he can get his inheritance, and Sherry will save Hero from having to become a governess. They agree not to meddle in each other’s lives or dalliances, and off to London they go.

Do I need to tell you what happens next?

Another Heyer classic

I love Georgette Heyer. Her characters are ridiculous and her stories are wonderful. Friday’s Child is no exception.

Sherry is a gambler and something of a rake; he sees marriage as a way out of his money troubles, not as a life-altering “time to settle down” experience.

Unfortunately, Hero’s naivete makes her a prime target for anyone looking for an easy mark. She’s constantly getting to scrapes, and Sherry always swoops in to avert scandal. The couple’s friends can see the two are falling in love — but they’re just not willing to admit it.

But when Hero finds herself in her worst scrape yet, she decides she must flee London and leave Sherry to court the woman Hero believes he loves.

Her escape, Sherry’s search, their awkward reunion, and all the misunderstandings in between combine to make Friday’s Child another example of Georgette Heyer at her finest. A whole lot of silliness, and just enough romance to make this gal happy indeed.

(I read this book as part of the Monthly Motif Challenge. July’s challenge was to read a book that is guaranteed to make me laugh out loud.)

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