FINALLY! A Book Worth Writing About

A year has passed since I wrote my last book review. In that time, I have read dozens and dozens of books, but nary a one has motivated me to write a review.

Don’t get me wrong; some have been really good. Less by Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer, deservedly. But with all that hype, nothing I could have written in a review would have made you read it if you hadn’t already. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is delightfully quirky . . . so long as you’re into that particular brand of Japanese fiction in translation. You know, like Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. Oh, you don’t know? Yeah, that’s why I didn’t write the review. And You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld is a delightful collection of short stories. But nine out of ten people don’t like reading short stories, and ten out of ten don’t like reading my reviews of short stories.

And let’s be real: nobody cares about all the slightly better-than-average books I read (least of all me). I’m looking at you, Scythe by Neal Shusterman (a fun, dark utopian concept that is utterly ruined by its garbage follow-up, Thunderhead), the much-beloved A Gentleman in Moscow (which doesn’t hold a candle to Towles’ incredible debut, Rules of Civility), An American Marriage (well-written, thought-provoking, and worth reading for its timeliness, but just real damn depressing), and All the Answers (a “graphic memoir” about the Quiz Kid, which I sped through in the hour after I brought it home from the library, but which wouldn’t appeal to a wide audience because of its format).

Worse yet are the books that should’ve been good and just weren’t. This is where I waggle my finger at Turtles All the Way Down, Everything I Never Told You, Underground Airlines, and Us Against YouAnd the brain candy books (of which there is an embarrassing number, including To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Caraval, The Impossible Fortress, The Elizas) didn’t warrant the brain power necessary to crank out a review.

Sooooo, I bided my time.

And then I happened upon this little gem. In the first five pages, I heard the angels sing. This, I knew, was something special. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t peak at page sixty-five and begin a rapid descent to garbagetown as so many books do. And, glory of glories, it didn’t. Continue reading

Advertisements

Picture Books for Everyone!

Christmas is exactly one week away. If you don’t have all your Christmas shopping done, fret not! There are always books! If you need some books for tots, here are a few good last-minute options (or check out my other kids’ book lists here). In need of teen or adult book gift suggestions? Contact me or comment below with the details (age or relationship, interests, etc.), and I’ll do my best to give you some suggestions!

download.jpgOver the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure
by Linda Ashman
illustrated by Kim Smith

As a biracial kid myself, I love to see mixed-race families in picture books (in case you hadn’t noticed, it doesn’t happen very often). This book, about a family converging on Grandma and Grandpa’s house (via plane, train, car, boat . . . and even hot air balloon!) for the purposely-non-specific “holidays,” features two mixed-race couples, some biracial kids, two Asian kids (another thing you don’t see in picture books too frequently) with white parents, and a gay couple. But it’s not done in a “Look at us! We’re so multi-cultural and proud!” kind of way. They are all just one big, beautiful, diverse family. [Insert all the heart emojis in every color of the rainbow here!]

Oh, and bonus: my daughter loves this book because it has fun, cartoon-y illustrations, it rhymes, and it features a horse that swoops in and saves the day again and again with a “NEEEIIIIGGGHHHHH!” Continue reading

The Return of the Full-Length Review: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I went to a very small (as in, the entire undergraduate student body was smaller than my high school’s senior class) liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon. I had grown up in Virginia, so my school shouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar. But when I told people where I was going, the response was always, “Wait. That sounds familiar. Why does that sound familiar?”

Why, indeed? Well . . . this was roughly two years after the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal broke. And I was going to Lewis and Clark College, Lewinsky’s alma mater. In those days, Lewinsky was such a household name that even her teeny college became familiar to the masses.

Fast forward twenty years, and Monica Lewinsky is still a household name, forever associated with cigars and a stained Gap dress. Google her, and you’ll find a TIME “article” entitled “Top 10 Mistresses.” Do a search for “slut-shaming,” and one of the top hits will be a blog post entitled “The Truth about Slut-Shaming” with a picture of Lewinsky as its hero image.

Last year, Jon Ronson (author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed) wrote an article about Lewinsky in The Guardian in which she is quoted as saying, “The shame sticks to you like tar.” But, thankfully, the article contains a glimmer of hope: “Lewinsky was once among the 20th century’s most humiliated people, ridiculed across the world. Now she’s a respected and perceptive anti-bullying advocate. She gives talks at Facebook, and at business conferences, on how to make the internet more compassionate.” 

Unknown.jpegYoung Jane Young
Gabrielle Zevin
304 pages
Published August 22, 2017

Rating: 4/5

Young Jane Young is about Aviva Grossman, a fictional Monica Lewinsky. As a college-student intern, she has an affair with her boss (an attractive, married Congressman with two kids). Oh, and she naively decides to document their lurid affair in an “anonymous”–and very explicit–blog. Continue reading

Mini-Reviews Are the Best I Can Offer

My kids book to adult book ratio is still standing strong at about 100:1. I have tried to be more discerning with my adult books (I am much quicker to abandon a book that doesn’t catch my interest–like, most recently, Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints and Nancy Pearl’s George & Lizzie). Nevertheless, sadly, I haven’t read a great book since Goodbye, Vitamin (if you missed that review, you can read it here).

But I have read some decent ones. Unfortunately, I can’t be bothered to write full-fledged reviews of books that aren’t great, so mini-reviews are the best I can offer . . . but you’ll get the gist, I assure you. Here are the books I’ve read in the past month or so, presented in order from best to worst:

download-2.jpgLittle Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng
352 pages
Published September 12, 2017

Rating: 3.5/5

What it’s about: The book opens with the Richardsons’ family home (in the progressive, but very Stepford Wives-y, community of Shaker Heights, Ohio) on fire. Three of the Richardson kids (there are four, all in high school, spaced one year apart) watch, perched on a car across the street. The fourth—and suspected culprit—Isabelle, is nowhere to be seen. “The firemen said there were little fires everywhere,” Lexie, the eldest, tells her brothers. “Multiple points of origin. Possible use of accelerant. Not an accident.” Oh, Izzy, what have you done? Continue reading

These Are the Books You Should Read (According to My Two-Year-Old)

My daughter turned two last month. She is obsessed with puzzles, farm animals, coloring, the aquarium, Moana, stuffed pals, and, of course, books.

Like most toddlers, she has strong opinions. If polled, she will gladly tell you if a book is a “good book” or if it is “not so good.” These are the books that currently reside at the top of the “good book” list:

download.jpgPocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire
Written by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville
Illustrated by Brigette Barrager

Ok, I’m gonna tell this to you straight: if you choose to get just one book on this list, this is the one to get. It’s a biography (yep, non-fiction) of Mary Blair, the artist responsible for designing the Disney ride “It’s a Small World.” (You can find out more about her and see samples of her art here.) 

My daughter LOVES this book, and so do I. Mary Blair was a creative, successful, badass woman. She knew her value and didn’t let stodgy dudes stifle her artistic vision. The book celebrates these qualities.

And, as an added bonus, it is replete with color vocabulary. Thanks to this brilliantly colorful tome, my kid can identify cerulean, sienna, celadon, and cerise. Huzzah! Continue reading

OMG, Y’all, I Read a Good Book!

I’ve been reminded by several people in the past week or so that it’s been “a while” since I’ve written a blog post. At this point, I think most people just assume I’ve abandoned the blog for good. Wait four months between blog posts? NBD. Slip to five months? I’m clearly hanging it up.

Here’s the thing: if given the opportunity to write a blog post about a mediocre book or read another mediocre book, I’m just gonna read another mediocre book. Priorities. But guess what? I actually read a decent book this week! And that, I figure, is worthy of blog resurrection.

51+SgqT67tL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Goodbye, Vitamin
Rachel Khong
196 pages (hardcover)
July 11, 2017

Why I read it: It was an Amazon Best Book of the Month and an Indie Next List pick for July 2017 . . . and it was written by the executive editor of one of my favorite hipster magazines: the now defunct Lucky Peach. Continue reading

Fluff, You’re Looking Mighty Fine These Days

I have extolled the virtues of fluff on numerous occasions. Now, more than ever, fluff is my literary drug of choice. I hate to admit this, but I just don’t have the time or the brain power to handle true literature (pronounced like this, of course).

In the past couple months, I have checked out the following books from the library . . . and returned them all unfinished:

imgres-1 Swing Time by Zadie Smith (I really gave this one its due, too. I read about 250 pages before giving up. I wanted to like it, but it just dragged on and on and didn’t get anywhere. The characters were unconvincing, shallowly drawn, a bit stereotypical, and not very likable. Sad.)

imgresMoonglow by Michael Chabon (On the other hand, I did not give this one a fair shake. I read maybe 50 pages before I had to return it to the library. It started out fine, but it obviously didn’t grip me. I mean, 50 pages in three weeks? Sad, sad.)

imgres-4Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (OK, this one I really don’t understand. It’s a National Book Award winner, and people whose opinions on books I respect have raved about it. But I wasn’t a fan. It started pretty strong with some striking—albeit gruesome—imagery . . . but then it faltered. Once they hit Baltimore, things came to a screeching halt. I was too bored to read any more. Oh, and the underground railroad as a real-deal train? I just found that a bit too trite. Sad, sad, sad.)

I used to be one of those people who COULD NOT abandon a book midway. I was compelled to finish even the worst novels. But now? Nope, nope, nope. I ain’t got time for that. Unless you’re the best book I’ve read in ages (see, e.g., Homegoing) or super easy/super fun/super fluffy stuff, chances are, I’m not going to read you right now. I only have so much free time, and I’m trying to make my way through Gilmore Girls, thank you very much.

Despite this new view on reading (and my radio silence on the blog), I have been reading. And here’s proof: Continue reading