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

When You Can’t Go to a Restaurant, You Have to Settle for Reading about One (or Two)

My daughter was diagnosed as milk- and soy-protein intolerant when she was about three months old. She was exclusively breastfed, which meant I had to cut all dairy and soy from my diet cold turkey. This meant, of course, giving up my very favorite food: ice cream (yes, I am a child). Despite the massive amounts of dairy I consumed (cheese, yogurt, and ice cream every day), it was surprisingly easy to give it all up.

On the flip side, there was one thing that was very, VERY hard: bidding adieu to eating out. When we first found out, we still tried to go to restaurants. But, even when we called ahead to warn them of our allergies, I always ended up inadvertently consuming something (there are tell-tale diaper signs, the details of which I will spare you). We realized that the only way to ensure she wasn’t getting anything bad was to cook all of our meals at home. Let me tell you: when you have an infant, cooking every single meal at home is not ideal.

We’re still powering through. Our repertoire of dairy-free meals has grown exponentially, and we have become slow-cooker champions. There are still days when my husband and I look at each other and say, “UGH. I wish we could just go out to eat tonight. I do NOT feel like cooking,” but, for the most part, it hasn’t been too bad. And, when I need a little restaurant fix, I just watch Chef’s Table on Netflix or read a restaurant book like these two. It’s not the same, but it will have to do for now. Continue reading

Still Searching for Some Good Light Reading . . .

After the string of get-me-down books that I wrote about in my last post, I was determined to treat myself to some lighter, fluffier, more enjoyable fare. I managed to read two books that were definitely lighter and fluffier (hooray!) but weren’t very good (boo!). I also read a kids’ book about Japanese internment, which (although pretty good) was decidedly not light, not fluffy, and not enjoyable. So, my quest for good fluff continues. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

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What’s the Opposite of a Pick-Me-Up?

I was trying to think of the opposite of a “pick-me-up.” The best I could do is “get-me-down.” Why on Earth would I need to know such a phrase, you ask? Because it’s all I’ve been reading. UGH.

I would estimate that I’m now reading approximately one-fourth of what I read pre-baby. Ideally, therefore, my reading would be confined to sweet-fluffy books or funny-fluffy books or super-interesting books or even helpful books of the parenting variety. Instead, I have managed to read three get-me-down books right in a row. For a sleep-deprived parent with limited reading time, this is not a reading strategy that I would recommend.

Don’t get me wrong: as a rule, I am not against get-me-down books. In fact, my very favorite book of all time is a definite downer (Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates). But that writing makes me swoon, so it makes the ridiculously depressing story somehow worth reading.

The three books I am reviewing this week were all billed as worthwhile get-me-down books. But it is safe to say that they are NOT Revolutionary Road-level get-me-down books.  Continue reading

A Floating Bookstore, Public Shamings, and A Manhattan Clematis

The good news: I’m back to reading regularly again. The bad news: I can’t seem to find sufficient free time for reading and writing. I have a backlog of books that I need to review . . . but when I have a free hour during nap time, I’d prefer to read (or, let’s be honest, watch Jane the Virgin) than sit down and crank out a blog post. So, I’m cheating by reverting to the mini-review system I used at the end of my pregnancy. No, there is not a common theme that ties these books together. No, I am not going to weave these reviews together, so they flow seamlessly one into the next. These are just three short reviews of three random books. Enjoy!

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Luckiest Girl Alive

There’s good news and bad news.

The good news is . . . I’m back! My now four-month-old baby is finally taking fairly regular naps in her crib, which means I finally have some alone time that I can dedicate to reading and writing. Hurray! Hoorah!! Huzzah!!!

The bad news is that this alone time still comes in pretty short intervals, so I’m not writing the next great American novel anytime soon. Nor, for that matter, will I be writing brilliantly quippy, highly intellectual, thoughtful blog posts.

And, let’s be honest, I’m not reading any deep, thinky books at this point, either. Case in point: after months away, my return to the blog is dedicated to a below-average book about a truly despicable human being. For your sake (and mine), I’ll keep it short. Continue reading

The Raven Boys

UnknownThe Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater
Published September 18, 2012
416 pages (hardcover)

I saw a rant on Book Riot recently entitled “Let’s Avoid Defining Beach Reads.” It is a denouncement of the “Great Beach Reads” display tables at Barnes & Noble (and the like) that include “an excess of travel lit, a lack of tragic historical, a great and overwhelming fiction theme that includes the sun on covers, and many violent thrillers that end in chase scenes.” The idea, of course, is that you can read all kinds of books “even on the beach.”

Yeah, yeah. We should all be reading Pulitzer Prize winners all the time. Life’s too short for a bad book and all of that. We get it. But here’s the thing: it is officially summer. In Atlanta, that means temperatures in the 90s (and above) with wicked, oppressive humidity. For nearly three months of the year, it is miserable outside. I’m sorry, but I just can’t handle something like The Orphan Master’s Son right now. It’s too much.

Beach reading is and should be escapist reading. When I’m staring at the ocean, trying to forget how freaking hot it is, “tragic historical” isn’t going to cut it. I don’t want to read about massacres or war or sadness. I’m all for fun, light, easy vacation fare! Somehow, that fluffy, mindless reading makes summer more bearable. Is it quality literature that you are going to gush about and gift to friends? No, probably not. But, sometimes, you just need a book with a shopping bag on the cover to help take you away.

So, what does great summer reading look like for me? Books like Mermaids in Paradise and Skios: silly, farcical romps that are breezy and laugh-out-loud funny. Sweet and charming best-sellers like A Man Called Ove. Quirky, cute, creative, and highly readable books like Where’d You Go, Bernadette. And, of course, fun, page-turner YA books that are post-apocalyptic (like The Hunger Games) or magical (like Harry Potter) or supernatural (like Beautiful Creatures). Continue reading

The Memory Painter

22836956The Memory Painter
Gwendolyn Womack
Published April 28, 2015
336 pages (hardcover)

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon (I was clearly a weird kid). The brain, in general, was interesting to me, but I was particularly intrigued by memories. Why did I forget things that my brother remembered in detail? Why could I remember other things so vividly? And why didn’t my parents remember anything?

The brain’s capacity for memory is something that I still find fascinating, which is why I was initially drawn to this book. But, like my aspirations to become a neurosurgeon, this book was better in theory than in practice.

The Memory Painter opens with a description of an artist’s loft. Canvases cover every inch of wall space:

The paintings themselves were an eclectic ensemble. Each image captured a different time in history, a different place in the world. Yet the paintings had one thing in common: all depicted the most intimate moment’s of someone’s life or death. 

In one painting, a samurai knelt on his tatami, performing seppuku. He was dressed in ceremonial white, blood pooling at his middle. The ritual suicide had been portrayed in excruciating detail, the agony on the samurai’s face tangible as he plunged the blade into his stomach. Behind him, his “Second” stood ready, his wakzashi sword poised to sever the samurai’s head. In the next painting, an imperial guard on horseback dragged a prisoner across a field in ancient Persia. And further along the wall, an old man wearing a turban stared into the distance, as if challenging the artist to capture his spirit on the last day of his life. Continue reading

The Girl on the Train

91lUeBR2G1LThe Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins
January 15, 2015
336 pages (hardcover)

A couple months back, I got all up in arms about memoirs and vowed never to read another one (at least for the foreseeable future). Today, I have something new to gripe about: vapid, inconsistent, silly, stupid, annoying, and weak female characters . . . especially when they’re written by female authors. And this book has them in spades.

The Girl on the Train is told from the perspective of three highly annoying female characters. You have Rachel (the titular girl on the train), highly annoying female character #1, who tells about 80 percent of the story. She is clearly an unreliable narrator. She is a raging alcoholic who was fired from her job several months ago for getting sloshed at lunch, losing an important client, and coming back to the office drunk. She is divorced from her husband and living at a friend’s house. She hasn’t told her friend that she was fired from her job, so she still takes the train to London every day and spends the hours wandering around, going to the library, and getting wasted. On the train, she watches people on their patios and terraces, imagining lives (and names and personalities) for them. In the evenings, she calls her ex-husband and professes her undying love for him, despite the fact that he’s clearly moved on.

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Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood

41MeRdcI3gL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood
Julie Gregory
Published September 3, 2003
244 pages (hardcover)

I really need to stop reading memoirs. As a rule. No matter how interesting the subject matter may seem, the memoir is inevitably terrible. And this book is no exception.

Sickened is a memoir about a chick who was, for years, the victim of Münchausen syndrome by proxy (at the hands of her totally loony mother). Münchausen syndrome by proxy (“a psychological disorder in which a parent and typically a mother harms her child (as by poisoning), falsifies the child’s medical history, or tampers with the child’s medical specimens in order to create a situation that requires or seems to require medical attention”) is pretty gross and creepy. The book, which is peppered with the author’s actual medical records from childhood, promised to be interesting—in a American Horror Story kind of way.

And, there is definitely a lot of creepy/crazy in there. An example: Continue reading