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

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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This Week in Books: a Grossly Disappointing Follow-Up, a Drunk Lady Hiding in a Closet, and a Born Foodie

Baby girl has decided that she’s in no rush to arrive, so I’ve been tearing through books to try to keep myself distracted from constantly obsessing over when she will decide to make her debut. This week’s books include a debut novel that has gotten a ton of good early hype and two books from authors I’ve enjoyed in the past (one a huge let-down, the other a strong and happy return). Continue reading

This Week in Books: a Colorless Man, Orgasmic Childbirth, and a Secret Society of Bibliophiles 

In an effort to keep the blog going (at least sporadically), I’m going to try something new. Rather than writing individual posts about each of the books I read, I am going to write condensed reviews of all the books I read in any given week (or perhaps month . . . we’ll see how much reading I’m actually doing once baby finally decides to arrive). Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the new format in the comments below!

This week features a very diverse selection: a book by one of my favorite Japanese authors, a nonfiction book on childbirth, and a bestseller of the standard-book-club-selection variety.

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

23604559My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry 
Fredrik Backman
June 16, 2015
384 pages

When I was little, my dad used to make up stories for me. My favorites featured “Meetah, the Cheetah.” Every story was basically the same: they began with an adorable little girl (who looked remarkably similar to me, of course) calmly traipsing through the jungle. Her journeys were generally uneventful . . . until the end. The stories always concluded with a surprise encounter between girl and cheetah. And they always culminated with my father yelling (when I least expected it to ensure the loudest screams and giggles of surprise and delight): “I’m Meetah, the Cheetah, and I’m gonna eat ya!”

Stories told to little kids can serve many purposes. They can elicit sheer, unadulterated joy (as the “Meetah, the Cheetah” tales did every time). They can expand kids’ vocabularies. They can encourage creativity and imagination. They can serve as memorable bonding moments. And, if the storyteller is especially skilled, they can serve as the secret vehicles for important life lessons.

The bedtime stories that Elsa’s grandmother, the titular grandmother in Fredrik Backman’s new book, told her about the Land-of-Almost-Awake did all of the above. The stories featured magical creatures like the sea-angel and a monster called Wolfheart and huge furry creatures called wurses. Sometimes, her grandmother told the stories in a secret language that she taught Elsa years ago. Continue reading

How to Start a Fire

how-to-start-a-fireHow to Start a Fire
Lisa Lutz
Published May 12, 2015
352 pages (hardcover)

I was talking the other day to someone about how hard it is to make new friends as you get older. You rely on your kids (if you have them) to help you forge bonds with their friends’ parents. You keep your fingers crossed that your new neighbors will be normal. If you’re feeling especially chatty, you strike up conversations with random people in your Pilates classes. Making friends when you’re in the throes of adulthood takes a lot of effort. And, sometimes, it makes you long for the days of college.

In college, you make a new friend every day. The girls in the dorm room next to yours? Friends for life! The dude who randomly sits next to you in your econ class? Study buddy! The chick you meet at your first-ever frat party? BFF! Friendships are forged at the drop of dime and, despite moves and life changes and differing careers, often stay strong for years and years to come. This book highlights that easy college-friend trajectory.

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The Happiest Baby on the Block

UnknownThe Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer
Harvey Karp, M.D.
Published May 28, 2002
267 pages (paperback)

When you’re visibly pregnant, you get bombarded with lots and lots of unsolicited parenting advice. At my last visit to the dentist, my hygienist tucked a post-it into the little baggie with my free toothbrush and floss that told me I had to read a certain sleep schedule book (a little independent research showed that the practices suggested in that book are a bit extreme and not condoned by most pediatricians).

But not all advice you receive is unsolicited and unhelpful. As I’ve gotten closer and closer to baby time, there’s one resource that keeps getting mentioned by parents I trust and respect: The Happiest Baby on the Block. The title is cheesy and, frankly, so is the presentation of information . . . but many young parents I know swear by its practices. Continue reading

When You Reach Me

When_you_reach_meWhen You Reach Me
Rebecca Stead
Published July 14, 2009
200 pages

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, my mom and I spent a mother-daughter weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia. We visited Colonial Williamsburg and went to Busch Gardens. We had pancakes for breakfast and ice cream in the afternoon. Oddly, however, despite all the touristy things we did, the thing that I remember most vividly about that weekend was sitting in our hotel room, reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light together.

It’s been years since I’ve read that book, so I don’t remember it in detail (The basics: It’s about a teenage girl named Vicky who goes to spend the summer on the island where her grandfather lives. He is dying of leukemia, and she and her family know this is the last summer they will spend with him there. On the island, Vicky spends time with three boys, all of whom have their own experiences with death. Needless to say, it is not a particularly light kids’ book. But it is incredibly poignant and lovely). But I do remember my mom reading the book aloud to me in that motel room in Williamsburg while we both cried and cried.

I am not alone in having happy childhood memories tied to Madeleine L’Engle’s books (most of which are intended for middle readers–grades 6+). And for good reason–they are, simply, great. L’Engle is probably best known for A Wrinkle in Time, a Newbery Medal Award winner from 1963, which is about some kids’ adventures through space and time to save their dad.

Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me (itself a Newbery Medal Award winner in 2010) is also a fan of L’Engle’s. In her acknowledgments, Stead writes, “Every writer stands on the shoulders of many other writers, and it isn’t practical to thank all of them. However, I would like to express my special admiration for the astonishing imagination and hard work of Madeleine L’Engle, whose books captivated me when I was young (they still do), and made me want in on the secrets of the universe (ditto).”

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Welcome to Braggsville

Welcome to Braggsville
T. Geronimo Johnson
Published February 17, 2015
384 pages (hardcover)

Remember a couple years ago when small-town high school in Wilcox County, Georgia, had its first-ever racially-integrated prom a couple years ago? People all over (well, all over everywhere but the Deep South) were shocked that things like segregated proms still existed. Here’s a reminder:

The fictional Braggsville, Georgia, population 712, is reminiscent of Wilcox County. Every year, there is a festival called the Pride Week Patriot Days Festival, the highlight of which is a Civil War battle reenactment (not that anyone refers to it as the Civil War, of course). Black people live in the Gully; white people live on the other side of the Holler. Confederate flags and black lawn jockeys decorate houses. At local general stores, you can pick up bumper stickers with tasteful slogans like “IF YOU’RE ANY ‘CAN, EXCEPT AMERI-CAN—GO HOME” and “IF I’D KNOWN IT WOULD BE LIKE THIS, I WOULD HAVE PICKED MY OWN COTTON” and “KEEP HONKING—I’M RELOADING.” Continue reading

A Spool of Blue Thread

UnknownA Spool of Blue Thread
Anne Tyler
Published February 10, 2015
358 pages (hardcover)

The cover of this book reminds you that author Anne Tyler is a “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.” But it’s funny: despite the fact that everyone has heard of Anne Tyler, no one seems to remember when or for what she got her Pulitzer. While I was reading the book, no fewer than three people said to me randomly, “I can’t remember—what did she get her Pulitzer for?” (For the record, it was for Breathing Lessons in 1988. But she was a finalist two other times—for The Accidental Tourist in 1985 and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant in 1983.)

It doesn’t surprise me that people don’t remember off-hand which of Tyler’s twenty books won the Pulitzer. She cranks out some solid books, but none of them is especially unique or noteworthy or memorable in subject matter. They’re about regular American families and the day-to-day struggles they face (loves and jealousies and conflicts and senses of duty and rivalries). What is memorable about her books are the characters and their complex, realistic relationships.

Her latest novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, is no different.  Continue reading