Posts tagged with books:

What I’ve Read: 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino - Pre-order for release on August 5
This book is set in one day—Philadelphia on Christmas Eve Eve—and follows several different characters, including Madeleine, a nine-year-old aspiring jazz singer who recently lost her mother to cancer; Madeleine’s teacher Sarina; The Cat’s Pajamas club owner Lorca and his son Alex, and several others. Madeleine and Sarina are the most engaging and Madeleine’s feisty independence made her a fun character to spend time with. As the book gradually winds all the characters closer and closer together, they all benefit, becoming more important and interesting to the reader.
It’s a strange book to describe—the story is very literal at first, but it becomes fantastical or fairy tale-like at unexpected times. This felt a little off-putting while I was reading it. Now, about 12 hours after finishing the book, I think the fantastical elements were a good idea. The entire book feels a little magical, so what’s one more magical thing among the rest? 
If you’re looking for a new book club read, this would be a fun option. (It’s also short and fast enough not to be a burden to club members who drag their toes.) It has plenty to talk about in terms of plot and characterization and there are a few passages in the book that are really, really delightful and worth marking to come back to later. 
The best way I can think to describe this book is to tell you how I felt after reading it. Did you have a childhood movie or book that you would watch or read often? And it left with you this little warm feeling in your stomach that made you feel like everything in the world could be as fun and magical as what you just saw or read about? After turning the last page of 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas, I recognized the happy, contented feeling as one I’d had before: It was like the childishly optimistic, happy afterglow that would stick around after a favorite movie or book. I didn’t think 2 A.M. was the perfect book, but it did make me smile. That counts for a lot when it comes to books these days. 
I received this advance review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 

What I’ve Read: 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino - Pre-order for release on August 5

This book is set in one day—Philadelphia on Christmas Eve Eve—and follows several different characters, including Madeleine, a nine-year-old aspiring jazz singer who recently lost her mother to cancer; Madeleine’s teacher Sarina; The Cat’s Pajamas club owner Lorca and his son Alex, and several others. Madeleine and Sarina are the most engaging and Madeleine’s feisty independence made her a fun character to spend time with. As the book gradually winds all the characters closer and closer together, they all benefit, becoming more important and interesting to the reader.

It’s a strange book to describe—the story is very literal at first, but it becomes fantastical or fairy tale-like at unexpected times. This felt a little off-putting while I was reading it. Now, about 12 hours after finishing the book, I think the fantastical elements were a good idea. The entire book feels a little magical, so what’s one more magical thing among the rest? 

If you’re looking for a new book club read, this would be a fun option. (It’s also short and fast enough not to be a burden to club members who drag their toes.) It has plenty to talk about in terms of plot and characterization and there are a few passages in the book that are really, really delightful and worth marking to come back to later. 

The best way I can think to describe this book is to tell you how I felt after reading it. Did you have a childhood movie or book that you would watch or read often? And it left with you this little warm feeling in your stomach that made you feel like everything in the world could be as fun and magical as what you just saw or read about? After turning the last page of 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas, I recognized the happy, contented feeling as one I’d had before: It was like the childishly optimistic, happy afterglow that would stick around after a favorite movie or book. I didn’t think 2 A.M. was the perfect book, but it did make me smile. That counts for a lot when it comes to books these days. 

I received this advance review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 

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What I’ve Read: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
Our narrator is Emily Shepard, a teenage girl whose parents were killed when the Vermont nuclear power plant they worked at suffered a catastrophic meltdown. Emily’s story comes in pieces as she reflects on the past. She tells us early about Cameron, a young boy she stumbles upon when they are both living on the street post-meltdown. They’re both hiding there for different reasons and she takes him under her wing. We don’t hear much about him again for a little while—her story is divided into two sections: B.C. and A.C. (Before Cameron and After Cameron). 
The plot of this book is inherently interesting and dramatic, but it’s also dark and sad. The theme of family—what is it, why does it matter—comes up a lot. Emily’s maternal instincts toward Cameron are a painful reflection on what she’s lost herself (and sometimes doubted she ever had). She acknowledges her parents, but isn’t sure how to feel about them. (I won’t spoil it, but there are a few reasons for this.) When she thinks about home, it’s usually because she’s worried about her dog left in the closed-off radioactive zone around the plant. It’s a very complicated book, touching on everything from mental health to prostitution to alcoholism. It’s also about the danger of aging nuclear power plants, though this point is very subtly made. 
It was fascinating to see how well the adult, male author conveyed the voice and actions of a 17-year-old girl. Even better was that he didn’t try to improve her teenage-ness—something that happens so often and is so irritating in novels with teenagers as main characters. There are very few things more contrived than giving teenagers the gift of adult-like conversation and logical decision-making skills. When that happens, we have 14-year-olds who are better read than most college graduates and speak to each other like philosophy professors. In Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, teenage Emily likes poetry, but it’s a believable interest. She’s not doing university-level literary analysis. 
In short, this book is very, very good. The plot is dramatic, yes, but Emily’s vivid and realistic character is the reason I encourage you to read it. 
Have you read it yet?

What I’ve Read: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Our narrator is Emily Shepard, a teenage girl whose parents were killed when the Vermont nuclear power plant they worked at suffered a catastrophic meltdown. Emily’s story comes in pieces as she reflects on the past. She tells us early about Cameron, a young boy she stumbles upon when they are both living on the street post-meltdown. They’re both hiding there for different reasons and she takes him under her wing. We don’t hear much about him again for a little while—her story is divided into two sections: B.C. and A.C. (Before Cameron and After Cameron). 

The plot of this book is inherently interesting and dramatic, but it’s also dark and sad. The theme of family—what is it, why does it matter—comes up a lot. Emily’s maternal instincts toward Cameron are a painful reflection on what she’s lost herself (and sometimes doubted she ever had). She acknowledges her parents, but isn’t sure how to feel about them. (I won’t spoil it, but there are a few reasons for this.) When she thinks about home, it’s usually because she’s worried about her dog left in the closed-off radioactive zone around the plant. It’s a very complicated book, touching on everything from mental health to prostitution to alcoholism. It’s also about the danger of aging nuclear power plants, though this point is very subtly made. 

It was fascinating to see how well the adult, male author conveyed the voice and actions of a 17-year-old girl. Even better was that he didn’t try to improve her teenage-ness—something that happens so often and is so irritating in novels with teenagers as main characters. There are very few things more contrived than giving teenagers the gift of adult-like conversation and logical decision-making skills. When that happens, we have 14-year-olds who are better read than most college graduates and speak to each other like philosophy professors. In Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, teenage Emily likes poetry, but it’s a believable interest. She’s not doing university-level literary analysis. 

In short, this book is very, very good. The plot is dramatic, yes, but Emily’s vivid and realistic character is the reason I encourage you to read it. 

Have you read it yet?

  • k 25 notes
What I’ve Read: Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber
I loved this book. I’m someone that’s maybe a little too obsessed with true crime. I figured the people featured in this book were probably similar to me. Maybe the kind of people who started out watching a lot of Investigation Discovery in their spare time and it snowballed from there. That’s not the case. A lot of them began investigating because there was a local unsolved case that they couldn’t forget about. Some had family members or friends disappear and it pulled them into a labyrinth of other families and friends searching for people too. These sleuths are not really finding out the whodunit of cases. They’re instead solving bodies. They examine descriptions of unidentified bodies—some decades old—and match them up to missing persons reports. (This is a simplistic description and doesn’t really convey the true scope of the hours of research and investigation they do.) 
The book itself is a little jumpy and disjointed. There are a lot of people and a lot of unidentified bodies mentioned throughout and it would be hard to keep them straight anyway, but Halber has a tendency to make cosmic leaps through space and time without much warning. I got mightily frustrated at first (GIRL STAY ON TASK, PLZ) because it bounced around every 10 pages or so. Luckily Halber discovers the power of a cohesive narrative about halfway through and we became friends again. 
Something this book drives home again and again is that there are an obscene amount of unidentified/unclaimed bodies in this country. Some are buried unceremoniously, some are reduced to bones shoved in a banker’s box in the back of a police station storage room. The estimated numbers in the book are mind-boggling. I can see why these armchair sleuths get sucked in. Don’t these people have someone, somewhere wondering where they went? They have to, right? It’s very sobering. 
After reading this book, I looked up how many unidentified bodies have been found in Maryland since 2000. 15 women. 65 men. I clicked on a random woman, aged 25-27. She was assaulted. She had been dead for months when she was found. I hope someone finds out who she is. I hope her family gets to say goodbye. 
And that’s why I’m glad Deborah Halber wrote this book. I hope these unsung detectives keep doing their good work. They deserve this recognition (and more) for all the years of research they do to try and bring people home to their loved ones. 

What I’ve Read: Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber

I loved this book. I’m someone that’s maybe a little too obsessed with true crime. I figured the people featured in this book were probably similar to me. Maybe the kind of people who started out watching a lot of Investigation Discovery in their spare time and it snowballed from there. That’s not the case. A lot of them began investigating because there was a local unsolved case that they couldn’t forget about. Some had family members or friends disappear and it pulled them into a labyrinth of other families and friends searching for people too. These sleuths are not really finding out the whodunit of cases. They’re instead solving bodies. They examine descriptions of unidentified bodies—some decades old—and match them up to missing persons reports. (This is a simplistic description and doesn’t really convey the true scope of the hours of research and investigation they do.) 

The book itself is a little jumpy and disjointed. There are a lot of people and a lot of unidentified bodies mentioned throughout and it would be hard to keep them straight anyway, but Halber has a tendency to make cosmic leaps through space and time without much warning. I got mightily frustrated at first (GIRL STAY ON TASK, PLZ) because it bounced around every 10 pages or so. Luckily Halber discovers the power of a cohesive narrative about halfway through and we became friends again. 

Something this book drives home again and again is that there are an obscene amount of unidentified/unclaimed bodies in this country. Some are buried unceremoniously, some are reduced to bones shoved in a banker’s box in the back of a police station storage room. The estimated numbers in the book are mind-boggling. I can see why these armchair sleuths get sucked in. Don’t these people have someone, somewhere wondering where they went? They have to, right? It’s very sobering. 

After reading this book, I looked up how many unidentified bodies have been found in Maryland since 2000. 15 women. 65 men. I clicked on a random woman, aged 25-27. She was assaulted. She had been dead for months when she was found. I hope someone finds out who she is. I hope her family gets to say goodbye. 

And that’s why I’m glad Deborah Halber wrote this book. I hope these unsung detectives keep doing their good work. They deserve this recognition (and more) for all the years of research they do to try and bring people home to their loved ones. 

  • k 23 notes

Reading

I got this in an email:

As a married working mom with a young child, when do you find the time to read?

I’m a married SAHM with a 6 month old and almost 3 yr old. Once we put the children to bed it’s mommy/daddy time but I miss reading a good book!

For me, it’s not about how long I read or how many pages I get through. It’s a routine for me. Reading is the way I gauge how much I’m feeling like myself. It’s the way I wind down. It’s my silence and my comfort after hours of standing, moving, cooking, cleaning, working, talking, typing. 

It’s a rare night that I’m too tired to read even a few pages before turning off the light and falling asleep. Reading helps my anxiety. I have a hard time turning off my brain at night. (Did I send that work email? Am I imagining it? Crap, I need to do Iz’s laundry. Speaking of Iz, her lunch! I haven’t gotten groceries in…how long has it been? What am I going to pack for her? Do we even have bread? Brandon—he can go to the store in the morning. Or maybe I should go after the gym. DID I SET MY ALARM) Reading helps this. (Sometimes it doesn’t—sometimes it keeps me awake but staying up late to finish a book is the best kind of insomnia.) I will catch a few minutes of reading during other times too. I love reading in the morning with my coffee. I grab a few minutes here and there during the week while I’m eating my lunch. Occasionally I’ll lay in Isobel’s room on the floor with my Kindle while she “reads” her books or snuggles beside me or plays with her toys. She’s started to take a book to bed with her now. I want to believe it’s because she has already discovered something really important: There is no comfort like a book close at hand. 

The motivation to read has a lot to do with the books that we choose for ourselves. I used to force myself to finish books I didn’t like because it seemed like the right thing to do. I rarely do that now. A good book helps you find the time required to read it. Don’t read something you’re tepid about just because a lot of other people seem to love it. Read something in a genre that YOU love. Romance, mystery, nonfiction, self-help. Everyone has a guilty pleasure genre that they always come back to time and time again. (I love true crime.) Read the books you know you’ll love first. If you find yourself glancing over at it through the day or thinking about the book and wishing you had a quiet moment to yourself to read it, you’ve chosen the right book. 

Reading is also about taking care of myself. It’s one of a handful of truly relaxing activities for me. Sometimes I tell Brandon I just need 20 or 30 minutes to myself to recharge and become a decent person again. 99% of the time this means I retreat to our room and read. 

One of my biggest fears is losing the motivation to pursue my hobbies as I get older. A hobby seems like a childish word, but that’s the point. Children pursue things because they are just fun. Kids lose themselves in their hobbies. It is full-immersion joy. As more and more responsibilities take hold, I fight to keep hold of the bits of what I find truly fun to do.  My child is not my hobby. Neither is my husband. They are people and I love them, but they are not hobbies. Reading is, though. It has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I stole flashlights to read underneath the quilt. How many miles and miles of forest flew by my parents’ car window while I was in the backseat, legs splayed out past my sister’s, with my nose deep into a book?

It’s true—my reading time could be better spent elsewhere. The dishes, maybe. Or an extra hour of work. But I need to read and the dishes can wait. 

  • k 57 notes
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What I’ve Read: Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Usually a book plot jumping the shark midway through isn’t a good thing, but when Bittersweet did it, I barely noticed. I was too busy speed reading to find out what would happen next. I knew, especially as I neared the end, that we were firmly in soap opera territory, but I didn’t care. This was such a fun summer read—a good mash-up of coming-of-age, mystery and romance set on a wealthy family’s summer compound in Vermont. 
We meet our narrator—Mabel—at college. Bittersweet is ultimately about secrets and Mabel hints at having a few of her own from the start. But she doesn’t linger on them and neither does the reader. We’re too distracted by her beautiful and wealthy roommate Genevra (nickname: Ev). FYI: The names in this book are ridiculous in the best way possible. Birch. Tilde. Galway. Athol. 
Anyway, Ev and Mabel bond a bit and eventually Mabel gets an invitation to spend the summer at Ev’s family summer compound in rural Vermont. Mabel, chronically embarrassed and angered by her family’s modest means, jumps at the chance to pretend they don’t exist. Ev explains to Mabel that each family member is given their own cottage within the compound. Ev has inherited Bittersweet and enlists Mabel to help her fix it up so it will pass her parents’ inspection. While meeting the family, Mabel is introduced to Ev’s eccentric aunt who tasks her with sniffing out certain family secrets. Maybe it’s a set-up, maybe a wild goose chase, but Mabel takes the bait and things start to get weird.
Well, weird but good. I enjoyed every second of reading this. It’s full of twists and rich-family drama that end up in a darker and more absurd place than I would have guessed. l loved that, though. Give more summer books like this, please. 
I received this review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 

What I’ve Read: Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Usually a book plot jumping the shark midway through isn’t a good thing, but when Bittersweet did it, I barely noticed. I was too busy speed reading to find out what would happen next. I knew, especially as I neared the end, that we were firmly in soap opera territory, but I didn’t care. This was such a fun summer read—a good mash-up of coming-of-age, mystery and romance set on a wealthy family’s summer compound in Vermont. 

We meet our narrator—Mabel—at college. Bittersweet is ultimately about secrets and Mabel hints at having a few of her own from the start. But she doesn’t linger on them and neither does the reader. We’re too distracted by her beautiful and wealthy roommate Genevra (nickname: Ev). FYI: The names in this book are ridiculous in the best way possible. Birch. Tilde. Galway. Athol. 

Anyway, Ev and Mabel bond a bit and eventually Mabel gets an invitation to spend the summer at Ev’s family summer compound in rural Vermont. Mabel, chronically embarrassed and angered by her family’s modest means, jumps at the chance to pretend they don’t exist. Ev explains to Mabel that each family member is given their own cottage within the compound. Ev has inherited Bittersweet and enlists Mabel to help her fix it up so it will pass her parents’ inspection. While meeting the family, Mabel is introduced to Ev’s eccentric aunt who tasks her with sniffing out certain family secrets. Maybe it’s a set-up, maybe a wild goose chase, but Mabel takes the bait and things start to get weird.

Well, weird but good. I enjoyed every second of reading this. It’s full of twists and rich-family drama that end up in a darker and more absurd place than I would have guessed. l loved that, though. Give more summer books like this, please. 

I received this review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 

  • k 30 notes
Three very different books so far this month.
War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz - This impeccably researched book is long but reads fast and quick, almost like a long form article for a magazine. It’s the perfect time to publish this, with the success of Animal Planet’s Whale Wars (<3 Alishan) and Blackfish. In this book, Horwitz follows a researcher and a lawyer and their quest to educate and stop the US Navy from conducting active sonar war games in ocean basins and marine sanctuaries. The book opens with one of the most widespread and bizarre marine mammal strandings that our protagonist researcher—Ken Balcomb—has ever encountered. A former Navy oceanographic specialist, Balcomb suspects sonar interference. While scouting for more strandings, he photographs a Navy ship from an airplane and begins to get sucked back into the secretive world of Navy sonar detection—but from the other side of the curtain. 
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe - Oh, a historical fiction novel about a woman disguising herself to fight in the Civil War? Yes, please. I try to limit my historical fiction intake these days since I usually end up sorely disappointed, but I couldn’t resist this one. This book is fictional, but McCabe has based her main character Rosetta on dozens of real-life accounts of women disguised as men during the Civil War. It’s a surprisingly emotional little book and I was cheering hard for Rosetta by the end. It takes off a little tentatively—I wasn’t sure if it would be too much Hunger Games-meets-the-Civil War—but McCabe finds her stride once Rosetta leaves home to join her husband at his training camp. There are a few things that seem forced or odd—like conversations that characters have about the meaning of the war while obviously benefiting from McCabe’s ability to put the historical events into greater context. Also distracting: Rosetta’s inner commentary can seem unbelievably modern and it took me out of the book every single time. But, like I said above: As a whole, this book is really enjoyable. I’m so cynical about historical fiction now. This book was a good reminder that it can be done well and bring together many things—historical context, a love story, a sense of adventure—without the whole thing turning into a gooey mess. 
The Son by Jo Nesbo - I love Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series so I was excited to check out this new stand-alone book. Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about it. It KILLS me to say that because the characters are interesting. The action is exciting. The twists are fun. But this could have used some serious editing. It’s got a meandering problem and things wind up all over the place. Characters are introduced as if you should know who they are and then dispatched swiftly several pages later. It seems a little slapped together—we need to link X to Y, so let’s insert this chapter to help that make sense. The chemistry between some of the characters feels strange. Basically, the characters are most engaging when they’re on their own with no dialogue on the page. Yikes. Jo Nesbo is one of my favorite crime authors, but I found this only so-so compared to the other books of his I’ve read (I loved The Snowman). 
Read any of these? Any recommendations for a book I should read next?

Three very different books so far this month.

  • War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz - This impeccably researched book is long but reads fast and quick, almost like a long form article for a magazine. It’s the perfect time to publish this, with the success of Animal Planet’s Whale Wars (<3 Alishan) and Blackfish. In this book, Horwitz follows a researcher and a lawyer and their quest to educate and stop the US Navy from conducting active sonar war games in ocean basins and marine sanctuaries. The book opens with one of the most widespread and bizarre marine mammal strandings that our protagonist researcher—Ken Balcomb—has ever encountered. A former Navy oceanographic specialist, Balcomb suspects sonar interference. While scouting for more strandings, he photographs a Navy ship from an airplane and begins to get sucked back into the secretive world of Navy sonar detection—but from the other side of the curtain. 
  • I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe - Oh, a historical fiction novel about a woman disguising herself to fight in the Civil War? Yes, please. I try to limit my historical fiction intake these days since I usually end up sorely disappointed, but I couldn’t resist this one. This book is fictional, but McCabe has based her main character Rosetta on dozens of real-life accounts of women disguised as men during the Civil War. It’s a surprisingly emotional little book and I was cheering hard for Rosetta by the end. It takes off a little tentatively—I wasn’t sure if it would be too much Hunger Games-meets-the-Civil War—but McCabe finds her stride once Rosetta leaves home to join her husband at his training camp. There are a few things that seem forced or odd—like conversations that characters have about the meaning of the war while obviously benefiting from McCabe’s ability to put the historical events into greater context. Also distracting: Rosetta’s inner commentary can seem unbelievably modern and it took me out of the book every single time. But, like I said above: As a whole, this book is really enjoyable. I’m so cynical about historical fiction now. This book was a good reminder that it can be done well and bring together many things—historical context, a love story, a sense of adventure—without the whole thing turning into a gooey mess. 
  • The Son by Jo Nesbo - I love Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series so I was excited to check out this new stand-alone book. Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about it. It KILLS me to say that because the characters are interesting. The action is exciting. The twists are fun. But this could have used some serious editing. It’s got a meandering problem and things wind up all over the place. Characters are introduced as if you should know who they are and then dispatched swiftly several pages later. It seems a little slapped together—we need to link X to Y, so let’s insert this chapter to help that make sense. The chemistry between some of the characters feels strange. Basically, the characters are most engaging when they’re on their own with no dialogue on the page. Yikes. Jo Nesbo is one of my favorite crime authors, but I found this only so-so compared to the other books of his I’ve read (I loved The Snowman). 

Read any of these? Any recommendations for a book I should read next?

  • k 15 notes
What I&#8217;ve Read: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
The title is amazing. The book is pretty fun. As far as travel/romance memoirs go, this is one of the better ones I&#8217;ve read. There have been many of these and I can&#8217;t keep them all straight anymore. They&#8217;re a tropical beach blend of spiritual experiences and handsome, exotic men. I don&#8217;t have problems with any of these things, by the way. Just that everything in the post-Eat, Pray, Love memoir genre reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love. I think (I know) that EPL&#8212;which Newman mocks in this memoir&#8212;has made me very wary of the travel/romance/life-lessons memoir. I&#8217;m too skeptical of the author&#8217;s intentions. Do you want Julia Roberts to play you too? I don&#8217;t think Kristin Newman does, but like I said: Eat, Pray, Love has ruined a lot of things. 
But I digress! Newman writes well (she&#8217;s a successful television writer) and the parts of the book that talk about how and why she changed her views on relationships are astute and funny and bittersweet. Her examination of her family history adds a lot of depth to the story and I appreciated her being willing to look at her entire life and write about it in a genuine way. That would be enough to bump it to the top of the EPL genre list, since most of those books attempt to be self-deprecating but fail miserably. (&#8220;My biggest flaw is that I am too much of a perfectionist! Everything is done perfectly, what a burden! This is what caused my divorce, obviously.&#8221;) Anyway, this book is deeper and more introspective than you might expect. There are several moments that hit me pretty hard. (There&#8217;s one in particular. Still thinking about it.) I love being surprised by a book in a good way. I must find my passport! A trip is overdue. 
I received this review copy for free, but I&#8217;ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 
Have you read this yet?

What I’ve Read: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

The title is amazing. The book is pretty fun. As far as travel/romance memoirs go, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. There have been many of these and I can’t keep them all straight anymore. They’re a tropical beach blend of spiritual experiences and handsome, exotic men. I don’t have problems with any of these things, by the way. Just that everything in the post-Eat, Pray, Love memoir genre reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love. I think (I know) that EPL—which Newman mocks in this memoir—has made me very wary of the travel/romance/life-lessons memoir. I’m too skeptical of the author’s intentions. Do you want Julia Roberts to play you too? I don’t think Kristin Newman does, but like I said: Eat, Pray, Love has ruined a lot of things. 

But I digress! Newman writes well (she’s a successful television writer) and the parts of the book that talk about how and why she changed her views on relationships are astute and funny and bittersweet. Her examination of her family history adds a lot of depth to the story and I appreciated her being willing to look at her entire life and write about it in a genuine way. That would be enough to bump it to the top of the EPL genre list, since most of those books attempt to be self-deprecating but fail miserably. (“My biggest flaw is that I am too much of a perfectionist! Everything is done perfectly, what a burden! This is what caused my divorce, obviously.”) Anyway, this book is deeper and more introspective than you might expect. There are several moments that hit me pretty hard. (There’s one in particular. Still thinking about it.) I love being surprised by a book in a good way. I must find my passport! A trip is overdue. 

I received this review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews. 

Have you read this yet?

  • k 33 notes
What I&#8217;ve Read:
The Vacationers by Emma Straub - If you&#8217;re looking for a book to take to the beach or read by the pool, this is the one you should be buying. It has a bit of romance, conflict, family drama and food porn&#8212;in other words, a lot of things that make for a good escapist book. It&#8217;s about the Post family&#8212;mom, dad, younger sister, older brother, older brother&#8217;s older girlfriend, mom&#8217;s best friend and his husband. The momentum in the story centers around Mom and Dad and their somewhat secret reason for organizing the vacation in the first place. It&#8217;s not a bonding trip so much as it is a last hurrah. Can the family stand the test and emerge intact? (I don&#8217;t think large family vacations are a great means for determining if you really like your family, but this is fiction so&#8230;HAVE AT IT POST FAMILY.) It&#8217;s predictable and a little underdeveloped/rushed through the last half and will probably be forgotten in a few months, but you&#8217;d be hard-pressed to find a better beach book to read with a glass or two of wine. 
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes - THIS BOOK. Holy shit. I read it for about 8 hours yesterday. I read it while I ate. I read it while Isobel napped. I stayed up way too late finishing it last night. It&#8217;s a spy thriller and a murder mystery in one and be forewarned&#8212;it&#8217;s a long book. That doesn&#8217;t mean it&#8217;s slow. It&#8217;s fast-paced from the start and rarely lets up. The book unfolds in parallel stories. It focuses on the real-time events featuring our protagonist (Pilgrim) but then rewinds to tell the backstory of the man Pilgrim is hunting. When we first meet Pilgrim, he&#8217;s a former spy living a quiet, Parisian retirement when a New York City cop reads Pilgrim&#8217;s pseudonymous book about investigative techniques and the steps one could take to commit the perfect crime. The cop doesn&#8217;t think the pseudonym fits the book content and starts to try and find the real author. Meanwhile, the backstory&#8212;that starts with a teenage boy living in Saudi Arabia&#8212;starts to unfold. This boy eventually becomes the man Pilgrim is hunting (we&#8217;re told that from the beginning) but this backstory section is where the book really shines. Hayes created a fleshed-out villain that&#8217;s difficult to peg as purely Bad Guy. He&#8217;s smart, he has his reasons for doing what he does and Hayes makes sure we feel invested in his actions even if we know what he&#8217;s doing is wrong. The problem with most thrillers are two-dimensional characters and stereotypical *EVIL PLOTS* and villains. Hayes has managed to turn that been-there-done-that James Bond plot&#8212;A SPY! TERRORISM!&#8212;into a book that&#8217;s fast-paced without being trite and feels epic but not unrealistic. It&#8217;s the kind of book that could have been confusing to read in lesser hands, but Hayes (a longtime screenwriter) knows how to lay out a story. The only downside to this is that he&#8217;s fond of using writing devices (like foreshadowing) that translate better on-screen than on the page. There were a few times I wished he&#8217;d kept his cards a little closer to the chest. Movies or TV have to make things more obvious (&#8220;JOFFREY HAD TO DIE, REMEMBER THE NECKLACE&#8221; WINK WINK), but there were two major twists in this book that I figured out before they were properly revealed because Hayes couldn&#8217;t help dropping little foreshadowing hints here and there. Other than that, holy shit! This book was crazy. And I loved it. 
Read either of these?

What I’ve Read:

  • The Vacationers by Emma Straub - If you’re looking for a book to take to the beach or read by the pool, this is the one you should be buying. It has a bit of romance, conflict, family drama and food porn—in other words, a lot of things that make for a good escapist book. It’s about the Post family—mom, dad, younger sister, older brother, older brother’s older girlfriend, mom’s best friend and his husband. The momentum in the story centers around Mom and Dad and their somewhat secret reason for organizing the vacation in the first place. It’s not a bonding trip so much as it is a last hurrah. Can the family stand the test and emerge intact? (I don’t think large family vacations are a great means for determining if you really like your family, but this is fiction so…HAVE AT IT POST FAMILY.) It’s predictable and a little underdeveloped/rushed through the last half and will probably be forgotten in a few months, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better beach book to read with a glass or two of wine. 
  • I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes - THIS BOOK. Holy shit. I read it for about 8 hours yesterday. I read it while I ate. I read it while Isobel napped. I stayed up way too late finishing it last night. It’s a spy thriller and a murder mystery in one and be forewarned—it’s a long book. That doesn’t mean it’s slow. It’s fast-paced from the start and rarely lets up. The book unfolds in parallel stories. It focuses on the real-time events featuring our protagonist (Pilgrim) but then rewinds to tell the backstory of the man Pilgrim is hunting. When we first meet Pilgrim, he’s a former spy living a quiet, Parisian retirement when a New York City cop reads Pilgrim’s pseudonymous book about investigative techniques and the steps one could take to commit the perfect crime. The cop doesn’t think the pseudonym fits the book content and starts to try and find the real author. Meanwhile, the backstory—that starts with a teenage boy living in Saudi Arabia—starts to unfold. This boy eventually becomes the man Pilgrim is hunting (we’re told that from the beginning) but this backstory section is where the book really shines. Hayes created a fleshed-out villain that’s difficult to peg as purely Bad Guy. He’s smart, he has his reasons for doing what he does and Hayes makes sure we feel invested in his actions even if we know what he’s doing is wrong. The problem with most thrillers are two-dimensional characters and stereotypical *EVIL PLOTS* and villains. Hayes has managed to turn that been-there-done-that James Bond plot—A SPY! TERRORISM!—into a book that’s fast-paced without being trite and feels epic but not unrealistic. It’s the kind of book that could have been confusing to read in lesser hands, but Hayes (a longtime screenwriter) knows how to lay out a story. The only downside to this is that he’s fond of using writing devices (like foreshadowing) that translate better on-screen than on the page. There were a few times I wished he’d kept his cards a little closer to the chest. Movies or TV have to make things more obvious (“JOFFREY HAD TO DIE, REMEMBER THE NECKLACE” WINK WINK), but there were two major twists in this book that I figured out before they were properly revealed because Hayes couldn’t help dropping little foreshadowing hints here and there. Other than that, holy shit! This book was crazy. And I loved it. 

Read either of these?

  • k 50 notes
What I&#8217;ve Read:
Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link - This was one of those books I randomly decided to read because it sounded vaguely entertaining and I&#8217;m a sucker for fun cover art. Memoirs of rural living/adventure set alongside some sort of personal or professional hardship OR displayed as a brave and courageous departure from the monotony of a 9-5 life are littered on bookshelves. Maybe Wild started it, maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did it first, but whatever the case, they are now A Thing. And I&#8217;m okay with that. I enjoy them a lot. You wrote an entire book about raising chickens? Sign me up. How about that one where you bought a farm and you have no idea what you&#8217;re doing? Yes, please. These books are usually a predictable combination of heart-warming anecdotes and humorous stories and sometimes that sounds just about right. (The Dirty Life by Kim Kimball is still one of my favorites of the genre.) Anyway, Bootstrapper is most definitely one of these types of books, but it&#8217;s also better. Better because Link IS badass and I was rooting for her the whole goddamn book. She and her husband divorce and suddenly she&#8217;s raising 3 boys at an income level that registers at or below the poverty line. She is resourceful, though, and has the kind of mental and emotional fortitude that makes her seem bigger than life. She&#8217;s inspirational but it doesn&#8217;t come off like she&#8217;s actually trying to be. She&#8217;s just telling about her life&#8212;like when she and her sons entered a zucchini-growing contest at their local bakery to win free bread so she could make her sons enough sandwiches that they wouldn&#8217;t go hungry for lunch. It was a quick, good book, but a few things confused or annoyed me. First, it seems like she ran out of stories once things began improving and at that point she realized she&#8217;d better wrap it up quick. Nothing else to write about, folks! I&#8217;m good now! Second, there are several details that she glosses over or pretends we won&#8217;t notice. Details of the divorce, for example, are no where to be found, though it&#8217;s a pivotal and reoccurring theme in her book. Third: A good memoir often makes you feel like you know someone intimately and it takes a lot of honest dumping all over the page to get that sense of familiarity well-established. Wild is a good example of this. Cheryl Strayed is really fearless talking about the not-so-book-ready parts of her story and that made me feel invested. Link, on the other hand, seems to have written this very much with impressions in mind (I don&#8217;t blame her, she has older kids after all), but I always got the sense she was writing the story she WISHED to tell rather than the one that actually happened. This probably directly relates to my first issue with the book (the rushed conclusion). I think she framed the story, told what she liked and when she couldn&#8217;t novelize it anymore? THE END. Anyway&#8212;this review has gotten much too long&#8212;I still really liked it and would recommend it to you if you need a quick read. 
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Lately I&#8217;ve been having a hard time writing reviews longer than three sentences about books I really love. I think I&#8217;m afraid that my writing about them will cheapen the experience I had reading them. Long review short: This is the best book I&#8217;ve read yet this year. It will be short listed as one of my favorites for 2014. It&#8217;s only June, but I&#8217;m completely confident about that. I don&#8217;t want to give any of the plot away. Just start reading it. It&#8217;s intricate, haunting, moving. The writing is so good it made me want to cry. Reading this was a spiritual experience.
You guys reading anything good?

What I’ve Read:

  • Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link - This was one of those books I randomly decided to read because it sounded vaguely entertaining and I’m a sucker for fun cover art. Memoirs of rural living/adventure set alongside some sort of personal or professional hardship OR displayed as a brave and courageous departure from the monotony of a 9-5 life are littered on bookshelves. Maybe Wild started it, maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did it first, but whatever the case, they are now A Thing. And I’m okay with that. I enjoy them a lot. You wrote an entire book about raising chickens? Sign me up. How about that one where you bought a farm and you have no idea what you’re doing? Yes, please. These books are usually a predictable combination of heart-warming anecdotes and humorous stories and sometimes that sounds just about right. (The Dirty Life by Kim Kimball is still one of my favorites of the genre.) Anyway, Bootstrapper is most definitely one of these types of books, but it’s also better. Better because Link IS badass and I was rooting for her the whole goddamn book. She and her husband divorce and suddenly she’s raising 3 boys at an income level that registers at or below the poverty line. She is resourceful, though, and has the kind of mental and emotional fortitude that makes her seem bigger than life. She’s inspirational but it doesn’t come off like she’s actually trying to be. She’s just telling about her life—like when she and her sons entered a zucchini-growing contest at their local bakery to win free bread so she could make her sons enough sandwiches that they wouldn’t go hungry for lunch. It was a quick, good book, but a few things confused or annoyed me. First, it seems like she ran out of stories once things began improving and at that point she realized she’d better wrap it up quick. Nothing else to write about, folks! I’m good now! Second, there are several details that she glosses over or pretends we won’t notice. Details of the divorce, for example, are no where to be found, though it’s a pivotal and reoccurring theme in her book. Third: A good memoir often makes you feel like you know someone intimately and it takes a lot of honest dumping all over the page to get that sense of familiarity well-established. Wild is a good example of this. Cheryl Strayed is really fearless talking about the not-so-book-ready parts of her story and that made me feel invested. Link, on the other hand, seems to have written this very much with impressions in mind (I don’t blame her, she has older kids after all), but I always got the sense she was writing the story she WISHED to tell rather than the one that actually happened. This probably directly relates to my first issue with the book (the rushed conclusion). I think she framed the story, told what she liked and when she couldn’t novelize it anymore? THE END. Anyway—this review has gotten much too long—I still really liked it and would recommend it to you if you need a quick read. 
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Lately I’ve been having a hard time writing reviews longer than three sentences about books I really love. I think I’m afraid that my writing about them will cheapen the experience I had reading them. Long review short: This is the best book I’ve read yet this year. It will be short listed as one of my favorites for 2014. It’s only June, but I’m completely confident about that. I don’t want to give any of the plot away. Just start reading it. It’s intricate, haunting, moving. The writing is so good it made me want to cry. Reading this was a spiritual experience.

You guys reading anything good?

  • k 28 notes
Lots of catching up to do.
Orfeo by Richard Powers - Orfeo is intense. It&#8217;s not a fast read, not an easy read, not even a particularly pleasurable read in the general sense that reading should be relaxing and engaging. This book is not relaxing. Every page felt like an electric shock. If you aren&#8217;t familiar with it, the book is about an aging, brilliant composer/professor Peter Els who decides to put his college microbiology studies to good use. In an unfortunate moment, he accidentally attracts the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. The book flits in time between the past and present; from his musical beginnings and discoveries to events in his personal and professional life. The story and characters are phenomenally well-constructed, but the music. THE MUSIC. It&#8217;s hard to write about music well but it&#8217;s even harder to write about the way it&#8217;s making you feel while you listen to it. How strange, then, for me to be reading about music I am familiar with and hear it start to play in my head. I recognize this, I&#8217;d think. Or, yes, that&#8217;s exactly what that part feels like! This book is incomparable. If you&#8217;ve ever played a major classical work, there is sometimes a moment where time almost stops, where the sound blends, where you feel you are part of a large machine pushing toward a conclusion, where your heart races and you forget everything except the next note on the page. Reading this book feels like that. It&#8217;s really astonishing.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P -  This book is so well-known that I don&#8217;t think I have much to add. Anyway, I sped my way through it. Not because it was bad&#8212;I actually found it amusing. Nate is really quite the douchebag, but the amusing part is that he suspects he is too. But then he sits down to eat his Raisin Bran and plan the next Great American Novel.
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann - There&#8217;s a moment in TransAtlantic when all the story lines begin to start intertwining, when the lightbulb finally goes off and you realize the intricate planning and pacing involved. It is completely stunning. Just unbelievably emotional and beautiful. 
Devil&#8217;s Knot by Mara Leveritt - Brandon and I were bored one night and we were looking through HBO documentaries and started watching the first Paradise Lost. We watched the two sequels over the next couple of days. Somewhere in there I downloaded this book on my Kindle and read it in a few hours. I remember hearing about this case and I definitely remember hearing about the release of the West Memphis Three (pictured on the book cover), but I was pretty young when the murders themselves actually happened. It was interesting to read this alongside viewing the documentaries for the first time. (The documentaries, by the way, are very graphic and disturbing so be forewarned.) If you like true crime and haven&#8217;t read this, add it to your list. 
What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell - Selena recommended this to me and I really liked it. It was darker and more sad that I anticipated and the portions of the book in and around the Jersey shore hometown of the protagonist are the best. It&#8217;s probably the most beachy book I&#8217;ve read, even if it&#8217;s not exactly what you&#8217;d choose for a &#8220;beach read.&#8221; (Like I said, the book is somber and becomes more so the further you get into it.) Still, the scenes of the beach, the feeling of being a teenager and scampering over the boardwalk with your friends&#8212;that stuff evoked strong memories for me. Cornwell has a really beautiful, descriptive writing style that allows you to see the things she&#8217;s writing about in an almost movie-like way. I wouldn&#8217;t be surprised if this is made into a movie. It would probably be a good one. 
What are you all reading right now?

Lots of catching up to do.

  • Orfeo by Richard Powers - Orfeo is intense. It’s not a fast read, not an easy read, not even a particularly pleasurable read in the general sense that reading should be relaxing and engaging. This book is not relaxing. Every page felt like an electric shock. If you aren’t familiar with it, the book is about an aging, brilliant composer/professor Peter Els who decides to put his college microbiology studies to good use. In an unfortunate moment, he accidentally attracts the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. The book flits in time between the past and present; from his musical beginnings and discoveries to events in his personal and professional life. The story and characters are phenomenally well-constructed, but the music. THE MUSIC. It’s hard to write about music well but it’s even harder to write about the way it’s making you feel while you listen to it. How strange, then, for me to be reading about music I am familiar with and hear it start to play in my head. I recognize this, I’d think. Or, yes, that’s exactly what that part feels like! This book is incomparable. If you’ve ever played a major classical work, there is sometimes a moment where time almost stops, where the sound blends, where you feel you are part of a large machine pushing toward a conclusion, where your heart races and you forget everything except the next note on the page. Reading this book feels like that. It’s really astonishing.
  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P -  This book is so well-known that I don’t think I have much to add. Anyway, I sped my way through it. Not because it was bad—I actually found it amusing. Nate is really quite the douchebag, but the amusing part is that he suspects he is too. But then he sits down to eat his Raisin Bran and plan the next Great American Novel.
  • TransAtlantic by Colum McCann - There’s a moment in TransAtlantic when all the story lines begin to start intertwining, when the lightbulb finally goes off and you realize the intricate planning and pacing involved. It is completely stunning. Just unbelievably emotional and beautiful. 
  • Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt - Brandon and I were bored one night and we were looking through HBO documentaries and started watching the first Paradise Lost. We watched the two sequels over the next couple of days. Somewhere in there I downloaded this book on my Kindle and read it in a few hours. I remember hearing about this case and I definitely remember hearing about the release of the West Memphis Three (pictured on the book cover), but I was pretty young when the murders themselves actually happened. It was interesting to read this alongside viewing the documentaries for the first time. (The documentaries, by the way, are very graphic and disturbing so be forewarned.) If you like true crime and haven’t read this, add it to your list. 
  • What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell - Selena recommended this to me and I really liked it. It was darker and more sad that I anticipated and the portions of the book in and around the Jersey shore hometown of the protagonist are the best. It’s probably the most beachy book I’ve read, even if it’s not exactly what you’d choose for a “beach read.” (Like I said, the book is somber and becomes more so the further you get into it.) Still, the scenes of the beach, the feeling of being a teenager and scampering over the boardwalk with your friends—that stuff evoked strong memories for me. Cornwell has a really beautiful, descriptive writing style that allows you to see the things she’s writing about in an almost movie-like way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is made into a movie. It would probably be a good one. 

What are you all reading right now?

  • k 44 notes