Thursday, April 30, 2015

Marriage: Illustrated With Crappy Pictures

Book 10 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read on Feb. 1

Marriage: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures by Amber Dusick

Summary (via the book jacket)
Marriage: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures provides much-needed laughs about coping with another person's hygiene habits, cleaning rituals (including their ritual of not cleaning), financial decisions, cooking quirks, and everything else that makes your spouse weird and annoying special and perfect in every way.

My Opinion
The section titled Credit the Source, or Are you Listening? was absolutely spot on for me. She talks about a conversation she has with her husband (enhanced with illustrations) where she says, "Maybe if you set an alarm on your phone you'll remember to take the trash bins to the curb on Thursdays" and he responds, "Yeah, or I could remove the bins so I can see them..." They talk for a little longer and then he says, "I just thought of something! I could set an alarm on my phone!"  Arrggghhh, I've felt that frustration, where something you said is presented back to you as if it's brand new information, many times!!!  She gives a few more conversations as examples and it was by far my favorite part of the book.

**Edit** I'm adding that when I told my husband about this review and how much I related to the previous paragraph, he tried to tell me it's flattering when he does it because my ideas are so great he wants to take them as his own. But nice try. I then showed him the book and he spent some time flipping through it - he enjoyed it as well. 

All in all, this read wasn't a bad way to spend a little time. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Cleaning doesn't make anything look clean. It just makes the rest of my house look dirty."

"We take turns doing the bedtime routine with the kids, but Crappy Husband [she stresses her husband isn't crappy, she calls him that because her illustrations of him are crappy] isn't very good at it. The person he can get to sleep is himself."

Falling into Place

Book 9 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 28 - Jan. 30

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Summary (via Goodreads)
On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road. 

Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.

My Opinion
It was gripping from the beginning because while I'm no longer a young adult (this is a YA book), I'm not so far removed that I can't remember and relate to adolescent pain. However, there were some issues that kept me from giving the book more than 3 stars.

The description says it's told by an "unexpected and surprising" narrator so I was disappointed when I thought I knew who the narrator was right away. By the middle of the book I was doubting myself. When the actual reveal came at the end of the book I didn't like it; I felt it was an unnecessary step and disconnected me from the story. 

Also, Liz was entirely unlikable. It felt like the author was trying so hard to make her human and not angelic (as many authors treat characters that die at a young age) that she went too far in the opposite direction. I had no sympathy for her, another aspect that disconnected me from the story. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Because Liz Emerson held so much darkness within her that closing her eyes didn't make much of a difference at all."

"Funny things, aren't they? People. They only believed in what they could see. Appearances were all that mattered, and no one would ever care what she was like on the inside. No one cared that she was breaking apart."

"Force. Liz. She looked around and saw all of the broken things in her wake, and then she looked inside herself and saw the spidering cracks from the weight of all the things she had done. She hated what she was and didn't know how to change, and half an hour before she drove her car off the road, she saw that despite all that, she didn't have enough force to stop the world from turning.
But she had enough to stop her own."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Holiday in Death

Book 8 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 21 - Jan. 28

Holiday in Death by J.D. Robb
book 7 of the In Death series

Summary (via Goodreads)
No one likes to be alone during the holidays. For New York's most posh dating service, Personally Yours, it is the season to bring lonely hearts together. But Lieutenant Eve Dallas, on the trail of a ritualistic serial killer, has made a disturbing discovery: all of the victims have been traced to Personally Yours. As the murders continue, Eve enters into an elite world of people searching for their one true love--and a killer searching for his next victim. A world where the power of love leads men and women into the ultimate act of betrayal...

My Opinion
I think I need to stop reading the summary and just go in cold because yet again, I knew that there would be multiple victims and what the thread connecting them was before I even started. Either those are spoilers and shouldn't be in the summary or they're givens and Eve needs to stop exploring other avenues when the reader already knows they're dead ends.

Other than that, I still like the series and plan to continue with the easy fix of not reading anything about it beforehand.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"She lived with death, worked with it, waded through it, day after day, night after night. In the final weeks of 2058, guns were banned, and medical science had learned how to prolong life to well beyond the century mark.
  And man had yet to stop killing man.
  It was her job to stand for the dead."

"Late, very late, when the tree lights were off and the fire burned low, she lay awake. Was he out there, now? Would her 'link beep, announcing another body, another soul lost because she was too many steps behind?
 Whom did he love now?"

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno

Book 7 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 5 - Jan. 21

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson

Summary (via the book jacket)
Bartholomew Fortuno, the World's Thinnest Man, believes that his unusual body is a gift. Hired by none other than P.T. Barnum to work at his spectacular American Museum - a modern marvel of macabre displays and live performances by Barnum's cast of freaks and oddities - Fortuno has reached the pinnacle of his career. But after a decade of solid performance, he finds his contentment flagging. When a carriage pulls up outside the museum in the dead of night, bearing Barnum and a mysterious veiled woman, rumored to be a new performer, Fortuno's curiosity is piqued. And when Barnum asks Fortuno to follow her and report on her whereabouts, his world is turned upside-down. Why is Barnum so obsessed with this woman? Who is she, really? And why has she taken such a hold on the hearts around her?
As Fortuno searches for the truth, the other performers face trials of their own: Small fires keep erupting in the halls of the museum, and while alert residents quickly dowse them with water, an arsonist clearly lives among them. As the fires grow in size and number, it seems to be only a matter of time before their home will burn down, and so the hunt for the fire-setter is on.
Set in mid-nineteenth Manhattan, a time when carriages rattled down cobblestone streets, raucous bordellos thrived, and the country was mourning the death of President Lincoln, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is a moving novel about human appetites and longings. With pitch-perfect prose, Ellen Bryson explores what it means to be profoundly unique - and the power of love to transcend even the greatest divisions. 

My Opinion
I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I saw Goodreads compare this to Geek Love and Water for Elephants...those are two very different books (apart from the circus atmosphere) and a book that compares to both could be very strange. I tend not to compare books to each other but after reading it, I would say the comparison to Geek Love is stronger.

I was intrigued but uneasy as I read this; I didn't dislike it but am not sure I can unequivocally say I liked it either. I wasn't bored because I liked Fortuno as the narrator but I did make the note "it's page 99 and not much has happened yet" as I was reading. When the interactions between the characters picked up I found Fortuno's decline into madness very interesting.

I like how the author took a different approach than just listing the time and place at the beginning of the chapter and was able to portray the time period in a subtle way, by mentioning the mourning flag for Lincoln when describing the scenery on the first page. 

A jumbled review to match my jumbled feelings for the book.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"In fact, whenever possible, I avoided leaving Barnum's Museum at all. A man like me had no business in the wider world. Let the outside world come to me and pay to do it."

"Chance, together with a bit of luck, soon sent me along my inevitable way."

" 'I believe you have a gift,' she said.
   'A gift?'
   'You've been put in this world for something special. I have always known this, my baby. But if you want to fulfill your destiny and be who you are meant to be, you must learn to control your impulses. Control, Bartholomew, control.' "

Not Quite What I Was Planning

Book 6 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read on Jan. 21

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure

Summary (excerpted from Goodreads)
Deceptively simple and surprisingly addictive, Not Quite What I Was Planning is a thousand glimpses of humanity—six words at a time.
When Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn," he proved that an entire story can be told using a half-dozen words. When the online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs, they proved a whole, real life can be told this way, too. The results are fascinating, hilarious, shocking, and moving.
From small sagas of bittersweet romance ("Found true love, married someone else") to proud achievements and stinging regrets ("After Harvard, had baby with crackhead"), these terse true tales relate the diversity of human experience in tasty bite-size pieces.

My Opinion
What an interesting concept. There is a website,, that lists more and I will definitely spend some time browsing around there.

This was a fun, quick read. It's like people watching because I was given a brief glimpse into a life and could speculate on their backstory. I was very curious about some of them but in the end am glad they stuck with the format and didn't explain any of them.

It's natural to think about what your own six-word memoir would be. If I was in a jokey mood mine would be "It was worth wearing pants for". If I was being serious I would say "A simple pinecone changed my life". In the spirit of the book, I will leave it at that.

A Few Examples from the Book
"Followed rules, not dreams. Never again." ~ Margaret Hellerstein

"Girlfriend is pregnant, my husband said." ~ Shonna MacDonald

"Never really finished anything, except cake." ~ Carletta Perkins

"It's like forever, only much shorter." ~ Pete DeVito

"Should have learned to count." ~ David Wheatley

"More than yesterday, less than tomorrow." ~ Nichiren Nahuel Palombo

"Cadavers played an unexpectedly large part." ~ Mary Roach

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Little Wolves

Book 5 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 19 - Jan. 20

Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman

Summary (via the book jacket)
Set on the Minnesota prairie in the late 1980s during a drought season that's pushing family farms to the brink, Little Wolves features the intertwining stories of a father searching for answers after his son commits a heinous murder, and a pastor's wife (and washed-out scholar of early Anglo-Saxon literature) who has returned to the town for mysterious reasons of her own. A penetrating look at small-town American from the award-winning author of The Night Birds, Little Wolves weaves together elements of folklore and Norse mythology while being driven by a powerful murder mystery.

My Opinion
Our book club read this because it was an All Iowa Reads selection. 

Just as you can really like a person but not love everything that they say, I really liked this book even though I didn't love every paragraph. 

On the plus side, it was intense and difficult to put down at times. The writing was so vivid I would look up and be surprised that I'm not sitting in a barn on a rainy night with the characters right in front of me. I nodded with familiarity at the descriptions of small town life such as "Know the price of beans or the weather forecast, and you might find your way into a conversation" and "people lived in this town for twenty-five years and were still counted as strangers".

On the minus side, it is difficult to recommend because there are many elements to it - religious but also a hint of supernatural - that keep it from falling into a simple "you like a particular genre (religion, mystery, supernatural, etc.)? try this book" category. Also, after toeing the line for most of the book, the ending was a letdown because it went too far into the spiritual side for my liking.  I'm sure there are things that I missed (extra meaning in the chapter titles or significance in the multiple injuries that led to bleeding palms) because I tend not to focus on religious aspects or lessons. 

I was not surprised to see in the author's note that he woke up one morning hearing a father's voice and needing to follow it led to the book because Grizz was the most vivid character to me.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Clara Warren's hand shook as she marked the words on the page because she knew she was trapped inside one of her father's stories, and the only way out was to write it down. She wrote as if her life depended on it, and maybe it did."

"Few people know you as well as those who hate you."

"Sometimes Seth smiled his small secret smile because there was music inside him when he was alone in his thoughts. And Grizz had to turn away, the familiar expression reminding him too sharply of the boy's mother. Seth's hand for drawing, his fancy-flighting, his desperate capacity to love the wrong things: all this he inherited from her."

" "Rilke says that we live out our lives in the horizontal." He drew his hand slowly along the surface of the table, "but every now and then, even in an ordinary life, we touch the vertical." "

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Astronaut Wives Club

Book 4 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 12 - Jan. 19

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

Summary (via Goodreads)
As America's Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.
Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was proclaimed JFK's favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived on base with a secret. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other's children by day, while going to glam parties at night as the country raced to land a man on the Moon.
As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives-they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.

My Opinion
The book starts off with an explanation of how The Astronaut Wives Club came to be.  The pressure wasn't just on the men who were among the first to go into space but also on their wives to be presentable/articulate for reporters, to have orderly lives/homes/children so their husbands would be able to focus on their jobs, and to basically have their world turned upside down with sudden publicity and scrutiny.  The wives learned very quickly that nobody would be able to understand this better than the other wives so they formed a club; besides meeting regularly they also supported and helped each other. 

Although it talks about space and NASA the main focus is the women.  It was an interesting look back at a different time.  Some of the criteria NASA used to determine which applicants to choose was the stability of their family (one woman stayed married to her husband because she knew how important this was to him and he wouldn't have been chosen if they had divorced) and how many times per week their wife cooked a meal at home; it seems silly now but it was very serious then.  The book ended with the stat that after all the pressure, only 7 of the 30 couples mentioned in the book stayed together and the Astronaut Wives Club has been renamed the Original Wives Club.

Although it sounded incredibly stressful and I wouldn't want to be scrutinized that closely (or have to deal with my husband having groupies, ha!) there were perks as well and they seemed to become accustomed to them pretty quickly. I found the story of how they all wore pink lipstick for their group cover photo of Life and were surprised to see it was changed to red lipstick when the issue printed (the magazine felt bright red was "more patriotic" than pink) funny and strange.  I also felt bad for the wife that stuttered and how much she practiced so it wouldn't be noticeable during her obligatory press statements. 

I wonder if it's a coincidence that most of the scandal/dirt was about Alan and Louise Shepard and they're both deceased.  I don't think the stories are untrue necessarily but I think some things are easier to say when you know they won't be reading it.

Overall I found it to be a bit uneven.  When she focused on the Mercury 7 wives it was a 5 star read for me.  As she moved beyond them I didn't enjoy it as much because it felt like she kept introducing people without spending much time on them so I didn't know them and had trouble keeping them straight (even the description of the book only mentioned the original 7).  I would've either stopped and made the book solely about the Mercury 7 or expanded and given more space to later wives/missions (Apollo 13 is a pretty famous mission and there wasn't much about what their wives were feeling at all, surprising based on the focus given to earlier missions).

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Joan was heartbroken. She swore she'd never have another monkey." ~ I think this is funny to quote without giving any context whatsoever.

"The monthly coffees and teas of the Astronaut Wives Club served the same purpose [Marge] did: 'If you need us, come'."

"Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world. As you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth. For one priceless moment, in the whole history of man, all the people on Earth are truly one." ~ President Nixon to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during his phone call from the White House to the moon

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I Am Malala

Book 3 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 4 - Jan. 12

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World
by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick

**Note: I read the Young Readers Edition and don't know if/how it differs from her original memoir.

Summary (via the book jacket)
Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren't allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn't go to school.
Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause. She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school.
No one expected her to survive.
Now she is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee. In this Young Readers Edition of her bestselling memoir, which includes exclusive photos and material, we hear firsthand the remarkable story of a girl who knew from a young age that she wanted to change the world - and did.
Malala's powerful story will open your eyes to another world and will make you believe in hope, truth, miracles, and the possibility that one person - one young person - can inspire change in her community and beyond.

My Opinion
What an inspiration. Named for the Pashtun heroine Malalai, who inspired her countrymen with her courage, Malala absolutely lives up to her name.

I was completely ignorant of how much Malala had done prior to being shot. While Malala showed extreme courage and conviction, this book helped me realize the impact on her entire family. It began with her dad ignoring customs about how girls were treated from the moment she was born and raising her to be confident and value education. It continued with support from her mom.  The discrepancy between her dad running a school and her mom being illiterate was a good illustration of the culture, and I was happy to read Malala inspired her mom to learn to read. Her entire family, including her brothers, had to adjust to life in England (where they've lived since the shooting). 

I bought this as a present for my daughter and look forward to the conversations we will have after she reads it.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"The Taliban shot me to try to silence me. Instead, the whole world was listening to my message now."

"But my father told me not to worry [about the Taliban]. 'I will protect your freedom, Malala,' he said. 'Carry on with your dreams'."

"I had grown up hearing the word terrorism, but I never really understood what it meant. Until now. Terrorism is different from war - where soldiers face one another in battle. Terrorism is fear all around you. It is going to sleep at night and not knowing what horrors the next day will bring. It is huddling with your family in the center-most room in your house because you've all decided it's the safest place to be. It is walking down your own street and not knowing whom you could trust. Terrorism is the fear that when your father walks out the door in the morning, he won't come back at night."

"This was my calling. Some powerful force had come to dwell inside me, something bigger and stronger than me, and it had made me fearless. Now it was up to me to give my father a dose of the courage he had always given me."

The Vacationers

Book 2 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 1 - Jan. 5

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Summary (via Goodreads)
For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.
This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

My Opinion
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this one.  It drew me in but it made me uncomfortable because I had that feeling that bad things were going to happen.  I was interested but didn't want to become invested because it was so negative and none of the characters were particularly likable.  There were a lot of issues going on; is that what family life is really like?

There were some interesting descriptions, such as saying a crowd "made Sylvia fold in half like a toy with dead batteries".  And I definitely related to the moment when Franny unexpectedly found herself laughing with Jim and then stopped herself because she needed to hold on to her anger and wasn't ready to do that with him yet.

I rated it in the middle because I was interested but also unsettled as I read.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Like most things, sex got better with age until one hit a certain plateau, and then it was like breakfast, unlikely to change unless one ran out of milk and was forced to improvise."

"There was nothing in life harder or more important than agreeing every morning to stay the course, to go back to your forgotten self of so many years ago, and to make the same decision. Marriage, like ships, need steering, and steady hands at the wheel."

I Like You Just the Way I Am

Book 1 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 1 - Jan. 4

I Like You Just the Way I Am by Jenny Mollen

Summary (via Goodreads)
Jenny Mollen is an actress and writer living in Los Angeles. She is also a wife, married to a famous guy (which is annoying only because he gets free shit and she doesn't). She doesn’t want much from life. Just to be loved—by everybody: her parents, her dogs, her ex-boyfriends, her ex-boyfriends’ dogs, her husband, her husband’s ex-girlfriends, her husband's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriends, etc. Some people might call that impulse crazy, but isn’t "crazy" really just a word boring people use to describe fun people? (And Jenny is really, really fun, you guys!)
In these pages, you’ll find stories of Jenny at her most genuine, whether it’s stalking her therapist (because he knows everything about her so shouldn’t she get to know everything about him?); throwing a bachelorette party so bad that one of the guests is suspected dead; or answering the eternal question, Would your best friend blow your husband on a car ride to dinner if she didn't know you were hiding in the backseat?
I Like You Just the Way I Am is about not doing the right thing—about indulging your inner crazy-person. It is Jenny when she’s not trying to impress anyone or come across as a responsible, level-headed member of society. With any luck it will make you better acquainted with who you really are and what you really want. Which, let’s be honest, is most likely someone else’s email password.

My Opinion
Wow, Jenny definitely puts it all out there!  Although I found some of what she said less 'haha funny' and more 'look how shocking I am', it was very readable.  She makes horrible situations (like with her mom) sound breezy and turned a tough childhood into anecdotes.  

With memoirs like this I always wonder about the family members/friends mentioned.  Jenny's obviously very open but if others aren't it could lead to some awkward holidays.  I'm thinking specifically of how she badmouths her mother-in-law and of the very detailed chapter about getting her husband a hooker for his birthday.  Not that that's something a person needs to worry about - why write a memoir if you're going to censor yourself? - but I'm always curious about reactions and interactions. 

Her descriptions were very vivid. That's great when engaging a reader but there's a flip side too.  I'm writing this review super late (I KNOW) using notes I took at the time but I don't need notes to remember how she described removing an ingrown hair...for some reason that stuck with me and probably will for some time.  

Even though a lot of this book made me cringe, I liked her writing style enough to peek at her social media posts and would probably read another one of her books.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"The stories you're about to read are basically true. Though I tried to do my best in depicting the events as I remembered them, there are exaggerations, some characters are composites, and some time periods are condensed. The only thing I'm sure of with complete certainty is that I was really thin and cute the whole time I was writing this."

"I took a minute to sum up the situation: I was currently locked in the bathroom, hiding from my therapist, pretending to be marrying a gay ex-con, and getting dropped by my mid-level talent agency. All at the same time."

"When self-obsessed people breed, they make empty people like me who spend the rest of their time on earth trying to gain the love and approval they didn't get as children. This doesn't excuse my behavior. It's just to say, if my parents had actually noticed me, I probably wouldn't care so much about whether everyone else on the planet adored me. Unfortunately, I'm a bottomless pit of need, and here are several people who have suffered because of it..."