Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review: Young Jane Young

Aviva Grossman is ready to go out and conquer the world--she's young, smart, and pretty, and has recently been hired as an intern for a handsome, popular Congressman. When she and her boss begin an affair, she can't resist writing about it online (anonymously, of course). But it doesn't stay hidden for long. While the congressman is able to save his re-election campaign and his marriage, Aviva is vilified and despised. She decides her only option is to start a new life, so Jane moves to remote Maine and becomes a wedding planner. She lives a quiet life with her daughter Ruby, until she considers running for mayor. Can the secrets of Jane's past stay hidden or is it time for the truth to come out?

Like many readers, I adored Gabrielle Zevin's sweet and quirky The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. So I was excited to read her newest novel. But I must confess that I picked this book up and put it down a few times before finally sticking with it because Young Jane Young is very different in tone and plot from A.J. Fikry. 

Zevin uses several different perspectives to tell this story, including Aviva's mother, Jane's precocious daughter Ruby, and even the wife of the congressman. Each character is fascinating and uniquely written. I especially loved the relationship between Jane and Ruby, although Ruby's narrative, which is told through emails with an international pen pal, is sometimes a bit much.

This book strikes a great balance. It's obviously about some current and difficult issues, like the way women are treated in the media and the way that men can seemingly escape scandal without consequence, while women are blacklisted in their fields. But it's not a heavy book; there is a lot of humor to be found on these pages and you can almost see it play out in your head like a zany comedy on a movie screen. Young Jane Young is a fun and often delightful read that will also leave you thinking about the cost of being a woman in public who makes mistakes and the double standard for men and women in our modern culture.

Young Jane Young
By Gabrielle Zevin
Algonquin Books August 2017
320 pages
Read via Netgalley

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mini-Reviews: Stay With Me and Manhattan Beach

Yejide and Akin are prepared to have a happy marriage and keep their families and their traditions at arm's length while pursuing a modern Nigerian life. But after years after marriage, Yejide still is not pregnant. They have been to specialists, tried drinking teas to boost fertility, and Yejide is even considering visiting the healer who lives up on a mountain. The decision is made for her when their family shows up with a second wife for Akin. The repercussions of that choice will drive the couple to the brink and force them to decide how hard they will fight for their marriage.

Stay With Me reminded me of Fates and Furies in certain ways. Both tell the story of a marriage from alternating points of view. You may think you know what is going on until you get the other spouse's side of the story and suddenly, your whole perception of the relationship and the people in it will change. Both Yejide and Akin do some outrageous things in their attempts to save their marriage and themselves. It's both incredibly specific to Nigerian culture, and familiar to anyone who discovers that marriage and having a family isn't quite what you expected.

Stay With Me
By Ayobami Adebayo
Knopf Publishing Group August 2017
260 pages
From the library

Anna Kerrigan works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as the only female diver. She spends her days defying the expectations of her boss and repairing the massive ships that have been damaged in the war. When she meets the notorious Dexter Styles one night, she remembers going to his home many years ago with her father. Anna sets out to discover how the men knew each other and if Styles might be responsible for her father's disappearance.

I may be the only reader who picked up this book without reading Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad first. I can't resist a well-told historical fiction novel and this is certainly one. Ms. Egan writes place like few other authors, and you will feel like you are dancing in a WWII-era club or walking through the Naval Yard on your way to work. My only qualm with Manhattan Beach is the change in perspective towards the end of the story. It didn't really add anything for me and I found myself wanting to be back with Anna. I would have read her entire life story, so I'm excited to go back and read Egan's earlier books.

Manhattan Beach
By Jennifer Egan
Scribner October 2017
438 pages
From the library

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Forgotten History Mini-Reviews: Dogs at the Perimeter and Dreamland Burning

I'm placing these two mini-reviews together because both books center around lesser-known moments in history. I certainly never learned about The Tulsa Race Riots in history class and I knew of the Cambodian genocide, but had never read a novel about it. I find that the best historical fiction inspires you to go and research further and Dogs at the Perimeter and Dreamland Burning certainly do that.

Janie doesn't know what to do with herself. Her friend and mentor Hiroji has disappeared, she can't face her husband or young son, and she is haunted by her past. Both Janie and Hiroji are consumed by thoughts of their brothers---Janie knows that her brother died long ago in Cambodia, but Hiroji can't help but hope that his brother is somewhere in the world after working at a refugee camp. This novel is an intense and devastating look at the visible and invisible scars of war.

Dogs at the Perimeter is a book where little happens in the present. Instead, the characters live in a world of memories and fight to keep living because the horrors of their past refuse to leave them alone. Those memories are written sparsely because we need no embellishment to understand how agonizing it is to not know where a family member is or to helplessly watch someone starve. Madeleine Thein is one of those writers who seems to stay mostly under the radar, which is a shame. Her books are beautifully written examinations of grief and loss, both individually and for the people of entire nations who have lived through unimaginable circumstances.

Dogs at the Perimter
By Madeleine Thein
W.W. Norton October 2013
259 pages
From the library

Rowan Chase had only lazy summer day before she was supposed to start her internship. But discovering a dead body on the family property will send her searching for answers about what happened to the victim and how he ended up buried in her backyard. A hundred years before, Will Tillman is trying to find his way in a city where racial tensions are rising. Will tentatively befriends a black boy and his sister, but he also is pursued by a local Klansman who wants him to join. Little does he know that Tulsa is about to literally be set on fire and everyone in town, black and white, will be in danger.

I have to confess I didn't know anything about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. An entire section of town was burnt down, thousands of African American homes and businesses were destroyed, and hundreds of people were murdered. Jennifer Latham does a wonderful job of showing two kids on the verge of being adults who are seeing things clearly for maybe the first time: Will is white and has rarely considered what it would mean to be a person of color and Rowan is biracial but protected by her wealth until she starts working at a local clinic and sees the ways poverty and racism can destroy lives. This is a rare instance where both timelines are compelling and readers will love following Will and Rowan all the way to the end.

Dreamland Burning
By Jennifer Latham
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers February 2017
365 pages
From the library

Monday, January 15, 2018

It's Monday and it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Hey friends! How is 2018 treating you so far?

As I'm sure you know, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day here in the US so my ten-year-old is home today with the four-year-old and me. I remember my historian father would make us read about the event or person in question when we had a day like this off from school. Picture a good amount of lugging around the World Encyclopedia books to look up some presidents.

My kids both know who MLK was and we have several books in our house about his life and work. I think today we are going to focus on doing some things for others and finally put everything together the books and blankets for the charity we picked this Christmas (Books and a Blanket) and maybe see if we can write some letters/make pictures for someone who might need a little cheer. What do you do with your kids to commemorate MLK Day?

It's been a while since I've done a post for "It's Monday." I've read five books so far this year. I started with finally reading Little Fires Everywhere, dreamed about someday owning a few chickens with Gardening with Chickens, finally read The Blazing World after it has been languishing on my shelves for a few years, and sped through Dreamland Burning and The Music Shop


I'm currently working my way through Practical Organic Gardening (can you tell I'm dreaming of spring?) and I'm excited to start The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, which I just picked up from the library.

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: Hiding in the Bathroom

Morra Aarons-Mele is a successful woman by any standard. She founded a consulting agency that works on presidential campaigns, but she is also an introvert who had frequent panic attacks and hid from her colleagues at networking events. In Hiding in the Bathroom, she shows readers the proof that successful people don't have to be bombastic and spend every minute focused on their career to the detriment of everything else. Aarons-Mele gives advice to the rest of us: the people with anxiety who want to be CEOs, the introverts who want to run a company but hate networking, and the parent who wants to find success in their field and still spend time with their kids.

This is a book for people who work in certain fields; there are some jobs where you just don't have a lot of wiggle room. But if you are in the kind of profession where you control some aspects of your job, this is a great book. This book has chapters about dealing with FOMO (fear of missing out, for those like me who don't know the lingo), leaning in less to find the things that are priorities and the things you can let go, and finding the right job to fit your hermit ways. I also appreciated that she covered things like negotiating and sales--if you're an introvert like me, those things can quickly send you into a panic. But if they are a part of your job, you need to know how to deal with them without crying under your desk every time.

I'm pretty new to reading books about strengthening your career like this one, but a point I've seen a few times is that we are doing damage to ourselves and our workplaces when we only think about work-life balance as a downside to parenting. People also need balance to do things like have hobbies, care for their parents, or even just spend a few quiet hours at home without worrying the boss will call you at midnight. "I'm going to say it again: control over pace, place, and space is NOT a mommy issue! Everyone has their own work+life fit, and if you're an introvert, yours may not include sitting in an open-plan office fifty hours a week. If you love your career and you want to stay in it, don't let lack of flexibility or a poor work+life fit chase you out! Remember what workplace expert Cali Yost says: most mangers feel shocked when employees quit over a work+life conflict. They don't want you to leave. So next time you're chafing against silly face-time rules, think like a boss and take what you need."

This is a realistic book; the author admits realizes that this advice is not for every person or every career and that some newer employees have to prove their commitment before they can shift what their boss expects. But she also believes that people work best under different circumstances; if we as bosses and employees want the best work possible, shouldn't allow the flexibility for all people to excel?

Hiding in the Bathroom
An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There
(When You'd Rather Stay Home)
By Morra Aarons-Mele
Dey Street Books September 2017
304 pages
From the library

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant to Read in 2017

There are sadly, only so many hours in the day. Most of us build extensive lists of books we mean to read, but we just don't get to them all. Here are some of the books published in 2017 that I meant to read, but didn't get least not yet! There's always 2018, right?

1. A Word for Love by Emily Robbins is a story of an exchange student who finds herself drawn into the lives of her host family instead of focusing on the ancient text she came to study.

2. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology by Adam Alter is nonfiction about our addiction to our phones and computers (and maybe our video games, but don't tell my 10-year-old).

3.  The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler -- Butler succeeded in making me care for a musician, a farmer, a rich boy, and an injured football player in Shotgun Lovesongs. Can he make me interested in Boy Scouts in this book?

4. Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott -- It's a new book by Anne Lamott. Need we say more?

5. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon was one of the hottest books of 2017. I need to get to this book about two Indian teens who meet at a computer camp and discover their parents intend for them to get married.

                 A Word for Love     Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

6. The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon is a novel about two women who are married to soldiers and live in Jordan. The description promises beautiful writing and plenty of secrets!

7. Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust is apparently a re-imagining of Snow White and I think this just might fill the hole in my literary heart for fairy tales retellings.

8. Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing by Daniel Tammet is a collection of essays about language; clearly it's meant for me.

9. That Inevitable Victorian Thing by EK Johnston -- I loved Johnston's book about Ahsoka and her Thousand Nights books. I'm excited to read this one about an alternative future version of the British empire and its heir to the throne.

10. The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt -- Hunt's Mr. Splitfoot was one of my favorite books of 2016, so I need to read her new collection of short stories as soon as possible.

             Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing: Encounters with the Mysteries and Meanings of Language     That Inevitable Victorian Thing

Which books from your 2017 list are still waiting patiently to be read?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Long Books for Those Long Winter Nights

If you live in the Northeast United States like I do, you are probably digging yourself out from another snow storm. My son is enjoying his second day off from school, and we have had substantial snow at least once a week for the past three.

The good thing about cold, snowy days is the possibility of lots of reading. There's something perfect about curling up with a hot drink, a warm blanket, and a very large book. Winter is the perfect time to tackle that huge book you've been meaning to read. Here are some door stopper books I've read and a few I'm hoping to pick up this winter!

Books I've Read

Historical Fiction:
Hild by Nicola Griffith (546 pages)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (541 pages)
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (501 pages)
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (504 pages)

The Fireman by Joe Hill (752 pages)
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (502 pages)
The Cormoran Strike Mysteries by Robert Gailbraith (first one is 455 pages)

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (818 pages)
Dead Wake by Erik Larson (430 pages)

Books I Hope to Read Soon
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway (704 pages)
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (523 pages)
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Issacson (590 pages)

What huge book do you think I should read this winter?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Music Review: A Laurie Berkner Christmas

I know, I know, Christmas was a week ago. I've been meaning to review this CD with the little one for weeks, but we were too busy listening to it (and of course, doing all the other wonderful, crazy holiday stuff).

Laurie Berkner is much-beloved by the preschool crowd. We've reviewed one of her albums here and she is a favorite in our house. In fact, my four-year-old often requests Berkner (one name, like Cher), so we were happy to get her Christmas CD. There is a lovely combination of original songs and traditional songs performed in a new way. Your kids will definitely be happy to sing along, but it won't drive you crazy if you have to listen to it for 25 days straight.

A Laurie Berkner Christmas

Becca's Thoughts: It's awesome. Berkner is really good and I like her. When I was a baby, I loved Berkner so much and I needed Berkner songs. The Christmas songs are awesomest because they are all about these Christmas guys and they are so awesome! Sing with Becca and Berkner all across the world!

Song Most Likely To Cause A Small Concert In the Backseat: Christmas Lights
Song Clearly Meant For A Christmas Dance Party: Santa's Coming to My House Tonight
Song That Still Makes Me Cry (every time): Silent Night
Song I Had Never Heard Before: Christmas Is Coming
Becca's Favorite Songs: Candy Cane Jane and Jingle Bells

A Laurie Berkner Christmas
October 2012
15 songs
Received for review