"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
This book was a disappointment after the first two in the series, both of which were vivid and riveting. Fortunately, I had been forewarned that this one was a bit lackluster, so I didn't go into it with expectations that were too high.
Mostly, it felt like a sequel that didn't really need to be written. I think the author (or publisher) felt compelled to tie the first two books together, but both of them are strong standalones and tying them together in this third volume felt forced. Plus, a lot of what happens in here is not very different from what happened in the earlier books -- the struggle to find enough food, the windfalls and disappointments, the highs and lows of living through an apocalypse, you know, that sort of thing.
And even though it's shorter than the other books in the series (I think), it has a lot more characters, so there was quite a bit to keep track of in the second half. The book started to feel "crowded" since several of the characters were not developed all that well. Also, I noticed some really weird gender things in this book that either were not present in the other two books or that just didn't strike me in the same way. But I think that Pfeffer might have some internalized sexism going on ... Miranda's mother was always very insistent that Miranda stay home while the boys were able to strike out and explore/adventure/etc., and Alex seemed to think that for some reason he got to decide what his sister's fate would be even though she was old enough to have some say in the matter. (Also, I think the decision the author made regarding Julia's storyline was absolutely atrocious). I liked Alex less in this book than in the book that is actually about him -- in this volume he came across as controlling and almost stereotypically pious.
For whatever reason there is yet one more book in this series, which I may or may not read. The first two books are great, but as far as I'm concerned you wouldn't be missing too much if you just stopped there.
This is one of the best memoirs I've read of this type -- regular person (not a writer) goes through something traumatic, interest is generated in her story, she writes a book with the aid of a ghostwriter to satisfy people's curiosity/voyeuristic tendencies/etc.
This book felt less "ghost-written" than most of the others I've read, and Knight's memory for detail is very strong. I think this is partly because she actually wrote about her experience in journals, poetry, etc., as it was happening. I felt like I got a much more vivid picture of the personal hell she lived through than in a lot of these types of memoirs -- I could see the room and house where she was imprisoned, got a sense of the personalities of the other girls and of her kidnapper. This all amounts to an incredibly harrowing story.
Knight's story is also unique because she was not snatched out of a perfect or idyllic life, nor does she romanticize her life pre-captivity. By the time she was kidnapped, she had already run away from home, dealt with neglect, poverty, and sexual abuse in her home, and experienced teenage pregnancy and an ensuing custody battle. The outcome of that particular thread of her story is one of the most heartbreaking of all.
Ariel Castro was truly an evil man, and I am amazed by Knight's ability to survive him.
I found the first book in this series to be a little lackluster, but I'm glad I continued on to the second book, anyway.
Whereas "The Magicians" seemed to spend a lot of time flailing and worldbuilding and finding its way, in this book the world is richly established from the beginning. Although similar to the first book it takes a little while for the main story line to get going, it is incredibly immersive from the start. The balance of literary fiction and fantasy seemed just right, for the most part, and it was easy to sink into this world. As soon as it was finished, I wanted to return by way of the third book -- but I don't have that one readily available so it might be a while.
For those who are unsure about this series after reading the first book, I would recommend continuing. The characters, the writing, and the worldbuilding all do a lot of "growing up" in this installment, and it tackles much bigger themes than the first one as well, feeling less like a riff on fantasy that has come before and more like it has come into its own.
Despite my enjoyment, docked a star mainly because of a few sort of ishy "male narrative" scenes. [Like, why are male writers so obsessed with scenes where unassuming dudes get seduced by women in ship cabins? Seriously, I think every writer thinks he's doing something new and incredibly erotic, when this is the third such time I've encountered this trope. Also, a man attempting to write a rape scene from the female victim's perspective always feels voyeuristic and yucky to me, and there's a pretty explicit one here that didn't sit very well with me.]
I Just Want to Say Good Night by Rachel Isadora
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was so charmed by an illustration from this book in the Hornbook magazine that I just had to see the whole thing.
The storyline is typical -- little girl doesn't want to go to bed, so she delays it by listing all the things she has to say goodnight to before she goes to sleep. The illustrations did not disappoint. Lala is adorable, the African scenery is stunning, and the details had me lingering on each page -- a cat peeking out from behind a hut there, mother cradling a younger baby in her arms as she tries to get Lala in bed, etc. And since I had it in the house, I decided to read it aloud to my baby (still in utero), so it also holds the distinction of being the book for baby's first storytime!
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HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie F. Mongan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I might come back and give this book 2 stars after I actually give birth if I decide it's all bunk.
But for now, I like the Mongan method philosophy (on paper, at least!) of birth being a natural process that should be approached as such, with as little anxiety or drama as possible. I definitely agree that we need to move away, as a culture, from ideas of the stress of childbirth as being fodder for humor or hysteria as we so often see portrayed in sitcoms and movies. I also think that if changing your mindset about labor reduces your anxiety leading up to birth, even if the birth process itself is harrowing, you've saved yourself all that unnecessary stress in the preceding months.
This is a comprehensive, holistic book that goes beyond the hypnobirthing relaxation techniques, so that even if you don't practice the techniques (which I have been practicing, but I'm not very good at them) you can find value in the overall philosophy. A couple things that bothered me, though, were more typos than should have been present in a non-self-pubbed book (especially in the "new/updated" chapters, as if they'd rushed those off) and a total lack of acknowledgment about some of the special circumstances that make human childbirth different from childbirth for other mammals who suffer less through it, such as our massive heads/big brains.
Still, I'm glad I read the book and also that I took the class, and I would recommend both together rather than trying to get by with just one or the other.
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I like to live a basically decluttered life, but as someone who is also thrifty and a little sentimental, my downfalls are always cheap books and gifts. I buy very little for myself besides food and the occasional replacement for something essential that has broken, but my shelves and drawers continue to fill in response to the generosity of others. So stuff encroaches, and the occasional purge is always in order.
As much as I want to do a total declutter before Baby arrives, I know that isn't actually going to happen ... but this book did give me some motivation to get rid of things as I can (which is not what Kondo recommends, btw.) I did read it before I did my annual book reorganizing, though, and I was able to purge more books than I've ever purged in an annual reorganizing before (although still not as many as she would have liked me to, I'm sure!). I have to translate her question of, "Does this bring me joy?" to "Do I want to drop everything and start reading this book RIGHT NOW?" when I organize my books, and because my reading appetite is so voracious and my tastes so varied, the answer to that question is "yes," for practically every book in my house. I use the "spark joy" criteria for the books I've already read, but that is a small portion of my collection since I tend to set books free after I have read them.
The question about whether a possession sparks joy or not is the most useful part of this book, the most publicized, and one that you honestly do not need to read the whole book to start applying. It also pretty much ignores practicality, and the many things that you keep even though they don't spark joy necessarily, like your cutting board, your dishwashing detergent, and your toothpaste. She also prioritizes space and simplicity above all else, and if that is not YOUR personal priority you are likely to butt heads with her philosophy. For example, she discourages "stocking up" on items such as toilet paper to cut down on clutter -- but if your priority is time (not having to shop as often) or cost-savings (it's cheaper to buy in bulk), then you have a right to act according to *that* priority rather than to hers. I for one am not going to stop buying non-expirables in bulk because I don't like to shop OR to know I'm spending more than I need to.
She also assumes a certain amount of privilege in assuring readers that they can "buy another one" if they find they've discarded something that they truly do need six months later. My husband points out that this is sound advice if your space is so small that you'd be paying for a bigger house or extra storage space just to keep something around that you only use once in a while, but if those are not issues and you can't afford to buy a new pet taxi every time you take your cat to the vet even though it's just once a year with the occasional emergency, well, just keep that pet taxi tucked away in the basement somewhere.
As the book goes on, the sensible and helpful advice on downsizing devolves into "my way is the only right way" tips on organizing that border on the neurotic. Socks must be folded a certain way, clothes must be hung in a certain order, etc. While I'm all for folding my clothes in a way that makes them easier to fit in my drawers and access easily (although I still have to learn her folding technique and actually try it), there's no way I'm going to empty my purse and repack it every day -- I have a hard enough time getting out the door on time as it is.
All-in-all, this is a good book to motivate you to start decluttering and downsizing, but take it with a grain of salt and don't let Kondo's insistence that her way is the only way stress you out.
I just wasn't as enamored of this book as a lot of other people seem to be.
While I found Bartimaeus' narration more compelling than Nathan's chapters, I didn't really find myself "getting behind" either character. I don't really need characters to be "likeable" in the books I read, but I kept wondering exactly who or what I should be rooting for in this book, what should keep me reading. Was I supposed to want Nathan to succeed in his endeavors, even though he was kind of a jerk to Bartimaeus? I kept thinking the book was probably trying to be something of a "buddy comedy" where Bartimaeus and Nathan were supposed to start out loathing each other but would eventually come to be reluctant comrades, and that perhaps THAT was the outcome we were supposed to be pulling for. But that aspect of the story never really seemed to materialize, either.
So I'm sorry to say that my mind wandered a fair amount during this book. It took me a long time to figure out the era it was taking place in, and I eventually determined it's in a sort of alternate present-day since a laptop was mentioned at some point. And although the magic system and political set-up and hints of a coming revolution were all interesting, it also felt somewhat muddled to me. It did remind me of a children's version of "Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell," and it was well written, but I probably won't be reading further into the series.
It's been over a decade since I read Operating Instructions, so I can't really weigh in on the comparison. I remember OI really blowing me away, which this one did not, but I also think I was somewhat easier to impress with books back then. At any rate, this was a good book to read as I prepare for a new baby in my own life, especially because it gave me some good insight into the "grandmother" and "mother-in-law" perspective. I think Lamott presumed WAY too much control over her son and his girlfriend's choices when it came to their child, and I hope she didn't come across quite so controlling in real life as she does in the "privacy" of her journal (that she knew would be published.) Grandparents in the delivery room, her thinking she had any say over where the baby would be baptized, etc., all went way too far in my opinion. Although her son was young when his child was born, in some ways that might be all the more reason to back off and make sure he and his partner could find their own way.
At the same time, one can hardly hold someone's feelings against them, and I try not to judge memoir by the foibles or personality of the author unless she is super immoral or obnoxious, and Lamott does not rise to that level -- she is just letting her weakness and her humanity show. I love reading published journals, and this one may have been slightly self-conscious because she had a contract for it as she was writing it, but it held my interest nonetheless and also reminded me to try to be a better journaler myself.
This is one of those books that inspires complicated feelings. Is it possible to write a book about teens and suicide that doesn't inspire complicated feelings? I've certainly never read one -- but it's something writers need to keep writing about, and that we need to keep talking about.
My biggest qualm with YA suicide books is that I always fear they run the risk of romanticizing the issue, and that is particularly true when the suicide is contextualized within a romantic relationship as it is here. And so what made me most uncomfortable about this book was that Finch and Violet's suicide attempt in the same place on the same day was essentially reduced to a "meet-cute" (this isn't a spoiler, it's the opening chapter.) And the road-trippy aspects of the story also made the whole thing seem kind of fun and sweet and exciting rather than truly harrowing. The book didn't make me cry, which considering the subject matter seems like a bit of a fail.
At the same time, the things that I can be most critical about in this book can also be interpreted as some of its greatest strengths. Dealing with mental illness does not mean your entire existence is bleak, or that there aren't moments of beauty and adventure and wonder. It doesn't mean that life doesn't continue to unfold around you. I thought that Niven handled Finch's mental illness in a way that was believable and nuanced. I was less impressed by her depiction of Violet. Violet was damaged in her own way, still grieving the loss of her sister, but I kept feeling distracted by the fact that her parents didn't seem to be grieving along with her. In some ways they seemed too "perfect" and "together" for parents who had gone through the tragedy of losing a child, but at the same time it was nice to see some responsible, competent adults in a YA book.
My book club spent a lot of time dissecting how things could have been different if this or that circumstance might have been changed, and although the book loses points for not tugging at my heartstrings the way it maybe should have, it gets those points back again by being the kind of book you keep chewing on for quite a while after the final page has been read.
Goodreads asked Lacey Louwagie: What books are on your summer reading list this year?
Well ... I'm expecting my first child in July, so my summer reading list is basically a crash course in parenting and domesticity. The stack consists of "Hypnobirthing" by Marie Mongan; "How to Raise a Family on Less Than Two Incomes" by Denise M. Topolnicki; "365 Ways to Live Cheap" by Trent Hamm; "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" by La Leche League; "The Nursing Mother's Companion" by Kathleen Huggins; etc. A lot of these I'll use for reference and probably not read cover-to-cover. I'm also hoping to finish "Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes (which I've been reading slowly over the last couple months) and hopefully throw in some graphic novels for a break. And the audiobooks I listen to always end up being the "wild card" in my reading life!
Zoe in Wonderland by Brenda Woods
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fun, sweet coming-of-age book about a daydreaming loner whose interest in the world beyond her mind is just beginning to be awakened. Well-drawn secondary characters, especially Zoe's next-door neighbor, and deals eloquently with some tough topics (cancer, financial instability, senility) without feeling too heavy.
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Sigh ... Lowry, why did you keep writing sequels to a book that never needed any sequels?
I found Gathering Blue to be somewhat lackluster, Messenger to be pretty awful ... and for a while, I thought this one might actually be different. Maybe not different enough to redeem the whole series, but at least different enough to justify its existence.
That's because the first section of the book takes place in the same community as The Giver, and this society remains equally fascinating through another character's experience of it. It follows the experiences of Gabriel's birthmother, Claire, and shows another side of the community that is still familiar to us. For the most part, the worldbuilding in the original book is one of its strongest, most enduring qualities -- few of us will forget our first exposure to it, which was, for many in my generation, our introduction to dystopia --and the first part of this book brings us back to that well-wrought world. This book would have been stronger if Lowry had published it as a novella or short story and scrapped everything that happens after Claire leaves the community ... but that did not happen.
The other communities are far less developed than the original one, and Claire sort of muddles her way through them for a few years, dragging the reader along for a far less interesting ride than what we thought we were in for in the beginning. Also, the book gets a little bit too "magical" without any explanation. I think that's my major bone of contention with this series, the sort of unevenness between the groundedness of Jonas's community, where almost everything makes sense even if it is horrifying, and the random, unexplained "powers" and magical realism running rampant in the rest of the world. (I did reread "The Giver" recently and realize that there is a touch of this unexplained magical realism there as well, but because it is a less prominent part of the story, it's less irritating.) Also, it wasn't just the random magical-ish things that lacked explanation -- there were also major plot points that didn't seem to make sense. [Like, why was it imperative that Gabriel go after the Trademaster? Why was that designated his "job" all of a sudden? Jonas was so insistent upon it, but it seemed mostly just a convenient way to resolve the story, or to make it seem like the various threads were meant to tie together all along when really it felt like they were still unraveling.]
It also felt like the book "tried too hard" to tie together all the sequels that shouldn't have been written in the first place, and the connections just weren't strong enough to make wading through all the separate stories that got us to that point worth it. I have a lot of respect for Lowry as a writer, and I wish she hadn't wasted so much of her time and mine spinning additional stories that never really needed to be told.
I gave this book four stars just as I did all the other books in the series, but I enjoyed the other three more.
I liked how the earlier books had the luxury of focusing in on their titular characters' story; as each new character was added while previous storylines were also continued, that sense of intimacy was lost. I felt like I didn't get to "know" Winter as well as I got to know the previous characters in their stories, and because there was so much to wrap up, this book just felt like it had a lot going on -- maybe too much sometimes.
In general, things seemed to go a little too smoothly for our protagonists, especially as it related to the revolution. I mean, I get that Levana's subjects had been displeased for years, but everyone seemed to jump on board with Cinder and the gang a little too easily, in too short a time, especially since she showed up without much plan for how she was going to pull everything off. It felt like Meyer knew this was her last book, so she had to wrap it up, whether the timing was right nor not -- the revolution itself could have lasted for a whole book series.
Also, it really annoyed me when Cinder abdicated at the end -- I felt like it was a total cop-out, just because she didn't "want" to be Queen, when all along she knew she was doing it because it was her duty -- not to mention that those who don't want power often make the best leaders. And it just seems way too soon for the subjugated people of Luna to be ready to transition to a whole new style of government.
I also found my mind wandering a lot more often during this book than with the others in the series.
So, with all this criticism, why still four stars? Well, I really do find these books consistently fun to read. I love the characters, especially the female leads and their diversity. I like the way Meyer maintains a "magical" feel to her books within the sci-fi setting, and the way she manages to stay pretty close to the source material of the individual fairy tales despite all the world-building stuff of her own she has going on. I wouldn't say that I found the conclusion of the series disappointing, necessarily, just a little bogged down. I would still totally recommend the series, and I will continue to read ancillary stories set in this world (still need to pick up Stars Above and Wires and Nerve, Volume 1) and explore Meyer's other writing.
New Mom, New Woman by Rachel Egan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book disappeared from my Goodreads shelves for some reason, and I didn't notice until I was reminded of it when I opened my Kindle and saw my recently completed reads. This wasn't the best book, but I still want credit for reading it, especially since I am behind on my reading challenge for the year!
The main point of this book is to tell new parents to go easy on themselves in the upheaval that is new parenthood, to take some time to determine their priorities and to use those to create a "new normal." The idea is to keep women from inadvertently falling into the martyr role, where their entire lives become consumed with caring for others to the point of neglecting themselves -- not just in the intense months and years of early childhood, but throughout their parenting journey.
The book is full of exercises to that end that seem as if they could be really helpful. Unfortunately, I read an ARC on my Kindle, and the book was not properly formatted for that medium. So I had to guess at what many of the exercises, charts, and images were supposed to look like based on context because they came out all screwed up. It's a pet peeve of mine when publishers put out electronic ARCs that have shoddy formatting -- it really does affect the reading experience and it makes it harder to look favorably on a book.
Rachel Egan is a coach for new moms, and I imagine working one-on-one with her in that capacity would be enormously helpful. The book might be a good stand-in for those who are not comfortable with or cannot afford formal coaching, but the ebook version should be avoided to get the most benefit out of the exercises. Even if the formatting is fixed on the final version (which it better be if people are going to pay money for it), there are a lot of places where the book asks you to answer questions, make notes, circle things, etc. -- all of which seem a lot easier with a physical copy. Unfortunately, because of the yucky ebook formatting, I probably won't use this much once I'm actually dealing with these issues after my baby's arrival.
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Like many of these, "I went through something harrowing" memoirs, this isn't something you read because you want great writing. The writing here is stilted and oftentimes repetitive, and I'm willing to be forgiving of that because it's important to tell the stories of regular, non-writer people who have been through extraordinary experiences, in as close to their own words as possible.
With that said, much of the storytelling in this recounting of the tale seemed to come from someone whose perception of the world had been stunted at the moment of her trauma -- not an unusual phenomenon, but one that Smart does not seem to acknowledge at all. She keeps referring to how she was "just a little girl" and "so innocent," which seems disingenuous to me since most teenagers don't actually think of themselves in those terms. She also seemed to hold on to a lot of very black-and-white thinking -- her captor, Mitchell, was "pure evil," while her family was seemingly perfect, nothing but loving and good all the time. There were also moments when she came across as somewhat self-righteous, but at the same time, I think it's the prerogative of a trauma survivor to hold onto some self-righteousness. It was clear that her faith in God and her beliefs about purity were deeply embedded parts of her psyche when she was kidnapped, so although it sometimes comes across as saccharine, I also felt that if this was true to her own experience of coping with the ordeal, it was appropriate to include.
I think that some people might be disappointed by how modest Smart was about the sexual stuff that took place while she was kidnapped -- she never goes into detail about the things that Mitchell did to her, made her do, or even the pornographic images he made her look at. I would say to those that are disappointed by the lack of detail in this regard should ask themselves why they are reading a book like this in the first place -- someone else's sexual exploitation should never be up for any onlooker to gawk at, and readers of this book are not "entitled" to peer in to every aspect of Smart's private hell. Instead, she went into great detail on many of the other aspects of living as a captive -- periods of starvation, conversations she had with her captors, stories they told her, all of which conveyed a clear enough picture of the desperation and hardship of her situation.
Although she insists again and again that she never developed any sort of feelings for her captives, it is interesting how Mitchell had brainwashed both Smart and his wife into total dependence on him. At one point he disappears for a week, and they go hungry during that time rather than venture into town on their own in search of food, even though nothing is really stopping them. (While Mitchell was around, he forbid them from going out in public, but he had such a hold on them that even while he was gone they obeyed this edict despite the fact that it could have literally killed them.)
The times when Smart comes close to being recognized or rescued only to remain in captivity are heartbreaking, and a good reminder to the rest of us to speak up or push back when she encounter something that seems "just not right." One of the best parts of this story, though, is that Smart plays a critical role in "saving herself" in the end. I wish all kidnapping stories could have endings that involve family reunions.