Showing posts with label motherhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label motherhood. Show all posts

Monday, January 12, 2015

First 2015 book...OY VEY. The Divorce Diet by Ellen Hawley


Title: The Divorce Diet
Author: Ellen Hawley
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: December 30, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Abigail loves her baby Rosie, her husband Thad, and food. She takes great joy and comfort in concocting culinary delights to show the depth of her love and commitment to her family. Imagine her surprise when Thad announces, this whole marriage thing just doesn't work for me. Abigail can't believe he really means what he's said, but he does. Abigail and Rosie move back in to her parents house, where she regresses into her adolescent self. She diets, finds work, and begins to discover the life she really wants, and a man who really wants her.

My Review:

A little bit of chick lit to start off the year!  I wanted something lighthearted to kick off 2015, and this new release from Ellen Hawley seemed like just the ticket.  Because it's like FOODIE chick lit!  And we all know how I feel about food books!  WOOT WOOT!  Everybody get your elastic-waist pants on and let's do this!

...

However.

Peeps, this book just did not work for me.

(I know, bummer way to begin the new year!  Sigh.)

Let's start with the format.  The book begins with "Day 1", the day Thad tells Abigail he is leaving her.  Day 1 opens as Abigail decides to go on a diet.  She begins reading a diet book that she recently acquired, and tries to follow the advice within.  As such, each day/chapter in the book is formatted like the diet book, as she has a section for Snack, Exercise, Dinner, etc.  This gets increasingly fluid as the chaos in Abigail's life increases, because she never actually goes on the diet once Thad announces his intentions for divorce.  Okay, so question one: why does the book continue to keep this diet book format, even though Abigail never actually goes on a diet?  By the halfway point of the book, this format became highly annoying and pointless.  At the end, I wondered why the author chose to continue this format through the entire novel, because it felt like an idea that was cute at the beginning, but completely unconnected to Abigail's life by the end.  (In fact, when Abigail weighs herself at the end, it seems to convey that the diet was never really significant to her happiness to begin with--so again, why keep the diet book format?)

Beyond the format, I also had some issues with Abigail's narrative.  There is very little dialogue from other characters in the book.  Abigail generally gives her side of the conversation, but rarely fills in the dialogue of the people she is speaking with.  This is insanely annoying, especially at crucial moments (like when Thad breaks up with her--the whole crux of the book!!) because you never get a well-rounded look at the story.  I felt entirely disconnected from Abigail's problems for much of the novel, largely because it took me so long to understand why Thad broke it off with her.  This could have been easily explained in the very first chapter, if only the narrative was structured differently.  This was a pattern throughout the book (I felt similarly about her relationship with her parents, because you so rarely ever hear them speak), and made the connections between characters feel extremely flat and one-sided.

Final complaint (with a tiny bit of a spoiler)...I was exasperated by (or as the kids say, SMH at) one of the eventual job offers that Abigail receives.  She spends much of the novel putting together a poorly-worded resume...makes fliers for a home business that are written as if a third-grader made them...can't figure out the computer system at her waitressing job...but then suddenly, miraculously, it turns out she can write a pithy, hilarious, well-crafted cooking column for a magazine?
I know, I'm really lacing into the book here, but the GIF was too appropriate to not happen.
I cannot get behind that.  The Dude does not abide.

I'm done with the lacerating review, I promise.  At it's heart, this book has a good story.  I know it.  I just don't think it was given the best opportunity to shine.

Even though this book was not a win for me, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me (even though I will likely not be used for publicity purposes here, which I'd say...is quite understandable).
Hey, don't just take my word for it.  The Divorce Diet has 4 stars on Goodreads, so there must be many that disagree with me!  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Ellen Hawley on her blog, website, and Twitter.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: Driving Lessons by Zoe Fishman


Title: Driving Lessons
Author: Zoe Fishman
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

When Sarah and her husband trade in a crowded commute, cramped apartment, and high stress New York City jobs for life the slow lane in Farmwood, VA, the pressure is on to have a baby. At thirty-six Sarah knows it's time to get started, but the urgency motivating her to reach this pinnacle of self-fulfillment looms large. Meanwhile, her best friend Mona, a single and successful editor who's always wanted children, is diagnosed with cervical cancer. At the same time, Sarah's younger and seemingly perfect sister-in-law has just given birth to her son, Franklin. When Sarah uproots her new life with her husband in Virginia to return to New York and care for Mona, the three women will help each other navigate their new realities.

My Review:

Ah, women's fiction.  Lord knows it's been one of my preferred genres for a long time.  Especially when it's also borderline "mommy fiction", like Driving Lessons.  I love it when an author can really dive deep into the emotional side of marriage, motherhood, and friendships: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Driving Lessons attempts to do just that.  Sarah is balancing a huge career change, her marriage, a big move from NYC to the countryside, her relationship with her sister-in-law, her best friend's hysterectomy, and the decision of whether or not she wants to be a mother.  Tough, thought-provoking stuff.  All this, plus she hasn't driven a car in years, so she needs to take driving lessons once she moves down to Virginia.  (Cue "Very Obvious Metaphor Used Throughout Novel".  Sorry, don't mean to be snarky.  It just nags me a bit when the metaphors are SO blatant.)

It's hard not to like Sarah.  She's a fun, somewhat socially awkward thirty-something, who manages to approach most of the mishaps that are thrown at her with a positive attitude and good humor.  But this inherent likeability is also the reason why this book probably will not leave a lasting impression on me.  Everything just seems to come up roses for most of the characters...even when they are battling truly devastating circumstances (like her friend Mona, who is diagnosed with cancer).  Many of the characters themselves seem a tad too perfect (Sarah's husband Josh pretty much fits every mold for Model Husband).  And the girl-power love-fests just got to be WAY too much for me after a while.  So many of the female-to-female conversations devolved into "You're so wonderful!", "No, YOU are!" scenarios that I started to gag a little towards the end.

Overall, I like the premise of this novel.  It has a heartwarming message.  And I had a good time getting to know Sarah.  But with SO many tough issues to explore, I expected something a little more hard-hitting, and a little less perfectly tied together.  I usually do like the inherent optimism of women's fiction novels, but this one tipped a bit too much on the happy-girl-power scale for me to really get behind it.  There has to be a few thorns in the roses sometimes, I suppose.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Zoe Fishman on her website and Twitter.

Friday, November 1, 2013

October 2013 in Review!

Happy NOVEMBER, readers!

October has flown by in the blink of an eye.  We are pretty much all settled into our house, and have now been working on projects like painting the baby's room, hanging pictures on the walls, and staring disdainfully at the last 3-4 boxes that need to be unpacked.  (Isn't it ALWAYS the case that there's 3-4 boxes of stuff that you're like...why do I even OWN this?  WHO NEEDS 50 PICTURE FRAMES?)

Stay-at-home mom life has been great.  Small Fry and I have found tons of stuff to do; there is never a boring day around here, that's fo' sho'.  I am so happy that I'm getting this time with him alone before the baby as well.  He keeps me VERY busy.  :)  And, I can't believe that I can now say Tater Tot is due NEXT month.  That's insanity.  Part of me just wants the baby to get here already, while the other part of me is freaking out because THERE'S TOO MUCH TO DO!  Isn't that always the way...

In other news, my brother did get married last month (as I mentioned), and he had an absolutely fabulous wedding day.  Much fun was had by all, his bride was gorgeous, and Small Fry was a very flippin' adorable ring bearer.  Driving 8 hours each way while 30 weeks pregnant is not on my list of things to do again, but in this case, it was worthsies.
Wedding time for me, Small Fry, the Hubs, and Tater Tot (hiding in my ginormous belly)
Anyway, how was the reading this month?

The October 2013 Fave/Least Fave picks were tough, because I really had three AWESOME reads that I couldn't decide between, but in the end:

October 2013 Favorite: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
October 2013 Least Favorite: The Stranger You Know by Andrea Kane

In total, I read/reviewed 5 books:

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
The Stranger You Know by Andrea Kane
We Are Water by Wally Lamb
The Dinner by Herman Koch

Otherwise, I gave my thoughts on the World War Z movie, and we talked about my inappropriate internet search habits.


Oh and also, I FINISHED my Goodreads goal of reading at least 60 books this year!  WOOOOOO!  Savor that, because when this baby shows, methinks 2014 won't see nearly so much reading.  Le sigh...

I hope you all have a great November!  I am really stoked for Thanksgiving this year, as we are hosting and it will be tons o' fun to have our whole family at the new house with us for a few days.  Hope all my other (American) friends have big turkey day plans on the horizon as well!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book Review: Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti


Title: Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores The Truth About Parenting and Happiness
Author: Jessica Valenti
Publisher: New Harvest
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

If parenting is making Americans unhappy, if it’s impossible to “have it all,” if people don’t have the economic, social, or political structures needed to support child rearing, then why do it? And why are anxious new parents flocking to every Tiger Mother and Bébé-raiser for advice on how to raise kids?
 
In Why Have Kids?, Valenti explores these controversial questions through on-the-ground reporting, startling new research, and her own unique experiences as a mom. She moves beyond the black and white “mommy wars” over natural parenting, discipline, and work-life balance to explore a more nuanced reality: one filled with ambivalence, joy, guilt, and exhaustion. 
 
Would-be parents must navigate the decision to have children amidst a daunting combination of cultural expectations and hard facts. And new parents find themselves struggling to reconcile their elation with the often exhausting, confusing, and expensive business of child care. When researchers for a 2010 Pew study asked parents why they decided to have their first child, nearly 90 percent answered, for “the joy of having children.” Yet nearly every study in the last ten years shows a marked decline in the life satisfaction of those with kids.  Valenti explores this disconnect between parents’ hopes and the day-to-day reality of raising children—revealing all the ways mothers and fathers are quietly struggling. A must-read for parents as well as those considering starting a family, Why Have Kids? is an explosive addition to the conversation about modern parenthood.


My Review:

I heard about this book when it was first released last year, and it stuck out in my mind because I remembered many media outlets commenting on the "controversial" nature of its contents.  As a new-ish mom myself, I couldn't help but wonder what Valenti was touching on that could be getting so many people's backs up.  I bought myself a copy for Christmas, finally got around to it--and now I understand the hype, though I wouldn't say it's anything unique to the world of parenting discussion topics.

Valenti's central question is, why do people choose to have kids, especially when so much research shows that parents are, on the whole, not as happy as adults without kids?  And if parenthood is making so many people unhappy--why?  Can that be changed?

From the first page, Valenti had my wheels turning--if nothing else, this book is thought-provoking from cover to cover.  I think I did more Kindle highlights in this text than any other book, ever.  I'm tempted to go through her book point-by-point and analyze it for you, but I'll spare you the diatribes.  My bottom line on it is this: Valenti has gathered some interesting research for sure.  She touches on a variety of hot-button issues, such as whether it's better to be a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, whether it's fair to say that parenting is really the "hardest job in the world", and if breastfeeding really is "best".  (I know, do you smell blood in the water, or what?)  Valenti relies on many scientific studies in her discussions of these issues, which is helpful--if I wanted a blanket criticism of stay-at-home moms, I can jump on pretty much any mom blog/chat forum and have a field day.

However, the problem I had with this book is that Valenti is completely and undoubtedly biased, one way or the other, on each issue she mentions.  As such, the research she draws upon for many of her conclusions are primarily from studies that support her opinions.  Yes, she will cite a few contrary studies here and there, but her tone in writing is so skewed that you can tell she gave those alternate viewpoints short shrift.  (And this is coming from someone who agreed with many of her biases--hello, one of my favorite quotes from the book has got to be "Hell hath no fury like La Leche League scorned.")

Because of this, I found myself alternately loving this book, and feeling annoyed by it.  I wanted to be able to take it seriously as an unbiased discussion of these issues, especially because, in the end, she does make some strong points about how we can make parenting better.  But Valenti's obvious preferences prevented me from fully doing that.  Prime example: at the end of her discussion on working vs. stay at home moms, she essentially finishes by stating, "I hate to say one of these is better than the other...but heck, I'm going to say it anyway" before she gives her (not entirely empirically-supported) opinion on why working moms are better off.  That was a head-scratcher.

However, the book did make me think more critically about these topics than the usual mom blog or thebump.com forum would, which I appreciate.  Her final points (like encouraging us to raise our children in a community, do away with the idea of "natural" parenting, and support each other in our parenting efforts) are absolutely worth putting into practice.  And the flame-worthy factor of her opinions made for interesting brain candy, at least.

Overall, I'd say this book is a shining example of why the "mommy wars" exist in the first place.  It's nearly impossible to have a discussion on these issues without letting your bias show through.  I appreciate that Valenti tried to back her opinions up with some research, but I wish she had made a better effort to show both sides of the coin.  Even so, if you're a parent (or thinking of becoming one) and want a quick, thought-provoking read, I'd recommend it.

Have you read any "controversial" nonfiction lately?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel

Title: Sea Creatures
Author: Susanna Daniel
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

When Georgia returns to her hometown of Miami, her toddler son and husband in tow, she is hoping for a fresh start. They have left Illinois trailing scandal and disappointment in their wake: Graham's sleep disorder has cost him his tenure at Northwestern; Georgia's college advising business has gone belly up; and three-year old Frankie is no longer speaking. Miami feels emptier without Georgia's mother, who died five years earlier, but her father and stepmother offer a warm welcome-as well as a slip for the dilapidated houseboat Georgia and Graham have chosen to call home. And a position studying extreme weather patterns at a prestigious marine research facility offers Graham a professional second chance.

When Georgia takes a job as an errand runner for an artist who lives alone in the middle of Biscayne Bay, she's surprised to find her life changes dramatically. Time spent with the intense hermit at his isolated home might help Frankie gain the courage to speak, it seems. And it might help Georgia reconcile the woman she was with the woman she has become.

But when Graham leaves to work on a ship in Hurricane Alley and the truth behind Frankie's mutism is uncovered, the family's challenges return, more complicated than before. Late that summer, as a hurricane bears down on South Florida, Georgia must face the fact that her choices have put her only child in grave danger.

Sea Creatures is a mesmerizing exploration of the high stakes of marriage and parenthood, the story of a woman coming into her own as a mother, forced to choose between her marriage, her child, and the possibility of new love.


My Review:

Love and loss and hurricanes, OH MY.  This might be one of my favorite books of the year so far, friends.  TAKE NOTE!

Sea Creatures, for me, is the perfect blend of serious literature, family drama, and captivating page-turner.  I mean, read that description...is there anything NOT included?  Difficult motherhood issues, strained marriage, death of a parent, job loss--the list goes on.  I was never bored reading through Georgia's journey, that's for sure.  I think it can be risky for an author to attempt so many issues in one book, but Susanna Daniel has a knack for putting together this menagerie of scenarios in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.  I never felt overwhelmed, and each situation was given enough page time that it didn't feel peripheral.  The end result is a novel that constantly keeps your wheels turning, and who doesn't want that?

The characters are wonderfully complex, and as a reader you often get the feeling that you might know them better than they know themselves.  I was forever trying to figure each of them out--their personal motives, their flaws, and their next moves.  Georgia and Charlie (the loner artist mentioned in the description) certainly had one of the most interesting relationships.  They have a push and pull with each other that becomes the centerpiece of their growth as characters during the novel.  And as a reader, I felt that push and pull quite a bit: did I want them to be friends?  Lovers?  Father/daughter-ish?  I couldn't decide, but I found myself quite pleased with how they ended up by the conclusion of the book.

Equally interesting is the relationship between Georgia and her husband Graham.  Daniel does an amazing job of slowly opening the chasm between them as the novel moves along.  Disagreements between them that seem relatively small at in the beginning eventually grow into issues that I never saw coming.  Yet again, even though I wasn't sure what direction they would take, by the end of the book I was impressed with how well their story came together.

And Frankie (Georgia's 3-year-old son)...what a compelling little boy.  You guys know I have a soft spot for well-written child characters, and Frankie is certainly one of them.  Those of you that are mothers will be especially hard-pressed not to have your hearts melt as you follow his progress throughout the novel.

I could write about this book for days, but for respect of your time, I won't.  There's so much going on with each character, so many unexpected twists, so many complex relationships--you'll just have to trust me.  If you need your next un-put-down-able novel, Sea Creatures is it.

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Susanna Daniel on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

We're over halfway through the year, peeps--what have been some of YOUR favorite reads so far?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review: I'll Take What She Has by Samantha Wilde



Title: I'll Take What She Has
Author: Samantha Wilde
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Source: e-ARC received via NetGalley for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Nora and Annie have been best friends since kindergarten. Nora, a shy English teacher at a quaint New England boarding school, longs to have a baby. Annie, an outspoken stay-at-home mother of two, longs for one day of peace and quiet (not to mention more money and some free time). Despite their very different lives, nothing can come between them—until Cynthia Cypress arrives on campus.
 
Cynthia has it all: brains, beauty, impeccable style, and a gorgeous husband (who happens to be Nora’s ex). When Cynthia eagerly befriends Nora, Annie’s oldest friendship is tested. Now, each woman must wrestle the green-eyed demon of envy and, in the process, confront imperfect, mixed-up family histories they don’t want to repeat. Amid the hilarious and harried straits of friendship, marriage, and parenthood, the women may discover that the greenest grass is right beneath their feet.


My Review:

As I mentioned in my Monday post, I love me some mommy fiction.  Motherhood is in a unique zip code of Crazy-Town that has a very specific set of worries, rewards, and neuroses.  Women's fiction novels that deal in this area are, admittedly, targeting a very specific audience, but I think that audience is often eager to see their daily joys and sorrows brought to life on the page.

Hence my excitement for this novel.  As it opened, I found myself enamored with the two main characters, Nora and Annie.  The chapters alternate between their points-of-view.  Nora is desperate for a baby, and has been trying to conceive for nearly a year with her husband Alfie.  Her best friend Annie, on the other hand, has two "oopsie" babies (very fertile, she is) and stays at home to care for them.  She's convinced that she's meant to stay at home, and not work...or is she?

Right away, I was struck by how vividly and humorously Wilde was able to write about Nora and Annie's opposing struggles.  From Nora's frantic ovulation charting, to Annie's hectic diffusion of toddler tantrums, she had me laughing and sympathizing with both of them.  I was impressed by the wide array of mothering issues that were touched upon in the novel, and in a way that will leave mom-readers nodding and smiling as they go.  Plus, Wilde's writing style is such that she often purposely leaves you hanging with certain conversations and details, which is a great way to keep you interested from chapter to chapter.

However, in the end I felt rather lukewarm about this book.  Why?  Well, outside of the clarity with which the motherhood issues were illustrated, the rest of the book felt a little shallow.  Take, for instance, Cynthia Cypress--the new friend of Nora's that is mentioned in the book description.  She plays a fairly large role in the plot, but her character is annoyingly flat and one-sided.  For someone who has such an emotional impact on the protagonists, we learn very little about Cynthia by the end of the novel.  At first, I thought this was an attempt to shroud her in mystery, but the "reveal" about her at the end was underwhelming, and didn't seem to warrant her lack of development throughout the book.

I felt similarly about the plot action as a whole.  Its movement was very slow, and often anticlimactic.  I found that, by the conclusion, I didn't have much emotion towards how everything wrapped up.  It was rather a feeling of, "...that's it?"  Much like with Cynthia's character, the major plot events were not built up enough throughout the novel, which makes the ending feel bland.  There is also a lot of repetition in the novel, best illustrated by the constant use of the phrase "I'll take what she has" (or some variation) in the character's conversations.  This constant use of the title became grating after a while, even though the message it attempts to convey is a good one (the grass is not always greener on the other side).

Final verdict?  This book is a perfect illustration of a 3-star Goodreads review.  There were a lot of things I loved: the motherhood anecdotes, the humor, the jumping POV between characters, the underlying message.  However, there were a lot of weaknesses in the foundational parts of the book:  plot and character development.  In the end, this one was middle-of-the-road for me.

Other reviews of I'll Take What She Has:
Book'd Out
5 Minutes For Books
Life, Army Wife Style
 
Imagination Designs