Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts

Friday, July 15, 2016

July Mini-Reviews: Natural Parenting, An Amazing Mystery, and NEGAN!

Reading has been a bit slow lately, but I've had SO many good books on the docket!  Here's a quick rundown of 3 of my most recent reads:

Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting
Dr. Amy Tuteur
Dey Street Books, 2016
borrowed from the library

(Sorry, this review became a little longer than mini!)  As soon as I grabbed this one on impulse at the library, I was afraid that I might get my Good Mommy card taken away...haha.  But seriously, I saw that subtitle and HAD to read it.  Personally, I find modern-day mothering to be positively FRAUGHT with guilt that others try to impose upon your parenting style--no matter what style that may be.  But the natural parenting industry gets top marks in the guilt-mongering category.  And I say that having taken a fair number of "natural" parenting methods myself--breastfeeding, cloth diapering, blah blah blah.  However, I also picked a lot of "not natural" parenting options: epidurals, formula, the list goes on.  So, I've seen both sides.  And I never can understand why people find the need to judge so much on these topics.  Dr. Amy Tuteur delved into that issue, and what we can do to push back.

Overall, I found Tuteur's discussion to be a refreshing rebuttal to the constant sanctimommy, holier-than-thou banter that you see on social media these days.  She specifically takes on 3 aspects of natural parenting: "natural" childbirth (meaning no drugs, no c-sections, etc), breastfeeding, and attachment parenting (co-sleeping, babywearing, etc).  She discusses the actual scientific evidence that supports (or fails to support) each of these concepts, and shows how the natural parenting industry skews and misquotes these findings in order to further their agendas.  And anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE a good discussion of the actual, published SCIENCE behind a concept.  That said, women who are currently pregnant (or plan to become pregnant soon) may want to pause before picking this book up--part of me thinks I would have loved reading it before having kids, but the other part of me isn't sure, as Tuteur is very straightforward about the data behind the risks of pregnancy (mortality rates for mother and child, for example)...things that I know would have made me rather anxious while pregnant.  Something for mommas to consider.

My only hesitation in recommending this book is that Tuteur's vitriol against the natural parenting industry is a little much at times.  I would have preferred if she could have kept a more level head in her discussion of the issues, as the scientific evidence speaks for itself in many cases.  And anyone who is a hardcore La Leche League/Dr. Sears/etc. follower will likely not enjoy this.  However, if you're as sick of parent-shaming as I am, give this book a try!

Before The Fall
Noah Hawley
Grand Central Publishing, 2016
borrowed from the library

Current contender for my favorite book of the year!  Before the Fall is a positively fabulous mystery/thriller that had me reading well past my bedtime, captivated by every page.  A small private plane crashes off of Martha's Vineyard, and only two passengers live to tell about it.  What ensues is an investigation into what caused the mysterious crash, as the two survivors struggle to navigate the next steps in their lives.

Hawley's storytelling style played a major role in my involvement with the novel, as he flashes back to each passenger on the plane to show you what they were doing in the years, months, and days leading up to the crash.  You get new pieces of the puzzle added with every chapter.  The book also goes beyond being a simple mystery by making interesting commentary about the power of the media in the wake of national tragedies (sadly very relevant right now).  I won't say more for fear of spoiling this one for you, but I can't recommend it highly enough!!

The Walking Dead, Compendium 3
Robert Kirkman et al
Image Comics, 2015
borrowed from the library

Only recommended if you read the first two compendiums, but this one is SO good!!  Compendium 3 brings you up past where the TV show is now, with the introduction of Negan.  All I can say is, season 7 is gonna be a doozy FOR SURE (even if Negan's first TV victim is not the same as it is in the comics).  This collection ended on a pretty shocking note, and I know it's going to be a while before there's enough editions for a Compendium 4...so it may be time for me to start figuring out how to get my hands on individual issues!  :)  The Walking Dead is the first comic series I've ever read (my only other graphic novel/comic experience was The Watchman--also very good, though quite different), but it's got me thinking I should look into this medium a bit more.

What are you reading these days, reader pals?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon


Title: Finding Jake
Author: Bryan Reardon
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

While his successful wife goes off to her law office each day, Simon Connolly takes care of their kids, Jake and Laney. Now that they are in high school, the angst-ridden father should feel more relaxed, but he doesn't. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines. And now, his darkest fear is coming true. There has been a shooting at school. 

Simon races to the rendezvous point, where he’s forced to wait. Do they know who did it? How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are led out of the room to reunite with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone.

As his worst nightmare unfolds, and Jake is the only child missing, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn’t really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought?


My Review:

It was hard for me to go into this novel and not compare it, at least in the beginning, to We Need To Talk About Kevin.  There are some basic similarities: a fiction novel about a school shooting, told from the perspective of a parent of the shooter.  However, Finding Jake quickly dovetailed into its own unique tale, as there were important differences that became apparent early on.  Most importantly, Jake is only a suspected shooter in the killing that takes place, and you spend much of the novel trying to figure out if he was actually involved or not.  Related to that, Jake is not nearly so damaged (demonic?) as Kevin in Lionel Shriver's novel.  These details, paired with the fact that the narrator is Jake's father Simon (a self-critical stay-at-home dad), give you a novel that tells a story unlike any other.

With an event so catastrophic as a school shooting at its core, it's easy to expect that Jake will be the center of this novel's universe.  However, I found that Simon's story was truly the driving force for most of it.  When he realizes that Jake could be a killer, Simon delves into the last 17 years of his parenting to figure out where he could have gone wrong.  Did he socialize Jake enough?  Did he let him hang out with the wrong friends?  As the parent who was primarily responsible for child-rearing for so many years, it's easy to see how Simon would want to overanalyze even the most minute decisions he made as a father through the years.  Did he do the right things for his son?  Does he even truly know him?

I found Simon's perspective to be engaging and relatable--yes, likely because I, too, am an overly-critical-of-myself stay-at-home parent, but even if I wasn't, Reardon writes this character with a clarity that brings Simon's reality to life for any reader.  Simon's job has been his kids for nearly two decades, and now he finds that one of them may have committed a horrible atrocity.  How can he not second guess his entire life as a father?  His journey is heartbreaking, but also intriguing, as his position as a stay-at-home dad (vs. the more common stay-at-home mom) adds a distinctive twist to the narrative.

I do have to note that, as well-developed as Simon's character is, I felt that his wife (Rachel) was given short shrift.  Even though Simon is central to the novel, Rachel's actions are important enough to the story that I should have been able to get a better read on her.  However, I often felt there was a disconnect between her personality and her actions, and was sometimes left scratching my head at why she made certain decisions (at one point, she basically abandons Simon during a fairly critical moment in the book, which based on the knowledge I had of her previously, seemed unfitting).  This is not a huge detractor from the novel, but worth mentioning, as I felt it was quite a contrast from Simon's character.

That detail aside, this book was well worth the read, and I was hooked from page one.  While comparisons to novels like We Need to Talk About Kevin might make you start reading Finding Jake, by the time you finish it, those comparisons will be a distant memory.  This novel has a powerful, emotional story to tell, and a unique perspective from which to tell it.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Bryan Reardon on Facebook.


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, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad


Title: Everybody Has Everything
Author: Katrina Onstad
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: June 25, 2013 (first published in 2012)
Source: copy received for honest review from the publisher via NetGalley

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

After years of unsuccessful attempts at conceiving a child, Ana and James become parents overnight, when a terrible accident makes them guardians to 2-year-old Finn. Suddenly, two people who were struggling to come to terms with childlessness are thrust into the opposite situation--responsible for a small toddler whose mother's survival is in question. 

Finn's crash-landing in their tidy, urban lives throws into high relief some troubling truths about their deepest selves, both separately and as a couple. Several chaotic, poignant, and life-changing weeks as a most unusual family give rise to an often unasked question: Can everyone be a parent?


My Review:

So here's my chronological thought process while I was reading this book:
1. "OMG, this is so sad."
2. "Holy crap, I love the little boy in this book, I want to give him all the hugs, and OMG this is so sad."
3. "OMG SO SAD, THERE IS NO WAY THIS BOOK WILL NOT END IN THE SADDEST OF SAD WAYS."
4. ((stunned silence as the ending manages to wrap up in a non-sad way that is not fairy-tale-ish at all))

YOU GUYS.  I loved it so much.

In the beginning, this book seems pretty straightforward: a tragic accident leaves Ana and James (unable to conceive children of their own) as the sole guardians to Finn, the 2-year-old son of their friends'.  I expected the book to take a typical dramatic-fiction path...sadness and struggles in the beginning, but then they find their way and become better parents for it in the end, ta-da!

What's awesome about this, though, is that it's not like that at all.  There is nothing typical about this novel.  Ana and James have a much more convoluted and murky relationship than I originally expected, and half the pleasure of reading this book is derived from watching it unfold.  Just when I thought I had them figured out, a new part of their pasts or personalities would come out to make me change my mind.  Their relationship certainly plays a central role in the novel, possibly more so than the car accident that originally sets the plot into motion.  It's also the reason that the plot takes such a sad turn, but as I mentioned above, Onstad amazingly finds a way to wrap things up that is neither too depressing nor too happy-go-lucky.

Much of Ana and James's relationship struggles center on one question: what does it mean to be a parent?  What makes a good parent?  And how do you know if you're meant to be a parent at all?  This book will definitely hold more interest for readers who are parents themselves, or wish to be in the near future.  Onstad does a great job of exploring these questions from a variety of different angles.  Her ability to dig at the emotional depths of each character is impressive.

Speaking of emotional depth, FINN.  Oh my gosh, I don't think I've ever loved a child character in a novel more than this little boy.  If he doesn't tug at your heart strings, I'm going to go ahead and clinically diagnose you as dead.  I find that most authors make (very young) child characters one-dimensional and peripheral to the story, but Finn is front and center, and just as well-rounded as the others in the novel.  He broke my heart on the regular.  Not to mention, there is a very dramatic scene with him near the end that left me glued to my Kindle long into the night until the event concluded.  Onstad gets huge kudos for her ability to build his character just as well as any adult's.

As is obvious by now, I swoon for this book.  Parents will certainly get more out of it, just given the subject matter, but if you're ready for an emotional and complex bit of dramatic fiction, you need to pick this up on-the-double.  This is the first Katrina Onstad novel I've read, and it won't be the last.

Have you discovered any great new-to-you writers lately?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: The Honest Toddler: A Child's Guide to Parenting by Bunmi Laditan



Title: The Honest Toddler: A Child's Guide to Parenting
Author: Honest Toddler...written under the supervision of Bunmi Laditan
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Source: ARC provided by the author for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Bracingly candid, sweetly indignant, and writing with an unchecked sense of entitlement, the Internet’s wildly popular Honest Toddler delivers a guide to the parenting techniques he deems acceptable (keep the cake coming and the apple juice undiluted).

The toddler stage can be a rude awakening for parents, whose sweet infants morph, seemingly overnight, into tyrants ready to turn simple errands into hellish and humiliating experiences. Trying to convince your defiant darling to do something as simple as put on her shoes can feel like going to war. It’s not all blood, sweat, and tears, though. Toddlers can be charming little creatures, with their unfettered enthusiasm, wide grins, and ready hugs. In fact, what makes toddlers so fascinating is their unique blend of cute and demonic behavior. A toddler will take your hand and say "I love you," then slap you in the face.

Now, The Honest Toddler provides an indispensable guide to parenting that places the toddler’s happiness front and center. Who better to instruct parents on the needs of toddlers than a toddler himself?

In a voice that is at once inimitable and universal, The Honest Toddler turns his sharp eye to a wide range of subjects, including play date etiquette, meal preparation, healthy sleep habits, and the pernicious influence of self-appointed experts and so-called doctors. The result is a parenting guide like no other, one that will have moms and dads laughing through tears as they recognize their own child in the ongoing shenanigans of one bravely honest toddler.


My Review:

First question: are you familiar with the Honest Toddler already?  If not, please visit her (yes, it's a her! A mystery that this book finally answered for me) blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages first.  When you're done feeling ashamed and altering your parenting style (if you're a parent) or laughing your arse off (if you're not), come back and read my review.

Done?  You're a fan now, right?  At the very least, you're flabbergasted to the point of intrigue.  Okay then.

Honest Toddler is an anonymous...toddler who has been sharing her young wisdom with the world through social media since May 2012.  I wrote to HT a few months ago, promising to lower the ratio of water to juice in Small Fry's sippy cup if I could review an ARC of her upcoming parenting guide.  HT (and/or her mom) agreed to the deal, and thank goodness.  Because now I can share this important manifesto with the world.

Honest Toddler has a pretty simple philosophy on parenting.  Fewer Pinterest meals, more being allowed to roam pantsless, and stop "making a big deal".  It sounds easy, but as a parent, I often found myself taking HT's admonitions and suggestions to heart.  I learned a lot of important life facts from this book.  Did you know:

-That Grover Cleveland and Abraham Lincoln were not potty trained?
-That the "it" being cried out in the "cry it out" sleep method...is love?
-That 50% of toddlers who wake up at 5am are gifted, and the other 50% have above average intelligence?
-That the human body is 75% juice?

I know.  I'm hitting you with some serious knowledge right now.  Honest Toddler has opened my eyes to the true nature of parenting and our lives will never be the same.

Besides the fact that this book has bettered me as a mother, it's also just all-around hilarious.  If you're already familiar with HT's voice from the blog/Facebook/Twitter updates, you know what to expect: a straightforward, sarcastic 'tude dispensing life lessons that leave every toddler parent wondering if their very own precious angel assisted in writing them.  Honest Toddler has 124,000+ likes on Facebook for a very simple reason: because every.single.person who has parented a 1- to 3-year-old can picture their kid thinking most (if not all) of the words that HT shares with the world.  The Child's Guide to Parenting takes that and puts it in book form.

If you're a loyal HT reader, you may recognize some of the material from HT's blog, but the reiterated information is reformatted in a way that doesn't make it feel repetitive.  And there is enough new material to make it a worthwhile read for the longtime followers.  New followers will find it easy to figure out HT's style early in the book, as each section begins with some Dear-Abby-ish letters to HT from parents, followed by a  chapter that delves further into each particular issue (potty training, food shopping, toddler entertainment, etc).

You all know that I'm a pretty discerning reader, but I have no complaints here.  People who haven't parented a toddler might not feel the humor as much, but parents of the world: you need to read this book.  As soon as you get off Pinterest and get your kid occupied with unlimited servings of cake.

Much thanks to HT's handler, Bunmi Laditan, for forwarding me a copy of this book for review!

Are you an Honest Toddler follower?  If you're a parent, how has HT changed your life?  Shameful parenting confessions welcomed and encouraged.
 
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