Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: Brazil by John Updike


Title: Brazil
Author: John Updike
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: January 25, 1994
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

They meet by chance on Copacabana Beach: Tristao Raposo, a poor black teen from the Rio slums, surviving day to day on street smarts and the hustle, and Isabel Leme, an upper-class white girl, treated like a pampered slave by her absent though very powerful father. Convinced that fate brought them together, betrayed by families who threaten to tear them apart, Tristao and Isabel flee to the farthest reaches of Brazil's wild west -- unaware of the astonishing destiny that awaits them . . .

My Review:

I've never read any Updike before, and honestly I always thought I'd start with the well-known Rabbit series.  However, in an effort to squeak out just ONE more country for Shannon's Around The World in 12 Books Challenge, I picked up Brazil in an effort to break into South America before year's end.

Even though I knew almost nothing about this book before I borrowed it from the library, I'm glad that I chose this for my Brazil-based novel for the challenge.  Isabel and Tristao's story is interesting, but as the title implies, Brazil itself plays an extremely important role as the setting for this novel.  I actually learned quite a bit about the country's history and political climate, as well as the culture of three of its very different regions.  Updike does a great job bringing Brazil to life.  This is one of those novels that has a setting so rich in detail, it almost feels like it plays a protagonist's role right alongside the main characters.

As for Isabel and Tristao--first of all, I've never seen/read Tristan and Isolde, the opera on which this book is based.  Part of me wonders how my experience may have been different if I had that background beforehand.  But either way, I was drawn into their story pretty quickly.  Tristao and Isabel have a romance that is not quite of this world...it seems to almost exist separately from their lives with their families, friends, and even their children.  They place their love for each other above all other things, even in the most trying of times (and often to their detriment).  By the end of the novel, their love takes on a fantastical quality, which I was a little leery of (I am not usually a "magical realism" fan), but Updike weaves those elements of the plot into the story so well, that they don't seem unbelievable or out of place.

Overall, this is a fairly quick read, but one that is worth a little more of your time as you soak in the story and its various meanings.  Fair warning: this book is graphic, both in sexual and violent elements, so if that's not your thing, you may want to pick another novel to pass the time.  But despite that, it's definitely given me an appreciation for Updike's writing, so hopefully I'll finally get to that Rabbit series sometime soon...

Have you read any of Updike's novels?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?  Any you would recommend more than others?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Sunday Post #1: Christmas book haul!

The Sunday Post is a meme hosted by Kimba @ The Caffeinated Book Reviewer.  It's a chance for book bloggers to share what's going on with them this week, any new book-related news, etc.  Since my life has been rather crazy lately, I figured I'd participate this week to catch you up on life here at the Well-Read Redhead.

So here's me right now as I type this post:
Yup, looking super hot and unshowered but snuggling a very adorable sleepified baby.  That pretty much sums up life these days!  This morning my husband took Small Fry to the grocery store, so Tater Tot and I are chillin' while they're out.  Tater Tot seems to be going through a bit of a growth spurt, so I was up every 60-90 minutes last night feeding him.  I love you, little one, but it would be super cool if we could finish up this spurt and get some sleep soon!  Consider this a gentle request from yo' momma, kthx.

Beyond my current status as a 24/7 milk bar, life has been good as we adjust to being a family of four.  I had my first few half-days at home with Tater Tot and Small Fry this past week, as my husband's paternity leave is wrapping up.  They went surprisingly well, and we even did our first daddy-free outing to (where else?) the library.  Small Fry was very well-behaved and Tater Tot slept through the whole thing, so I think we're on the right track.  Granted it took an act of Congress to get us out of the house in less than 3 hours, but we're getting there.

So, what about book-related news?

I have been pleasantly surprised with how much reading I've gotten done lately.  It's important to have something to keep you awake during a 2am feeding (because dropping the baby is not recommended), and Kindle reading has been just the ticket.  I've got a new review for you tomorrow, and possibly one more before the year is up...we shall see!

Also, I received $150 in Amazon gift cards for Christmas.  OH EM GEE.  I am aware that Amazon sells things other than books, but I really don't care much about those things, so I've been spending the last few days staring at the Kindle e-books department in wonder.  $150 goes a very long way if you plan your pennies right.  So far I've gotten:

-5 books by Dennis Lehane: Moonlight Mile, Sacred, Live By Night, Darkness Take My Hand, and Prayers for Rain (his books were the Kindle Daily Deal the other day...$1.99 each!  YES PLEASE!)
-Tampa by Alissa Nutting
-The Bat by Jo Nesbo
-Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
-And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
-The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
-The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain
-and I just bought NOS4A2 by Joe Hill and The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates...both are Kindle Daily Deals today...less than $4 each!!

All that and I still have $100 left.  OH MY.  What else should I buy, readers??

That's all for my Sunday Post this week...enjoy your last moments of 2013!!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth


Title: Allegiant  (Divergent trilogy #3)
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads:  **WARNING: contains spoilers from Divergent and Insurgent**

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. 

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. 


My Review:

OMG y'all, my first book review since Tater Tot was born!  And only 2 weeks after his arrival.  Let's all give a mighty HOORAY for the Kindle app for iPhone, which makes for easy one-handed reading during middle-of-the-night breastfeeding.

As for the book: you should probably skip this review if you haven't read Divergent or Insurgent, the first two novels in this trilogy.  I would direct you to my reviews of them, except I read them before this blog started, so you'll just have to use these short summaries of my Goodreads reviews as guides:

Divergent: did not love it in the beginning (started too slowly, hated Tris (the main character)), but about midway through the twists and action picked up, and Tris became a badass, so by the end I was hooked.

Insurgent: again, started to slow for me, and Tris was way too angsty (like, Bella Swan angsty...ugh), but the last third was awesome and the cliffhanger ending made me SUPER MAD that I had to wait over a year for the third book to come out.

Great, now that we've recapped the whole series in two run-on sentences, let's talk about Allegiant, the final installment of the trilogy.

In short: DISAPPOINTED, Y'ALL.

Allegiant's first big difference from the other two novels is that it is told from two perspectives: Tris and Four.  This is a very obvious change from the other two books (narrated by Tris only), and I determined early on that there could really be only one good reason for it--which kind of spoiled the ending for me.  I won't give it away for you, but you don't have to think about it too hard to figure out a reason why they would need two narrators this time around.

That said, the dual narration could have been okay (even if spoilery), except that Roth could not have made Four's voice more flat and uninteresting.  Seriously, does this guy have a personality?  He bored me to tears.  Tris was angsty and annoying (again) but at least she had some spunk.  Four's chapters had no real emotion behind them, which again made the dual narration seem like a necessity for the ending vs. a well-developed POV choice.

Also, I am so over Tris and Four's relationship.  This may be because I am not a big YA romance person in general (most YA romance makes me gag, to be honest), but if I had to read one more time about how Four smelled like rain or wind or freedom or whatever (is this an Old Spice commercial?) before Tris kissed him, I was legit going to die.

And last but not least, the plot action.  It just wasn't there.  The ending of Insurgent left me SO SO SO excited to see what was outside the borders of Chicago...and instead of really getting to explore that, we spend most of this novel inside the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, just outside the city limits, waiting around for Tris & co. to figure out their rebellion.  Total letdown.  Roth had this great world-building opportunity and I felt like she dropped the ball on it, big time.

A lot of people have complained about the ending, because it's not all happy-go-lucky, though honestly I think that's one of the things that bugged me the least.  I am okay with a somewhat sad ending, as long as the rest of the book is strong enough to support it.  But in this case, the ending was overshadowed by how much I disliked the rest of the novel.  A seriously disappointing ending to a trilogy that I so badly wanted to adore.

Have you read Allegiant?  What did you think in comparison to the rest of the series?  And if you haven't read this trilogy--have you ever read one with a final installment that just didn't do it for you?

Monday, December 23, 2013

2014 Mount TBR Challenge: sign me up!

Hola, readers!  Just a quick post today (in between baby feeding/diapering/cuddling) to declare myself for the 2014 Mount TBR reading challenge!

As I mentioned previously, I tried this challenge in 2013 but failed miserably.  However, this time it will be the only challenge I'm doing, and I hope that will help me focus on it a bit more.

I am trying for the Mont Blanc level: at least 24 books off my TBR for the year.

So, here's hoping 2014 is a better TBR year than 2013!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

ALL HAIL TATER TOT! He has arrived!

Hello bloggy friends!  Well, you can never say that I'm not good at scheduling posts, seeing as how the last three you've read here were all, obviously, scheduled before this major life event occurred...

That's right, darling Tater Tot decided to make his grand entrance into the world last Wednesday, December 11 at 6:01pm.  Momma here was only 38 weeks and 1 day pregnant, so it was certainly unexpected (seeing as how Small Fry stuck around for 40 weeks and 6 days...).  :)

Lil' Tater was a healthy 7lbs 12oz, 20.5 inches long, and super super adorable (which clearly goes without saying):

It's been a whirlwind of a week, but we have fallen in love with our new little guy and it's been great settling in as a family of four!

As mentioned previously, posting may be scarce here for a wee bit (though these 3am feedings really are helped along by my Kindle).  But I promise I am not completely disappearing.  I will have more booky goodness for you very soon!!  MUAH!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review: The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom


Title:  The First Phone Call From Heaven
Author: Mitch Albom
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: November 12, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out. An allegory about the power of belief--and a page-turner that will touch your soul--Albom's masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected.

My Review:

If you read my Review Policy with any regularity (as I'm so sure that you do!), you know that it says I don't review novels in the "Christian" genre.  This is not because I'm anti-religion or anything like that, but more because the majority of Christian fiction I've encountered has been a bit too preachy for my taste.  However, the definite exception to this rule goes to Mitch Albom.  I find that his discussions of Christian beliefs are more thought-provoking than directive, and his previous books have all left me thinking about them loooong after I finished the final page.  So much so that The Five People You Meet In Heaven is one of my fave all-time novels.  So you can imagine how excited I got when I found out he had a new one coming out this year.

The First Phone Call From Heaven is not a fiction novel that's meant to be scrutinized for its fast-paced action or the accuracy of its detail.  The story begins when a few citizens of a small Michigan town begin receiving phone calls from their dead friends and relatives in heaven.  Their situation becomes increasingly public, and the reactions (both in town and across the country) are widely varied.  This is where the true interest in the novel was for me.  How would you react to such an event, given your own beliefs about Christianity and heaven?

For some characters in the novel, it strengthened their religious faith...but maybe in a selfish way (ie. wanting to be the only one who received a call and not wanting to share the recognition with others).  For others, it led to deep skepticism and a need to reveal the situation as a hoax.  Some took advantage of it as a financial opportunity...religious leaders struggled with whether it was a help or a hindrance to their congregations...some felt that it gave them the comfort and closure they never received after a loved ones' death...the media used it as a ratings booster...etc.

No one reaction is shown to be "right" or "wrong", but the reader is left to think about the reasoning behind each character's actions, and the spiritual struggles they must go through in order to justify their resulting actions.

Even though the novel is told from so many different perspectives, there is a central plot line around Sully, a recent widower who feels the need to disprove the validity of the calls.  His personal journey is the one that ties many of the other characters together, and his quest to get to the bottom of the calls drives the story along.  The ending to his portion of the tale does have a unique twist, and the spiritual message it conveys is fluid enough that each reader is going to be able to interpret it slightly differently.  THAT is what makes a great Christian-based novel for me.  Albom isn't telling you what to believe, but puts a lot of different perspectives on the table and leaves it up to you to place additional meaning behind them.

Mitch Albom has an uncanny ability to create novels whose central purpose is to make you think over some pretty heavy stuff, but at the same time, they have a plot line that's strong enough to give you a good story on its own.  The First Phone Call From Heaven is no exception.  Even if Christian fiction isn't usually your thing, I'd still recommend giving this one (or any of Albom's other books) a try.

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 Mitch Albom on his websiteFacebook, and Twitter.


Friday, December 13, 2013

2013 Challenges Wrap-Up

Oh, my 2013 reading challenges.  I knew from the start that I was taking on too much, but did I let that stop me?  No, of course not!

As a reminder, I took on five different challenges this year.  Some were completed...and some were epic fails.  Let's review!

1. Around The World in 12 Books Challenge: 58-67% completed
This book challenged me to read 1 book/month from a different country around the world.  This is COMPLETELY up my alley, and I was super excited for the push to read more internationally-set literature.  I did great with this challenge until we moved in August.  At that point, I got so busy that I was pretty much just reading what I had on hand, most of which was not set in the countries posed in this challenge.

Thus, sadly, I only completed 7 out of the 12 countries on the list.  HOWEVER, I did just pick up John Updike's Brazil, in hopes of being able to check off one more (plus I noticed on my 2013 Reading Map (see below) that South America was severely lacking--so I figured if I was going to add in one more country, it should be from there).  Hopefully I can finish it before the end of the month, bringing me up to 8 out of 12!
My 2013 reading map...shows all of the locations/settings of the novels I've read this year!  Sorry to Australia and South America.  lol.
2. Monthly Keyword Challenge: 100% completed!

This challenge was a lot of fun, and pretty easy to complete, given the flexibility of the rules.  Each month had a list of several words you could choose from, and you had to read a book that contained one of those keywords in the title.  Part of what made this easier for me is that the rules said it was OK to read the books in a different month than when the word was posted...so for example, the book I used for the June keyword was actually read in May.  As a result, I was able to wrap this one up in November.  Woohoo!

3. Mount TBR Challenge: 12.5% completed (ugh)

Oy vey, I did poorly here.  My goal was to read at least 24 books from my at-home TBR pile, and I was trying to only count paper books (not Kindle books), in an effort to clear my shelves a little bit.  I only managed THREE.  I blame this on two things: tons of ARCs (which are so hard for me to resist!) and the rest of these challenges (which often required me to use the library in order to find a book that fit a specific challenge).  Next year I am definitely cutting back on ARCs (and challenges!), so I'm hoping to try this one again.

4. Foodies Read Challenge: 100% completed!

I have no problem reading food books 'til the cows come home.  I finished this one mid-year and still read more of them before the end of the year...easy peasy!

5. Audiobook Challenge: 100% completed!

I am thankful that I finished this one just before we moved.  I used my commutes to/from work to listen to audiobooks all the time, so this was easy to finish by mid-year...but nowadays, I am hardly ever in the car, so I would have found it impossible to complete after I quit my job!  Definitely not one I will be able to do in 2014.

So there you have it: 3 challenges completed, 1 about halfway completed, and 1 miserable fail.  Not so bad, I suppose!  I'm pretty sure that my only challenge for next year will be Mount TBR, but we shall see.

How did your 2013 reading challenges go?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review: Parasite by Mira Grant


Title: Parasite
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads:

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite - a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives...and will do anything to get them.


My Review:

If the name Mira Grant rings a bell, it may be because I reviewed the three books in her Newsflesh trilogy for you last year.  Grant did a great job with zombies, so why wouldn't she do the same with tapeworms, amiright?  YAY, ZOMBIES AND TAPEWORMS.  I guess you shouldn't proceed in this review if you dislike icky things?

Alrighty, well, the first thing I liked about this book is the scientific detail.

And then, the first thing I kinda disliked about this book is the scientific detail.

(Let's back up.)

If you've read the Newsflesh trilogy, you know that Grant is really, really good at giving her sci-fi villains (in that case, zombies, in this case, tapeworms) a solid scientific foundation.  This isn't like The Walking Dead where we just kind of have this virus that's turning people into zombies, and you don't get a lot of detail about it, but you just accept the fact that people are now eating other people and YAY NORMAN REEDUS.  Nope, Mira Grant makes sure you know exactly how, biologically, that was possible, and I thought that was a super cool spin on the usual zombie novels that I see.

At first, I was intrigued by her explanation of the whole tapeworm situation in Parasite.  Basically, in the not-distant future, a health care company developed these tapeworms as implants to live in everyone's intestines, because the overuse of sterilization and hygienic cleansing caused us to all be getting sick all the time (a true scientific theory even now), and the tapeworms could be used to deliver medicines and other treatments in order to prevent these infections from occurring.  Okay, got it, I am on board, I like where this is going.

However, in the last third of the novel, as the action picked up, the science got to be a little TOO much at times.  Kind of hard to follow, and more than a little confusing in some parts.  Don't get me wrong, I like some guesswork with my plot twists and such, but this started to feel less intriguing and more frustrating after a while.  By the end, I think I had a pretty good handle on what was happening, but at some points I do wish the science was dialed down justalittle so that I could sit back and enjoy the action a bit more.  I do respect the fact that her scientific detail seemed to be extremely well-researched though.  Can't knock that, because it's impressive to see in a fiction novel these days.

Beyond the whole issue of the science--if you liked the Newsflesh trilogy, I think you will enjoy Parasite too.  The action moves along at a pretty similar pace, there are lots of unpredictable twists, and the characters all have a bit of that spunky nature that I came to expect from Georgia and Shaun in Newsflesh.  I found the protagonist (Sal) to be a little hard to believe at times (she's supposed to be fairly naive because of an accident that she was in 6 years ago, but still manages to be rather cunning when it counts...), but overall it's just a fun cast of characters to dive into.

Final verdict: despite the occasional feelings of confusion that I battled during this book, I'm definitely interested enough in where this is going to be eager for the next installment in the trilogy.  I don't feel as completely invested as I did after I read Feed (the first installment of Newsflesh) but you've hooked me, Mira Grant--I'm in for at least one more ride.

Readers: I think the most important question here is, would you seriously be willing to harbor a tapeworm in your intestines if it cured all of your ills?  Assuming it would never take over your body and try to kill you, of course...
Also, special shout-out if you liked my Norman Reedus mention.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Well-Read Redhead's Best Books of 2013!

It's that time of year, y'all!  All those Best Books lists are being released, and I am never one to be left out of the fun and games.  So without further ado...

The Well-Read Redhead's Best Books of 2013!

As happened last year, I had an immensely difficult time compiling this list.  It took me ages to narrow it down to just 10 books that I've read in the last year.  But I managed, and here they are (in no particular order, and with links to my original reviews):

1. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
I went into this novel with hesitation, because I hadn't done a heavy classic in a while.  I was more than pleasantly surprised.  An amazing coming-of-age tale that is going to stick with me for a long, long time.

2. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
I am admittedly biased because I love food memoirs, and I love the Food Network stars...so this was a match made in heaven for me from the start.  Either way, it deserves a spot on this list, if only because Samuelsson's journey is so unique and inspiring.

3. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
As an avid Picoult fan, I had high expectations for this one, and was not disappointed in the least.  I've read a lot of Holocaust-based historical fiction...this is one of the better ones I can remember coming across.

4. White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse
Beautiful, picturesque, gorgeous, awesome-sauce writing is the #1 reason why this made it on the list.  The captivating story is a bonus.

5. Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel
If there was a book that should be on everyone's list for great character development, this is it.  Beautiful prose, and makes me feel like one of my 2014 resolutions should be to read more of Daniel's stuff.

6. Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad
This book tugged at my mommy heartstrings.  HARD.

7. Cooked by Michael Pollan
I continue to be wow'ed by the depth of Pollan's food-based research, combined with his entertaining commentary along the way.  He makes me feel smarter...and hungrier.

8. We Are Water by Wally Lamb
Another epic family drama from Lamb.  He has yet to disappoint me.

9. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
The unsettling tone of this novel is still creeping me out.  The ending was awesome.  I am not quite as in awe of this one as I was of Gone Girl, but ohsoclose.

10. Expecting Better by Emily Oster
This book should be required reading for every pregnant or soon-to-be-pregnant woman out there.  How I wish I had this to counterbalance all the crazy pregnancy books I read when I was knocked up with Small Fry!  At least Tater Tot is reaping the benefits now.

That's the list for this year, readers!  And now you've got 14 more days to buy them for your friends and family before Christmas.  You can thank me later.

What made YOUR best-read list for 2013?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Book Review: Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear


Title: Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture
Author: Dana Goodyear
Publisher: Riverhead
Publication Date: November 14, 2013
Source: ARC received from the publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

A new American cuisine is forming. Animals never before considered or long since forgotten are emerging as delicacies. Parts that used to be for scrap are centerpieces. Ash and hay are fashionable ingredients, and you pay handsomely to breathe flavored air. Going out to a nice dinner now often precipitates a confrontation with a fundamental question: Is that food?

Dana Goodyear’s anticipated debut,  Anything That Moves , is simultaneously a humorous adventure, a behind-the-scenes look at, and an attempt to understand the implications of the way we eat. This is a universe populated by insect-eaters and blood drinkers, avant-garde chefs who make food out of roadside leaves and wood, and others who serve endangered species and Schedule I drugs—a cast of characters, in other words, who flirt with danger, taboo, and disgust in pursuit of the sublime. Behind them is an intricate network of scavengers, dealers, and pitchmen responsible for introducing the rare and exotic into the marketplace. This is the fringe of the modern American meal, but to judge from history, it will not be long before it reaches the family table. Anything That Moves  is a highly entertaining, revelatory look into the raucous, strange, fascinatingly complex world of contemporary American food culture, and the places where the extreme is bleeding into the mainstream.


My Review:

2013 is clearly my year for foodie nonfiction.  So much good food-related writing out there right now!

If you've tried some food-related nonfic before, and found it a little too serious or technical for your taste (I know that can happen, especially with authors like Michael Pollan, even though I ADORE his work), I think Dana Goodyear's debut might be a better place for you to start.  In Anything That Moves, she gives us a glimpse into the alternative, rebellious side of foodie-ism.  The food bloggers in LA that spend their time searching for the perfect hole-in-the-wall diner; people who insist that eating insects is the sustainable-eating wave of the future; and even a young chef who hosts an underground "restaurant" (of sorts) in his apartment, off the grid of health inspectors.  This book is a great way to get your foodie fix, without too much technical jargon.

As a whole, I did really enjoy this book, though I found some parts slower than others.  For example, the section at the end about Wolvesmouth (a culinary "experiment" hosted by young chef Craig Thornton) was awesome, made me salivate with hunger, and had me wishing that I lived in LA so that I could get on the list to try out his culinary experience.  However, much of the second section (about the raw/unprocessed food movement) was a tad boring for me...perhaps because I had already read about a lot of that in Michael Pollan's Cooked ?  I suppose the thing about this book is that if you are already familiar with some of the topics covered within it, you may not find it quite so captivating...but if many of these culinary concepts are new to you, it will probably keep you hooked from cover to cover.

As far as writing style goes, Anything That Moves takes a much more informal approach to the foodie discussion than other culinary-inspired books I've read.  This is good, in some respects--it matches the rebellious nature of many of the people described within the pages.  However, it was also a little disorienting at times, because Goodyear has a tendency to jump around from anecdote to anecdote, making her train of thought occasionally difficult to follow.  Even so, she has a much different approach to the food discussion (even compared to someone as off-the-cuff as Anthony Bourdain), so it was refreshing to get a new perspective on the topic.

Added plus: Goodyear actually manages to write an "ending" that's a bit of a cliffhanger, which you don't often see in a nonfiction book.  Part of me is dying to call her up and demand to know how that last food experience ended.

Even though a few parts dragged for me, overall I definitely give a thumbs-up to Anything That Moves.  At best, it will have you reconsidering your food options...and at worst, it will make you gag a little.  You know, in the name of edible ant pupae.

Readers: what's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?  Despite my love of foodie-ism, I'd have to say I've only gotten as adventurous as escargots...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Final Countdown: November 2013 in Review

IT'S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN!  (**cue cheesy synthesizer music**)

That's right, my darlings--only 21 days until Tater Tot's due date.  I can hardly believe it.  (Never mind, I can totally believe it, because I am the size of a house.)  Most moments, I'm ready and super psyched for him to make his debut.  A few other moments, I'm like, "OMG WHAT DID WE DO?  AM I REALLY READY TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR 2 TINY HUMANS?"  And then I LOL and figure that ship has long sailed, so panic time is over and I am back to being super psyched.

Fair warning that I will probably go MIA for quite some time after Mr. TT arrives.  Though of course, I will try to at least pop on here and let you know that he HAS arrived.  But afterwards, I'll be going pretty light on the reading until things calm down around here.  I hope you will bear with me during my book blog "maternity leave"!  I plan to get back in the game as soon as I can, though I'm guessing it won't be for a month or two, we shall see.  I do know that I have my trusty Kindle Paperwhite to help me through those 2am feedings, so that should help me along.  :)

For now, I am trying to devour any reading that I can find the time for, while at the same time, devouring all the food in my fridge, since I only have about 21 more days in my life where this will be socially and gastronomically acceptable.
Me and Giant Tater Tot, rocking out in the Thanksgiving snow
Anyway, how was the reading this month?

I am going to do my fave/least fave picks, because I always do, but they really don't feel very fair this month, because all 6 of the books I read were good!  So the "least fave" is definitely not a bad book...it's just #6 on a list of enjoyable books I read this month.  Capiche?

November 2013 Favorite Book:  The Whole Golden World  by Kristina Riggle
November 2013 Least Favorite (but still good) Book:  The Preservationist by Justin Kramon

In total, I read/reviewed 6 books:

The Preservationist by Justin Kramon
The Last Camellia  by Sarah Jio
Buying In by Laura Hemphill
The Whole Golden World  by Kristina Riggle
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
The Memory Palace  by Mira Bartok

Otherwise, I volunteered at the Rochester Children's Book Festival, and did a Small Fry Saturday post for How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? by Jane Yolen.


Posts you can (hopefully) look forward to before this giant baby arrives: 
-my "Best Books of 2013" list, 
-a review of my 2013 resolutions (as well as a list of my new ones for 2014), and 
-a wrap-up of all the crazy reading challenges I signed up for this year.  

What do you think, Tater Tot?  Can you stay all up in my belly until I get that stuff written?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Small Fry Saturday #22: How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? by Jane Yolen

Hey there readers!  It has been a LOOOOONG time since I did a Small Fry Saturday.  I am way overdue--so here's a little kid lit to wet your whistle.

As you may remember, Small-Fry Saturday is a when-I-feel-like-it meme to showcase some of books that my 2-year-old Small Fry is currently reading.  Feel free to do a SFS post on your blog (with the graphic above) or leave a comment below about your favorite kiddie reads.

This week's selection is...


How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?  by Jane Yolen
(illustrated by Mark Teague)

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I volunteered at the Rochester Children's Book Festival, and while there, I had the pleasure of meeting Jane Yolen, the author of the "How Do Dinosaurs..." series of kid's books.  At my baby shower before Small Fry was born, a guest gifted us with a copy of How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten?, which we've been reading to him since he was but a wee lad.  At RCBF, I finally got to pick up this book as another installment in the series (and get it signed!), and it's been fun reading this one with Small Fry as well.

Why are these books so cool?  Well, the illustrations are a good part of it.  In this book, each page shows a different dinosaur doing something silly before he/she goes to bed.  As you can see from the cover, this usually entails a massive reptile perched precariously on some piece of furniture as a tired parent attempts to reason them into bed.  Young kiddos will like the pictures, and older ones will be able to learn from them too (each page has the species of dinosaur printed somewhere on the page).  Dinosaurs jumping on stuff and throwing tantrums...what's not to love?  Plus, the rhythmic story provides a fun reading experience for the kids as you go along.

If you want a goofy, fun kids read (especially for any dino lovers in your life), any book in this series is a good bet...though I particularly love this one as a before-bedtime pick.

Have you read any other books in the How Do Dinosaurs series?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review: The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok


Title: The Memory Palace
Author: Mira Bartok
Publisher: Free Press
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads:

When piano prodigy Norma Herr was healthy, she was the most vibrant personality in the room. But as her schizophrenic episodes became more frequent and more dangerous, she withdrew into a world that neither of her daughters could make any sense of. After Norma attacked her, Mira Bartók and her sister changed their names and cut off all contact in order to keep themselves safe. For the next seventeen years Mira’s only contact with her mother was through infrequent letters exchanged through post office boxes, often not even in the same city where she was living.

At the age of forty, Mira suffered a debilitating head injury that left her memories foggy and her ability to make sense of the world around her forever changed. Hoping to reconnect with her past, Mira learned Norma was dying in a hospital, and she and her sister traveled to their mother’s deathbed to reconcile one last time.

Through stunning prose and gorgeous original art, The Memory Palace explores the connections between mother and daughter that cannot be broken no matter how much exists—or is lost—between them.


My Review:

Phew, what a memoir.  The Memory Palace is, at various points, sad, frightening, hopeful, and frustrating.  But mostly sad.  I was sad for the lack of support that Mira and her sister Natalia received over the years, both from their other family members and from social services.  I was sad for their mother, who Mira and Natalia loved deeply, but because she was unable to receive adequate help, they were forced to abandon her for their own well-being.  And most broadly, I was sad that Mira and Natalia had to live their entire lives under this shadow--because even when they separated themselves completely from their mother, they were still left with horrible memories and a suspicion of others' good will.

This memoir speaks strongly about the lack of social supports for the mentally ill in America.  Mira and Natalia tried countless times to get social services involved with their mother, or to appoint her a legal guardian who could take over her financial affairs--and in the end, the vast majority of their attempts failed, resulting in their mother's homelessness and declining physical health.  Also, I couldn't believe that Mira and Natalia were never taken from their mother's custody as children.  Mira does say that they never wanted that, but from an outsider perspective, it was heart-wrenching to see the fear they lived in throughout their childhoods because of their mother's illness.  It makes you wonder how many other families in this country face these obstacles with mentally ill spouses, children, siblings, etc. each day.

Well, I've made it fairly obvious that this memoir leaves a big emotional impact.  But I also have to comment on the writing style a bit.  I'll admit that, in the beginning, I almost DNF'd this one.  The first part of the book, when Mira is recounting her early childhood, took a long time to catch my interest.  I think because her memories of this time were so fuzzy (being early in life), she writes about them with a lot of symbolic references to artwork, music, etc and after a while, those references just became too abstract and flowy for me.  I wanted to know about her life...I didn't need all of the artistic imagery in its place.

However, as Mira moves into her adolescence and adulthood, she leaves a lot of these fluid images behind, and starts telling her story in a more concrete way.  (She does still rely on a lot of artistic images for embellishment--she is an artist, after all--but when paired with the more solid facts of her life, they take on  more relevance, in my opinion.)  By the time she was recounting her teenage years, I was enveloped in the memoir and found myself captivated by her life story.  In spite of the difficult time she has with her mother, Mira has led a truly amazing life, and the journey she goes on around the world is not one you'll soon forget.

Looking for a light read?  I think you need to find another book on my blog, perhaps.  The Memory Palace is sure to weigh heavily on your mind for a while after reading, but the message it sends about the treatment of the mentally ill makes it well worth your time.

Readers: read any other powerful memoirs lately?  Especially in regards to mental illness?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg


Title: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Author: Sheryl Sandberg
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: March 11, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads:

 In  Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential. 

Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune ’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time ’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

In  Lean In,  Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of “having it all.”  She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home.


My Review:

*Long, dissertation-like review alert!  You've been warned.*

I have been very, very curious about this book ever since it came out earlier this year.  I kept hearing all the negative criticisms of it: that Sandberg was putting down stay-at-home moms, that she was giving advice that was only practical for those who could afford nannies and housekeepers, etc.  This made me a little hesitant to jump in, because as a new stay-at-home mom who is decidedly leaning OUT, I already felt like I had a bad taste in my mouth from it.  Then I read Time Magazine's interview with her this past March, and I was further intrigued.  It highlighted many of the criticisms that I had already heard, but it also gave me further insight into her motivations behind the book.

I finally got my hands on a copy a few weeks ago...and I have a lot of feels to share.  Since this will get long, I'll tell you up front that many of them are not negative.

The first thing that struck me about this book is that Sandberg was amazingly upfront about her personal work/life choices.  The impression that I got from many of the critics was that the book was primarily composed of impersonal advice, without any connection to her personal values and struggles as a working mom.  That is definitely not the case at all.  I was most interested in what she had to say about her mom--someone who stayed home to raise her kids for many years before returning to the workforce, and yet Sandberg highlights her as someone who "leaned in" all her life.  Hmmmm.  Maybe she's not putting down stay-at-home moms after all?

However, despite Sandberg's ability to impart her advice on a personal level, I did struggle a bit with what I see as some contradictions in her opinions.  For example, she strongly pushes the point that she respects every woman's right to choose her path--whether she wants to work full-time, or stay at home, whatever.  We have all earned the right to make those decisions for ourselves.  She feels that everyone has different reasons for making their choices--biological, societal, etc though she clearly gives more credence to the societal pressures.  Thus, it is obvious that Sandberg wants women to remain in the workforce, due to the fact that she feels gender discrimination in the workplace can only be overcome if women continue to take on positions of leadership and power (a fair point).  As such, much of the advice in the book is centered around helping women manage their careers in a way that allows them to stay in their jobs after having kids.  I'm not saying that the advice she gives in that respect is bad--actually, I think it's quite good, IF that is your choice.  For example, she recommends that women "lean in" to their careers as much as possible before they have kids, so that when they do get around to having a family, they are in a job that satisfies them enough to want to return to their position.  This also often allows them to reach a point in their career where they can have a bit more flexibility in terms of maternity leave, schedule, etc. once they have children.

Is this a valid point?  I'd say so.  However, I think for some women, no matter how satisfied you are with your job, or how high you've climbed the career "jungle gym" (as she calls it) before you have kids, you are still going to value staying home with your children more than you value going back to work full time.  That's not true for everyone, but I do think it's true for some.  I'm just not sure that Sandberg truly recognizes this.  Much of the book discusses the barriers that she thinks keeps women from staying in the workforce after having kids--gender discrimination, not enough household help from spouses, etc. and these are certainly real issues.  But sometimes, I think you can have a woman who is in a job with great maternity benefits, a husband that splits the housework 50/50, and she'll still choose to stay home.  Despite Sandberg saying that she recognizes everyone's ability to choose, I think she does overlook this particular choice.  She has an obvious bias towards keeping women in the workforce as much as possible, and as such, it negates the idea that someone would make the choice to leave even if all of these other factors are accounted for.  For some women, staying home is always going to be more important than a job, and if they have the financial means to do it, they're going to make that choice every time.

I'll admit that I make this declaration out of personal experience--which I think is fair, since Sandberg's advice comes from her personal opinions too.  When my son was born, I had a well-paying job, increasing responsibilities given to my position, pretty solid union protection, amazing (AMAZING!) maternity leave benefits, and a boss that allowed me to go from full-time to part-time (3 days/week working 8am-4pm) indefinitely after I returned to work--with the option to go back to full-time whenever I wanted.  Hi, ideal work/family balance!  I'll admit that I didn't always adore the day-to-day aspects of my work, but overall, I did enjoy my field and the students I interacted with each day.  And yet, despite that ability, I always yearned to be able to stay home full-time.  When we moved and it became financially feasible for me to do so, I jumped at the chance, and I am very happy with that choice.  I have, quite decidedly, leaned out, and I don't know exactly when I'll have the desire to lean in again.  So, as with any rule, I think there are exceptions...and I believe I am the exception to Sandberg's.

Alrighty, let's recenter things here.  The first part of the book talks a lot about this idea of leaning in, putting yourself in a good job position before having kids, etc.  After that, the book takes more of a turn towards talking about workplace conditions for women, and what needs to change in order to create more gender equality in the workplace.  This information, I believe, is less of the "controversial" stuff that got everyone's hackles up over the book, because it's pretty solid advice for any woman in the workforce.  Sandberg has a lot of good suggestions about how to interact effectively with colleagues, how to assertively advocate for yourself at work, how to find good mentors, etc.  This second half of the book is good reading for women in any field to take into consideration during her day-to-day job interactions.  I know that I will keep much of it in mind if I do ever return to the workforce.  Plus, I think men would benefit from reading this as well, in order to get a better idea of any personal workplace biases that they may not even know they are acting upon.

Overall, I'd say that this book isn't nearly as controversial as many critics have claimed.  I think a lot of people got their backs up because Sandberg writes it very much from a personal perspective, and anytime advice is given in that way, people are going to poke holes in it.  I think part of why I didn't get up-in-arms about the aspects of her suggestions that differed from my own ideals is that I recognized from the beginning that she was writing from a very different place than me.  She's wealthy, she has in-home help, she works in a highly male-dominated field--none of these things apply to me, but I made it a point to look at her opinions through that lens and adjust accordingly.

As with any advice-based nonfiction, I suppose the key here is to read Lean In and find the points that work well for you.  Sandberg is not saying any woman is making bad choices--what she IS doing is helping women make better decisions, IF they are the decisions that keep them in the workforce.  That is her bias, and I don't think that's necessarily a negative.  While this book may not exactly empower the stay-at-home moms of the world, it will certainly help the working women out there feel stronger in the workplace, and it will assist any woman who is struggling with what to do about her work situation after she starts a family.  No advice book is going to apply to everyone--that's not a bad thing, and it's certainly the reality for Lean In.

Okay readers, who's read Lean In?  What did you think?  Did your personal work/family situation impact your perspective on what Sandberg had to say?  Have you put any of her advice into practice?  Did you feel that the controversy surrounding its publication was warranted, or overdone?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

GIVEAWAY and Book Review: The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle


Title:  The Whole Golden World
Author: Kristina Riggle
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

To the outside Diana and Joe have a perfect family-three lovely children, a beautiful home, and a café that's finally taking off. But their world is rocked when it's discovered that their oldest daughter, 17-year-old Morgan is having an affair with her married teacher, TJ Hill.

Their town rocks with the scandal. When the case goes to trial, the family is torn further apart when Morgan sides not with her parents-as a manipulated teenage girl; but with TJ himself-as a woman who loves a 30-year-old man.

Told from the perspectives of Morgan, Diana, and TJ's wife, Rain, this is an unforgettable story that fully explores the surprising, even shocking, events that change the lives of two families.


My Review:

Who's ready for a doozy of a family drama?  Cuz I loooooved this one.

Obviously, the subject matter in The Whole Golden World is rather scandalous, so I was originally drawn in by my curiosity-killed-the-cat mentality.  However, the best thing about this novel is the way that the author is able to successfully weave a tale told by three very different narrators.  Morgan's POV was a perfect portrayal of a 17-year-old high school senior: headstrong, naive, thinks she knows everything and needs no one...until she doesn't.  Her personality is inherently contradictory, and Riggle handles this complexity so very well.  Dinah (Morgan's mother) battles between being an overly involved "helicopter mom" and letting her kids be kids.  And Rain (TJ's wife) must decide how far she's willing to take the idea of "for better or worse".

Flat characters?  I HAZ NONE.  Each of these narrators has some aspect of their personality that they are struggling with, and Riggle does an amazing job depicting those struggles without making the characters seem confusing or inconsistent.

I will say that, for the first 2/3 of the novel, I was confused about why the author chose Rain as the third narrator, rather than TJ.  TJ is much more intimately involved in the central problem of the plot, and I was often left wondering about his motives--thus, his POV would have been helpful.  However, once I got to the last third of the book, it became clear why Rain was in the POV "driver's seat", if you will, rather than TJ.  And despite the lack of narration from him, by the end, I had a pretty good idea of what his intentions were anyway.

Fans of Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve, etc will definitely be into this one.  Yes, it's full of family drama, but there's more than that--it's also beautifully written, and the story is spliced together in a way that constantly leaves you wanting more.  Every chapter ending will leave you with enough questions that you'll have a hard time putting it down, all the way until the (rather satisfying) conclusion.  This was my first experience with Kristina Riggle's work, but methinks it's time to go back and check out her past novels as well!

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 Kristina Riggle on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.


GIVEAWAY TIME!
The publisher sent me an extra copy of The Whole Golden World, and I have decided to gift it to one lucky blog reader.  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter!  Entries are for US/Canada residents only and contest closes 11/27.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
 
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