Monday, August 14, 2017

What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross


I love a story in which all of the characters are sympathetic, including the villain. This is a sign of a well-written story with thoroughly developed characters. Everyone has motivations for why they do what they do. Everyone feels justified in their actions. If they didn't think they had a good enough reason, they wouldn't do it. In Helen Klein Ross's What Was Mine, every one of the characters has a perspective I can understand.

Lucy Wakefield is desperate for a baby, but infertility treatments have left her disappointed and broke. The heartbreak has also led to the dissolution of her marriage. After months of depression, Lucy determines to move on with her life and devote herself to her work. When a chance encounter with what appears to be an abandoned baby leads Lucy to become a kidnapper, her entire life changes direction dramatically. Over two decades later, we watch as Lucy's lies crumble. Through flashbacks and perspective shifts, we see how many people are affected by Lucy's reprehensible crime. We also become acquainted with Mia, the baby who is now twenty-one years old. When the truth comes to light, how will this young woman react to the person she has trusted most in the world?

I was reluctant to read this book because it just didn't sound like something I would enjoy. I thought it sounded fluffy and dramatic and a bit boring. I was wrong. Though we know from the very beginning that Lucy is caught, it somehow still reads like  a mystery. The pages turned and turned as if under their own power and I read most of this novel in just a weekend. As a mother, I thought I knew how I would feel about this book. Again, I was wrong. It was wonderful and I can't wait for you to read it.

What I've Heard- A Wrinkle in Time


When I was in elementary school A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle was my favorite book. I loved the fantasy. I loved the math and science. I loved the stubborn protagonist. I have since read the book many times and I just finished listening to the audiobook. Read by the author, we get to hear this story the way it was intended to be told. Every emphasis is exactly where she intended it. We get to know the characters as she created them.

I am so excited for the film version to be released in March. The trailer makes it look wonderful. This is going to be our next family read-out-loud book. If you haven't yet read this fantastic children's classic, do yourself a favor and don't put it off any longer.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

What I've Heard- Austenland


I read Austenland for the first time five years ago and loved it. I have since reread it and also listened to the audiobook a few times. Have you ever had the experience of revisiting a book you liked and finding it not how you remembered? I certainly have and it can be so disappointing. Having just finished listening to Austenland again, I am so happy to say I still like it. This book is quirky and silly and fun. If you haven't read or listened to this book yet, get to it quick. What a lovely way to end summer vacation!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Girling Up by Mayim Bialik, PhD


From the moment I watched a young Mayim Bialik perform in Beaches, I liked her. I watched Blossom, but I don't really remember that much about it. I like her in The Big Bang Theory, but how I really became a fan is reading her website Grok Nation (grok means to understand something intuitively or by empathy) and her Facebook posts. Bialik isn't just an actor with things to say, though she is that, she is also an actual scientist. She earned her PhD from UCLA in Neuroscience and has taught science to elementary, middle school and high school students. In Girling Up, Bialik discusses the process of changing from a girl to a young woman and progressing into womanhood. This book contains six chapters:

How Our Bodies Work
How We Grow
How We Learn
How We Love
How We Cope
How We Matter

In these chapters, Bialik addresses the physical changes young women can expect to experience along with the variations in timing of those changes. She explains genetics- the differences in female and male- and how those genes determine how and when our bodies will react to puberty. She explains that everyone's body is different and will develop differently. This book contains diagrams that show the inner workings of the female reproductive system, but also, to satisfy curiosity of differences, a basic diagram of the male reproductive organs. She also explains menstruation in an easy to understand, practical manner. I especially appreciated this quote regarding the need to know one's own body:

Often the first person to know that something's not quite right with your body is you- so pay attention, and if something seems different or feels wrong, you can talk to a doctor or trusted grown-up about it.

I was irked, however, that at one point she made this statement:

The lower half of the female body looks pretty simple from the outside. That's because all you see is the vagina...

For a book that is so full of scientific information, this inaccuracy bothered me. What we see on the outside of our bodies is the vulva, not the vagina. The vagina is internal.

She discusses stereotypes often assigned to boys and girls and how sometimes those stereotypes are true and sometimes they aren't and how important it is to be who we are.

There is a bit of information about dating and sex in chapter four. It does not go into any detail that could be considered sensational, but you should of course read it for yourself and discuss it with your daughter in a way that makes your family comfortable. I thought it was all good information and that it could lead to some very good conversations. Especially important in this chapter is the topic of consent. Bialik does an excellent job of explaining this concept and its necessity.

Also included are the importance of nutrition (and the concerns of body image and eating disorders); stress and effective ways to cope; the significance of a good education; and mental health. Chapter six focuses on how girls can make a difference in the world through all of our choices after high school including military service, college, trade school, and volunteer service.She even lists several good causes that can use our help before we finish Girling Up.

I really liked this book. It had a flaw or two, but I thought it would make a very good read for a preteen girl. I do recommend reading it yourself and then sharing and discussing it. This will only make it better.



Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick

In Matthew Quick's Every Exquisite Thing, we meet Nanette, a junior in high school who has just been introduced by her favorite teacher to a life-changing book. This book is out of print, and has been almost since it was first published decades earlier. Nanette is eventually able to meet the author of this book, a man with the unlikely name of Booker, and become friends with him. When she presses him for more details about the book, answers to questions about the ending (who among us hasn't wanted to do the same?), he explains that he simply can't tell her.

"We can't know for sure."
"Why?"
"The story ends."
"But you could write more."
"No, I can't. There's no more to write."
"Why?"
"Just the way it is. The story ends where it ends."

I think we can all understand Nanette's frustration.

Besides obscure poets and her own independence, Booker also introduces Nanette to Alex, a boy angry at the bullies of the world and determined to defeat them. Nanette struggles to know what she should do with her life as high school graduation approaches. Should she be and do what she likes or what makes everyone around her comfortable and happy? And what exactly is it that she likes?

This book is full of teenage angst about how we become whom we are meant to be. It was a really good book, but I can't precisely say that I liked it, but I think maybe I did. This is exactly the kind of book that I can see developing a following. High school students will love it, especially if they aren't overly concerned with being like everyone else. This book was sad and thought-provoking and I think the dramatic teenaged me would really have found a lot of meaning in it. I think I would have read it multiple times and I think it might have prompted me to question what I wanted in life and the direction I wanted it to take. I think that would have been a good thing.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown


The facts are simple: Billie went backpacking by herself along the Pacific Crest Trail in Desolation Wilderness. She never came back down the mountain.

I finished Janelle Brown's Watch Me Disappear a week ago, but I needed a little time to marinate on the story before I could review it. This was an emotional novel that follows the people left behind when someone simply disappears. It has been a year since Billie, wife of Jonathan and mother of 15-year-old Olive, failed to return from a solo hike in the wilderness.After an extensive search, the discovery of a few of her belongings in unfavorable conditions and under the recommendation of the authorities, Jonathan and Olive are forced to accept that Billie has died. They are heartbroken, Jonathan is falling apart, Olive is struggling in school. And then the question arises: did Billie really die in alone in the middle of nowhere, or is something else possible?

Even now, a year later, Jonathan is plagued by the question of how long it had taken his wife to die. What if she had lain there for days, somewhere under the ponderosa pines, hurt and helpless, hearing the search helicopters overhead but incapable of summoning them?

With numerous flash backs, this is not simply the story of a missing woman, but of a marriage, how it began and how it progressed over the years. How much do we really know about our partner? It is about the relationship between a mother and her child and how that relationship transforms over the years by necessity.

You don't realize how much you'll miss the asphyxiating intimacy of early parenthood until you can finally breathe again.

This book kept me guessing the whole way through it. Each time I decided I knew how it was going to go, I learned I was wrong. It is the definition of dark and twisty. And when I was finished, I was exhausted. I think that speaks well for a book. Emotional exhaustion means there was emotional investment and what more can an author hope to ask of her readers?

I highly recommend this book, but if you need to talk when you're finished I'm here and I'm dying to discuss it!

Friday, August 4, 2017

What I've Heard - The Handmaid's Tale


I read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood three years ago and I had a very emotional experience with it. I also recently watched the first season of the Hulu series and that was quite emotional as well. Knowing I would be watching the series, I wanted to review the source material and listening to the audio book was a very easy way to do it.

Claire Danes reads and her voice somehow sounds exactly like I would imagine Offred's voice to sound. Occasionally when I begin an audio book, I have to adjust to the sound of the reader. I've even refused to listen to some audio books because the reader sounds so little like I imagine the character to sound that I can't reconcile the two. In this case, Danes sounded exactly like Offred from the very beginning, to me.

I had forgotten the way this book ends, with the presentation of the "tale" at a conference. I really enjoyed that perspective on the story. I enjoyed this book and I can't wait to see what the Hulu series does to continue with the world Atwood has created.