5.11.2016

reading rainbow

I've read some really good books lately, my darling reader friends, and I can't wait to talk your ear off about them. I'm usually quite stingy with 5 star reviews, but I'm flinging them around like confetti lately. I think these are my most long-winded reviews yet. I'm sorry, it's just that I REALLY, REALLY LIKE BOOKS. Cancel your plans for the next two hours, buckle up, and read.




Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman--4 stars: 4 years ago, everyone I knew was reading this book. I was the furtherest thing from being ready for kids, so I didn't give it much of a thought. As usual, I'm late to the party on what books are trendy, much like I am with everything else. When I got pregnant, I did the opposite of most women great with child and shunned all parenting books. WAY TOO STRESSFUL. I removed every single one off my "to-read" list on Goodreads, because I would feel anxious just knowing they existed and wanted to tell me how to live my life. This one was eliminated, too. Even reading a blog post about baby-led weaning/sleep training/baby "must-haves" would make me break out in a cold sweat. Sarah eventually persuaded me to read this, and I'm glad I did. I spent much of my college career studying the French language and French culture, so I already had a vested interest in this book. After a year of motherhood, I'm no longer terrified of listening to different parenting theories. But honestly, this isn't really a parenting book at all. Druckerman is an American expat raising her kids in Paris. She noticed the French children behaved much differently than those with an American upbringing, so she researched the differences. It was fascinating. Though I take these things with a grain of salt, everything Druckerman said about American parenting seemed very accurate, and I was surprised to see that my instincts had me doing some things that aligned with the French point of view. There were things I passionately agreed with (sleep training!) and things I vehemently disagreed with (the French don't breastfeed!). It made me really think about how I handle certain things with Gracie and also how grateful I am that I'm raising her in the US. Mostly I found it very funny, lighthearted, and encouraging, but there were a few moments I caught myself wondering if I was ruining my child for life.

For fans of: France, parenting books, feeling like you're probably doing everything wrong, daydreaming about cheese and baguettes 

Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart--5 stars: I had never heard of Miranda Hart until she showed up on Call the Midwife as Chummy. I love Chummy so much my friend crocheted a doll of her for me (ok, it's for Gracie, but whatever). She had her own sit-com in the UK called Miranda (which I've watched on youtube and it made me weep with laughter) and is more or less their Tina Fey. She tends toward the more slapstick, awkward, and silly sense of humor, like a mix between Michael Scott and Leslie Knope. She's just the most hysterical person ever, though I will mention that I read the book while down with a gnarly cold and under the influence of powerful cough medicine. I love that her book isn't the typical celebrity memoir. She talks very little of her fame and how she got famous, but rather shares her thoughts on things like why getting a haircut is stressful, vacations, hobbies, and what it's like to work in an office. She tells all her hilariously embarrassing stories, like the time she picked up a 42-year-old dwarf (her words, not mine, I have no clue what the PC term is these days) without looking, thinking it was her 5-year-old cousin. The amount of embarrassing things that have happened to her is astonishing. In other words, I've finally found my soulmate. I read it all in Chummy's voice (she's much like Chummy in real life) which made it one of the most delightful books I've ever read. I'm afraid I will now be permanently reading and thinking in a British accent. Part of the book is a conversation she has with her 18-year-old self which is sometimes tiresome but many times amusing. The humor and writing style probably won't be for everyone, but it was perfect for me. A word of warning for my fellow ignorant Americans: some of the British slang and references went over my head and I found myself googling some of the people she mentioned, but it didn't take away from the book at all. I laughed, I cried, I didn't want it to end. I think I'm going to buy a copy of it just so I can read a chapter whenever I'm in a bad mood.

Update: I was proofreading this last night and got so nostalgic over this book that James and I watched an episode of Miranda on youtube. Both of us were howling and crying from laughter. I laughed so hard I threw my head back and bonked it on the headboard. Worth it.

For fans of: Miranda Hart, Call the Midwife, silly humor, laughing so hard you wake up your husband and cat

The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw 1939-45 by Wladyslaw Szpilman--5 stars: I was such a mess after finishing this book one night that I rolled James over in bed and made him listen to me talk about it. "Oh, isn't that a movie? I've seen it several times," he said. As usual, I'm the last to know about these things. Szpilman wrote this true account of his experience right after WWII ended. Szpilman was a classical pianist and made his living playing on Polish radio and in cafes. He was a Jew living in Warsaw, which got the brunt of Hitler's malice. He wrote about trying to survive in the Warsaw ghetto after the Nazis built a wall around it, watching his family and loved ones be deported to concentration camps as the Germans emptied out the ghetto, and all the ways he barely evaded death. By some miracle, he stayed alive hiding in the ghetto for 6 years as all other Jews were murdered or deported, and a German officer eventually saved his life. This book was incredible. Just like Night by Elie Wiesel, it's hard to read at times, but a very powerful and important story and worth the cringing and tears. Update: I watched the movie after I finished the book and it was so well done. Not a cheerful movie by any means, but very powerful.

For fans of: WWII, crying, holocaust memoirs, music




Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan--5 stars: Confession: I was terrified to read this book. I was intrigued by this true story, but I kept a wide berth whenever I saw it on the library shelf, concerned it was contagious and I would wind up in a psych ward after reading it. My curiosity finally got the best of me, and I nabbed it. I started reading as soon as I got home and didn't stop until Gracie woke up from her nap, and then I finished it that night once she was in bed. Susannah led a perfectly normal, healthy life as a journalist in NYC until she started having strange hallucinations, headaches, and eventually seizures. Her neurologist didn't seem concerned and told her she just needed to stop drinking, even though she barely drank. Her personality changed, she became hostile and violent, and she was eventually hospitalized. World-renowned doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with her, and her condition was quickly deteriorating. In the nick of time, a doctor diagnosed her with a rare and deadly autoimmune disorder that had only been discovered about two years earlier. She remembers almost none of her month of hospitalization and psychosis, but through videos and charts and interviews she pieces it all back together to write this. This book reads like a fiction thriller and I was completely absorbed. For the week after I finished this book, I was constantly checking myself to make sure I really did hear or see something and that it wasn't a hallucination. Reading this while watching my grandma suffer from brain cancer was difficult and unnerving, and it's made me question every headache I've had since. Maybe stay away if you're a crazy hypochondriac, but read it if you can. It's fascinating, I promise. Our brains are insane--sometimes literally.

For fans of: psychological thrillers, fast-paced stories, medical mysteries, questioning your sanity at all times, stress

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys--4.5 stars: This book was gripping. 15-year-old Lina and her family in Lithuania were arrested by the Soviets and deported to Siberia. They were on a train for weeks, worked in labor camps as slaves, and were forced to figure out how to survive winters above the Arctic Circle. This book was eye-opening. I never knew that Stalin deported much of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia and treated them like the Germans did the Jews for no reason other than he was viciously evil. The book is fiction, but it's heavily based on a part of history many people don't know about. When I picked this up from the library and saw that it was labeled YA, I was tempted to put it back on the shelf. This is probably scandalous to admit to my fellow readers, but I don't like most YA/coming-of-age stories. They're just not for me. I'm so far removed from that phase of life, and I don't want to revisit it through a book. However, this book did not strike me as young adult fiction.  The chapters are very short and succinct and the book moves quickly, but the subject matter is incredibly heavy. It's a long book, but I was able to read it in about 2 days. This is one of those stories that's going to stay with me for a long time.

For fans of: WWII novels, historical fiction, ignoring all adult responsibilities to stay in bed and read

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson--4 stars: I have a huge writer crush on Erik Larson. His ability to write historical nonfiction is incredible. He gives so much context to every event and paints a very vivid picture of what life at that time was like. I also have an obsession with maritime disasters. In 4th grade, I begged my mom for a children's book on the Titanic from the school book fair. She bought it for me, and it became one of my favorite books. It's already in Gracie's room! I've watched all the movies and documentaries and read the books and did a huge research project on the Titanic in school. The Lusitania sank in May 1915,  just slightly a year after the Titanic. Those nefarious German submarines sank anything and everything they could, even a huge steamship full of a record number of women and children. The point of view bounces among the passengers on the ship, the German submarine captain, and the government. There's also a little romance featuring President Woodrow Wilson. Even though we all know the boat sank, my heart was pounding as I was reading and trying to figure out how it would all play out. My only complaint about Larson is that sometimes he gives a few too many details, making his books fairly dense and slow to read, but they are always worth it. I've been googling things about WWI ever since I finished the book, and I've also made a pact with myself to never go near a boat or submarine. Ever. I realize that German submarines are no longer a threat, but I will not be swayed on this.

For fans of: giving yourself a fear of water, WWI, the Titanic, historical nonfiction

I realized after I wrote all this that I also read The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck and Hidden Places by Lynn Austin. Both dealt with the Depression and both were good. After having a crazy dream one night in which the plot of all the war books converged and I found myself to be a Lithuanian living in Warsaw running down the street while chased by a submarine and subsequently woke up screaming, I figured it was time for something a little more...encouraging? I decided to start the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers, but as soon as I opened the book, Salt to the Sea was finally available from the library, which I've been on the waitlist for. It looks like I'll have to endure a few more nights of running from the Soviets and/or Nazis.

What are you reading? Tell me.

23 comments:

  1. Dang girl... I just added a TON to my GoodReads "want to read" list, haha! You need some uplifting books in your life! Awesome reviews, though! I love a thorough book review!

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  2. Michelle, as soon as I read the intro to this blog post, I was like "AHA! A kindred spirit!!!" I have had a lifelong addiction to books, fueled by many trips to the library, a constantly growing reading list (thanks to you and others sharing excellent reads with the Internet world), and books literally scattered in random corners of my apartment.

    I never knew that there was a book of the Pianist, but I did see the movie years ago! I love Holocaust literature, and I took a college course on it a few years ago. I must read that book sometime! Miranda Hart's book sounds awesome, especially because Chummy is my favorite from Call the Midwife as well! (I haven't seen the tv series, but I've read 2 of the books) I typically try to stay away from parenting books (pregnant with my first child here, I've shunned all magazines at the midwife's office haha), but Bringing up Bebe sounds really interesting. I love learning about European culture and integrating more of a European lifestyle into my own Midwest U.S.A. existence, so I will definitely take a peek at that!

    I haven't blogged about my reading habits in a while, so unfortunately I've been losing track of what I've been reading! Scary! But, within the past week or two, I FINALLY read "Mansfield Park," which was the only Jane Austen book that I've refused to read for years out of fear (I'm so silly, though, because I love that book now!), I read "All Roads Lead to Austen," which was a really interesting travel memoir about a woman who runs Jane Austen discussion groups in Latin America, and I re-read "Anne of Avonlea," because I've decided that it's high time to re-read the Anne books. I'm currently reading "Dad is Fat," by comedian Jim Gaffigan, and if you haven't read it, you'd probably enjoy it (based on your reaction to Hart's book). Gaffigan, his wife, and their 5 kids live in a 2-bedroom NYC apartment, and this book about parenting and their life in general is quite hilarious :)

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    1. ^^^^I fully agree with the above recommendation of "Dad is Fat". He's one of my favorite comedians and he talks about family in a real and hilarious way. You'd like it. And you'll finish it in about 24 hours.

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    2. I've read it and loved it! I need to reread it now that I actually have a kid.

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  3. Oh man, this bringing up Bebe book sounds fascinating. If for no other reason than the whole sleep training thing which we didn't do but I'm starting to think maybe we should have haha

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  4. I'm working on a book called The Hereafter by Jessica Bucher. It's good so far, though not the greatest.

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  5. You have convinced me to pick up Brain on Fire! I have been scared of it too. And... I can't believe you didn't know The Pianist was a movie. It won the Academy Award or something! Old news, girl.
    THANK YOU for reminding me about Erik Larson. I love his books. Dead Wake wasn't available at the library, so I picked up Isaac's Storm and it's really good so far. I agree that sometimes he gives a ton of detail that makes the books dense but still. So good.
    I've heard a lot about Bringing Up Bebe and it does sound interesting. I think I'm in a better frame of mind to read something like that I HOPE. Although Jordan told me I'm not allowed to read anything about babies every again because I tend to freak out.

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    1. Oh. I should add that I chuckled about you saying you picked up Mark of the Lion because you wanted something more encouraging. That book is amazing and wonderful and one of my favorites of all time, but encouraging is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of that book. Just saying. Do you know what you should read? The Scarlet Pimpernel. Have we talked about this? I put it on my blog post list of Favorite Books of All Time. Yeah, I went there.

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  6. I always LLLLLOOOVVEEEE your book posts. And I'm so happy you liked Between Shades of Gray. Spoiler- Salt to the Sea is excellent, too, and I absolutely love how she centers her stories on little-known perspectives. Like the poor Poles, who had it (arguably) the worst of anyone. And since it incorporates a Maritime disaster, I'm sure you will eat it right up.

    In regard to your thoughts on YA as a genre- I completely understand. A lot of YA fiction is all frills and boyfriend issues and teenage angst and that's just not everybody's cup of tea (I am a middle school English teacher so it kind of just comes with the territory for me). However, a large portion of current YA has MEAT. The characters are realistic and completely round, and the some of the concepts and plots are just amazing. And the genre is growing- probably faster than any other in publishing right now, because the appeal is widening to far beyond the original teenage target demographic. Now, don't get me wrong, I also love reading adult (BUT- I prefer nonfiction in that category. It's really weird. I don't know), but some of my very favorite authors are labeled YA. You just have to pick and choose the good ones, because there is also a lot of BAD YA (and adult) fiction out there! ;)

    On a different note, I am SO SO happy the Miranda Hart book was good after I mentioned it. I would have felt bad if it wasn't. :) I can't wait to get my hands on that little Chummy masterpiece. And I'll also read the Erik Larson book and the one on The Pianist. And my coworkers and I were just talking about "Bringing Up Bebe"- fate! I figure, if the title is wordplay on a Cary Grant classic film and set in France? I'm in. Your recommendation seals it!

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    1. And I always love your comments! I was having some trouble getting into Salt to the Sea until I hit the halfway point last night, and now I'm sold on it. That Alfred is such a smarmy little thing.

      I'm not that knowledgable on the genre as a whole, but like you said, I can't deal with the angsty teenage dramas. I cannot do John Green and Rainbow Rowell, which I'm sure is blasphemy to most people. If I could find more like Rupta Septeys, I would read a lot more YA. She writes YA with a purpose: bringing attention to little known tragedies.

      I am SO GLAD you mentioned it! It's so sad to think that I could've kept on living with having read that book, and then subsequently becoming hooked on her show.

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    2. I just watched an episode of Miranda on Hulu after reading your post (I didn't know it was carried in the US) and it was....so funny. But, like...I can't describe it. I usually HATE laugh-track shows. The subtle, dry brilliance of The Office just ruined sitcoms for me (it's my favorite show of all time). I can't watch them. The Big Bang Theory becomes "bang my head against a brick wall theory" within minutes of accidentally viewing it. (However, FRIENDS will always be THE BEST SITCOM EVER. I can't deny that).

      Watching Miranda was...strange..in a way? Like I said, hard to describe. It might be the British thing. Or the hyper-awareness of the audience thing. Or the goofy-ness of it all, but it wasn't something that if you advertised it to me without her I would have tuned in for.

      BUT- SHE. IS. JUST. SO. HILARIOUS. I can't not laugh at her. Even her facial expressions sometimes. She reminds me of Lucille Ball. I grew up on I Love Lucy and while the show was sort of formulaic in its design (Lucy get's idea, Lucy tries to go behind Ricky's back to get into show business, hi-jinx ensues), it was still funnier than anything else on t.v. at the time, because of how she played it. Miranda Hart's physical comedy bits and style remind me so much of old Lucy.

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    3. THIS MAKES ME SO FREAKING HAPPY. I'm with you--The Office ruined me for sitcoms! But when she gives that sly look to the camera it reminds me of Jim Halpert. I'm a fellow Lucy fan (one of my all time favorites!), and YES! I never thought about it, but they are so similar! Her physical comedy absolutely kills me. And her side comments to the camera. And when she stops to appreciate a random word. I just die. It's all SO FUNNY and so different than any other female comedian out there. "Such fun!"

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  7. I was convinced to read Columbine after your last set of book reviews and it did not disappoint. My little sister lives in Littleton,CO right around the corner from Columbine, so I felt like I had a personal connection to the book.

    Currently I am reading a YA book called Trials of Apollo:The Hidden Oracle. I am also making my way through all 15 books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I've read 3 so far and they are really good as well.

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  8. Ugh. I haven't completed a book since March :,(. I'm feeling a book binge coming on though. I want to read the Miranda Hart one and the Brain on Fire book. I never used to care for memoirs, but I think you won me over because I love a good memoir!!

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    1. Both are books I think you would love! I'm picky about memoirs, because there are so many bad ones, but I can't recommend this one enough.

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  9. Looks like I need a trip to Barnes & Noble.... or Kate Boucher's bookshelf

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    1. Ha! Kate is guaranteed to have some good books.

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  10. Oh my goodness. I can't wait until I'm done crocheting this darn blanket so I can start on the massive list that is basically just a compilation of all your recommendations. Ha! Chummy is the best! I'm gonna HAVE to watch her show! Also, the mark of the lion series is one of my absolute favorites :)

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    1. Haha! I was just thinking that I need a small break from my reading frenzy to keep working on the blanket I'm knitting. I wish I could do both at once! Well, I guess I could, but I'd rather not. I think you would love Miranda! She ALWAYS puts me in a good mood.

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  11. I liked Bringing Up Bebe, too. Another good cultural read on parenting? Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. (I have a vested interest in this one because my daughter plays the violin and I'm a closet Tiger Mother myself although I try to pass as normal in society.)

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  12. "I laughed so hard I bonked my head on the headboard" hahaha yesss! I can't believe I'm only vaguely familiar with her, I will have to check out her stuff and read her book! I love comedians memoirs. I'm about to start Yes Please! Brain on Fire also sounds really interesting.

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  13. I love Bringing Up Bebe. I am always trying to get people to read it. I love the story, the humor, the honesty and I've found the more general parenting concepts she presents to be really helpful and sensible. It's more of a parenting inspiration than a set of strict instructions, I think and I like that better.

    I could not finish Dead Wake (I was reading it right before I had Avalon. Too dark), but I always thought you'd like it.

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  14. Every time you do one of these posts, I feel like I need to get to the library STAT. Or at least steal a couple of Landon's Audible credits.

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