Friday, January 28, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother [memoir]

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua has been getting a lot of press these days, but I was on the fence about reading about it. I downloaded the sample and in it the author mentioned that she has a younger sister with Down syndrome so that sealed it for me. Just mention DS and I'm a sucker, even if the story has nothing to do with it. But I was curious if having a sibling made a person more sensitive to your own children's differences.

Very obviously NOT in Chua's case. If you haven't heard about the controversy, the book is a memoir about how she raised her kids "the Chinese way" as opposed to "the Western way". (BTW, her husband is Jewish.) She's the stereotypical high-achieving supermom with those kids who MUST be the best academically and musically. No TV, no computer games, no playdates, no sleepovers. Just hours of practice, practice, practice.

Everything must be perfect. She even rejects her kids' homemade birthday cards for their mom and told them to do it over again because they weren't good enough. That's just one example of the brutal exchanges she recounts in her book. She attempts to be self-reflective and self-deprecating, but only succeeds some of the time. Because reading it I always felt like she was sneering at what most people would consider good parenting. I was completely incredulous at her methods. Like she finds it perfectly acceptable to call her kids "garbage" and then tries to play it off as a cultural difference. Ugh. Of course, she defends her parenting style by pointing out that her kids have learned perseverance, dedication, overcoming obstacles, etc. That the cycle of success breeds more success and self-esteem and self-confidence. But she does acknowledge that there's no room for "failure".

Her younger daughter does eventually rebel (and Chua discovers that she can't apply the same methods to her dogs) and supposedly that's what this book is about. That Chua has reconsidered her ways. But she's so damn smug about the whole thing, I don't buy it.

It does make you reflect on your own parenting methods. How much is too much, how much is too little and all that. It's a super quick read. I think it took me about 2 hours to read, not counting the numerous times I had to put the book down to avoid screaming at the pages. If you decide to read it, be prepared to do that!

The Postmistress [novel]

I ended up reading The Postmistress by Sarah Blake because I discovered I could actually borrow eBooks from our local library -- but nearly everything had an insane waiting list and this was one of the few books that I had heard of that didn't have a long wait. I'd heard it compared to The Help as a wonderful debut novel by a female writer. Plus I had just read The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and was in WWII frame of mind. (I decided not to review that book since Lisa did a great job of it last year, but I really loved it as well!)

The Postmistress centers on the lives of three female characters at the start of WWII: Frankie, one of the few female war correspondents reporting from Europe; Iris, the Postmistress in the small vacation town of Franklin, Massachusetts; and Emma, the young wife of Franklin's town doctor.

It took a good 1/3 of the book trying to figure out the characters. It opens up with the question "what if the Postmistress didn't deliver the mail?"But the title (and the opening question) is a bit misleading, because the main character is definitely Frankie, the war correspondent, trying to be objective about the war while experiencing the bombings of London and the fleeing of Jews throughout Europe. She desperately wants to get people in America to care about what is happening. Her journey through Europe in the middle third of the book is the strongest part of the story to me.

Over on the other side of the Atlantic, people in the small town of Franklin listen to Frankie over the radio, and pretty much go on about their daily lives. However, the young doctor, Emma's husband, after losing a patient, feels driven by one of Frankie's broadcasts to go over to London to help out. It's because of this that the fates of Frankie, Emma, and Iris cross.

Unfortunately, the question that the author posed at the beginning and probably wanted to be the main theme of the story, struck me as the weakest section. The question of, is it better to tell someone the truth no matter how bad or let them go on hoping, just didn't work for me. I found that part to be clich├ęd and uninteresting. I didn't care much for Emma and Iris at all.

But Frankie's story in the midst of the war was captivating, suspenseful and heartbreaking. It's enough to recommend the book.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Switched (Trylle Trilogy, book 1) by Amanda Hocking

First, I have to tell you that my 11 year old daughter sprung this book on me (yes, another kids' book - I'd say TWEEN).  We were on our way to dinner when she says, "I downloaded a sample on my kindle and decided to buy the book.  It starts off with a girl on her 6th birthday and her mom tries to kill her by stabbing her."  Then, she walks away!

So that night I go home, log onto her account, find the book, and download it to my own kindle.  Sure enough, the attempted murder is in the Prologue.

Eleven years after her mother called her a monster and tried to kill her, Wendy is living with her Aunt Maggie and her brother, Matt, and is starting yet another new school after being expelled from the last.  She has no friends and she doesn't fit in anywhere.

She begins to notice weird feelings at this new school, like someone is watching her.  She originally thinks it's Finn Holmes, a creepy kid that keeps staring at her in class, but after talking to him, she realizes it's not the same.

Finn introduces her to the possibility of a place where she would be surrounded by people more like her, only it would prove what her mother had said on her 6th birthday ... she was a monster.  She can't bear the idea of leaving the only two people that have shown her real love.  After an attempted kidnapping, Wendy decides to leave with Finn to keep her family safe ... only the world he takes her to is not all she hoped it would be.

I actually enjoyed this book, tho it wasn't one of those "just can't put it down" reads.  There are a few things in it that tend to be pet peeves of mine ... there is missing punctuation and character hopping, (like the print was rushed).  And there are unanswered questions, like why is Wendy constantly being expelled?  I suppose, the age that it is geared towards would be more interested in the here and now part of the story, but it's just an annoyance of mine.  The story itself was fairly original (to me), and it was an easy read.

I'd definitely recommend it to the TWEEN age, especially if they are into sci-fi/fantasy and are tired of nothing but vampire stories.  The Trylle series, so far (I'm on book 2), reminds me a lot of The Golden Compass books, tho not nearly as detailed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Room [novel]

Another book on seemingly every top ten list...Room by Emma Donoghue.

When I first read the synopsis of this book, the story of a girl imprisoned in an 11' x 11' room who has a child by her rapist and raises her son in that room, I was honestly horrified. The theme just struck me as so sensational and tabloid.

But when I read that the story is told through the eyes of the 5 year old son, I was curious as how the author was going to pull that off without being sensational and tabloid.

What comes across is a child's pure innocence. Even though as a reader you are completely outraged and disgusted at the whole situation, this is the only life, the only reality, the child knows. Even more amazing is how much the mother loves her kid and goes to great lengths to keep him safe, educate him (even though he has only a few books that they read over and over again), and entertain him (very creatively!). Some days I can't stand being in the same house as my kids for a minute longer, I can't imagine living 24/7 without a break in an 11' x 11' room and coming up with so many creative ideas to pass each day.

Eventually, they are rescued. The rest of the book which deals with the publicity and emotional trauma of having your world suddenly opened up.

Although sometimes the boy seemed to be a bit too precocious (would a five year old really think that?) for the most part he seemed completely believable.

I really enjoyed the book and it's a very easy read, in spite of the subject matter.

This one's on my Kindle.

The Imperfectionists [novel]

I love January. One, because it's perfect weather for curling up with a book (or electronic reading device) and a cup of cocoa. And two, because all those "Best of the Year" lists come out and I don't get so overwhelmed looking through the thousands of books available!

One book on many top ten lists is The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. It reads like another one of those books written in the "a novel in short stories" style which I'm not really fond of, but seems to be a popular technique these days (Olive Kitteridge and Let The Great World Spin come to mind). It revolves around the slow demise of an English language newspaper in Rome. The chapters tell stories of the reporters and editors (and one avid reader) who work at the paper.

Since each chapter focuses on one character, some chapters are more engaging than others. Some characters are more interesting than others. All of the people have some serious flaws (but then I suppose we all do) . And they are loosely tied together because sometimes someone from a previous chapter has a minor part later on. I found that to be interesting...the differences in people in the work and personal lives. I also found the inner workings and politics of the newspaper business intriguing.

If you like rich character studies, it's a worthwhile read. But if you're looking for a plot and suspense, not so much.

This one's on my Kindle (I do have some actual paperback books to give away, I just haven't gotten around to reading them yet!)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Meet Cass Seltzer, professor of Psychology of Religion, dubbed the "atheist with a soul." He is catapulted to fame and fortune when he pens a bestselling book entitled The Varieties of Religious Illusion. In this novel, he navigates the tricky terrain of love, and we meet, among other characters, a child prodigy, a delusional professor, and Cass's three love interests, all women who are in some way larger than life. No matter where you stand on the topic of religion, you just can't help liking Cass and his entourage.

I read one review of this book that described it as "crackling with intelligence," and I think that's a very appropriate description. The author is clearly brilliant, and I found myself feeling a little dumb through certain parts of it. The story is extremely enjoyable, however, and it culminates in a debate between Cass and a steely-eyed theist over the existence of God which had me biting my nails in suspense, and ultimately cheering.

Atheist fiction - it's right up my alley. At the end of the book is an Appendix which outlines the "36 Arguments For the Existence of God" at the heart of fictional Cass Seltzer's fictional bestseller. Though this book is a work of fiction, the arguments are very real. It seems that every fathomable argument ever made in favor of the existence of a divine higher power is covered, and then logically, rationally, and scientifically deconstructed. I'm not sure how anyone could read the Appendix and come up with a credible refutation for any of the arguments. I loved it because it so eloquently and plainly explained so many things I've thought for a long time but haven't the capacity to put into such a logical form.

The actual arguments can be read in their entirety here: 36 Arguments For the Existence of God.

I loved this book. I doubt believers would enjoy it, as it casts religion and belief itself into ridiculousity. Read it if you dare. I'm keeping my copy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Atlas Shrugged (novel)

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

My first book review of the year is for a book I did not finish. Not only that, but I chose this book for my book club to read, and I will be hosting the discussion later this month. Yet, I did not finish it.

This was my second attempt at this epic novel. Though it was originally published in the 1950s, I had never heard of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, or any of her other works until about a year ago when a friend of mine mentioned it to me and told me it's the best book she's ever read. She also told me that the protagonist in the story reminded her of me (I still don't get that, but maybe I didn't get far enough into the story to draw any similarities).

The author, Ayn Rand, was born in 1905 in Russia. She lived through the Communist takeover, and her life was personally and profoundly affected by it. She eventually came to America, which she viewed as the one true free society. Her novel, Atlas Shrugged, basically illustrates, by way of fictional, larger-than-life characters, and a ficitional, larger-than-life society, the struggle between Socialism and Capitalism. In Ms. Rand's view, Socialism is evil and leads to corruption and apathy in a society, and Capitalism - people in a society motivated by self-interest and self-preservation, nurturing an environment of competition in the marketplace - is the only true path to a free society. She illustrates by extremes in her novel what would happen if true and absolute Socialism took over America, and the brightest minds in a society withdrew in protest. In a nutshell, the society collapses.

The premise of the story is fascinating, and story itself is an interesting one. The big problem is that it is just far too long and laborious to read. Every person, place, and thing is described in minute detail. Every dialogue involves pages-long speeches. It's exhausting. My copy of the book is 1169 pages long, and I finally gave up at page 435 (so I do feel that I gave it a decent attempt). I think the entire thing could have been condensed by at least half and not lost anything the author was trying to get across. My feeling is that this is one of those books that you may want to read if you want people to think you're Super Intelligent. It's like a feather in one's cap if one can say, "Oh, yes, I read Atlas Shrugged." As for me? I'll do without the feather, thank you very much. I felt quite liberated when I gave myself permission to quit Atlas Shrugged.

As for my upcoming book club discussion? I made myself read the Spark Notes as penance. It appears to outline everything anyone really needs to know about the book, and it's a much more enjoyable read.

My copy of Atlas Shrugged is up for grabs. Good riddance.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Just Kids [memoir]

So, the first book I decided to read this year was Just Kids by Patti Smith. In spite of my love of 70's & 80's punk/alternative rock, I never quite understood the reverence musicians had for Patti Smith. "Because the Night" and "Dancing Barefoot" was pretty much all I knew about her.

Just Kids focuses on the early years and Patti's development as an artist and her extraordinary relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. I wasn't sure what to expect, since I wasn't familiar with either artist's work.

I was really engaged with the book. Watching these two grow as artists and all the sacrifices and self-discoveries they made was fascinating. I've always admired artists, but had no idea what makes them tick, and it was a great insight.

There were a few classic rock 'n' roll encounters, but they are just in passing. There were quite a few literary and musical references that I didn't understand, though. And I thought the ending felt a bit rushed. But overall, Patti Smith really has a gift with words and storytelling. I'll probably give her music another listen as well!

This one's on my Kindle.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Giveaway Extravaganza!!

Have I mentioned that I have a book-buying problem? I do. I love to buy books. Problem is, oftentimes the books I buy will sit on my shelf for months and months and eventually I will be forced to acknowledge to myself that I don't know why I bought such and such book and it's highly doubtful I'll ever read it, because suddenly it looks far less interesting (to me) than it did in the bookstore.

Lucky you, however! You can benefit from my habit! I've recently done some housekeeping and am offering the following books up for grabs, free of charge! Just drop me an email at bloggymamaATgmailDOTcom with your address if you want any of the books listed. I'll ship on my dime within the continental U.S.

Renegade: The Making of a President
by Richard Wolffe

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (this one I actually read; excellent book!)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by David Eggers

Letters to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

My Lobotomy by Howard Dully

Autobiograhy of a Face by Lucy Grealy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Paradise by Toni Morrison

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man by Norah Vincent