Monday, July 27, 2015

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? (7/27)

For someone who loves to read, I've been a bad reader this week.  I think I may have spent maybe two hours reading over the entire week.  It isn't as if I've been in a rut.  I do want to read, I apparently just don't want to read enough.

This past week was supposed to be one of the least busy weeks of the summer--which I thought would mean I'd have more reading time. meant I had 2 kids wanting all my attention.  Trust me, there are few things less conducive to reading than bored children.  Then, at night, I fell down the rabbit hole of Netflix Binge Watching.  The culprit this time is Marvel's Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  My husband says he's watched every episode already, but he seems surprised by every twist and we're only at the beginning of season 2, so I'm not so sure about that.  Anyway, I've realized I need to be a bit restricted with this.  Not only is this cutting into my reading time, but I realized that, at the rate I'm going, I'm going to finish season 2 over a month before season 3 starts.  And, well, we can't have that.  So, I'm putting myself on an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. diet--no more than one episode a night!  Either that or I'll just have to find another show to binge watch in August.

I've also realized that the "immediate" section of my TBR list, which is those books that have a deadline, is out of control.  Between books for review, book club books, and netgalley books it feels like I have no choice in what I read.  So, I've decided to lower the priority of my netgalley titles (instead of reading them by their publication date, my goal is to read them by the end of the year) and to "reconsider" some of my book club choices.  There are one or two left on the docket this year that I'm just not excited about and I'd rather spend my time reading books that interest me.

I decided that 2015 would be the year of no Goodreads giveaways (I still have piles of books I won from them to get through) and I think that 2016 will be my year of no Netgalley.  I also need to realize that I will never be able to read all the books....

So, in other news, things look a little different around here.  This caused a bit of sweat and a lot of swearing Saturday.  I've been bored with my canned template for quite some time.  Back when this was sort of a lifestyle blog, I did get a blog design, but the designer is no longer in the business.  I don't want to spend a lot of money, but I thought I had earned enough for a modest design through advertising on this site.  Well, I was wrong.  Phew!  Blog design must be a lucrative business these days!  I did find one design studio that was reasonably priced AND was my style...but she had closed up her shop.

Ultimately, I headed over to canva and put together a new header and then played around with some of the formatting, and this is what I ended up with.  Is it better?  Maybe.  It is what I want?  No, but it will do for now.  It's still a bit messy and all, but maybe I'll just wait for a while and then blow all my earnings on a design later.  Sigh!

Okay, as unimpressive as this week was, here we go...

Last week on the blog, I posted:
Tuesday, July 21 - Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Wednesday, July 22 - Book Review: The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
Thursday, July 23 - Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Saturday, July 25 - Saturday Snapshot

Right Now, I'm Reading:
The Main Book:
The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff
I just need the world to go away so I can concentrate on this book.  When I do get to read it, I'm really enjoying it--but the kids have made it their personal quest in life to keep me from reading this specifically (and reading generally).  I have a review scheduled soon, so I'd better get on it.

On My Phone:
Sweet Water by Christina Baker Kline
As I said last week, I didn't expect to make much progress on this book this past week because my daughter only had one swim lesson this week (although I did make some more progress at the hair salon).  This week--and the 3 following weeks--I'll be at the pool for lessons every day and should be able to get through this book fairly quickly.

With My Daughter:
Amy and the Missing Puppy (Critter Club #1) by Callie Barkley
Bedtime reading also took a hit this week.  I don't think my daughter is as interested in this book as she has been in some others.  I told her we could read the next Ivy and Bean book next, which is what I think the real motivation to read this book is for her.

Last Week, I Finished Reading:
Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God by Margaret Feinberg (finished 7/26, no review)
I finally finished this one--and I'm glad I took the time to savor it.  I picked it up to see if it would work for a bible study for my women's group in the fall.  This particular version isn't set up for that, but there is a group study version, which I will suggest.  This was the first book by Feinberg that I've read and I know it won't be my last.

I do have a couple of reviews coming up this week, but then I've pretty much gone through the reserve I built up in June.  Sigh!  I guess I'd better get back to the books!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Saturday Snapshot - July 25

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Every once in a while, something fun just falls in your lap. This week was going to be a boring, same-old, same-old week.  But, then, I fond out that I had won a family pack of tickets to the Portland Thorns game on Marlynn's Urban Bliss Life blog (a little plug here: Marlynn is a local blogger with a fabulous site.  I can't even tell you how many tips, ideas, and recipes I've gotten from her.  If you have a minute, check her out).

Green Bay is a football town (God bless 'em!), Boston is a baseball town, but Portland is a soccer town.  We actually have 2 MLS teams--a soccer team and a men's soccer team (see what I did there?)  The Thorns is the women's team and they have 7 (I think?) players who played in the recent World Cup, 2 of which played on the US Team--forward Alex Morgan and midfielder Tobin Heath, who scored the final goal in the World Cup Championship game.  This was the first game since the World Cup and the first time they had sold out Providence Park (21,144 if anyone is wondering).

My husband is a huge soccer fan and played seriously growing up, so I knew he would enjoy it. And my kids like to have the opportunity for "sanction screaming," so I knew it would be a fit for them as well.  So, my daughter skipped her swim lessons and we headed down to the park. I had never been to "Providence Park" before, but I had spent more than a few hours there back when it was "PGE Park"--and a baseball field.  All I can say is that it was pretty much a completely different facility now--and a great improvement!

Back to the game....The Thorns were playing the Seattle Reign, which also had several World Cup players (including goal keeper Hope Solo--who wasn't playing that night--and forward Megan Rapinoe who was petty much everywhere during the game).  Our seats were great-with easy access to the snack bar and the bathrooms (this is very important when you have kids!) and we even sat next to Marlynn and her family, so I was finally able to meet her!

Ultimately, the Thorns went down 0-1, but it was still a fabulous night.  My daughter has adopted Tobin Heath as her idol and I'm sure my husband and I will be back next season (most tickets are already sold for the remaining games this year), but maybe without the kids.  As I said, my husband is big on soccer and, with him, it is all about the game.

The view from our seats

My son is trying to figure out who is who

No sporting event is complete without cotton candy

My son got into the chanting and even tried to do the wave.  Of course, he was the ONLY person in our section doing the wave, so it didn't really have the desired effect.

A little side note...I've started an Instagram account for this blog at westmetromommyreads.  I still have my private mdawnott account, but that one will mostly be just kid pics and everything else will be on the new (and public) account.  Feel free to give me a follow!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin
Published: April 1, 2014
ISBN: 9781616203214
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Postal Book Club
Highly Recommended

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love. 

My Thoughts:
Some books are just more "bookish" than others.  I know that sounds crazy--how can books be more or less bookish?--but it is true.  This is a book for people who love books, and who understand the power of literature.

A.J. Fikry is a prickly fellow when we first meet him, still reeling from the death of his wife several years earlier, and determined to drink himself to death.  Then, things change and, due to circumstance, he begins to let a few more people into his life.  I liked that A.J. was rather prickly when we first met him and, even though his life circumstances change dramatically, he still maintains a bit of that prickliness.  Too often, characters make an unrealistic transformations where they go from angry, bitter, what have you to bundles of joy and rainbows.  A.J. is not like that....he is who he is.

I loved the fictional island of Alice.  Zevin created a quaint town and brought it to life without going all Lake Wobegon on it (Lake Wobegon is great, but a town as "full" of that would not have worked there). There were a few "townsfolk" who were brought into the main narrative, which was just enough for a novel of this scope.

I was immediately sucked into the narrative in a way where I was happy to just go along with what has happening,so I didn't think too much about what was coming next in the plot.  Because of that, I personally didn't find the plot predictable, but I can't speak for others.

There were a couple minor things that bugged me.  Some of the time jumps were just a bit too long for my tastes.  I would have preferred more time jumps of less time that less time jumps of greater time.  There was also a character, who was set up to be a major player, that was cut out of the plot rather abruptly and, in my opinion, in a clumsy manner.

Still, these complaints are minor and they don't change the fact that this is one of the most enjoyable books I've read all year.  I would recommend it to any reader.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book Review: "The Bishop's Wife" by Mette Ivie Harrison

The Bishop's Wife Mette Ivie Harrison
Published: December 30, 2014
ISBN: 9781616954765
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library (3M Download)
Recommended for readers looking for something somewhere between a Cozy Mystery and a Thriller

In the predominantly Mormon city of Draper, Utah, some seemingly perfect families have deadly secrets. 

Linda Wallheim is a devout Mormon, the mother of five boys and the wife of a bishop. But Linda is increasingly troubled by her church’s structure and secrecy, especially as a disturbing situation takes shape in her ward. One cold winter night, a young wife and mother named Carrie Helm disappears, leaving behind everything she owns. Carrie’s husband, Jared, claims his wife has always been unstable and that she has abandoned the family, but Linda doesn’t trust him. As Linda snoops in the Helm family’s circumstances, she becomes convinced that Jared has murdered his wife and painted himself as a wronged husband.

Linda’s husband asks her not to get involved in the unfolding family saga. But Linda has become obsessed with Carrie’s fate, and with the well-being of her vulnerable young daughter. She cannot let the matter rest until she finds out the truth. Is she wrong to go against her husband, the bishop, when her inner convictions are so strong?

My Thoughts:
This is one of those cases where, even though I have some real concrete complaints about this book--and complaints that would lead me to DNF another book--I just could not stop reading this and, as much as I hate to admit this, I enjoyed the experience, even if I can't say that I enjoyed the book.

I had heard quite a bit about this book in the months since it had been published, but much of what I heard was mixed, so the bar was--well, there was no bar for my expectations going into the reading.  This is not a Cozy Mystery, but it definitely has some of the hallmarks of that sub-genre:  The somewhat of a buttinsky main character who becomes an amateur detective, a close-knit society (in this case, the LDS ward), and the relatively clean storytelling.  However, it is much darker than a cozy mystery and lacks any of the (intentional) quirkiness that one would find in those books.  The fact that this book was somewhere between a Cozy Mystery and a Thriller might have been what sucked me in.

I am not a Mormon, although I grew up in an area with a large LDS population, so I know maybe just a tad more than the basics about the religion, but I can't say I have any first-hand experience.  I did notice from other reviews that people are split as to whether this book is an accurate description of the Mormons or not.  I don't know, but I will say that the details were at least interesting, but my views of the LDS remain unchanged.

I can't say that I found the characters to be especially dynamic--Linda, as the main character, was the most developed, but I didn't really feel that she grew as a person as the book progressed.  The other characters all seemed pretty one-dimensional, which I can mostly overlook.  I did wish that she had given Linda's husband, Kurt, more personality.  I also felt that she left a couple character points unfinished--specifically with two of her sons.  It felt like she was going to explore something with them, but it never happened.

There are actually two mysteries in this book that are related thematically, although they are separate in the plot.  Strangely, it works here and Harrison handles juggling these two plots well.  Harrison's writing style isn't particularly memorable, but I didn't feel like I was tripping over her prose. I did wish, however, that she infused more emotion into her words.

Plot-wise, this book moved at a good clip.  There were plenty of twists and turns so that I stayed interested, but things did get melodramatic at the end, which was a letdown for me.  But, my biggest problem with this book was something else: victim shaming.

There was a character in this book who does a fair amount of victim shaming--I'm not saying that victim shaming is ever acceptable, but it was done as part of his character so it isn't anything I can hold against Harrison or this book.  Yet, as the story progressed--probably the last 3rd of the book or so--I would say that Harrison herself does a fair amount of victim shaming with the choices she makes about a character and their actions.  It didn't really fit with what was going on and, frankly, had it come up earlier in the book, it may have led me to DNF the whole thing.

Frankly, I'm not really sure what to say about this book.  It has problems--some I can overlook and some I can't.  The experience of reading this book was an enjoyable one, even if I can't say that I enjoyed the book once I was finished with it.  I may still recommend it, though, depending on the reader and what they are looking for.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

The Bishop's Wife
by Mette Ivie Harrison

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins Jess Walter
Published: June 12, 2012
ISBN: 9780061928123
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Source: Postal Book Club
Highly Recommended

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. 

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that has been near the top of my TBR list for over a year, but it kept getting pushed aside for other books.  Then, I received a copy through one of my postal book clubs and had to read it...and I'm so thankful that I did.

I have to admit that I was familiar with Jess Walter as a person, but not as an author before reading this.  I listen to the podcast he does with Sherman Alexie and the two make a great pair.  However, I couldn't quite picture the person from the podcast writing a story as chronicled in the summary.  Luckily, it turns out that the man and the story merge perfectly.

Reading this book felt like an extravagant vacation--the reader goes to Rome, to a small village on the Italian coastline, to Hollywood, to Idaho, to London and Edinburgh, and to Beaverton (although that last one probably doesn't fall into the "vacation" category!).  Obviously, this book is all over the place--not just geographically, but also chronologically.  I was worried about that, but it did work for me in this case.  I was able to follow all the story lines without any problem.

The characters are what really make this book work.  I won't go into the specifics about each one (like story lines, characters abound here), but I will say that I found myself relating to all of them, including the one really unlikable (yet entertaining) character.  Because there are so many people and story lines, Walter explores facets of the characters instead of developing the entire character.  In another book, I would find this annoying.  However, there is more than enough here so that Walter's approach is successful.

All in all, this was a lovely and satisfying book, with something for every reader.  I would recommend it to anyone without hesitation.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Beautiful Ruins (P.S.)
by Jess Walter

Monday, July 20, 2015

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? (7/20)

A little late in the game today....I usually type up these posts on Sunday evenings.  However, last night was consumed with a massive fit by BOTH of my kids because I had the nerve to serve them something called--and I'm not making this up--"Kid Pleasin' Chili."  It was actually quite tasty...not that my kids would be able to tell you that.  Grrr.....  Anyway, after all that drama, I decided I needed to just veg in front of the TV and catch up on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes.

So, before I get in to things, I want to do a bit of a PSA for those of you who listen to the Book Riot podcast.  I listened to it this morning as I was out walking and it left a bad taste in my mouth.  The bulk of the episode was their commentary of Go Set a Watchman, which was not surprising.  I am tempted to go off on the rather bad job 2 of the 3 hosts did (Jeff O'Neal actually did a good job--he made sense and remembered to look at the book in its historical context.  Amanda Nelson was just all over the place and I couldn't follow any of her thoughts and Rebecca Schinsky was, well, Rebecca Schinsky).  However, I'm only going to put this one thing out there....


Seriously, if you have not yet read Go Set a Watchman and plan to, do not listen to this podcast (#115, "All the Asterisks") until you're done with the book.  I think they spoiled probably every aspect of that book without even the slightest warning to the listeners.  Yes, the book is out now...but it is just out and there are more than a few people who just haven't gotten their copies yet--either because they are waiting for it to come in at the library (I just checked and the hardcover version has 548 holds at my library--and the audio, large print, and eBook editions all have multiple holds as well), they are looking for an affordable copy, or their pre-order plans bit them in the butt (as they did me...more on that below).

Last week, the Books on the Nightstand podcast also talked about this book...and they did a very good job of warning listeners.  They said at the beginning of the episode that they would talk about it, re-arranged the "normal" order of their show so that their Watchman discussion came at the end, and then warned again before they got into it.  Book Riot, on the other hand, just went all in without the slightest consideration to anyone who might still be waiting to read the book.

On a slightly related note, I also wish that Book Riot had waited a week to talk about this book as I really got the feeling that, with the exception of Jeff O'Neal, they hadn't really formed in their mind what they really thought of things before they opened their mouths and things just sort of came out in a weird emotional mess.

Enough of that....

Last week on the blog, I posted:
Wednesday, July 15 - Book Review: The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet - a Memoir by Dara-Lynn Weiss
Friday, July 17 - Book Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Saturday, July 18 - Saturday Snapshot

Right Now, I'm Reading:
The "Main" Book:
The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff
The was sort of a spur-of-the-moment book tour for me and it is the first book by Jenoff that I've read.  I'm about halfway through with it so far and I'm really enjoying it.  It's historical novel, it's a WWII novel, and it is an immigrant novel--all wins in my book!

The "Phone" Book:
Sweet Water by Christina Baker Kline 
I haven't gotten far into this yet, and I probably won't make too much progress on it over this coming week--I do the bulk of my "phone" reading while my kids are in swim lessons.  My daughter has only one lesson tonight.  She is going to skip her Wednesday class this week so we can use some tickets to the Portland Thorns (Women's MLS) game that I won!  I'll probably be talking about that on this week's Saturday Snapshot.  However, starting next week, my son has swim lessons 5 times a week for 4 weeks.  Ugh!  Well, I should be able to get through a few more books...sigh!

My "Think Deep Thoughts" Book:
Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God by Margaret Feinberg
I didn't get a chance to think too many deep thoughts this week, only because I dropped EVERYTHING once I started Go Set a Watchman and then things were busy around here at the end of the week.  I'm almost done with this one, so it should be moved into the next section in my next Monday post.

With My Daughter:
Amy and the Missing Puppy (Critter Club #1) by Carlie Barkley
We didn't too as much bedtime reading this week, just due to our schedules, but we're still going through this one.  It is interesting because it is the first "mystery" that we've read, but I can't say it stands up against some of the other chapter books we've read lately.

Last Week, I Read:
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer(finished 7/13, review 7/29)
We had my book club on this on Wednesday and we were all over the spectrum on it.  I was at one end of it....

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (finished 7/16)
You can read my review to see what I thought of it--if this were any other book, I would have posted the review at some point in August.  For this book, though...I had to squeeze it in right away.  Now, here is the pre-order drama.  I had ordered this book pretty much the minute Powell's listed it on their website AND I paid FULL-PRICE ($27.99) for it.  Since Powell's has a store only about 15 minutes from me, I said I would come pick it up.  In the past when I've pre-ordered from Powell's, I've had great luck--the email saying to come pick up my book is there first thing on the morning of release day and I just have to run out and get it.  However, on Tuesday, I kept waiting and waiting for my email.  Finally, that afternoon, I call Powell's to ask about it...and was told that the books to be put out on their shelves (for $19.59) were sent to the stores, but the pre-orders wouldn't be shipped until maybe the next day.  Really?  What was the point of pre-ordering and paying full price?  If I had ordered from Amazon, I would have paid half as much and it would have come right to my door.  This is not the way Powell's should act if they want they want to compete with the big, bad Amazon.  Fortunately, Powell's let me cancel my order and I downloaded a copy from Kobo for significantly less money.  On the up side, this was my first Kobo experience (as an app on my Samsung tablet) and, well, adios Kindle (at least for new purchases!).  It was such an improvement over the Kindle and the Kindle app!  I'll still shop--and even order--from Powell's, but I probably won't pre-order and they may not be my first stop for other books.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Saturday Snapshot - July 18

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

A few weeks ago, the hubs took the kids and I out to dinner (because it was far too hot to cook!) at a little country diner near our house.  Afterwards, we decided to take a walk at Jackson Bottom Wetlands near our house.  I've lived in this area for 15 years and I had never been there!  My husband only went there for the first time when he chaperoned one of my daughter's field trips!

It was an impromptu trip--otherwise I would have brought my DSLR.  Instead, I just took a few pics with my iPhone.  You'll probably see more pictures from Jackson Bottom in the future because I'd love to get down there with my DSLR!

I don't think my son understands how this works....

Book Review: "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman Harper Lee
Published: July 14, 2015
ISBN: 9780062409850
Genre: Historical Fiction (written as a Contemporary Work)
Source: Personal Copy (Kobo)
Highly Recommended (if you've read To Kill a Mockingbird and know the history around this title)

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch - 'Scout' - returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past - a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience. 

My Thoughts:
Let me start by saying that this was the most unique reading experience that I've ever had.  It wasn't that there was anything especially unusual about the story, but the circumstances around the book are one-of-a-kind.

It is important to know the context of this novel--this was the first book that Harper Lee wrote.  It was rejected by the publishers with a note that she should explore the childhood of the main character, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch.  Lee took that note and wrote another book, To Kill a Mockingbird.  This manuscript was filed....until something happened.  Things get murky from that point and it isn't really clear when this manuscript was "discovered"and if Harper Lee actually consented to the publication.

So, it is set after To Kill a Mockingbird, but it isn't truly a sequel.  It is more of a story about an alternate universe Maycomb, Alabama and its famous literary inhabitants.  The first question that came to my mind was why was this book rejected in the first place?  After reading it, I can think of a couple reasons.  For one thing, it might have pushed the boundaries of what was considered "acceptable" in mainstream fiction in the 50s.  There are references to child molestation, someone is compared to Hitler, a lot of discussion about racial issues, and a scene involving an unfortunate pair of falsies (and that last one is excellent!).  I have a feeling that some of the things this book touched on may have been a bit too "hot" for a publisher to take on.

There is also the problem that, plot-wise, this book is a bit light.  The plot isn't "bad," but it isn't really novel-sized.  This plot could have been expressed in a short story or a novella, although most of the very entertaining, but non-essential, scenes would have had to be cut.  I would love to know what someone who has never read To Kill a Mockingbird would think of this because, for me, this is really dependent on To Kill a Mockingbird.

There were also some stylistic things that don't show up in To Kill a Mockingbird that may not have gone over well--mostly things where the narration switches from third-person to first-person stream-of-consciousness.  I don't recall this happening in To Kill a Mockingbird and I'll admit that I was a little confused by it at times.

The original suggestion that Lee should write about Scout's childhood does make sense.  We all know about the wonderfully precocious Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, but I must tell you that the Jean Louise of this book is freaking awesome.  I can't think of another character of that age in literature who I have enjoyed as much as I did Jean Louise (who I will call Scout from here on out--because she will always be Scout in my mind).  She's opinionated and brash and knows how to make a situation deliciously uncomfortable.  Also, this Scout is a natural evolution of the Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.  There are a lot of flashback scenes to her childhood and they read as if they could have come out TKAM.

And, now, the elephant in the living room--Atticus.  Unless you have no access to the internet (in which case, you wouldn't be reading this review) you know that Atticus is not what we expect in this book.  I would like to take a moment to call every outlet (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Mashable, The Guardian, and others!) who felt that they should spoil this jerks.  You are all jerks.  There, I said it.

But it is an important part of this book.  Is Atticus a racist?  By, 2015 standards, yes.  By Scout's standards, yes.  By mid-1950's standards?  Maybe not.  I mean, this was a contemporary novel when it was written, and, by 2015 standards, some of the things that Scout says are racist as well.  (And to be fair, neither is as racist as Ma Ingalls....)

I'm not excusing any of this, but I think that it is important to place it in history.  I think that modern readers should be upset about the racism here--not in a "how dare you" sort of way, but in a "we were wrong" sort of way.  I think that a reader needs to be able to separate the myth of Atticus Finch from the literary Atticus Finch.  I have to say that because what I'm about to say next may not sit well with some people:  In my mind, I can see that the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird can become the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman.

I'm not saying that Atticus was racist in TKAM--but what I'm saying is that he could have been.  Remember, TKAM was told through the eyes of a child who idolized her father.  In Go Set a Watchman, that child has grown up and lived on her own in another part of the country.

Should you read this book as a sequel or as an unrelated book?  I don't think you can read it as a completely unrelated book--there is just too much overlap between the two.  But I don't know that you can read it as a strict sequel either as there are things that just don't add up.  For example, the trial of Tom Robinson is alluded to in passing in this book, but the details-and outcome--were different,  I guess you have to find where you are comfortable between the two options and read it from that point.  I will say, though, that this book does seem dependent on To Kill a Mockingbird.  However, I am a person who has read TKAM several times, so I already had that at the forefront of my mind going into Go Set a Watchman.

I'm going to close with what I thought was so profound about this book--and that is that it was published when it was.  The issues this book deals with are still with us.  The same arguments that are used against Civil Right in this book are used to support flying the Confederate flag today.  Things that are said about African Americans are still said about minorities.  It is amazing how little has changed in 50+ years.

I am immensely glad to have read this book (and I truly hope that Harper Lee DID give consent to its publication).  The experience in reading it is something I will never experience again and it takes the issues that are raised in To Kill a Mockingbird and brings it home.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Audiobook Review: "The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet - a Memoir" by Dara-Lynn Weiss

The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet - A Memoir Dara-Lynn Weiss, narrated by Amanda Tepe
Published: January 15, 2013
ISBN: 9780345541345
Genre: Memoir
Source: Audible

When a doctor pronounced Dara-Lynn Weiss’s daughter Bea obese at age seven, the mother of two knew she had to take action. But how could a woman with her own food and body issues—not to mention spotty eating habits—successfully parent a little girl around the issue of obesity?

In this much-anticipated, controversial memoir, Dara-Lynn Weiss chronicles the struggle and journey to get Bea healthy. In describing their process—complete with frustrations, self-recriminations, dark humor, and some surprising strategies—Weiss reveals the hypocrisy inherent in the debates over many cultural hot-button issues: from processed snacks, organic foods, and school lunches to dieting, eating disorders, parenting methods, discipline, and kids’ self-esteem.

Compounding the challenge were eating environments—from school to restaurants to birthday parties—that set Bea up to fail, and unwelcome judgments from fellow parents. Childhood obesity, Weiss discovered, is a crucible not just for the child but also for parents. She was criticized as readily for enabling Bea’s condition as she was for enforcing the rigid limits necessary to address it. Never before had Weiss been made to feel so wrong for trying to do the right thing.

The damned if you do/damned if you don’t predicament came into sharp relief when Weiss raised some of these issues in a Vogue article. Critics came out in full force, and Weiss unwittingly found herself at the center of an emotional and highly charged debate on childhood obesity.

A touching and relatable story of loving a child enough to be unpopular, The Heavy will leave readers applauding Weiss’s success, her bravery, and her unconditional love for her daughter.

My Thoughts:
I feel I should start this review with a bit about myself.  I was an overweight child and I was on a diet for my entire childhood--the kind of diet where everything was policed and I was never allowed to forget the fact that I was not like other children, something I know was very damaging.  I still struggle as an adult and am working to change my focus from a "diet" to a healthy lifestyle.  I am also the mother of two children and, recently, the weight of one of my children became the concern of our doctor.  In 6 months, we corrected the problem with minimal stress for our child and are currently maintaining our success.

I say this because I know very well what this book is about, both from the point of the child and the parent.  I do have strong opinions of what I heard on this book, and thanks to my own experiences, believe that my opinions are fair and well-grounded.  I also need to admit that I am a bit biased.

So, onto the book.  I wasn't sure what to expect of this.  There were items in the synopsis that intrigued me--mostly the mentions that Weiss had to struggle against society to maintain her daughter's eating plan.  I get that--I don't like my children to eat a lot of sugar or junk food and I do have to fight that battle in a world where kids are given treats at every turn.  

And, frankly, I was just interested about how Weiss handled this with her daughter.  The epidemic of childhood obesity should not be minimized and is an important topic for all to consider.

So, onto the book.  It begins a bit with Weiss talking about her own weight history (a little disordered, but not uncommonly so).  Then she talks about her daughter.  Jumping ahead a little bit, Weiss later pats herself on the back for addressing her daughter's problem early.  However, in the opening chapters of the book, she mentions that, at 3, her daughter's preschool teachers had brought her daughter's eating habits to her attention.  Weiss also mentions that others had made comments from that point on about her daughter's increasing weight.  Yet, Weiss doesn't start to actually do anything until her daughter is 7--over half her life later!  Weiss deserves no kudos for "acting early" when she was 4 years (more than half her daughter's life) late to the game.

Weiss chalks her daughter's weight gain up to a large appetite, not bad food choices or inactivity.  I can buy that her daughter was eating healthy food, but at inappropriately large portions.  However, I question Weiss claims that her daughter was not inactive.   Never once did Weiss mention how much television her children watched.  Yes, it could be that her kids didn't watch much television--but, later, she makes a mention of a scene where she is in bed with her kids and everyone has their own laptops (the kids are, I think 7 and 8 at this time) and the kids are updating their Twitter accounts!  Obviously, technology is a big factor in their home--I'm sure that TV was a big part of it but, even if it was not, computers obviously were).  When we dealt with this issue with our own child, the very first recommendation had nothing to do with food--it was to limit screen time.

Once Weiss decides to start working to get her daughter's weight under control, she flounders for a while as she tries to do it on her own, which is understandable and I think any parent in her position would have done the same thing.  Ultimately, she opts for the entire family to go to a nutritionist.  The nutritionist's program, as Weiss describes it, sounded rather complicated to me and I cringed at the importance on fat-free foods.  However, it was only in the last couple of years that the acceptance of the importance of healthy fats was widespread, so I chalked it up to it being a different time.

Then, Weiss decides to drop the nutritionist and I was never really clear why.  All I could figure out is that she didn't like the "3rd string" nutritionist who didn't acknowledge that her daughter's jeans weighed more than her leggings.  And, it is from that point that things became horrifying.

Weiss is a drill-master with her daughter--she insists on naked weigh-ins on Saturdays and is very focused on the numbers (when dealing with children, the number on the scale is problematic as children are growing in height as they are losing weight.  Instead doctors and health professionals work with BMI's.).  When it comes to food, Weiss is heavy handed in controlling everything that goes near her daughter's mouth.  And she does this publicly--at birthday parties, at friends' houses, at restaurants, at the corner Starbucks.  When her daughter has a school lunch, or if there is a school event where food is available, she interrogates her daughter the moment she sees her.  When her daughter goes someplace without her, be it an afternoon with a friend or a month visiting her grandmother, Weiss sends along caloric guidelines for what her daughter is allowed to eat.

Through all this, Weiss moans about how long they will have to keep doing this and when will the diet be over.  Right there, she has set her daughter--and herself--up for failure.  I am convinced that the way to combat childhood obesity is to get kids moving and to teach them how to eat in a healthy manner--nutritious foods and appropriate portions--so that they can continue that through their lifetime.  Yet, Weiss really didn't do any of that.  Yes, she signed her daughter up for gymnastics and karate, but she even said she didn't think activity was as important.  Instead, she taught her daughter how to be neurotic about food and her body.

Weiss's daughter eventually hits her goal weight, after almost exactly a year.  Weiss then devotes a couple of chapters to the fallout she experienced after she published an article in Vogue about this experience.  To cut several chapters short, Weiss believed that nothing she did was damaging and only good parents would have done what she did and anyone who questions her as she has presented herself is cruel and unfair.  She then talks about when her daughter, now at a healthy weight, went off to camp.  Weiss contacts the camp to get their menu to decide what her daughter can eat and asks that her daughter be weighed weekly and that information be emailed to Weiss.  I don't think I'm the only one who considers this way past extreme.

Weiss says that she sometimes worries that her daughter will develop an eating disorder, but then says that probably won't happen because she read an article that said that there is a strong genetic component to it.  As far as I can tell from interviews with Weiss around the publication of this book, her daughter is probably about 11 now.  So, she's right at the beginning of puberty.  To Weiss, I direct the old adage "you reap what you sow," because Weiss planted the seeds of at least disordered eating, if not a full-blown eating disorder, in her daughter and then watered and fertilized those seeds.  She has taught her daughter that food is something dangerous, that calories are more important than nutrients, and that there is intrinsic guilt in eating.  And those are lessons that her daughter will carry with her for her entire life.  

There is no question that Weiss loves her daughter and I'm not going to say that she's a bad mother.  I will say, though, that I believe that she projected her own issues onto her daughter, which caused her to make decisions that were not in her daughter's best interests.  I really can't recommend this book to others, unless they are looking for something on how NOT to help a child with a weight problem.

Monday, July 13, 2015

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? (7/13)

Another week, another day camp.  Last week, my daughter was at Zoo Camp, which she loves.  It is a fabulous camp, but it is a bit of a commute there and back.  We normally take the train in (although I did drive in for one pick-up and one drop-off as they fell in line with some appointments for my son), which is about 35 minutes each way.  Usually, this gives me a little more reading time, which is always a good thing.  This week, my daughter is off to Girl Scout day camp--which still involves a drop off and a pick up each day, but she takes a bus to the camp from a nearby high school, which is much more convenient!

This summer has been flying by--which is fine with me.  Summer is just a prelude to fall in my book--and I LOVE the fall!  Fall is usually a lovely season here in the Pacific Northwest (although I'm not sure about this year--we're in a drought and expecting a "record breaking" El Nino, so who knows....) and it has always been my favorite time of the year.  But, in the meantime, we are enjoying the summer!

Last week on the blog, I posted:
Tuesday, July 7 - Book Review: If I Stay by Fayle Forman
Thursday, July 9 - Book Review: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman
Friday, July 10 - Book Review: Newport by Jill Morrow
Saturday, July 11 - Saturday Snapshot

Right now, I'm reading: 
The Main Book:
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Sigh...I'm still slogging through with this one  Seriously.  If this were not the book that I suggested for my book club, I would have DNF'd it long ago!  I really want it done by Tuesday, so I can devote my attention to Go Set a Watchman..and it HAS to be done by Wednesday, because that is when my book club meets.  So, you know, nose to the grindstone on this one....

My "Think Deep Thoughts" Book:
Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God by Margaret Feinberg
Admittedly, I haven't done much thinking of deep thoughts this week as my life has been spent running to the zoo and back.  I'm hoping, though, to finish this one this week.  There is a bible study version of this book, which I may suggest to my Circle in the fall.

With My Daughter:
Amy and the Missing Puppy (Critter Club #1) by Callie Barkley
After spending months on Charlotte's Web, my daughter and I have been just chugging through chapter books.  We just started this one, so I can't really say anything about it...yet.

Last week, I read:
A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (finished 7/10, review 8/5)
I read the bulk of this one on the train to and from Zoo Camp this week.  It was a perfect "phone book" and better than some, um, "similar" books.

A Village Affair by Katharine Swartz (finished 7/11, no review)
This was barely a novella...I, personally, would call it a short story.  But, that being said, I did really enjoy it and Katharine Swartz is now one of my writers to read.

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows (finished 7/11, no review)
My daughter and I really enjoyed this book and I've already promised her that there would be more of the books coming.  I plan to buy the next 2 during Prime day and the rest of the series is on her Amazon wish list (hint, hint for the grandparents!)

There you go.  As I said, it's all Harper Lee starting on Tuesday.....