Review: Gone Girl

gone girlFlap Copy: On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

Review: Hmmm, well, how do you review this kind of book without giving everything away?

I’ll just say that it’s intense, absorbing, fun to figure out the “whodunnit” aspect, and somewhat surprisingly well done. I say that only because the POV alternates between the two main characters (or at least their writing), and generally that is really hard to pull off well. Flynn absolutely manages it though – I read this book in two sittings and hardly blinked through the second half of it because I was so entranced.

Source: Personal library

Review: C-Section Books

There aren’t a ton of pregnancy books out there that are c-section friendly, much less c-section focused. These were two that I was able to easily get my hands on, and felt worth sharing.

The Essential C-Section Guide
c-section guideFlap Copy:
Childbirth is a life-altering experience for any woman, but a Cesarean delivery can be overwhelming, whether it’s unexpected or planned. Despite the fact that roughly one in four babies in the United States is delivered by c-section, very little information about the experience is included in typical pregnancy books and physicians and childbirth educators often gloss over the details.

The Essential C-Section Guide is written not only for women to read in preparation for a scheduled c-section and for those considered “high risk” who know that a c-section may become necessary but also for women recovering from an unexpected surgical delivery. This book provides answers to important questions about what the surgery entails, what a woman can expect as she recovers, and what considerations should be made for future pregnancies and deliveries.

With frank discussions about the physical and emotional aspects surrounding a c-section, the authors share comforting wisdom about early bonding, pain control, breastfeeding, infant care, healing from surgery, postpartum exercise, partner involvement, and much more, in detail not available anywhere else.

Written by authors who have firsthand knowledge of birth by c-section, The Essential C-Section Guide is well-researched and addresses its unique concerns with intelligence and compassion.

Review: This book is everything the title says it is – essential for women who will or are likely to face a Cesarean. From the history of the procedure to a detailed description of the day of surgery to honest descriptions of post-partum recovery and debunking of myths, I would even say that this book is as important to read for all pregnant women as What to Expect…just in case.

The only downside is that the edition I found is dated, published in 2004. There are some more up-to-date versions (2008 and a 2014 ebook), but this book seems to be a little hard to find in hard copy so you might have to make do with the old information. Even so, the out-of-date information is not anything super relevant to the meat of the content (more stuff about hospital policies, breast pumps, and that sort of thing), so it was just something to note and get additional information from other sources. I wish I’d been able to read this before – or even immediately following – my first section, but I’m glad that I had a chance to do so before my second.

Source: Public library

Choosing Cesarean
choosing cesareanFlap Copy:
Obstetrician and gynecologist Magnus Murphy, MD, and journalist/advocate Pauline McDonagh Hull offer a compelling case for surgical delivery as a legitimate birth choice for informed women. By offering a wealth of medical evidence from around the world and thoughtfully countering the many objections detractors have lodged against it, the authors convincingly demonstrate that a planned cesarean birth at thirty-nine- plus weeks is a safe and often preferred alternative to a planned vaginal delivery. An indispensable guide for women, their families, and medical professionals.

Review: This book is definitely not for everyone. While I’m hesitant to use the words “scare tactics”, there is a lot of information regarding vaginal births that is in fact very scary – but I’m not sure how realistic it is. It’s true that until you give birth, you do not know how your body will react, and there are definitely a lot of problems that are caused or exacerbated by the “natural” delivery process. However, the authors are kind of preaching to the choir, as anyone reading a book called Choosing Cesarean is probably already leaning that way, and one thing the Mommy Wars needs less of is people armed with information that doesn’t matter spouting off opinions.

Anyway, one of the things I really liked about this book was its emphasis on the safety and efficacy of planned Cesareans and the breadth and depth of data that is mined from around the world. I especially like how the authors break down the differences between emergency c-sections, whose data should be included with planned vaginal deliveries, and planned c-sections which involve little or no laboring beforehand. The results are pretty stark, and pregnant women deserve to think about these issues with all the information available to them.

Ultimately, if I’d had any qualms about signing up for a repeat section (I don’t; I trust my OB’s recommendation and reasons), I would have been totally put at ease after reading this book. I came up with some additional questions to ask before I go in for surgery based on the information it contains, and feel like I got a good framework for discussing both of my c-sections with other people going forward. I don’t think I will ever be someone who recommends that just anyone consider a planned c-section (and the authors take pains to point out that they don’t recommend that), but I can certainly talk about my sections without guilt or shame and encourage women whose doctors are recommending sections to consider why it might be a good idea.

Source: Public library

Review: Down in the River

down in the rierFlap Copy: After the death of his sixteen-year-old twin sister, Lyle Rettew moves from the mountains of Idaho to Eugene, Oregon. His religious, well-intentioned older brother has forbidden any mention of her name. But Lyle, fighting to keep his memory of her alive, has quit taking the lithium that numbs his mind, and openly rebels against his mother and brother for the first time. Taking his mourning out of the house, he embarks upon a fraught pilgrimage that is at once heartbreaking and macabre. Dark though it may be, Lyle’s fevered journey along the margins of youth culture is ultimately driven by fierce love and a deep, instinctive need to find a liturgy for loss and grief.

Review: I wasn’t sure what to expect of this book, and frankly now that I’m finished with it I’m not entirely sure what to say. It’s an extremely disturbing story, and I have to be honest that that overshadows anything good I have to say about the writing or the storytelling itself. I think that the flap copy does not adequately describe the content, and this is a disservice to the reader – had I known that there was abuse of a corpse (and one of a minor, at that), I would have passed on this book in a heartbeat. I guess if you like really dark, messed up stories, tales of seriously drug-addled people, or macabre games of trying to fit in, this is for you…but it was not for me.

Source: Finished copy from Slant Books

Review: The Giver

the giverFlap Copy: Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

Review: Uggggggghhhhhhh. I wanted to like this book so much. I have heard such amazing things about it, and I had such high hopes after the first few chapters, and then it ended and I was like WTF.

So much is left unexplained. How did this society come into being? Why don’t any of the adults seem to remember what happened 10 years ago? How are memories transmitted between the Giver and the Receiver? How do the memories flow back to the people? WHY???

And it wasn’t even like the unanswered questions are to evoke discussion – they just seem like they would be inconvenient to answer, and they don’t help drive home The Greater Point, which I guess is why this keeps getting selected for school reading lists and stuff. Too bad – I am glad I missed out on this one in school and was actually given books that had more to chew on.

Source: Personal library

Review: The Rook

the rookFlap Copy: “The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, THE ROOK is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.

Review: Oh, my gosh, I haven’t been so excited about a book or a new author in….I don’t know how long. This book is Ghostbusters meets Downton Abbey. It’s James Bond and Harry Potter. It’s what happens when the Parasol Protectorate grow up and get jobs in administration.

And I loved Every. Last. Second. of it.

I don’t know what else I can say without giving it away, but it’s got a tight plot, great pacing, amazing characters, a lovely protagonist and a wholly satisfying ending – and even better, it’s the start of a series. Yay!

Source: Public library

Review: The Rise and Fall of Great Powers

rise and fall of great powersFlap Copy: Following one of the most critically acclaimed fiction debuts in years, New York Times bestselling author Tom Rachman returns with a brilliant, intricately woven novel about a young woman who travels the world to make sense of her puzzling past.

Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth, which mystify and worry her still.

Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared.

Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers.

Tom Rachman—an author celebrated for humanity, humor, and wonderful characters—has produced a stunning novel that reveals the tale not just of one woman but of the past quarter-century as well, from the end of the Cold War to the dominance of American empire to the digital revolution of today. Leaping between decades, and from Bangkok to Brooklyn, this is a breathtaking novel about long-buried secrets and how we must choose to make our own place in the world. It will confirm Rachman’s reputation as one of the most exciting young writers we have.

Review: This is a quiet but powerful book. It took me three tries to get into it, which is fairly unusual for me, but I’m glad I managed to stick with it. It’s hard to describe the plot without giving too much away, but I am impressed with how Rachman managed to build characters and jump around in time without leaving me too confused. And when I say he builds characters, I mean that this novel is one serious study of characters – each person is a world unto themselves, made real on the page, with their own cadence of speaking and little quirks that are easily visible beyond the words. The ending is not what I expected and manages to be bittersweet without being saccharine, and overall left me with a sweet sensation of having been on a journey that will stay with me for a long time.

Source: Advance Reader’s Copy from The Dial Press

Review: The Magicians (series)

magiciansThe Magicians Flap Copy: Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He’s a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he’s still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.

magician kngThe Magician King Flap Copy: The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the cutting edge of literary fantasy.

magicians landThe Magician’s Land Flap Copy: Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying.

The Magician’s Land is an intricate and fantastical thriller, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

Review: If Harry Potter smoked a lot of pot and had low self-esteem, this is the book he would star in. Which maybe doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but it is! Grossman creates two fantastic worlds in this series, one a world much like ours wherein magic is possible and another that is magic. Both live on in the mind of the reader when the books are closed.

I had read both The Magicians and The Magician King previously, but re-read them when the third book was released, and I think I enjoyed them more on the re-reading than I did the first time around. The third book nicely wrapped up some outstanding questions the others left unanswered and was entertaining on its own merit as well.

Source: Public library

Review: Expecting Better

expecting betterFlap Copy: An award-winning social scientist uses the tools of economics to debunk myths about pregnancy and to empower women to make better decisions while they’re expecting

Pregnancy is full of rules. Pregnant women are often treated as if they were children, given long lists of items to avoid—alcohol, caffeine, sushi— without any real explanation from their doctors about why. They hear frightening and contradictory myths about everything from weight gain to sleeping on your back to bed rest from friends and pregnancy books. Award-winning economist Emily Oster believes there is a better way. In Expecting Better, Oster shows that the information given to pregnant women is sometimes wrong and almost always oversimplified, and she debunks a host of standard recommendations on everything from drinking to fetal testing.

When Oster was expecting her first child, she felt powerless to make the right decisions for her pregnancy. How doctors think and what patients need are two very different things. So Oster drew on her own experience and went in search of the real facts about pregnancy using an economist’s tools. Economics is not just a study of finance. It’s the science of determining value and making informed decisions. To make a good decision, you need to understand the information available to you and to know what it means to you as an individual.

Take alcohol. We all know that Americans are cautious about drinking during pregnancy. Official recommendations call for abstinence. But Oster argues that the medical research doesn’t support this; the vast majority of studies show no impact from an occasional drink. The few studies that do condemn light drinking are deeply flawed, including one in which the light drinkers were also heavy cocaine users.

Expecting Better overturns standard recommendations for alcohol, caffeine, sushi, bed rest, and induction while putting in context the blanket guidelines for fetal testing, weight gain, risks of pregnancy over the age of thirty-five, and nausea, among others.

Oster offers the real-world advice one would never get at the doctor’s office. Knowing that the health of your baby is paramount, readers can know more and worry less. Having the numbers is a tremendous relief—and so is the occasional glass of wine.

This groundbreaking guidebook is as fascinating as it is practical.

Review: Ahhhh, what a refreshing take on pregnancy! Emily Oster dives into the research that supposedly substantiates the rules that pregnant women are given and shares her often surprising findings with the rest of the world. Peppered with a healthy dose of common sense, she does a huge service to the literature of pregnancy. I wish she had covered c-sections more in-depth, but otherwise I feel like the book was extremely thorough and well-researched and provided a great deal of insight and information.

Source: Library

Review: The Maze Runner (series)

maze runnerThe Maze Runner Flap Copy: If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Everything is going to change.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.

scorch trialsThe Scorch Trials Flap Copy: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end.

Thomas was sure that escape from the Maze would mean freedom for him and the Gladers. But WICKED isn’t done yet. Phase Two has just begun. The Scorch.

There are no rules. There is no help. You either make it or you die.

The Gladers have two weeks to cross through the Scorch—the most burned-out section of the world. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Friendships will be tested. Loyalties will be broken. All bets are off.

There are others now. Their survival depends on the Gladers’ destruction—and they’re determined to survive.

death cureThe Death Cure Flap Copy: It’s the end of the line.

WICKED has taken everything from Thomas: his life, his memories, and now his only friends—the Gladers. But it’s finally over. The trials are complete, after one final test.

Will anyone survive?

What WICKED doesn’t know is that Thomas remembers far more than they think. And it’s enough to prove that he can’t believe a word of what they say.

The truth will be terrifying.

Thomas beat the Maze. He survived the Scorch. He’ll risk anything to save his friends. But the truth might be what ends it all.

The time for lies is over.

kill orderThe Kill Order Flap Copy: Before WICKED was formed, before the Glade was built, before Thomas entered the Maze, sun flares hit the earth and mankind fell to disease.

Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and they survived. But surviving the sun flares was easy compared to what came next. Now a disease of rage and lunacy races across the eastern United States, and there’s something suspicious about its origin. Worse yet, it’s mutating, and all evidence suggests that it will bring humanity to its knees.

Mark and Trina are convinced there’s a way to save those left living from descending into madness. And they’re determined to find it—if they can stay alive. Because in this new, devastated world, every life has a price. And to some, you’re worth more dead than alive.

Review: The Maze Runner trilogy (plus prequel) are a series of fast-paced dystopian novels focusing on the world after a disaster involving sun flares and a man-made virus. Of course, the kids in the maze don’t know that at first – they don’t know anything but the maze, and are trying to figure out what it’s for and why they are there. Then everything changes.

I sped through these books and found them entertaining, and in some cases even thought-provoking. The writing is not fantastic – there’s a lot of exploring of teenage boy feelings which I could have done without (ugh, the repetition!) but it’s easy to skim past and the story moves fast enough to make the books easy to read in one or two sittings. I could have done without the prequel entirely, but I am glad I read the second and third books to get some answers to the questions raised by the first book.

Source: Personal and public library

Review: The Edge of the Earth

edge of the earthFlap Copy: From the author of Drowning Ruth, a haunting, atmospheric novel set at the closing of the frontier about a young wife who moves to a far-flung and forbidding lighthouse where she uncovers a life-changing secret.

Trudy is a polished, college-educated young woman from a respectable upper middle-class family, and it’s only a matter of time before she’ll marry Ernst, the son of her parents’ closest friends. All should be well in her world, and yet Trudy is restless and desperate for more stimulation than 1897 Milwaukee will allow. When she falls in love with enigmatic and ambitious Oskar, she believes she’s found her escape from the banality of her pre-ordained life. Alienated from Trudy’s family and friends, the couple moves across the country to take a job at a lighthouse in the eerily isolated Point Lucia, California. Upon arriving they meet the light station’s only inhabitants—the Crawleys, a family whose plain appearance is no indication of what lies below the surface. It isn’t long before Trudy begins to realize that there is more going on in this seemingly empty place than she could ever have imagined.

Gorgeously detailed, swiftly paced, and anchored in the lush geography of the remote and eternally mesmerizing Big Sur, The Edge of the Earth is a magical and moving story of secrets and self-transformation, ruses and rebirths, masterfully told by a celebrated and accomplished author.

Review: This is a gorgeous and compelling tale, one that haunted me whenever I wasn’t reading it until I finished the last page. I love the time period, the location, and the way the story unfolds as Trudy discovers truths about herself and others that aren’t apparent at first glance. This would be a fantastic book club pick, and I am looking for someone else who’s read it so we can discuss!

Source: Advance reader’s copy from Atria Books

Review: A Thousand Days of Wonder

thousand daysFlap Copy: A father’s intimate look at his daughter’s developing mind from birth to age three.

Unlike any other time in our lives, we remember almost nothing from our first three years. As infants, not only are we like the proverbial blank slate, but our memories are like Teflon: nothing sticks. In this beautifully written memoir of his daughter’s first three years, Charles Fernyhough combines his vivid observations with a synthesis of developmental theory, re-creating what that time, lost to the memory of adults, is like from a child’s perspective.

In A Thousand Days of Wonder, Fernyhough, a psychologist and novelist, attempts to get inside his daughter Athena’s head as she acquires all the faculties that make us human, including social skills, language, morality, and a sense of self. Written with a father’s tenderness and a novelist’s empathy and style, this unique book taps into a parent’s wonder at the processes of psychological development.

Funny, touching, and fascinating, A Thousand Days of Wonder will reveal the extraordinary journey into personhood that children make during the momentous first three years of life.

Review: I had really high hopes for this book, but they didn’t quite pan out. I think I was expecting a more scholarly, research-based approach a la Steven Pinker or Nicholas Day, but instead it’s a pretty introspective memoir about one father trying to figure out what his particular daughter’s experience of life is like. Since he is writing down every single thing she does and asking her about what she thinks all the time, it didn’t feel like the achievements his daughter made were applicable across large age groups, and many milestones are skipped entirely or covered in such broad strokes that it’s as if they didn’t happen.

There are some interesting things to try with toddlers, such as how to determine when exactly they realize that a baby in the mirror is them and not another baby, but on the whole, it felt like an updated version of One Boy’s Day – many pages on something so mundane that it generally passes notice for good reason.

Source: Public library

Review: The Farm

the farmFlap Copy: If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.

Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.

Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

Review: I think the word I have to describe this book is electric. I could not put it down – I finished it in two readings over two days. Tom Rob Smith walks the perfect line between creepy and concerning, and I simply had to know where it was going – and while I would never have guessed the ending, I found it both believable and satisfying.

One thing I particularly liked was the formatting – while son Daniel is the first-person protagonist, so much of the story really happens in his mother’s words, and the unusual formatting helped keep it very clear who was talking and kept the flow moving quickly. I haven’t read any of Smith’s other work, but it’s all going on my to-read list now – anything that engrosses me that much from page one is a keeper!

Source: Advance reader’s copy from Grand Central Publishing

Review: I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You

so much funFlap Copy: Where’d You Go, Bernadette meets Beautiful Ruins in this reverse love story set in Paris and London about a failed monogamist’s attempts to answer the question: Is it really possible to fall back in love?

Despite the success of his first solo show in Paris and the support of his brilliant French wife and young daughter, thirty-four-year-old British artist Richard Haddon is too busy mourning the loss of his American mistress to a famous cutlery designer to appreciate his fortune.

But after Richard discovers that a painting he originally made for his wife, Anne -when they were first married and deeply in love-has sold, it shocks him back to reality and he resolves to reinvest wholeheartedly in his family life . . . just in time for his wife to learn the extent of his affair. Rudderless and remorseful, Richard embarks on a series of misguided attempts to win Anne back while focusing his creative energy on a provocative art piece to prove that he’s still the man she once loved.

Skillfully balancing biting wit with a deep emotional undercurrent, debut novelist Courtney Maum has created the perfect portrait of an imperfect family-and a heartfelt exploration of marriage, love, and fidelity.

Review: This is a deeply believable novel about the mistakes we make when we get too comfortable – with ourselves, with our work, with our partners. To fix the mess he’s created, our main character has to face some deeply uncomfortable truths about himself – and his realizations are food for thought for the reader. Despite being introspective on love and loss, this is also a well-told story, one that is easy to dive into and hard to shake off.

Source: Advance reader’s copy from Touchstone

Review: Far From the Tree

far from the treeFlap Copy: From the National Book Award-winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges. Whether considering prenatal screening for genetic disorders, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, Solomon narrates a universal struggle toward compassion. Many families grow closer through caring for a challenging child; most discover supportive communities of others similarly affected; some are inspired to become advocates and activists, celebrating the very conditions they once feared. Woven into their courageous and affirming stories is Solomon’s journey to accepting his own identity, which culminated in his midlife decision, influenced by this research, to become a parent.

Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance – all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.

Review: Oh, how I loved this book. I think there’s something in it for all parents, but will resonate especially for those for whom the birth or parenting experience has not been what was expected. Solomon has a deft touch with his explorations of each condition, fully presenting the difficulties faced by the child and his or her parents, but also the unique joys that are possible despite – or because of – the unexpected. Just as I thought “I could never handle that,” he presents parents who have remind me of myself and give me confidence in the human race to overcome whatever is placed in front of us.

Solomon’s own journey through childhood and into parenthood gives a nice structure to the book, and yet it steers clear of memoir territory in the best possible way. It is a big book, and difficult to read in large chunks given the subject matter, but this was so worth my time. I will carry the inspiration from this book through the rest of my life.

Source: Public library

Review: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Flap Copy: A big, brilliant,to rise again profoundly observed novel about the mysteries of modern life by National Book Award Finalist Joshua Ferris, one of the most exciting voices of his generation

Paul O’Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn’t know how to live in it. He’s a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God.

Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online “Paul” might be a better version of the real thing. As Paul’s quest to learn why his identity has been stolen deepens, he is forced to confront his troubled past and his uncertain future in a life disturbingly split between the real and the virtual.

At once laugh-out-loud funny about the absurdities of the modern world, and indelibly profound about the eternal questions of the meaning of life, love and truth, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a deeply moving and constantly surprising tour de force.

Review: I’m sort of at a loss for how to describe this book. I didn’t not like it, but it really wasn’t what I was expecting and it threw me for a loop. I think the hard part was that I really didn’t feel much sympathy for the main character – he’s not a likable person, and I couldn’t quite grasp the importance of his soul-searching quest, because I wasn’t convinced that he would become more likable if he succeeded.

Despite these critiques, the writing is very good, and there were passages that stuck with me – the banal descriptions of life in a dentist’s office (of all things), the secret vices that people embrace even when they know better, and some of the characters that Paul interacts with are utterly believable and fun. I haven’t read anything else by Joshua Ferris but his short fiction comes highly recommended, and I suspect I might be a bigger fan of that than his longform work. I’ll have to check it out!

Source: Advance Reader’s Copy from Little Brown

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