Self Help Roundup

I'm reviewing a collection of self help books, including Marie Kondo's smash hit, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m a sucker for certain kinds of self help–not the sappy kind, but the kind that pairs research with practical tips. These three books, to some degree, all fit that description, and they’ve all been on my recommended list for a while.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo’s book by this point, well… where have you been? This smash hit covers a topic that you wouldn’t think would be that interesting: tidying your house. A lot of people find this book a little “woo woo,” as Marie Kondo claims you should discard any items that don’t “spark joy” and that you should thank your belongings after a day of service. This didn’t bother me at all. I completely understand what the author means when she says your belongings should spark joy, and I found a lot of helpful tips in this book.

If you liked the idea of Year of No Clutter but, like me, couldn’t see yourself in the shoes of a hoarder, this book might be more your speed. I personally can’t wait to try Marie Kondo’s methods!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

I Know How She Does It

Balancing work and family life is a constant struggle, especially for women with children and ambitious career goals. It’s been the subject of countless books, articles, blog posts and tweets in the last few years, and passions run high in all directions.

Now Laura Vanderkam, the acclaimed time management expert, comes at the “having it all” debate by asking a very practical question. Given that we all have the same 168 hours every week, how do people who do have it all—women with thriving careers and families—use those hours? When you study how such women fit together the pieces of their lives, like tiles in a mosaic, the results are surprising. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve read a lot of books on time management and how women can or can’t “have it all” (usually defined as having a demanding career and raising a family). This book takes the perspective that you can “have it all,” even if you are working long hours.

I Know How She Does It has lots of interesting and surprising statistics about how people spend their time. The author uses time logs from various women with high-paying jobs and at least one child to show how they form a mosaic of their time, interweaving work, play, and family time, rather than taking each as an immovable chunk. This inspired me to keep a time log myself and look for ways to form a mosaic of my time.

My one regret is that this book is skewed toward upper middle class women. The author suggests that if you want to spend more time with your family, you can hire a housekeeper, or that if you want to spend more time working from home, you could hire a nanny. These choices simply aren’t options for women working lower-paying jobs. While I realize that the purpose of the book was to encourage women to enter high-powered jobs, traditionally held by men, I still found this aspect a bit irritating.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mindfulness

Unlike Marie Kondo’s book, this one was actually a little woo woo for my taste, although I like the meditation ideas offered. The authors give you an eight-week plan for getting into several kinds of meditation, almost a sampler of the various options available. They emphasize the importance of mindfulness in everyday life, even in stressful situations.

While I found their ideas interesting, I didn’t think they were particularly groundbreaking, and in many cases, their views on mindfulness made me feel skeptical.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Audio Books Roundup

I'm not a big audio book fan, but I've been listening to more and more on my commute. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m not a big fan of audio books, but my commute to work has nearly doubled since our recent move. Because my favorite podcasts only update once a week, that still leaves me with a lot of driving time to fill. So on the days that I don’t feel like listening to music, I’ve started turning to audio books. I have a huge collection from the SYNC summer audio book program, and I’ve listened to a few of those.

The Perfect Storm

It was the storm of the century – a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it “the perfect storm.”

When it struck in October 1991, there was virtually no warning. “She’s comin’ on, boys, and she’s comin’ on strong,” radioed Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail from off the coast of Nova Scotia. Soon afterward, the boat and its crew of six disappeared without a trace. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This nonfiction book offers an interesting look at commercial fishing, how hurricanes work, drowning, and true life deaths and rescues from the storm of the century. If you’ve seen the movie The Perfect Storm, you know the central characters from the book, but you’ll be surprised at how much more information is contained here. Although the crew of the Andrea Gail did not survive, there were many other boats in need of rescue, and the stories of these rescue attempts are both harrowing and heartwarming.

“Meteorologist see perfect in strange things, and the meshing of three completely independent weather systems to form a hundred-year event is one of them. My God, thought Case, this is the perfect storm.”

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Here in Harlem

These fifty-four poems, all in different voices but written by one hand, do sing. They make a joyful noise as the author honors the people-the nurses, students, soldiers, and ministers-of his beloved hometown, Harlem. Worship with Deacon Allen, who loves “a shouting church,” and study with Lois Smith, who wants “a school named after me.” Don’t get taken by Sweet Sam DuPree, who “conned a shark right outta his fin.” And never turn your back on Delia Pierce, who claims she “ain’t the kind to talk behind nobody’s back” while doing precisely that-with panache. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The audio version of this book of poetry is amazing–there is a different narrator for each character, and there is jazz/blues music and sound effects in the background. The poetry itself is great, too. The collection of poems talks about life in Harlem from the viewpoint of people of all ages and occupations, and Walter Dean Myers’ writing makes each character come alive.

If you decide to read this book, I strongly suggest the audio version. It is just wonderful.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Courage Has No Color

World War II is raging, and thousands of American soldiers are fighting overseas against the injustices brought on by Hitler. Back on the home front, the injustice of discrimination against African Americans plays out as much on Main Street as in the military. Enlisted black men are segregated from white soldiers and regularly relegated to service duties. At Fort Benning, Georgia, First Sergeant Walter Morris’s men serve as guards at The Parachute School, while the white soldiers prepare to be paratroopers. Morris knows that for his men to be treated like soldiers, they have to train and act like them, but would the military elite and politicians recognize the potential of these men as well as their passion for serving their country?

Tanya Lee Stone examines the role of African Americans in the military through the history of the Triple Nickles, America’s first black paratroopers, who fought in a little-known attack on the American West by the Japanese. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, in the words of Morris, “proved that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I was really interested by this book, as the Triple Nickles are not a group I ever learned much about in school. The stories of racism in America, even as our troops battled one of the most evil regimes in history, are horrible. In particular, I’ll never forget one African American soldier’s description of how much better the German POWs were treated than the black soldiers.

Still, if you can face up to these awful moments (and I think we have the responsibility to do so), you’ll find a lot of good here. Although the writing itself is nothing special, the story is important and interesting.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

Nonfiction ARCs, Part 2

Curious about how to live a good life? These two books offer different perspectives on how to do so. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free copies of these books in exchange for an honest review.

Last week I discussed a couple of my latest nonfiction galley reads. This week’s nonfiction ARCs focus more on living a good, fulfilling life. I always think I’m going to enjoy this kind of book, but–spoiler alert–these two weren’t that great.

How to Live a Good Life

Seriously . . . another book that tells you how to live a good life? Don’t we have enough of those?

You’d think so. Yet, more people than ever are walking through life disconnected, disengaged, dissatisfied, mired in regret, declining health, and a near maniacal state of gut-wrenching autopilot busyness.

How to Live a Good Life is your antidote; a practical and provocative modern-day manual for the pursuit of a life well lived. No need for blind faith or surrender of intelligence; everything you’ll discover is immediately actionable and subject to validation through your own experience.

Drawn from the intersection of science, spirituality, and the author’s years-long quest to learn at the feet of masters from nearly every tradition and walk of life, this book offers a simple yet powerful model, the “Good Life Buckets ” —spend 30 days filling your buckets and reclaiming your life. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Oh, this book. It has some cliche ideas on how to improve your life (get enough sleep, exercise, meditate), but some good ones too (try to give purpose to your awful, boring job instead of quitting it). I found this so forgettable that, one week later, I can remember practically nothing about this book. If you want to think about living a better, happier life, I’d suggest checking out Gretchen Rubin’s work instead.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

365 Ways to Live Generously

Transform your physical, emotional, and spiritual health with the power of generosity. 365 Ways to Live Generously features an easy, inspiring lesson for every day that focuses on one of the seven generosity habits: Physical Health, Mindfulness, Relationships, Connecting with Yourself, Gratitude, Simplicity, and Philanthropy. Each habit appears once a week, giving readers a whole year to practice and make it a part of their daily life. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Honestly, this book was even worse than How to Live a Good Life. It did have some great ideas for improving your life, giving more, and being more grateful, but there are also plenty of “out there” ideas that just don’t sit well with my personality. Your mileage may vary.

However, this book has tons of great quotes from various celebrities, writers, and thought leaders, and in keeping with the theme of my Write 31 Days series, I’d like to share my absolute favorite quote:

I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli. –George H.W. Bush

Rating: Meh

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in that series here.

Nonfiction ARCs, Part 1

Quick reviews of Crafting with Feminism and Around the World in 80 Purees. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free copies of these books in exchange for an honest review.

I recently requested a couple of nonfiction galleys from NetGalley. They don’t have much to do with each other (other than the fact that they’re nonfiction), but they both provided some fascinating ideas.

Crafting with Feminism

This is what a feminist crafter looks like! Wear your ideology on your sleeve by creating feminist merit badges (like “started an all-girl band” or “rocked roller derby”). Prove that the political is personal with DIY power panties (“No means no”). Craft great feminist hero finger puppets (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Frida Kahlo) or googly-eyed tampon buddies. Fun sidebars provide background on (s)heroes of the feminist movement. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

You know I’m into girl power, so I was really interested by this feminist craft book. The book has a few cute ideas–I love the plate that says “sushi rolls, not gender roles,” the faux fur monster pouch for tampons, and the feminist onesies.

Several of the projects, though, were a bit silly (I don’t have any use for finger puppets, for example). Still, it’s a cute book to look through and maybe pass around to your female friends.

But in keeping with my Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words, I’m sharing one of my favorite quotes about feminism (if you want more quotes like this, you can follow my Girl Power board on Pinterest):

I call it feminism instead of equality because it is the feminine traits that men and women are shamed for. It is the feminine traits that society needs to accept. –Unknown

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Around the World in 80 Purees

First foods for little eaters don’t have to be bland and boring! Featuring 100 delicious recipes like Mango Saffron Puree (India), Rosewater Vanilla Smoothie (Middle East), Pastina with Parmesan and Nutmeg (Italy), and Pumpkin Millet Porridge (Russia), Around the World in 80 Purees shows foodie parents how to bring global cuisine to the high chair with little effort and no fuss. Studies show that babies who are exposed to a variety of tastes grow up to be more adventurous (and less fussy!) eaters as kids. This comprehensive and easy-to-follow book is the perfect resource for parents of toddlers aged 6–18 months who want to broaden their baby’s palate. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book has such great ideas! The author gives a quick overview of first foods for babies around the world and then offers easy, tasty recipes to introduce your child to new foods. I want to use these recipes to introduce my kids to spices, varied fruits, vegetables, and meats. This is going in the growing pile of books I’m saving for when I have kids.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in that series here.

Wonder Women and Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Quick reviews of Wonder Women and Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received both of these books from a BEA giveaway. The publisher did not ask for a review in return.

Wonder Women

Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”? Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition? How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive
bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I so wanted to love this book! You know I like reading about smart, strong women, so I was super excited to pick up this book (written by author Sam Maggs, whose previous book I really enjoyed). And it does have interesting stories of amazing women, but it is written in such a flippant way that I couldn’t take it seriously. This could have been so much better. Disappointing.

Rating: Meh

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

A sharp and funny urban fantasy for “new adults” about a secret society of bartenders who fight monsters with alcohol fueled magic.

College grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job, no parental support, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend who’s around when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal. Like, soul-sucking hell-beast literal. Soon, it’s up to Bailey and the ragtag band of magical mixologists to take on whatever—or whoever—is behind the mysterious rash of gruesome deaths in Chicago, and complete the lost recipes of an ancient tome of cocktail lore. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book had such a fun, unique idea. The characters were a bit cliche at times (if you’re a recent college grad, you’ll recognize these stereotypes), but that doesn’t keep the story from being an enjoyable urban fantasy. The “excerpts” from the book of magical mixology are probably the best part–so funny! But be forewarned–there is a fair amount of language in this book.

And of course, because all my posts this month tie in with my Lovely Words series, here’s my favorite quote from Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge:

Those who read on will learn how to do the impossible: To fade from sight. To exert control over distant objects with only one’s mind. To justify the existence of the olive, which is the most loathsome of all fruits.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

ARC: Year of No Clutter

Year of No Clutter, the memoir of an almost-hoarder, was baffling to me. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Eve Schaub is the author of Year of No Sugar, and her latest book, Year of No Clutter, follows in that book’s footsteps. When the Hell Room–an enormous room crammed with odds and ends from her family’s life–starts weighing heavily on Eve’s mind, she decides to finally deal with it. She sorts through years worth of items, including useless clothing from Eve’s own childhood, stacks upon stacks of her children’s artwork, old phone bills, and less savory things like dead mice. Throughout the process, the author struggles with whether or not she should classify herself as a hoarder, and she talks to others surrounding her (hoarders and non-hoarders alike) about the problem of clutter.

I found this book baffling. I’m a neat freak who doesn’t understand the hoarder mindset, so I had trouble sympathizing with the author’s inability to throw away things that had no purpose. At one point, Eve describes her younger daughter injuring herself and losing a fingernail, and when she says she’s going to keep the fingernail, Eve agrees! I have absolutely no understanding of that mindset.

If you find yourself hovering on the edge of becoming a hoarder, you might be interested in this memoir. If you’re just looking for some advice on clutter-clearing, however, Year of No Clutter is probably not for you.

But in honor of my Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words, I’m going to share my favorite clutter-related quote by Wendell Berry:

Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.

Rating: Meh

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

Adult Nonfiction Roundup

Today's roundup is full of adult nonfiction reviews--memoirs, history, and parenting books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Today’s roundup contains a significant number of nonfiction books I’ve read lately. Some were forgettable, but a couple made it to the top of my favorites list for this year!

Make Me a Mother

In Make Me a Mother, the author discusses the adoption of her son from Korea. It’s an interesting look at the challenges and joys that come with adopting a child of a different ethnicity.

As someone who looks forward to adopting children someday, I really wanted to enjoy this book. And I did, to some extent, but I wished there were more details included about how the author and her husband dealt with the difficulties they faced in raising their son. (Basically, I wished this book was a how-to guide, rather than a memoir.) I found it pretty forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Why Not Me?

This is Mindy Kaling’s second humorous memoir. The first one, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, was pretty meh for me, so I was excited to find that this book is way better than her first. It contains great photos, a chapter following an average day in her life, advice for feeling confident and successful, and tons of laugh-out-loud stories about celebrities and life in Hollywood.

I have to admit that I didn’t always agree with Mindy’s advice (I am soooo not into her idea of success), but I definitely enjoyed reading it. Good for a laugh, especially if you like following the lives of celebrities.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Princess Problem

It’s no secret that little girls love princesses. Behind the twirly dresses and glittery crowns, however, sits a powerful marketing machine, encouraging obsessive consumerism and delivering negative stereotypes about gender, race, and beauty to young girls. So what’s a parent to do?

The Princess Problem features real advice and stories from parents educators, and psychologists, and children’s industry insiders to help equip every parent with skills to navigate today’s princess-saturated world. As parents, we do our best to keep pop culture’s most harmful stereotypes away from our kids, but contending with well-meaning family members and sneaky commercials can thwart us.

The Princess Problem offers language to have honest conversations with our kids and shows us how to teach them to be thoughtful, open-minded people. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I loved this book! I’m putting it on my mental shelf of books to re-read once I have kids, along with the wonderful book Untangled. The Princess Problem offers some really helpful tips for parents of young children, especially parents of little girls who are being subsumed by “princess culture.”

The author talks about being a pop culture coach, helping kids engage critically with movies, toys, and other areas of pop culture. I love this–you can’t protect your kids from all questionable media (although one of the earlier chapters walks you through creating a suitable media diet for your child), but you can give them the tools to deal with the hurtful messages our culture often presents. So important, so interesting, and definitely worth a read if you’re a parent or educator.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Tiny Beautiful Things

I don’t know much about Cheryl Strayed (I doubt I’ll ever read Wild), and I’d never even heard of the Dear Sugar advice column before I read this book. Still, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed Tiny Beautiful Things.

Even though I didn’t always agree with Sugar’s advice, I always found it thought-provoking and beautiful to read. It made me tear up on several occasions. There should be trigger warnings included here–everything from salty language to sexual content to abuse–but if you’re good with reading about all of that, this book is definitely worth a read.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Girls of Atomic City

The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!

But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Even though I spent my high school years living not far from Oak Ridge, I knew very little about this military installment before reading this book. The Girls of Atomic City offers a fascinating and eye-opening look into life on this top-secret installment.

This book succeeds mostly because the author was able to interview women who worked at the plant. Some mopped floors, some took coded notes, some adjusted dials, some worked as nurses, and some unclogged pipes, but none of them knew what they were really doing–enriching uranium to create the atomic bomb.

The book covers many aspects of life at Oak Ridge, from the suffocating secrecy surrounding every detail to the sexism that the (mostly female) workers faced to the emotions that the workers felt once the reasons and results of their work were revealed. This is a long read (at least it was for me; I had to keep putting it down and coming back to it later), but it’s an interesting look at a still little-known aspect of WWII.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

There seems to be a theme in today’s roundup: topics I know very little about. I knew very little about the Iranian revolution before I read this book. In fact, I kept having to put the book down and search Wikipedia for information on the events and parties that are discussed. I’m still not sure I completely understand the revolution’s causes and effects, but I do have a better grasp on how average Iranians felt about it at the time.

I loved the way the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran related the classic books she taught to her students (first at the university; later in secret to a select few female students) to the events in Iran. The memoir is written almost in a series of essays, which are sometimes academic and sometimes very personal. The treatment of women is, of course, horrifying, but I’m very glad I read this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Review Copy: Drifting in the Push

Drifting in the Push is a funny, fascinating memoir of a boy's growing up and eventual move to Alaska. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Drifting in the Push is a fast-paced, comical romp that takes the reader on a journey through the unintentional adventures of one man’s reality. From the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, from Mexico to Alaska, missteps, stubborn obstacles, and fate are his constant companions, along with an offbeat assortment of entertaining characters. From time to time, his escapades include his two childhood friends—Bryan, who follows him to the unforgiving Arctic, and Shane, who steers him down an unpleasant alley or two. Amid this craziness, he picks up another friend—Hank, his devoted dog. This chronological series of interdependent short stories will take you from fear to love, amusement to surprise, and it just might occasionally leave a tear in your eye. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This memoir is a collection of funny, sometimes kind of insane stories. As Dan grows up, he faces danger, theft, and cross-country moves. His traumatic experiences make for good entertainment, although he probably didn’t see them that way at the time!

My favorite stories in Drifting in the Push feature Dan’s adventures in Alaska. After moving to Alaska without a place to live, a job, or any friends except his dog Hank, Dan ends up living in some truly awful homes–the stories he tells of fixing up the old trailer he lived in at one point are horrifying and hilarious. Whether he’s trekking through swampland or nearly freezing to death on the floor, Dan’s adventures are always interesting and sometimes impressive, too.

I’m definitely interested in learning more about the sequel to see how the author changed his life plans (the end of this book reveals that he no longer lives in Alaska but in a much warmer place!). If you’re turned off by a bit of salty language and sexual content, you might want to skip this one; otherwise, it’s a pretty interesting read.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

My Holiday in North Korea

My Holiday in North Korea is a strange and fascinating glimpse at one of the most closed-off countries in the world. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Several days being chaperoned to and from deserted factories and propaganda museums? A determined (but inaccurate) hatred toward Americans and the United States–except for you, of course? Paranoia that no one around you is telling you the truth? Welcome to My Holiday in North Korea.

“In My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth, Wendy shares a glimpse of North Korea as it’s never been seen before. Even though it’s the scariest place on Earth, somehow Wendy forgot to check her sense of humor at the border.

But Wendy’s initial amusement and bewilderment soon turned to frustration and growing paranoia. Before long, she learned the essential conundrum of “tourism” in North Korea: Travel is truly a love affair. But, just like love, it’s a two-way street. And North Korea deprives you of all this. They want you to fall in love with the singular vision of the country they’re willing to show you and nothing more.

Through poignant, laugh-out-loud essays and 92 color photographs of North Korea rarely published, Wendy chronicles one of the strangest vacations ever. Along the way, she bares all while undergoing an inner journey as convoluted as the country itself.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I found this book hilarious, depressing, and all around fascinating. The world of North Korea, the country’s attempts at propaganda, and the people themselves are so interesting.

Wendy does a great job of cataloging her mixed feelings about the country. At some points, the “perfect” world that North Korea tries to present is so outdated it’s laughable, and everything Wendy’s handlers say and do seems so scripted that Wendy starts keeping a list of things she thinks were real moments. But at other times, the incredible power that the government wields over all its citizens (and, to a lesser extent, its tourists) hits home in a horrifying way.

Wendy is an entertaining, humorous writer (although, fair warning, there is some salty language), but her photos are what really drew me in. On almost every page, there are photos of the things Wendy saw on her “propaganda tour”–empty factories, stoic guards, and large statues of Korean rulers–mixed in with a few rare unposed pictures. They are absolutely fascinating. The glimpses they provide into this extremely closed-off country are eye-opening.

If you want to get your travel fix without having to actually travel to North Korea, My Holiday in North Korea is probably your best bet.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

P.S. Have you (or someone you know) been a tourist in North Korea? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

Roundup: Funny Memoirs

Interested in reading funny memoirs? Check out this roundup and see if any of them strike your fancy. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I read a lot of funny memoirs, as you may have noticed. Some of them may not technically be memoirs, but my brain has stuck to that phrase, so that’s what I’m going to call the following roundup of books. They’re all varying degrees of funny, except one (which I guess is more a straight up memoir, but I stuck it in here anyway). Here’s hoping you can find at least one funny memoir among the group to make you laugh!

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened

“Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

If you like the Bloggess already, you’ll enjoy this book (so if you’re unsure, check out some of her blog posts before you get the book). In it, Jenny talks about the horrifying and hilarious events of her childhood, as well as some of the traumatizing (and also hilarious) events of her adult life. In my opinion, this is probably the funniest of the funny memoirs I’ve read recently. But it’s not for everyone. The book is filled with non sequiturs and swear words, and some chapters could be labeled TMI. Still, if you’re not afraid of some cursing and you don’t mind following the author down a rabbit trail, you’ll probably enjoy these bizarre stories and the accompanying photos (which may be the best part!).

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

People I Want to Punch in the Throat

“Known for her hilariously acerbic observations on her blog, People I Want to Punch in the Throat, Mann now brings her sharp wit to bear on suburban life, marriage, and motherhood in this laugh-out-loud collection of essays. From the politics of joining a play group, to the thrill of mothers’ night out at the gun range, to the rewards of your most meaningful relationship (the one you have with your cleaning lady), nothing is sacred or off-limits. So the next time you find yourself wearing fuzzy bunny pajamas in the school carpool line or accidentally stuck at a co-worker’s swingers party, just think, What would Jen Mann do?” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I found this book a bit disappointing. I had been looking forward to reading it for months, but when I finally picked it up, I found it funny, but not overly so. Jen is another popular blogger, but unfortunately her style of humor didn’t translate well to book format. This is partly because of my own stage of life–the essays are mostly talk about bratty suburban moms and their bratty kids–but I just didn’t think it was that great.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Dear White People

“Based on the eponymous award-winning film, which has been lauded as a smart, hilarious satire, this tongue-in-cheek guide is a must-have that anybody who is in semi-regular contact with black people can’t afford to miss!” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I have to admit that I’ve never seen the movie Dear White People, although I’ve heard it’s very good. This “guide” for white people is written by the screenwriter of the movie. Full of graphics, quizzes, and rants, I found this book funny and uncomfortable. (I’m embarrassed to admit that there were several things I didn’t know about the African-American experience until I read this book.)

Definitely pick this book up if you’re interested in learning about how African-Americans experience racism today and what you can do to stop contributing to the problem (or, if you’ve had the same experiences, nodding along), all the while laughing along with the author.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

How to Be a Woman

“Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I know nothing about Caitlin Moran, but I have an abiding interest in feminism, and I knew that, for better or for worse, Moran’s book had a big impact as a feminist piece. The book is interesting and frustrating (and filled with lots of British slang that I didn’t always get). I didn’t agree with many of Moran’s stances, although I did find it interesting to see how she arrived at those positions. I found many of her stories more cringe-inducing than laugh-out-loud funny. Unless, like me, you want to see what Moran has said about feminism that made such an impact, maybe leave this one alone.

Rating: Meh

Dear Diary

“A collection of a girl’s funniest diary entries from 12 to 25 years old. She updates each entry by tracking down the people involved and asking awkward questions like, “Do you remember when I tried to beat you up?” Sometimes old friends apologize. Sometimes they become new enemies. No matter who she talks to about the days we all discovered sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Boys are totally immature.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The concept of this book is fantastic: Lesley inserts an old diary entry from her teen or young adult years, and then writes an update or interviews the people mentioned in it. When I think about all the ridiculous things that are probably written in my own childhood diary entries, I can’t help wondering what kind of updates I’d end up inserting.

But the main thing that happens in Lesley’s life at this point is her addiction to drugs. Yikes! It’s crazy to read about her experiences as a drug addict, and sometimes it gets pretty uncomfortable. I really do love the idea of this book, but the drugs just didn’t interest me.

Rating: Meh

The Year of Reading Dangerously

“Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved, and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he’d always wanted to read. Books he’d said he’d read that he actually hadn’t. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the daily grind. And so, with the turn of a page, Andy began a year of reading that was to transform his life completely.

This book is Andy’s inspirational and very funny account of his expedition through literature: classic, cult, and everything in between.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

So this is the one non-funny memoir in my funny memoir collection. Andy Miller decided to improve his life by reading the classics he lied about having read, which I love. This book inspired me to make my own list of classics (I’ll talk more about this later). But I kept wishing there was a little more description of how he decided on these books. There are so many books that can be considered “classics” that I wonder how he picked the few that he did read. I also found there was a bit too much personal/memoir stuff that didn’t fit well with the overall theme of his quest to read the classics.

On the whole, the idea was inspiring, but the content was forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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