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

Nonfiction Mini Reviews

The latest books on my instructive nonfiction list: 10% Happier and Contagious. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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10% Happier

“After having a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America, Dan Harris knew he had to make some changes. After learning about research that suggests meditation can do everything from lower your blood pressure to essentially rewire your brain, Harris took a deep dive into the underreported world of CEOs, scientists, and even marines who are now using it for increased calm, focus, and happiness. 10% Happier takes readers on a ride from the outer reaches of neuroscience to the inner sanctum of network news to the bizarre fringes of America’s spiritual scene, and leaves them with a takeaway that could actually change their lives.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I heard about 10% Happier from Gretchen Rubin, an author whose works on happiness and habits are always interesting, so I decided to pick this up. News anchor Dan Harris went from being a skeptic about all things meditation to being a total convert, claiming that the daily practice makes him 10% happier. It was fascinating to read about his personal journey and how meditation helped him, and it was even more interesting to see what wildly different groups use meditation (or “mindfulness”) as a technique for success. I’m definitely interested in reading more about this topic.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Contagious

“Contagious combines groundbreaking research with powerful stories. Learn how a luxury steakhouse found popularity through the lowly cheese-steak, why anti-drug commercials might have actually increased drug use, and why more than 200 million consumers shared a video about one of the seemingly most boring products there is: a blender. If you’ve wondered why certain stories get shared, e-mails get forwarded, or videos go viral, Contagious explains why, and shows how to leverage these concepts to craft contagious content. Contagious will show you how to make your product or idea catch on.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

If you’re at all involved in marketing or entrepreneurship, this book will be important to you. Berger talks about the things that make products and services contagious: Triggers, public, social currency, practical value, emotion, and stories. (If you think I’m going to explain what each of those means, you are way overestimating my memory!)

The best part about this book is the stories. Each of the concepts is illustrated by real life people and products. It’s useful if your livelihood depends on getting other people to buy your products. If that’s not you, it’s still a pretty interesting collection of stories.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Classics Roundup

Reviews of my most recent forays into the classics, including Orwell, Gaskell, and Woolf. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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In my continual quest to catch up on all the classics I “should have” read in high school or college, I’ve collected tons of books that I’ve decided I don’t really want to read. As I sorted through my Kindle books this month, I found dozens of classics that I knew I would probably never read, and a few that I decided to give a chance. These three are a few of the books that made the cut.

A Room of One’s Own

First published on 24 October 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures Virginia Woolf delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled “Women and Fiction,” and hence the essay, are considered non-fiction. The essay is generally seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Reading this book offers an interesting view of what feminism was like 100 years ago. There were some things that Virginia Woolf said that I agreed with and found fascinating, but there were also others that made me cringe. Still, I’m really glad I read it. This short book is my first by Virginia Woolf, and I look forward to reading some of her fiction in the future.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Animal Farm

Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This 1945 satire addresses the socialist/communist philosophy of Stalin in the Soviet Union. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

There’s nothing I can say about this book that a million high school students haven’t said before. I was one of the few who wasn’t required to read it in high school, but reading it as an adult still wasn’t very enjoyable. It’s heavy handed and missing subtleties. Maybe I’m expecting too much from a satire, or maybe I’m just expecting the wrong things, but I admit I was glad that this book is mercifully short.

Rating: Meh

Wives and Daughters

Set in English society before the 1832 Reform Bill, Wives and Daughters centres on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new step-sister enters Molly’s quiet life – loveable, but worldly and troubling, Cynthia. The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford.

Wives and Daughters is far more than a nostalgic evocation of village life; it offers an ironic critique of mid-Victorian society. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I actually listened to this one on audiobook, and it’s a long one, clocking in at 24 hours of listening time. So I was super disappointed when I neared the end and the inevitable sweet conclusion to the romance and discovered that the author had died before finishing the book! Noooooooooooo! That disappointment aside, this is a very good book. It’s in the vein of Jane Austen, but rather than focusing on a particular woman and her love interest, this book spends a lot of time focusing on a girl and her family (with, of course, some romance thrown in as well). It’s well written and engaging. I just wish I could have gotten the fulfillment of a tidy ending!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Which classics have you enjoyed? Which should I skip?

ARCs about Women

These nonfiction ARCs about women contain fascinating information about women around the world. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free digital copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via NetGalley.com

Several of the ARCs I requested earlier this year had to do with girls and women throughout history and around the world. I love supporting and learning about my fellow women, so I knew these books were going to be good. And not a single one disappointed!

Good Girls, Bad Girls of the New Testament

Good Girls, Bad Girls of the New Testament invites readers to take a more nuanced look at twelve stories that feature women, to explore their lives more deeply in historical context, and to understand the real story that includes both men and women. The book goes beyond simply telling the story of a particular biblical woman to challenge readers to explore the enduring lessons the ancient writer sought to impart. These timeless lessons are as important for us today as they were thousands of years ago.

This book is not quite a devotional. It’s more a scholarly study of Biblical history and characters, focusing on twelve women who are discussed in the New Testament. I loved how knowledgeable the author is about the cultural and historical aspects of these stories, and I found myself being surprised by stories that I’ve known since childhood.

If you’re interested in how Jesus talked to and acted around women and what lessons we can learn from the “good girls” and the “bad girls” (those categories aren’t always as cut and dried as they sound) of the New Testament, this book will not disappoint. It’s chock full of historical information as well as applications for the lessons learned from each of these fascinating women.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Untangled

In this sane, highly engaging, and informed guide for parents of daughters, Dr. Damour draws on decades of experience and the latest research to reveal the seven distinct—and absolutely normal—developmental transitions that turn girls into grown-ups. Providing realistic scenarios and welcome advice on how to engage daughters in smart, constructive ways, Untangled gives parents a broad framework for understanding their daughters while addressing their most common questions.

So the description makes this book sound terrible, I have to say. But please don’t pass this one by! Out of all the ARCs about women I’ve read so far this year, this is definitely my favorite.

I spend a lot of time teaching and working with adolescent girls who are becoming young women, and I absolutely love it. They’re thoughtful, smart, and ready to test their boundaries. This book describes the different transitions these girls go through in their teenage years, from friendships and romantic relationships to school and relationships with parents. In each chapter, the author provides examples of what a healthy transition might look like and when you should worry about your daughter in that area. It’s an enjoyable, interesting read, and the author’s suggestions on how to interact with teenage girls–when to push, when to require compliance, and when to be flexible–are spot on. (As they should be–Dr. Lisa Damour is an experienced psychologist and school counselor.)

I’m sticking this book in a file marked “later” and pulling it out when I have a teenage daughter. I highly suggest you do the same.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Excellent Daughters

For more than a decade, Katherine Zoepf has lived in or traveled throughout the Arab world, reporting on the lives of women, whose role in the region has never been more in flux. Today, young Arab women outnumber men in universities, and a few are beginning to face down religious and social tradition in order to live independently, to delay marriage, and to pursue professional goals. But their voices have not been heard. Their stories have not been told.

I was fascinated by this book. Compelling and disturbing, it tells the stories of women in many Arab countries. The author spent years living in Syria and traveling around Middle Eastern countries, interviewing young women and getting to know their worlds. Through her eyes, we get to experience the wildly varying lives of these Arabic women.

I have to say, this one was a little hard to take in. I went in with an open mind, hoping to see what women’s lives were like in this totally different part of the world, ready to accept their various experiences. But when I read about how little freedom many women have in the Arab world, and how many of them accept and defend that, it was a bit painful to read. There are descriptions of honor killings and guardianship that are difficult to swallow, alongside the descriptions of women going to college and traveling the world.

I definitely recommend this book. It’s well written and eye-opening. Just don’t expect to seamlessly connect with all the viewpoints presented.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC Roundup: Nonfiction

Another ARC roundup: some terrible nonfiction and one book that was very, very good. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received the following books from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Although nonfiction almost always takes a back seat to the fiction I like to read, I’ve read several nonfiction ARCs in the last few weeks. Two of them were pretty terrible; one I didn’t even finish, despite the fact that it was about a topic close to my heart. The third, however, was awesome, and I’ll definitely be looking at it again in the future.

Schools on Trial

I really, really wanted to love this book. Goyal discusses the state of American schools today (a topic you know I care about), and he offers innovative solutions to the problems that they face. However, I really took issue with the way the author presented his arguments and opinions. I hate to say this, but the author is only 20 years old, and you can tell from his writing. He has that untempered anger that I and many of my friends had in our college years, and while I don’t doubt that he and many others have been harmed by our poor school system, I would have taken him a lot more seriously had he taken others’ viewpoints more seriously.

I don’t agree with Goyal’s basic premise that children should learn solely (or mainly) through play and self-directed learning, and I’m skeptical about his claim that students who enjoy school are suffering from Stockholm syndrome. If the author had taken the arguments of educators, parents, and policymakers seriously and responded to them thoughtfully, I think this book would have been ten times better, even though I may not agree with Goyal’s ideas. Unfortunately, as it is, I can’t recommend this book.

Rating: DNF

Love Louder

I did finish this book, but not really because I enjoyed it. I skimmed it through to the end to see if there was anything new or interesting (spoiler alert: there wasn’t much).

Basically, this book is a self-love style book (you might remember a similar book I picked up and also didn’t enjoy recently). I always pick up these books looking for something new and interesting, but despite a mix of scientific ideas and “woo woo” stuff, there were very few mind-blowing moments. It’s all the same old “be more mindful” and “accept yourself” and “don’t let others tell you how to live your life.” The author himself has had some interesting experiences (druggie friends, friends who were shot and killed, his own heart problems at a young age), but I would have been much more interested in reading his inspirational memoir than his totally unoriginal self-help book.

Rating: Skip This One

Smarter Faster Better

This book, on the other hand, was incredibly useful and interesting. Just like Duhigg’s last book, Smarter Faster Better is filled with a nice mix of scientific studies and real-life stories. This book is focused on productivity, and while this one doesn’t have as tight a storyline as his book on habits, I still found plenty of things to chew on.

Duhigg fills his book with stories of groups that have gotten it right, from Toyota factories to the Frozen filmmakers to the Marines. Each chapter (and each group) illustrates a different concept, including goal setting, focus, and decision making. It’s a fascinating pop psychology book that will have real-life applications, whether in your business or in your personal life.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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