Adult Fiction Roundup

A huge review roundup of all the adult fiction novels I've read over the past four months. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’ve read a large amount of adult fiction novels over the past couple of months. Typically, children’s and MG fiction is more my style, but since joining a book club in December, my adult fiction consumption has gone through the roof. Several of the books I review in this post were book club reads. From historical fiction to fantasy, from mystery to comedy, there’s something for everyone in this roundup. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters – Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia – arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind. What they have lost – and what they find – is revealed in the fifteen interconnected stories that make up this exquisite novel from one of the premier novelists of our time.

The Garcia girls each get a chance to tell their story, weaving from the present to the past and back again. Their lives in New York and in the Dominican Republic take very different paths, and each of them has to come to terms with what each culture means to them. There are some uncomfortable moments in this book, but on the whole it does a great job of taking you on a journey with the Garcia family.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Frida

Capturing the essence of a ferociously gifted woman, Frida is a daring and brilliantly inventive novel about one of the most celebrated female artists of the 20th century.

This was one of our early book club reads. I knew a small amount about Frida Kahlo before reading this book, but I learned so much more as I made my way through. Frida offers an interesting fictionalized look at Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and their politics and art as seen from Frida’s sister Cristina’s point of view. You will probably hate both sisters and Diego most of all (I certainly did), but the knowledge I gained about these famous artists, their work, and the political situation in Mexico at the time made my time reading worth it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Bees

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…

This book is so weird! It’s about a dystopian bee society in which Flora is created to be a sanitation worker but has special skills meant only for the upper classes of bees. She can talk and produce Flow, so she is sent to work in the Nursery. She meets the Queen, becomes a forager, and even starts illegally laying eggs. Everything in this book is seen from the viewpoint of bees, and according to the guy in our book club who has a fascination with beekeeping, the author does a great job of incorporating real bee behavior into the story.

If you’re looking for an off-beat dystopian novel, or if you’re really interested in bees, this is the book for you.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Big Over Easy

Jasper Fforde’s bestselling Thursday Next series has delighted readers of every genre with its literary derring-do and brilliant flights of fancy. In The Big Over Easy, Fforde takes a break from classic literature and tumbles into the seedy underbelly of nursery crime. Meet Inspector Jack Spratt, family man and head of the Nursery Crime Division. He’s investigating the murder of ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Dumpty, found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Yes, the big egg is down, and all those brittle pieces sitting in the morgue point to foul play.

I love every Jasper Fforde book I’ve ever picked up, and this one was no exception. This series is tangentially related to the Thursday Next series, but there’s no time travel here. Instead, we get a detective who investigates fairy tale crimes. This book has the same tongue-in-cheek humor and fun fantasy as all of Fforde’s books, and it features funny, great characters as always. Pick this up if you enjoyed the Thursday Next series, or if you’re just looking for a fun, quirky fantasy.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Dead Man’s Folly

Ariadne Oliver, Queen of Crime Fiction, has been asked to devise a “Murder Hunt” for a fête at Nasse House, the home of Sir George Stubbs. But she begins to suspect that someone is manipulating the scenario of her game and fears that something very sinister is being planned.

She sends for her old friend Hercule Poirot. At first he is not inclined to take her very seriously but soon a series of events propels him to change his mind.

Then suddenly all Ariadne’s worst fears are realised when the girl playing the part of the murder victim is found strangled in the boat-house. For Hercule Poirot, the Murder Hunt has become a grim reality.

This Agatha Christie is a fun mystery set during a fete. Hercule Poirot must discover who took advantage of Mrs. Oliver’s murder hunt and why. It’s one of those classic Christie mysteries that will keep you guessing until the end. Not my favorite (that honor goes to one of these other Agatha Christies), but it was certainly enjoyable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Fans around the world adore the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and its proprietor, Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective. In this charming series, Mma Ramotswe—with help from her loyal associate, Grace Makutsi—navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, good humor, and the occasional cup of tea.

I just started reading this series, and now I’m obsessed with it. It offers simple but lovely writing and small mysteries interspersed with backstory about life in Botswana. Mma Ramotswe is a wonderfully practical and kind detective, and the setting is one I have yet to get tired of reading about. If you enjoy the first book (and I bet you will), good news! There are currently 17 books in the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Doomsday Book

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

As always, Connie Willis is great. This book is sad–it’s about the Black Plague and a modern-day influenza epidemic–but still enjoyable. If you have read and enjoyed any of Connie Willis’s other historical fiction time travel series, you must add this one to your list.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Ruby Lennox begins narrating her life at the moment of conception, and from there takes us on a whirlwind tour of the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of an English girl determined to learn about her family and its secrets.

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is one of my all-time favorite books, so it’s surprising that I waited this long to read any of her other work. Atkinson does an amazing job of intertwining the members of Ruby’s family, going back and forth from Ruby’s life to the history of her ancestors. Many are foolish, hurtful, or worse, but there’s a lot of humor too. The dark mysteries of deaths and disappearances are slowly revealed in such a way that you think you must have known it all along.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

(I’m sneaking this book on this list, even though it’s actually a memoir rather than adult fiction, because it was our latest book club read.) This book made me so angry! Jeannette’s alcoholic father and irresponsible mother let her and her three siblings starve, freeze, live in filth, and even be molested without giving up their vices of liquor, chocolate, and luxuries. It’s one of those memoirs that you can’t put down because it’s such a train wreck. Amazingly, Jeannette learns to rise above her upbringing and tells her story with grace and kindness, even toward her parents.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

American Gods (author’s preferred edition)

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.

This book has intimidated me for years, partly because of the length and partly because, in an aborted attempt to read it, I came across a weird sex scene that truly icked me out. This scene is still there (obviously), and there’s a fair amount of cursing, so please be aware if you decide to pick this book up.

Still, if you can get past that, there’s a lot to like. This has all of the rambling, strange, fantastical elements that Neil Gaiman is so good at describing. Shadow was an interesting character, as were all the gods. Even if you’re not familiar with all of the mythologies discussed in the book (everything from Norse gods to Hindu gods to gods I didn’t recognize), you’ll be drawn in as they map out the United States as their battleground. My favorite part was the Rock City battle, because Gaiman does such a good job of describing the beautiful and strange experience of being there.

I’m not sure how to recommend this book. Give it a shot for the first few chapters and see if it’s for you.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Meet Bridget Jones—a 30-something Singleton who is certain she would have all the answers if she could:

a. lose 7 pounds
b. stop smoking
c. develop Inner Poise

Bridget Jones’ Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget’s permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement — a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.

This is a modern day classic, so even though I didn’t like the movie, I knew I’d have to pick it up someday. Honestly, I felt the same way about the book as I did about the movie–it’s sort of funny, but definitely outdated. I wouldn’t bother reading it unless you, like me, feel the need to experience this cultural touchstone for yourself.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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

10 Books that Will Make You Laugh

Looking for books that will make you laugh? I've got them here. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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This post is part of the Top Ten Tuesday meme by The Broke and the Bookish.

I absolutely love a book that can make me laugh, so I had no trouble coming up with the ten books you should read when you want a good laugh. Some are memoirs, some are classics, some are sci fi, but they’re all laugh-out-loud funny.

  1. The Martian. Humor keeps this high-stakes book from ever getting too depressing or intense. Mark Watney is a character with a great sense of humor.
  2. Texts from Jane Eyre. If you’re having a stressful week, I highly recommend flipping through this book. It’s made up of text conversations between book characters from famous novels, as well as authors themselves. The convos are funny even if you aren’t familiar with the book they’re parodying, but they’re hilarious if you do.
  3. Good Omens. This pairing of fantastic SFF writers Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett couldn’t help but be amazing. And it is quite funny. It pokes fun at everything from the apocalypse to rock music.
  4. The Importance of Being Earnest. I love this play (not something I usually say; I hate reading plays as a general rule), and it’s a quick read. The wordplay, the characters, the ridiculous situations… Awesome! (And the movie is just as good.)
  5. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Felicia Day is a geeky heroine, and when you read her book, it’s easy to see why. She’s open about her struggles and her quirks, but she keeps things lighthearted. Her stories of her strange life and her handmade illustrations will definitely make you laugh.
  6. Bossypants. Tina Fey is one of the funniest people on television, and her memoir is great, too. It’s filled with awkward childhood moments and stories of her life in comedy. If you like Tina Fey, this book is for you.
  7. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This SFF classic is absurd, bizarre, and just hilarious. You’ve probably read it, but it definitely holds up to re-reading. (And if you haven’t read it yet, get on that!)
  8. Hyperbole and a Half. I’ve talked before about how much I love this book, and how my husband and I sat down to read it together, sometimes laughing so hard we cried. The illustrations and the stories work together perfectly. This is a must read (as long as you don’t mind a little language).
  9. Never Have I Ever. Katie’s journey through the ups and downs of dating (or rather, not dating) is hilarious no matter what kind of relationship you’re in (or not in). This one made me laugh out loud.
  10. Year Zero. Reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide, this book talks about what happens when aliens who are addicted to Earth’s music become aware of copyright laws. It’s ridiculous and fun.

 

What’s on your list of laugh-out-loud books? (If you leave a link to your TTT post, I’d love to check it out!)

Year Zero

Year Zero is a hilarious alien adventure for fans of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials. And boy, do they have news.

The entire cosmos, they tell him, has been hopelessly hooked on humanity’s music ever since “Year Zero” (1977 to us), when American pop songs first reached alien ears. This addiction has driven a vast intergalactic society to commit the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang. The resulting fines and penalties have bankrupted the whole universe. We humans suddenly own everything—and the aliens are not amused.

Soon he’s on the run from a sinister parrot and a highly combustible vacuum cleaner. With Carly and Frampton as his guides, Nick now has forty-eight hours to save humanity, while hopefully wowing the hot girl who lives down the hall from him. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is one of many that I read on our recent trip to Budapest. I heard about it from another book blogger years ago, so long ago that I’ve forgotten who recommended it. But no matter who it was, I’m glad I finally picked it up.

Year Zero is really funny. It’s reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide, so if you’re a fan of that kind of humor (and aliens), you’ll enjoy this book. Nick is the perfect average guy who is suddenly thrust into the role of saving Earth from aliens no one knew existed. He is dragged all over the universe, seeing strange alien species and experiencing technology well beyond our own, all the while attempting not to lose his job and trying to impress the girl next door.

I devoured this book in no time at all. It kind of demands to be read all at once; it’s a treat to read. Year Zero is funny, lighthearted, and has a fast-paced plot. Definitely a good read for when you just want to relax and have fun.

(I also loved the playlists included at the end of the book for each character. Such a fun idea in a book that focuses so much on music.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Good Omens

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett join forces to tell the story of the funniest apocalypse you'll ever see. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . . (Summary via Amazon.com)

I don’t really know how to classify this madcap ride of a novel, but it is hilarious. Neil Gaiman is a favorite author of mine, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Together, they wrote the funniest apocalyptic novel I’ve ever gotten my hands on.

The angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley have been on earth for so long that they have formed a reluctant alliance. And when they learn that the forces of heaven and hell are sending the Antichrist to earth in order to set the apocalypse in motion, they realize that they have grown much too fond of earth to allow it to happen. So they, along with a cast of unusual characters, keep a careful eye on the Antichrist, hoping to sway him away from totally destroying the world. But they soon find that they’ve been watching the wrong kid, and they have only days to avert the apocalypse by any means necessary.

Good Omens pokes fun at many aspects of Christianity, so even though it’s not meant to be taken seriously, it helps to have at least a passing knowledge of the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve, Revelation, and so on. The characters are quirky and interesting, and the writing is fast paced and often hilarious. (The footnotes are particularly great.) If you’re a fan of either Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett and somehow haven’t yet read this book, you must read it. If you love funny, offbeat stories and you don’t mind a not-so-serious look at the end times, you should also pick it up.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

31 Days of All Things Books by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Mini Reviews: Summer Reading

My summer reading has been very hit and miss this year. | Book reviews from NewberyandBeyond.com
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Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books that have been… mediocre. Either they’ve had forgettable plots or boring characters or just weren’t my cup of tea. So in case you’re interested in what I’ve been reading lately, here’s a stockpile of summer reading that just didn’t stack up.

Girl on the Train

The writing was good, I enjoyed the perspectives of the characters, and the story itself was interesting. But I found the plot a little predictable, to be honest… I don’t regret reading it, but I doubt I’ll ever read it again.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Yes, Chef

As a former Food Network addict and a long-time viewer of Chopped, I’m a big fan of Marcus Samuelsson. He has a super interesting story–born in Ethiopia, he was adopted as a small child into a Swedish family. As a young chef, he traveled and worked his way through Europe before ending up in the U.S., where he now owns a restaurant in Harlem. I enjoyed Samuelsson’s voice in this memoir. It is quiet and honest, recounting past mistakes, failures, and triumphs with humility. Still, I felt there was something missing–probably humor, if you look at my past celebrity memoir list.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

A Little Something Different

I found this book to be cute but entirely forgettable. The romance was predictable, the characters were often stereotypical, and we didn’t get to know the main characters very well at all. The multiple viewpoints thing was a cute device, but it wasn’t enough to save this mediocre book.

Rating: Meh

Does My Head Look Big in This?

This book was one of my favorites of the bunch. The main character is a Muslim girl living in Australia, and she decides to wear the hijab full time, even at school. Her parents caution her and warn her of the difficulties she might face, but she takes the leap anyway. It was an interesting look at a group of people I know little about (Australian Muslims), but it never goes too deep into the religious implications. The book is mostly a YA story of friends, school, fitting in, and growing up.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Dragon of Handale

I picked up this medieval mystery on a whim, not realizing that it’s the latest installment in a series. The protagonist is a former nun who is attempting to decide whether or not to return to the convent. She lands in a harsh convent in the middle of nowhere, and she quickly begins to realize that things are not all they seem. The mystery itself is enjoyable, and I wouldn’t be opposed to reading another in the series if it landed in my lap, but it was pretty forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Freakin’ Fabulous

Oh, Clinton Kelly. As I’ve mentioned before, I love What Not to Wear, so I knew I needed to pick up Clinton’s first book. It’s all about style in every part of your life, from clothing to behavior to throwing a successful party. Some of the tips were quite helpful (I showed my husband how to make the first successful poached egg we’ve ever made by using this book’s tips!), but some of them were totally inapplicable. I’m interested to read the follow up, Freakin’ Fabulous on a Budget, and see how that one stacks up.

Rating: Meh

Food: A Love Story

Okay, this one was actually pretty funny. I’m not a fan of comedians in general, but I do kind of like Jim Gaffigan. Reading this book is like watching an extended version of one of his comedy specials, so if you’re familiar with his work, you’ll probably recognize a fair amount of material. Still, it’s worth reading for the added jokes and exploration of all things food.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Girl Talk

I had thought this book would be in the same vein as Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse or Never Have I Ever–that is, a funny, sometimes poignant look at Millennial life as we make our way through our twenties. Although it had some of that feeling (and the fact that it was made up of illustrations was pretty great), I found it pretty boring and totally forgettable. Save yourself some time and pick up one of the books I mentioned instead of this one.

Rating: Meh

Have you had better luck than I have recently with your reading? Leave me a comment and let me know what I should read next!

Texts from Jane Eyre

From Jane Eyre to Hamlet to Little Women, this book parodies classic books with hilarious text message conversations. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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This book is hilarious. I read Texts from Jane Eyre with my husband during a particularly stressful week, and it was an amazing way to relax. (In fact, it made my list of top books of 2015 so far!)

In the book, the plots of books throughout many years (from Achilles to Hamlet to the Babysitters Club) are parodied through text messages between characters. Some are just one page long; others are spread out over several short sections. All are funny and true to the books.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re wondering whether this will still be funny if you haven’t read all of the books involved (and I certainly haven’t read them all). The answer? Yes. Although having read the books certainly adds to the understanding of the inside jokes, even a passing familiarity (or a quick Wikipedia search) will keep you laughing.

My recommendation is to pick up this book after a long week of work, relationship drama, or other types of stress. It will give you a laugh without taking much of your time. Highly recommended.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

From Jane Eyre to Hamlet to Little Women, this book parodies classic books with hilarious text message conversations. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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Yes Please

Amy Poehler's book Yes Please left me wanting more. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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I finally got my hands on Amy Poehler’s book, after two months of waiting on my library request list. I had heard great things about it from friends and fellow book bloggers, and I couldn’t wait to read it. But when I finally brought it home… It just wasn’t as wonderful as I thought it would be.

Amy is painfully honest about the ups and downs she has experienced, about the mistakes and poor choices she has made, and sometimes that painful honesty made me squirm. I get secondhand embarrassment for other people, and I definitely felt some of that during this book.

Another problem I had with the book was that it was not really a collection of essays (as is my favorite funny celebrity memoir, Bossypants), but rather a collection of just about everything. Some are stories, some are advice, and I never got a clear direction as to what Amy was attempting to do through her book.

The best part about this book was definitely the quick overview of the cast of Parks and Rec, which I found funny and interesting, since I’m fairly familiar with the show. Still, one enjoyable part couldn’t rescue this book for me, so I’ll leave it to those who really enjoyed it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mini Review: How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You

Cat comics from the guy behind The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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If your cat is kneading you, that’s not a sign of affection. Your cat is actually checking your internal organs for weakness. If your cat brings you a dead animal, this isn’t a gift. It’s a warning. How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You is a hilarious, brilliant offering of cat comics, facts, and instructional guides from the creative wonderland at TheOatmeal.com.

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You presents fan favorites, such as “Cat vs. Internet,” “How to Pet a Kitty,” and “The Bobcats,” plus 17 brand-new, never-before-seen cat jokes. (Summary via Amazon.com)

Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal wrote this hilarious book in the same comic style as his website, so if you like The Oatmeal’s usual comics, you’ll probably enjoy this book. The comics are funny and often irreverent, and they’re pretty relatable if you’ve ever owned a cat, or known someone who owns a cat. I mostly enjoyed this book while I was reading it, but on the whole I found it pretty forgettable. If you really want a laugh-out-loud funny book full of comics (and based on a hilarious blog), check out Hyperbole and a Half instead.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse

This funny memoir is more forgettable than hilarious. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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Alida Nugent graduated college with a degree in one hand and a drink in the other, eager to trade in parties and all-nighters for “the real world.” But post-grad wasn’t the glam life she imagined. Soon buried under a pile of bills, laundry, and three-dollar bottles of wine, it quickly became clear that she had no idea what she was doing. But hey, what twentysomething does?

In Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse, Nugent shares what it takes to make the awkward leap from undergrad to “mature and responsible adult that definitely never eats peanut butter straight from the jar and considers it a meal.” From trying to find an apartment on the black hole otherwise known as Craigslist to the creative maneuvering needed to pay off student loans and still enjoy happy hour, Nugent documents the formative moments of being a twentysomething with a little bit of snark and a lot of heart. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I’ve been on a funny memoir kick for a while now, and this is one of my more recent picks.  Alida is a writer who is exploring “real adult” life in her twenties.  It’s pretty funny, especially if you’ve been through some of the same struggles (finding a cheap yet safe apartment is a memorable experience that most 20-somethings, including me, can relate to!).

Unfortunately, a few months after I read it, I had forgotten just about everything about the book.  Sure, I remember feeling vaguely amused, but I don’t remember specific stories or jokes.  I remember the author giving advice, which sometimes was helpful but other times came across as too obvious or cliche.  Take a look if you’re into the genre, but if not, I’ve got several more memorable books in the postscript for you to check out.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

P.S. Looking for another funny memoir?  Check out Bossypants, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, and Never Have I Ever.

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