Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014 Recap

June has been a good month for many reasons. First, spring finally came to my corner of Wisconsin. All of the flowers that normally bloom in May finally bloomed this month. Except for the lilacs; there were no lilacs this year because of the harsh winter. I also lost my ivy plant, and a couple bushes don't look so hot, but other things are thriving. I finally planted my garden (tomatoes and cucumbers only) in early June. And just last week my lilies started blooming. They were transplanted on the hottest day of summer last year, and I wasn't sure they'd survive, but they are lovely.

June reading, too, has been lovely. May was kind of a disappointing month as far as number of books read, so I made a concerted effort to catch up in June. I cleared several books off the TBR (which I promptly filled with at least twice as many, of course).

In June I read nine books, all nonfiction. The first couple are linked to reviews. The rest are in the queue. I've included one-word reviews for all.
The Reason I Jump, Naoki Higashida

The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, Hooman Majd

Still, Lauren Winner
Make Good Art, Neil Gaiman
Delancey, Molly Wizenberg
Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

A Nice Little Place on the North Side, George F. Will
Sous Chef, Michael Gibney
Quiet, Susan Cain
My favorites were Delancey and A Nice Little Place on the North Side. Both garnered five stars. But I also learned a lot this month from Quiet and Lean In. Both are proving very difficult to review, though.
This month I stumbled onto some wonderful book blogs, and my TBR has been expanding at an alarming rate. I added Friday Find posts to my lineup to share some of the books that piqued my interest. You can read them here, here, and here.
I also (FINALLY) added an About Me / Contact page. I don't know why it took two years, you guys. I guess sometimes I'm just a nonconformist. But anyway, if you've been wanting to contact me directly, or learn how I met my husband, or discover what's on my MP3 player, you can find out there.
Going into July, I'm reading:

After all these shorter reads, I'm dying for a serious chunkster, so I've chosen Five Days at Memorial.

I started Relish this month, and I've been picking it up here and there. I'm enjoying it for what it is, but it's probably just not my thing.

I found Bomb on someone's TBR, and I remembered being intrigued by it when I ordered a copy for the library awhile ago. Plus, it's YA! I'm actually reading a YA book! I feel so hip. (But can one be hip reading YA nonfiction?)

So, what's on your July TBR list?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Finds (June 27)
Click to play along.

I'm back this week sharing my list of intriguing books. Not as many this week as the last couple weeks, but still some books that excite me.

Okay, it's not the cover photo, I swear. It's not even tennis. I was reading Gretchen Rubin's blog, and she recently did a short series on good ole Andre and she praised the book so highly (she doesn't follow tennis either) that I have to read it. Yes, I'll do pretty much everything Gretchen Rubin says.

(And since I saw it there, I've read about it on two other sites!)

I've been debating whether I want to read this book for months. It's finally made it to a short list, but it might be bumped. Again. Has anyone read it? What did you think?

When this came out, I had zero interest in reading it. And I've not seen any of the TV series, either. But it's been showing up all over, and my curiosity is getting the better of me. (I'm an ad agency's poster child: if she sees the product often enough, she'll buy it.)

 Ever since finishing Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, I've been looking for another fiction (gasp) book that intrigues me. I've looked at dozens of titles, and this is the only one that might be a contender. I'm VERY picky when it comes to fiction. It's got to be very well-written. What can you tell me about this one? Is it worth it?

I was nosing around Amy's (Sunlit Pages) Goodreads page (does anyone else feel like a stalker doing this kind of thing?), when I was reminded of Bomb. It intrigued me months ago, and then I sort of forgot about it. Upon being reminded, I checked it out from the library and started it right away.

Have I ever read anything by Updike? Do I have any interest in Updike? No and no, but I love a good biography, and this one seems pretty good judging by the excerpt I read. I imagine I'll find a lot of alcohol and adultery (he was a preeminent 20th-century author, was he not?), so I'm still debating if I'll read it or not.

I stumbled upon George Washington's Secret Six when it was panned on a book blog. The reviewer didn't like it, but it sounds right up my alley. I like short and sweet books that focus on a single event in history.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, Hooman Majd

The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran


Hooman Majd

Category: Nonfiction: Middle East; Living Abroad

Synopsis: Majd moves to Iran for one year with his wife and infant son.

Date finished: 2 June 2014

Rating: ****

I love reading books about Iran. It was once (and for centuries) a great country, but now its government has moved it back several centuries. And the people have been unable to change things. This is one of the better books I’ve read about the country, its people, and the contradictions of modern life under an Islamic regime.

Majd and his American wife and baby son spend a year in Tehran, a city full of people that value education, family, and cleanliness (though the city itself is one of the most polluted in the world), a city with three-quarters of its population is under 30, a city whose doctors are trained in the West, a city caught between ancient custom and modern thought. I enjoyed the real-life scenes throughout, especially when it came to establishing a home for the family. Majd’s wife Karri is a New Yorker who values yoga and organic food. The first time they take the baby in a taxi, she insists on installing his car seat. She soon learns this will not be practical in Iran.

Each chapter is about a different aspect of Iranian life. Majd covers everything from Iranian parties, sulking (the Iranian custom), traveling, bootlegging media and booze, and of course, the revolution. So while some parts of the book were more interesting than others, there was something to be learned throughout. 

While he and his family is not in immediate danger, Majd is being watched, of course. His past journalism was ill-received by the government. Many of his friends in Brooklyn and Iran think he’s taking unnecessary risks bringing his family to Iran.

While reading the book, I often felt that I couldn’t be sure I was getting a bias-free description of Iranian life. I could sometimes feel things being filtered through Majd’s lens being a man back in his homeland (though he hasn’t lived there since he was an infant). You can tell by what he includes (opium parties) and what he excludes (Muslim faith) where his interests lie. And being the grandson of the Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Assar, the relative of the former president Mohammad Khatami, and a son raised in Iranian diplomatic service abroad, you’re almost guaranteed a subjective account, though I’d hoped for a more journalistic one.

Regardless of bias, this was a very well-written account balancing well the personal with the political. While you don’t get a clear picture of both sides of the regime, I don’t think it was Majd’s intent.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Honeymoon in Purdah
Lipstick Jihad and Honeymoon in Tehran
The Good Daughter
Reading Lolita in Tehran

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

After Visiting Friends, Michael Hainey

After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story


Michael Hainey

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir; Death

Synopsis: Hainey goes in search of the truth of his father’s death thirty years after his passing.

Date finished: 27 May 2014

Rating: ****

Things don’t add up in the story of how newspaperman Bob Hainey died. When his son Michael was growing up, no one talked about it, but he’s collected clues. Newspaper stories conflict, and the deeper he goes with his investigation (he grew up to be a journalist, too), the more doors are shut in his face. Newspapermen of the 1960s/1970s stick together. They cover up what needs to be.

But Michael finds the truth. His cousin has pieced it together (it was his father, Michael’s uncle—also a newspaperman—who created the cover up), and Michael finds the occasional person who’s willing to talk about what happened that night. The answer isn’t necessarily a revelation. You pretty much guess it from the very beginning. At least, I did. But I did enjoy following the breadcrumbs to the whole truth.

This was a well-written memoir. It was even and well-paced. It wasn’t sentimental. But my main problem with it was that when Hainey finally finds what he’s looking for, and finally arrives at closure, he doesn’t discuss what’s going through his mind. I was left wondering, but how does he feel about this? Does it change how he thinks about his father? Does the truth hurt as much as not knowing?

This is the trouble with journalists writing memoir, in my opinion. They tell a great story, but they are so trained to be objective they’re unable to engage in an emotional way. In this case, he seemed emotionally engaged up until the end, but I needed something to pull it all together.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
It was worth the read.

You might also enjoy:
When We Were the Kennedys

Top Ten Tuesday (book cover trends)
This week's topic: Ten Book Cover Trends (or just elements of covers) I Like/Dislike {can stick to one or the other or both!}
I find that I’m often drawn to book covers with a picture of a single object set dead center. Here are some recent titles that fall into that category.

(Apparently, I’m also drawn to covers that use orange and pink. I didn’t realize that until I put this list together!)




Monday, June 23, 2014

Chu's Day, Neil Gaiman, Adam Rex (Ill.)

Chu’s Day


Neil Gaiman, Adam Rex (Ill.)

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Chu has a sneezing problem. Will a sneeze wreak havoc today?

Rating: ** (3-star scale)


First off, adorable pictures. My goodness.

Secondly, a Chinese panda with a sneezing problem is named Chu? Hilarious pun.

Thirdly, sneezing is sort of uproarious, isn’t it?

Overall, though, the plot is a bit too simple for my tastes. I don’t think the fabulous illustrations are enough to carry the plot, but it was a fun book.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
I’d recommend checking it out, not buying it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Finds (June 20)
Another great week of book sleuthing here at Other Women's Stories.
Click on the icon above to join the fun.

 First up, some great books about food.

The Language of Food. Due out in September. I've not been able to find an excerpt, but it sounds right up my alley. Food and words. Yum!
I'm not exactly sure what The Third Plate is about. Is it about sustainable growing? The "eat local" movement? The restaurant business? All three? I'm unsure, but the excerpt appealed to me, and I LOVE the cover.  
The Neelys are back with their second cookbook Back Home with the Neelys. Have you ever watched their Food Network program? I haven't seen it for months, but I think they're a hoot. Folks said there were typos in the recipes in their first cookbook, so I avoided it. Haven't heard any similar issues with this book, though.

I'm not sure how I missed The Emerald Mile when it came out, but it sounds fabulous. It's about the fastest ride down the Grand Canyon. I'm not an extreme sports girl, but I sure like to read about them.

And now for a few biographies.
The Patriarch has been on my radar since it came out, but at 788 pages (not including the notes), I'm not sure I'll ever have the time or energy to tackle it. I read Rose Kennedy last year, and that may be enough Joe Kennedy for a lifetime anyway. Still, I'm intrigued, so it's back on the list.
Eisenhower: A Life is due out in September. This is interesting in that it's only 144 pages long. I find this sort of hard to believe, but I checked it out on the Viking website, and it's not that Amazon's made a typo. What could be better than a general/president biography condensed into 144 pages?
The Romanov Sisters, too, has been on my radar, but I had not committed to it. I was concerned about it being dry, but Kimberly at Turning the Pages assures readers it wasn't.

And to round things out, some history.
The Race Underground sounds like something I'd love. I love books that handle a single bit of history. This one is about the building of the Boston and New York subways.
The Devil in the White City appeals to me for much the same reason. I'm concerned about the mass murderer part of the book, though. Has anyone read it? Is it gruesome?
Has anyone read any of these?
Anything I should avoid? Anything I should put at the top of the TBR pile?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Reason I Jump, Naoki Higashida

The Reason I Jump


Naoki Higashida

Category: Nonfiction: Disabilities & Diseases

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida explains what it’s like to have autism.

Date finished: 2 June 2014

Rating: ***

I don’t know why I read this book other than it was short. You know how it is? Anyway. I thought I’d learn something about autism in a package that isn’t quite as intimidating or depressing as I expect most autism books to be.

While this wasn’t a bad book, I don’t think adults without autistic children will get much out of it. The amount of generalizing done here is just too great for me. I kept thinking Really? Is that really how it is for all children? What about the much-talked-about spectrum and accounting for personality types—these don’t bring anything to bear? Higashida talks about his own experiences with autism, but he projects them onto all children with it. He says, at various places in the book, that “us all” (couldn’t someone have translated that properly?) like repetition, water, nature, spinning, numbers, filtering light with our hands, and soft, gentle, childish things. If that’s true, wouldn’t that lead scientists to unlocking the mysteries of autism? Wouldn’t we know by now what “causes” it and what could “cure” it? I don’t know, I guess I’m trying to make sense of a senseless disorder.

I’m out of my depth here, so I’ll close by saying this may very well be a lifesaver for parents with newly-diagnosed children. It’s written simply and truthfully. It doesn’t preach or excuse but explains the unexplainable pretty well.  But I caution to beware of the one-size-fits-all attitude of the book.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
There must be better books out there.

You might also enjoy:
The Spark

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Moneyball, Michael Lewis

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game


Michael Lewis

Category: Nonfiction: Sports; Baseball

Synopsis: Lewis looks at the economic side of winning baseball games, courtesy of General Manager Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s.

Date finished: 20 May 2014

Rating: ****

I admit it. I romanticize baseball. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, peanuts and crackerjack, seventh inning stretch, sliding into home—this is what I think of when I think of baseball. I know next to nothing about the game, the nomenclature, or who the current big names are. I understand just enough to follow along, and I’m fine with that.

But there’s another side to baseball (and all professional sports)—the money side. Until a few years ago, it was widely understood that money won baseball games. Money bought the best players, and the best players brought the team to the World Series. It was as simple and economically sordid as that. That is, until the Oakland Athletics, one of the monetary underdogs, decided to put another theory onto the field. What if, they thought, winning in baseball isn’t about sluggers or runners or fielders? What if winning came down to how many times a team gets on base? What if you remove all the superfluous base stealing and bunting and just get on base? What if you signed only the players who could consistently make base hits, no matter their other skills, no matter how much they weighed, no matter how badly they fielded, no matter how much the scouts squawked? What then?

What then? Then, you put together an Oakland A’s team that wins more consecutive games in a season than any other team in baseball history. And they do it at a third the price of teams like the New York Yankees.

If you’ve seen the movie starring Brad Pitt, you know the story. The movie (which I watched when it came out and again after finishing the book) adds drama to make the whole experience a touch more human. My husband hated the drama, I thought it was essential. The book got dry, dry, dry at times. There is a chapter detailing the early days of the shift in baseball statistical analysis (the 1970s, I believe), that just about did me in. What I enjoyed most was the stories about the players, all with “defects,” most swinging between the minors and the majors, who found themselves playing a whole new game in Oakland.

The whole idea is fascinating, that more than athleticism or even money, baseball could be reduced to base hits. Pure and simple. So pure and simple that everyone else ignored it. In fact, they are still ignoring it. Other than the A’s and the Red Sox (who went on to win the World Series, ah-hem), no other teams have embraced the formula.

So, while the book shook my romantic notions of baseball, it made the game something I could understand and appreciate in another way. I love learning how things work. I love systematic things. I love quirky stories. And I love to see things boiled down to their simplest parts. And although rough reading at times, that’s exactly what I got with Moneyball.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, to baseball enthusiasts and the non-sporting alike. (Though the latter may want to have a baseball dictionary available for quick reference.)

You might also enjoy:
The movie by the same name.

Top Ten Tuesday (Summer TBR)

This week's topic: Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List

The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean
Obscure science-y stuff written with a sense of humor? I’m in.
Margarita Wednesdays, Deborah Rodriguez
The brand new book by the author of one of my favorite books, Kabul Beauty School.
Killing Kennedy, Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard
I’m taking the plunge and reading one of O’Reilly’s Killing… books before he releases Killing Patton this fall. I’m kind of geeking out over the Patton book.

God’s Hotel, Victoria Sweet
A little out of my comfort zone, but if I’m going to read about healthcare, it might as well be a positive book.
Sous Chef, Michael Gibney
I. Love. Second. Person. Narrative.
Quiet, Susan Cain
I’ve been saving this one. I think this summer is the time.
 Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink
There might be one too many books about hospitals on my list, but I’ve read such glowing reviews about this one.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo
I feel like reading a book set in another country right now. India seems about right.
Relish, Lucy Knisley
I’ve read so many people say they love this book. I must know what all the fuss is about.


Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers
I can’t stand having an unread book hanging out there. I guess that’s why I tend to read one book at a time. Been working on this one for months.

What's on your Summer TBR?