Review: Weather by Jenny Offill

Let me start with a random story about Jenny Offill. Because it’s relevant, I’ll mention that I read and loved her Dept. of Speculation just before my first husband and I decided to file for divorce. Her poignant narrative of a marriage spoke to me at a time when I needed to hear it.

So, for my 30th birthday, as that divorce was finalizing, I took a weeklong solo trip to Chicago during which the Printers Row Lit Fest occurred. I happened to have a bookseller friend there who got me into an afterparty. He wasn’t a very good friend, though, because he introduced me to a group by first names only and then disappeared on me. I spent the evening talking to this group of three people I was pretty sure were all authors about cover blurbs and other writerly things, feeling awkward about the fact that I am not a writer. It wasn’t until two of them were exchanging contact info at the end of the night that I realized the Jenny I had been talking to for hours had written my favorite book of the year.

She was lovely, by the way.

Anyway, when I saw that Weather was coming out, I had to have it. I legitimately did not read the synopsis, and certainly not any cover blurbs. I need to be clear: Jenny Offill does not write the kind of fiction that people rush to the bookstore to buy and then cannot put down. She writes the kind of fiction that you pause to digest, sleep on, meditate on. Weather is no different. Despite the short vignettes it’s written in, I read it slowly. I did it in three sittings, all after my boys went to bed so I could give it my full attention.

Weather is the story of a family dealing with the fact that by the time their son is grown, the planet will be unlivable. Well, sometimes they’re dealing with it, sometimes they’re ignoring it, sometimes they’re running from it. But as the world changes, we get to peek in at how they change, but also how, in the face of this, they stay the same. Offill has taken what’s usually a loud, fast-paced setting and made it all the louder for the reader by making it eerily quiet. We meander towards the end of the world. We suffer, but we also keep going as we always have.

Just like Dept. of Speculation, this book spoke to me. It is definitely for fans of more literary work, but also anyone who loves a realistic family story.

Review: Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy! by Ruth Spiro

I love these kinds of books and, more importantly, so does my toddler. Don’t get me wrong, we also enjoy the cutesy traditional bedtime stories, but Middle Brother already enjoys something meatier.

The Baby Loves series, in case you’re not familiar, is board books with age-appropriate education. This particular one, obviously, is about democracy. The illustrations are adorable and eye-catching, and the text is simple enough to break down for a toddler and keep him engaged.

I certainly wouldn’t advise all educational books all the time for this age group, but I like throwing one into the storytime mix every couple of nights, and this series does it so well. If you’ve ever wondered how to explain democracy to your toddler, Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy! is the answer you’ve been looking for.

Review: The End of the Day by Bill Clegg

You should be aware, before I start my review, that I’m a little in love with Bill Clegg and a lot in love with his writing, so there’s that bias going in. I started with his memoirs and I’m following him through his fiction, and it just keeps getting better. You should also know that this book is due to publish June 2, 2020, so unless you’re also a bookseller with connections at Scout Press, you should just go ahead and preorder this from your local independent bookstore.

When I read Did You Ever Have a Family?, I thought it had ruined me for family stories forever. It was so beautiful, poignant, and heart-wrenching that nothing could ever compare. So, when I got wind of a new Clegg novel, I almost didn’t ask for it. I was a little afraid that after his first novel, it would be a let-down.

The End of the Day is one of those gentle novels that you don’t realize at first is burrowing under your skin. Make no mistake, you know you love it, you just don’t know that it’s taking up residence deeper and deeper in your bloodstream until it can rip your heart apart inside your chest. At its heart, it’s about the choices we make and the ripple effects those have, but also the things we have no choice about at all. I can already tell this is one of those books that will keep niggling at the back of my mind for a long time to come, and I’m embracing it.

If you haven’t read Bill Clegg, pick up his previous works while you’re waiting for this one. You will not regret it, and it will be a nice build to one of the most affecting novels I have read.

Review: The Look-Alike by Erica Spindler

While I tend to read all over the map, I am not generally a thriller reader. It’s just not the genre I think I want to read. Erica Spindler is coming to my store for a luncheon next month, and I always read the book before an event if the publisher supplies an ARC, so I jumped in.

I could not put The Look-Alike down. I loved the interplay between Sienna wondering if she was meant to be the victim and fearing she’s suffering her mother’s mental illness. I love the layers of the story; it’s so much more than the story of a murder. And as a romance reader, I loved the romance subplot, much as I wished there was space for more development.

I had some ideas about who the murderer might be, but I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. All the characters are complex and developed enough you could see how it might be them.

If you’re into thrillers, murder mysteries, or psychological suspense, this one’s for you. It reads fast, too, so it’s a great mom read. I am so excited to discuss it with the author in February.

This may appear to be a bowl under a sink…

… but it is, in fact, an empty bowl under a sink. In case anyone is wondering what my latest excuse for not reading is, this is it. Last night, as I was finally settling down to read, Husband informs me that there’s a drip under the kitchen sink. Since it’s the drainage pipe dripping, he reasons it will be safe to leave it overnight and deal with it in the morning. He is not wrong.

My brain, however, will not stop wondering why the pipe is leaking. I cannot settle into reading. I. Have. To. Know.

It turns out that due to the constant, dramatic change in temperature that is winter in Houston, the little plastic pipes had expanded and contracted until they shifted just enough to drip. I actually didn’t find out the why until I discussed it with coworkers today. But I did find the how, and I fixed it.

Home ownership is fun, you guys. I’m sure there will be many more challenges, some I can’t fix on my own. But I am damn proud of myself today (just not of my reading stats).

Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

I have mixed feelings about Cicada. It’s beautifully illustrated, I feel like it has an important message about human existence, and yet it’s pretty depressing for a children’s book.

Cicada starts with an insect working at a human job but being treated as sub-human. He can’t afford a home, so he lives in the company walls. He retires quietly, then heads to the roof and stands on the edge. Depressing, right?

Now, he ends up molting, getting his wings, flying off with the other cicadas, and laughing at the humans, but it just went to a really dark place there. I personally enjoy it, but I’m not sure about it for my children.

Review: Red by Jed Alexander

I realized it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a children’s book. We’re in that fun phase where Middle Brother wants the same books over and over, so it’s been a while since I’ve read a new one.

Red actually isn’t new. We’ve had it four a year or more. We enjoyed it for a while when we first got it, then rotated in to new things. It made a reappearance because we still haven’t unpacked all the books from the move and I remembered how much we’d loved it.

It’s a beautiful wordless picture book. I like that every time we “read” it, the story is slightly different, since it’s directed by what the toddler picks out in the pictures. The images are gorgeous, in all that black and white and red. It’s a fun twist on the Red Riding Hood story that I believe we’ll keep enjoying even after the littles have been exposed to the original tale.

If you’re looking to weave a story together with your littles, pick this one up.

This Is How It Always Is

We got everything out of the old apartment and surrendered the keys yesterday. After a long and busy book fair season, getting used to a brand new store, the holidays, and moving the house, I was really looking forward to just relaxing at home and gradually unpacking the remaining boxes this weekend and maybe getting some reading done.

Naturally, Big Brother woke me up before 5 AM on Saturday because he had a stomach bug. I spent the morning trying to keep the littler boys away from him and get some things unpacked while making sure he had what he needed, but by afternoon, Middle Brother just wanted to play with his brother.

So, we got out of the house for a bit. We turned the keys in, we picked up Little Brother’s jacket from the sitter it got left with last week, we went to our favorite local bakery, mostly for their delicious Nutella latte for a very tired Mama, but also so Middle Brother could apparently just rub chocolate all over his face. Middle Brother, who napped a bit during the driving around, woke up asking for a slide, so we stopped by the park to enjoy the weather. Big Brother texted to ask for a large ice water (our new fridge is huge and gorgeous, but we can’t get the icemaker to work), so we picked up water for him and dinner for us and got home in time to watch a movie before starting bedtime.

Once I finally got the little ones to sleep, I felt that thing moms feel, like I should be doing the unpacking now or at least reading the book for an upcoming author event at work, but I didn’t. I reminded myself that motherhood means there’s always something to be done, and there’s always something else popping up to prevent you from doing it, and sometimes you just need a break. So, I called a girlfriend and got in some adult conversation time, and then watched Outlander as I fell asleep. I’ll get some unpacking done between cooking and playing, and it will all get done eventually, and everyone will survive. But more importantly, they’ll feel loved and seen, and I’ll feel rested and appreciated.

I’m Definitely a Real Adult Now

I realize I haven’t been posting much at all lately, but it’s been a long time since I posted about life outside of books. The holiday season has been nuts. We had a lovely Christmas with family, but on December 23rd, we took up residence at our new house. The move is ongoing.

Yesterday, I loaded the dishwasher for the first time. Since I may not have mentioned it previously, our beautiful, weird, perfect home came with all the kitchen appliances. It was definitely a bonus to not worry about those purchases right after a down payment. I adore the side-by-side fridge, but hadn’t even looked at the dishwasher.

Upon opening it to load, I squealed with delight, then immediately took a picture to text to a friend. This is how I finally began to feel like a real adult person at the age of 35 with three children. I got so excited about a dishwasher that I texted a friend, you guys.

In my defense, it is pretty fabulous. The shelves both have high clearance, the racks fold down in places so I can put in those large dishes that I’ve always had to wash by hand, and it has a second sprayer on the upper shelf to wash those dishes better. Anyone would get excited about that, right?

I also got an air fryer for Christmas, now that I have the counter space for another small appliance, and spent some of my Christmas money on a new adjustable showerhead and kitchen faucet with a sprayer.

The boys are loving having their own rooms. I was worried about how Middle Brother would adjust to being alone, and on top of it, his toddler bed broke in the move. Fortunately, we’d gotten a low double bed from my parents set up in his room in case I had to sleep in there with him some nights, and he has made it his own. Pictures of his room will be forthcoming once we get all the decor he got for Christmas set up. (Don’t worry, he also got plenty of toys.)

Little Brother is finally sleeping in an actual crib, and not in the pack and play in the living room with me on the couch. He always had a crib, I just didn’t want to be waking my husband with the nighttime feedings and we’d just gotten used to the setup.

Big Brother got some LED lights he can change colors with his phone, so his room looks pretty awesome, although since it’s the size of the master suite, it also looks pretty bare. I’m sure he’ll find ways to fill it up over the years we still have him at home.

While I’m ready to be done with the move, we’re all very excited to have spent our first Christmas in our own house, and I’m loving every minute of this journey with my boys.

Review of The Christmas Boutique by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Christmas Boutique is the 21st book in a series, but don’t let that scare you off. I have read zero of the other books, and I liked it just fine.

I listened to this one as a digital audiobook. I have no particular feelings about the narration. It was fine. I don’t feel like the voice added to the experience, but it didn’t lessen it, either.

We follow a couple of women I assume we might already know if we’d read the previous books in the series, and get some historical backstory perspective of one of the characters. There are complicated female relationships, marital issues, quilting, and problems with kids.

I loved this as a Christmas read because while it is about Christmas, it’s not one of those over-the-top Christmas-centric reads. It is a full, beautiful novel that happens to be set at Christmastime. You get all the holiday good feels without the annoying fluff of books that were written for a two month sales period.

I also loved it as a mother. It’s got all the family stuff that real families deal with, handled in a realistic way. It gave me the warm and fuzzies.

This book is a good choice for anyone wanting to embrace the holiday feeling right now, but also for anyone wanting an uplifting read at any time of year.