2018 Book Reviews

Posted on Jan 16, 2019 in Adulthood Stole My Cool

I always love seeing everyone’s recommended reading lists at beginning of the new year, so in 2018 I decided to keep a log of all my books with brief reviews. I meant to publish this at the beginning of Jan, but alas, I’m pregnant and have been sick and solo parenting for much of the month… so here we are on Jan 16th. Better late than never?

I use the term “review” lightly, as these are mostly quickly jotted down impressions – hardly fully formed thoughts on each book. But maybe you’ll find something that piques your interest! And even better, if you have any thoughts you’d like to share on any of these books, I’d love to hear them! Lastly – please share your own favorite reads of last year. I’m always looking for new books.

 

(1) Defiant: The POWs Who Endured Vietnam’s Most Infamous Prison, The Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned by Alvin Townley

This was a book club selection. If you think this is an odd choice for a book club comprised of many naval aviator spouses – you’d be right! This was a powerful, emotional book that had me sobbing, but I’m so glad I read it. The POWs’ courage, leadership, and resilience are inspiring, but I also loved how Townley focuses on their remarkable, er, defiant wives. Highly recommend.

(2) 1984 by George Orwell

I read this because I felt like it was one of those books I should have read by now. And now I have.

(3) Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Nearly everyone in my book club hated this – but I say give it a chance! Admittedly, I struggled in the beginning. It’s a very unconventional narrative and it took me a little while to figure out what was going on. But once I did, I really enjoyed it. It’s imaginative, humorous, and very sweet and tender in some parts. I particularly liked the ending – If you’re up for a challenge, give this a try.

(4) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

This was disappointing. I wanted a light read, and while this elicited a few chuckles from me, overall I though most of the humor fell flat.

(5-9) Mary Poppins/ Mary Poppins Comes Back/ Mary Poppins Opens the Door/ Mary Poppins in the Park/ Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane by P. L. Travers

I hate to say it, but I think Mary Poppins is one of the rare instances of the movie being better than the book. The Mary Poppins of the books is, as Elisabeth realized by book 3, “Not very nice.” In fact, she’s downright awful and basically gaslights Jane and Michael throughout the series. Some of the other characters are delightful, but I could do without Mary Poppins herself. Stick with Julie Andrews.

(10) The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Excellent book chronicling the journey of an escaped slaved, Cora, on a literal underground railroad. Parts are gruesome and heart wrenching (unsurprising, given the topic) but it was one of the best books I read all year.

(11) Beartown by Fredrik Backman

I read this because I loved A Man Called Ove. This, about a small hockey town rocked by scandal, is completely different from Ove, but I enjoyed it. Interesting characters, deals well with some relevant, complex topics.

(12) Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

I really, really wanted to like this. But good grief, was it dull. Had I not felt like a traitor to my gender, I would have ditched the book halfway through. The women in the book were all undoubtedly remarkable trailblazers, but the book focused so heavily on the technical aspects of their work, while relegating their personal stories and struggles to trite observations like, “Jane wore a daring pantsuit to work!” or “Susie went on the pill!” that I couldn’t maintain interest. I’m very willing to admit that if you are more science-minded than I, you might enjoy all the details on the developing space programs. This just wasn’t for me.

(13) Night by Elie Wiesel

What is there to say about this? An important work that everyone should read.

(14) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I adore this book. It is lovely. You should read it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get all the feels. Please note – while the Netflix film is sweet, it does not nearly capture the wonderfulness of this book.

(15) Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Solid page-turner. I thought that Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, was better written, but this was a more intriguing story.

(16) Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (audiobook)

This audiobook took me months to get through (it’s long, folks), but after spending months with George, I was a little teary-eyed when I reached the end of his story. As I understand, you won’t find a more comprehensive, in-depth biography of our first president.

(17) Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

This was very meh. I could’ve done completely without the present-day narrative of a southern woman trying to figure out her family’s past. The story of the children ripped from their home in the 1920s and placed in a criminally run adoption agency (based on true events) was much more powerful. This story had so much potential, but could’ve been better written, in my humble opinion. Also, I have a hard time reading about children suffering, and there’s a good bit of that in this book.

(18) One Summer: American, 1927 by Bill Bryson (audiobook)

I LOVE Bill Bryson. I did not love this audiobook. Bryson – a Midwesterner by birth who has lived much of his adult life in Great Britain – has an unusual hybrid of an accent, sort of like Madonna when she was married to Guy Ritchie. It threw me off, as did Bryson’s habit of sounding startled by his own writing. Anyway. Bryson covers everything from Charles Lindbergh to Babe Ruth to Calvin Coolidge to Al Capone and much, much more. Most of it was interesting; some of it was funny. Oddly, I think I would have appreciated the humor more if I had read the book rather than listened to it. This would not be the first Bryson book I’d recommend, but it was a perfectly satisfactory audiobook for a long drive.

(19) The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright

This was totally engrossing and very educational for me, but I struggled with the very graphic descriptions of various terrorist attacks – especially that of 9/11, which left me weeping.

(20) The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

Eh. I don’t know why I read this. Fairly dull account of a troubled junior-high friendship. Not much resolution at the end, and not worth it.

(21) Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

So good! Fascinating yet horrifying true crime story about the widespread murder of Osage Indians in the 1920s.

(22) Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Interesting, quick read – especially in light of today’s immigration debates.

(23) Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.(Audiobook)

This was okay. Frankly, I was more interested in the story Huguette Clark’s father than by the reclusive heiress herself, but her story held my attention well enough. Unfortunately, the book is not one that offers much resolution, at least not for me.

(24) Educated by Tara Westover

One of my must-reads of the year. I’m sure you’ve heard about it, and it lives up to all the hype.

(25) Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it. She’s obviously a talented writer – it’s a beautifully written book. It was just a little slower than I hoped, and I never got very invested in the story.

(26) We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

I loved this book. This is based on the true story of a Polish-Jewish family spread around the globe during WWII. It’s an emotionally draining book, but (no spoiler here) the title suggests there is a happy ending, which got me through to the end. It’s an amazing, downright miraculous story.

(27-29) Pippi Longstocking/Pippi Goes on Board/Pippi in the South Sea by Astrid Lindgren

I loved Pippi when I was little – who wouldn’t? She could do whatever she wants and eat candy all day and had a house full of treasure! The first in the series is the best, but Elisabeth enjoyed the entire series.

(30) Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

I hated – HATED – this book. Reviled, loathed, abhorred it with every fiber of my being. Every character is awful. It’s overwritten. (I get it, Ms. Groff, you know a lot of big words.) I forced myself to read this because it was so critically praised but the whole while wanted to stab my eyes out with forks. I don’t get it. I don’t get why this book was so  praised. What am I missing?

(31) Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

This was disappointing. I’m a fan of thrillers, but I haven’t really read one since Gone Girl or Girl on the Train that I’ve truly enjoyed. This was dull, frankly.

(32) Destiny of the Republic A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

So good! This book seamlessly interweaves the stories of James Garfield, his assassin, and Alexander Graham Bell. Really interesting and informative. The chapter on the 1880 Republican National Convention was riveting. Really! And that was just about Garfield’s nomination. Imagine the rest of the book! I didn’t know much about President Garfield before reading this. He seemed like an extraordinary man.

(33) The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Four siblings meet a psychic who tell them each the day they are going to die. The book explores how each goes on to live their respective lives. The novel dragged at points, and some characters were certainly more engaging than others, but overall it was an interesting, thought-provoking book.

(34) Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Fine, unexceptional novel.

(35) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

This was not quite what I expected. The narrative often felt disjointed to me, perhaps because it was finished posthumously. I enjoy true crime, but this also didn’t quite offer the resolution I was hoping for or expecting.

(36) Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequest

I picked up this book as a filler book while waiting for a library book to become available. I’ve known lots of people who have enjoyed Neiquest as a writer, and I did as well. What I didn’t know that she deals a lot with her miscarriage in this book, and as I had just had one, it was kind of an emotional read. I also found – surprisingly – that I could relate as a military spouse to a lot of what she writes about. I appreciated her honesty and her warmth and humor, even while discussing tough topics.

(37) The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

This is just the most perfect book. A. A. Milne captures the imagination of a child so perfectly. If you’re a parent who hasn’t read this, you will definitely cry at the end. Just a warning.

(38) We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A wealthy east coast family is hiding the truth behind an accident that the protagonist is struggling to recall. This book has one of the most unexpected twists I’ve encountered in a long time. Truly left me shocked.

(39) Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

I loved this when I was little, although reading it as a parent – not so much. It’s very dated, but it’s humorous reading it from a modern parenting perspective. Elisabeth thought it was funny, and even wanted to try out some of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s disciplinary techniques. Particularly the one where she encourages the parents to let the kids stay up as late as they want.

(40) Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This book started off slow, but I quickly became engrossed. A beautifully written, rich story. One of my favorites this year.

(41) Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I have mixed feelings about this book. It was a powerful story, but it was torturous to get through and often made me physically uncomfortable. Racism, poverty, drug addiction – it covers it all in harsh, devastating reality. Perhaps reality is an odd word to use since, as the title suggests, ghosts play heavily in this story. An interesting, intense, sad book that I almost quit reading twice because – as I’ve mentioned before – I hate reading about child suffering or neglect, and there’s quite a bit of that.

(42) Hey Ladies! by Caroline Moss and Michelle Markowitz

I needed a light read, and this was that. I was expecting this to be laugh-out-loud funny, but this went beyond parody into ridiculousness.

(43)  First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by Kate Brower (Audiobook)

I was hoping for something a little gossipy to get me through a long drive, and this did not disappoint. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but it seemed very pro-Hillary (it was published during her 2016 campaign) and surprisingly anti-Michelle Obama. Weird, because who doesn’t like Michelle Obama? Would love to hear if anyone else who has read this got the same impression. Not a super in-depth, intellectual book, but I learned a few things about our modern First Ladies, and it made good road trip entertainment.

(44) Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

I think I saw this on many lists of books to read so read it without knowing what it was. Fine YA novel, but not really my cup of tea.

(45) The Leavers by Lisa Ko

I just didn’t love this. The book broaches a lot of timely, important topics (immigration/deportation, adoption, etc.) but I really disliked almost all the characters, even the ones to whom I was sympathetic.

(46) The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

This is a heavy, grim read (it alternates between the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris, where a mother is searching for her estranged daughter) but it’s a captivating story and very well written.

(47) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Elisabeth enjoyed this (especially reading the “Broad Yorkshire” accents). It’s amazing how slow-paced it feels compared to contemporary literature – which is not a bad thing! I did find myself frustrated that the narrative gradually shifted from Mary’s transformation to almost exclusively Colin’s. Oh well. It’s a classic. You should read it.

(48) Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I enjoyed this! After a couple of heavy reads, Liane Moriarty was the author I needed. Her books aren’t exactly light, but the characters are generally likeable, there’s humor to balance the darker elements of the story, and they are all generally page-turners. This fit the mold.

 

I also began but have not finished Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain and Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. I do intend to finish them in 2019. Now your turn – what books left an impression with you this year? Loved? Hated? Let me know!

 

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New Year, New You… Not Happening

Posted on Jan 6, 2018 in Adulthood Stole My Cool, It's the Navy Life, My Kid Stole My Cool, The Kids Are Actually Cute, Travel Traumas

New Year, New You… Not Happening 1

Happy New Year, Friends! How is 2018 going for you so far? Getting fit? Eating healthy? Meditating daily? Good for you! I have spent the first days of 2018 stuffing my face with muffins and watching old episodes of Downton Abbey. Meanwhile there is a massive pile of boxes sitting in my family room, a not-so-subtle reminder that I still have to put away all the Christmas decorations. While most people seem to relish the New Year as an opportunity to reset and strive to be a better version of themselves, I just want it to be March already. You know, when nobody cares about that stuff anymore. I rang in the New Year with my parents and a bottle of Nyquil. (I was in California for a quick trip with the kids while Damon stayed back East.) On New Year’s Day, instead of kickstarting a healthy diet, I munched on day-old donuts and In-N-Out. (So good, by the way.) On the second day of the New Year, I endured a 15-hour travel day with my darling children. After a several hour delay in Dallas, including deplaning our first aircraft due to a mechanical problem, we landed home at 2:00am and waited an hour for luggage that – oops! – never actually made it on the plane. We got home at 3:30AM. Elisabeth talked at me for about 14.5 out of those 15 hours. On the third day of the New Year I went to Trader Joe’s with the rest of Hampton Roads in preparation of BOMB CYCLONE 2018. Then I slept because, again, I traveled 15 hours the day before with both my kids. Oh, and I probably have an upper respiratory virus. Whatever. On the fourth day of the New Year it SNOWED. Gosh, I love being a Virginia resident when it snows. People lose their damn minds. Every. Freaking. Year. For all you folks making vegetable soups from scratch and working out in your home gyms – New Year! New You! – you won’t shame me into being healthy! If I’m stuck in my house with...

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Recovery Update: Hangry

Posted on Sep 13, 2017 in Adulthood Stole My Cool, My Kid Stole My Cool

Recovery Update: Hangry 1

Hi, Friends. I’m nearly four weeks post-surgery and doing fairly well. Some minor discomfort, which is to be expected. And as I mentioned in my previous post, this recovery has been so much better than my last that I can’t complain. My bruising has diminished a lot, but I still look like a puffer fish. This swelling is stubborn, man. And my jaw will be rubber-banded shut for about two more weeks. Which means I’m still on a liquid diet. Which means… I’m officially hangry. You guys – I would trade my children for a cheeseburger right now if I could actually eat it. In some messed-up, masochistic form of torture, I can’t stop watching food videos. You know the ones that demonstrate an entire recipe in about 60 seconds? Literally, can’t stop watching them. Hey, it’s 11:43pm and I should be sleeping, but instead I’m going to watch “Oven-Baked Chicken Wings 4 Ways.” This is my life now. It’s sick, I know. But it all looks so good. The trashier, more junked-up food, the better. A giant meatball filled with spaghetti? OMG I need. Oreo-stuffed donut holes? Get in my belly. Every possible variation on stir-fry you could possibly imagine? I want them all.     At first glance a Mac-N-Cheese Bun Burger looks disgusting. But after you haven’t eaten solid food in a month, it’s pure genius. I would so eat a Mac-N-Cheese bun burger. Speaking of Mac-N-Cheese, did you know there are 14,738 ways to make it? It’s true. I know because I’ve watched/read every single variation on how to do so. Quesadillas compete with Mac-N-Cheese in terms of sheer volume of recipes. Before I would’ve just thrown some cheese on a tortilla and stuck it in the microwave. Maybe a little guac if I was feeling feisty. But quesadillas can be so much more than that! They hold endless culinary potential! I would’ve never thought to make a quesadilla with flank steak fajitas or BBQ chicken and Gouda or sautéed mushrooms and spinach. So fancy! Thankfully my eyes have been opened. I now realize what...

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Recovery Update

Posted on Aug 24, 2017 in Adulthood Stole My Cool

Recovery Update 10

Hi, Friends. I’m one week post-surgery, and the hardest part is (or should be) over! First of all, thank you to everyone who sent prayers or positive thoughts or good vibes my way. Hearing from you all has been such an encouragement. Second of all, I hadn’t planned on writing about my surgery, but as it turns out I have a lot of time on my hands these days! If you’ve been following along here, you’ll know that I’ve been slated to have jaw surgery for several months in order to close an open bite. This is the second time I’ve had this surgery; the first was when I was 19. Unfortunately, my bite gradually reopened over the past decade and a second surgery was the best option to permanently solve my problem. (And yes, we’ll be taking measures to prevent a relapse again. We’ve learned a few things in 13 years!) The first surgery was traumatic. Whereas this time I had a single jaw surgery on my upper jaw, the first time I had a triple surgery (upper jaw, lower jaw, and chin.) My surgeon-orthodontist team warned me that the two weeks following surgery would be hell. There was no getting around that. I was going to be in a lot of pain, I’d probably have nausea, I’d be bruised and swollen, and I would just generally feel shitty all the time. Okay. I mentally prepared myself for two weeks. I could get through two weeks. Actually, I would do better than that. I would face my surgery with optimism and humor!     At the time I had a sorority t-shirt that said, “Cute and Fun to Date.”* I knew I was going to look absolutely wrecked after the surgery, but I was going to wear that t-shirt out of the hospital. I had to maintain my sense of humor. The surgery may break my jaw, but it wouldn’t break my spirit! It broke my spirit. Immediately upon waking from anesthesia, I found a nurse hovering over me with suction telling me to cough up blood. What?...

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Is Everyone Drinking Protein Shakes Without Me?

Posted on Aug 15, 2017 in Adulthood Stole My Cool

Is Everyone Drinking Protein Shakes Without Me? 0

In two days I head into corrective jaw surgery. I’m not going to get into all the medical technicalities of the surgery, but post-surgery my jaw will be wired or rubber banded shut for about six weeks. This means a liquid diet for six weeks. I’m not super stoked about that, but here’s the thing – I had this surgery 13 years ago*, and I managed to survive then. So I’ll survive now. Anyway, when you’re recovering from surgery you need a lot of protein and other nutrients to aid your body in healing. If I remember correctly, my former surgeon encouraged me to get 3000 calories/day during recovery. HAHAHA. Yeah, I don’t get 3000 calories/day when I’m actually eating solid food, so to try to consume that much on a liquid diet is nearly impossible. But hey, it’s good to have goals. At the time my mother – on the advice of the surgeon – went to Costco and stocked up on Ensure. I took one sip and decided that would be my last. So I subsisted on Carnation Instant Breakfast drinks (remember those?), Jamba Juice, and milkshakes. Eventually my mom started putting ice cream into the breakfast drinks and the smoothies because – CALORIES! After about a month I was ready for a change and asked my mom to blend me up some clam chowder – a weird request I know, not least because I don’t particularly like seafood. Not eating solid food for that long will lead to some weird cravings. For example, I also desperately wanted some  Taco Bell creation that I kept seeing advertised on TV (it looked like a quesadilla but was a hexagon, maybe) – but I couldn’t blend that, so clam chowder it was. Like the Ensure, I had one sip of the chowder and almost retched. Back to ice cream smoothies. It wasn’t exactly the healthiest post-surgery diet.     This time around, I vowed to be more mindful about my recovery diet. I definitely need more protein, and probably less ice cream. (Apparently sugar is bad for you?) Luckily...

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Braces: The New Botox

Posted on Feb 28, 2017 in Adulthood Stole My Cool

Braces: The New Botox 1

  “Do you think red wine will stain my clear braces?” This is an actual question that I texted my mom last night. Because I am now living simultaneously as a 13-year-old and 31-year-old. I got braces last week. This is my third round.* I would like to think now that I’m in my thirties I can accept these braces with confidence and grace. (All the magazines say you have more confidence in your thirties, right?!)   But let’s be real: getting braces at any age older than 12 sucks. In an effort to be positive I’ll admit that braces now suck decidedly less than braces when you’re 18 and heading off to college, which also happened to me. See – Positivity!     I was not so positive at my orthodontic appointment last week. Adult braces come with a host of questions and concerns you don’t have as a pre-teen. The aforementioned red wine conundrum, for instance. The reality of repeatedly being head-butted in the mouth by a rambunctious two-year-old. (Seriously. I need a mouth guard.) The fact that in my mature age, all this stuff hurts more and takes longer to recover from.** As I was contemplating all these not-positive things, one of the assistants approached me and asked, “Are you excited?” I furrowed my brow and looked into her soulless eyes. “Yes. I am STOKED. I am SO EXCITED to be a grown-ass woman walking around with a mouth full of metal. I’m going to look completely ridiculous but EVERYTHING IS AWESOME.“ (I realize that as a woman who hasn’t washed her hair in four days, perhaps I don’t have much credibility when it comes to concerns about my appearance, but alas. Vanity is a funny thing.)     I didn’t say any of this, partly because I gathered this person might not understand sarcasm. Instead I un-furrowed my brow and silently chastised myself for the brow-furrowing in the first place. Those forehead wrinkles aren’t getting any smoother. Then it hit me. The upside to all this – I’M GOING TO LOOK SO YOUNG! 31-year-olds don’t have...

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