Review: Calm the F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You’ll Ever Need by David Vienna

Calk the F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You'll Ever Need by David Vienna. 112 pp. Knock Knock.

Calk the F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You’ll Ever Need by David Vienna. 112 pp. Knock Knock.

Warning: In case you hadn’t guessed by the title of the book, there’s some mature language in this post.

I love lighthearted parenting books. I mean, seriously. Parents have enough to worry about on a daily basis, and it’s important to maintain a sense of humor, especially when you have a stressful job. (Don’t think parenting is stressful? I could argue with you all day, but let me just say this: it’s the only job I know where you can never clock out. Not even when you’re sleeping.)

In this book, father of twins David Vienna expands on a philosophy popularized by a blog entry of his: the CTFD Method. Basically, regardless of the issue at hand, the solution is always the same: Calm the fuck down. It sounds silly, and it is a bit, but I’m pretty sure that we all need to be reminded to calm down occasionally, especially parents.

The book is separated into sections based on age and category of problem. Each concern starts the same way: illustrating the worst possible thing that could happen if you have a certain problem with your kid. The “CTFD” section that follows each issue explains why you probably shouldn’t be worrying as much as you are. I loved the first half of each page because I have a tendency to imagine the absolute worst in every situation, and some of the overblown parental worries sounded hilariously similar to the way I think. I mean, I know it’s unrealistic, but I still can’t help but run through every negative scenario in my brain. Proof that Vienna gets this (regarding a kid who shows no interest in walking):

…If he shows no interest in learning to walk now, perhaps he’ll never learn. That means you’ll have to find one of those baby walker things in preschooler size, then kid size, then adult size. Or maybe you could just tie him to a skateboard and town him around like a pet.

He won’t make the football team because he’ll never crawl fast enough. You’re already factoring in the expense of kneepads that match his wedding tuxedo so he may proudly clomp down the aisle on all fours.

Yes, this is beyond worst-case scenario, but don’t all parents at some point or other go so far beyond what’s rational that you can’t even see the dividing line anymore? (Or is that just me? Something tells me I can’t be the only one.) This book acknowledges that worrying is normal but shows that, in most cases, calming down will help immensely because the problem probably isn’t as bad as you imagine.

I’ve heard a lot of moms complaining about the What to Expect books because they cover every problem known to man and can make parents worry about problems they didn’t even know they might have. I, on the other hand, love those books because they are so exhaustive that I’m rarely left with follow-up questions. (Of course, I check in with my pediatrician about things, but doing some background reading gives me a good idea of what’s normal.) So when I read Calm the Fuck Down, there wasn’t really any information I didn’t already possess. Here’s the sign of a good book, though: while reviewing my parental knowledge, I had such a kick-ass time that I was never bored.

All in all: Basically, this is the comic version of a What to Expect book (although, at a fraction of the length, it covers less topics). Excellent gift for a new parent or parent-to-be who has a sense of humor!

Review: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Between You & Me by Mary Norris. 240 pp. W.W. Norton.

Between You & Me by Mary Norris. 240 pp. W.W. Norton.

I’ve got a bad habit of buying books about the history and proper usage of the English language and not reading them. I’ve got a shelf in my home library that’s attractively stacked with books like Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way and Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey. I tend to read the first few pages, enjoy them as much as I expect to, then get distracted by some work of fiction or other. I’m terrible about nonfiction, even if it’s on a topic I’m very interested in. But Between You & Me was a Goodreads win, and I’m more likely to win other titles if I read and review this one, so I had a bit more motivation than usual. Also…well, it didn’t hurt that Mary Norris is so funny. Witness the following examples and tell me you don’t want to read this book, too:

“Whom” may indeed be on the way out, but so is Venice, and we still like to go there.

and

Chances are that if you use the Oxford comma you brush the crumbs off your shirtfront before going out.

Between You & Me covers such topics as spelling, punctuation, and profanity in a direct and easily-understood manner. Norris makes frequent mention of the ways that style and usage vary between major publications such as The New Yorker (where she’s worked since 1978) and The New York Times. There’s even an entire chapter dedicated to pencils and pencil sharpeners! (This might sound boring to you, but if it doesn’t, we should probably be friends.)

I learned from this book, and I enjoyed myself immensely while reading it. It’s made me want to pick up my next work of nonfiction sooner than the usual schedule (which would be maybe in six months or so?). It made me want to buy, read, and annotate/highlight a style guide to learn even more. I have an advance copy, but I’m tempted to buy a finished copy — partially to support the author, but also because the advance copy doesn’t include the Recommended Reading list. (Yes, I am that much of a nerd. I want to do the background reading!)

All in all: A great read for anyone with a sense of humor who’s also interested in usage, and a particularly great graduation gift for an English major.

Series Review: Crewel World by Gennifer Albin

Unraveled by Gennifer Albin. Farrar Straus Giroux. 286 pp.

Unraveled by Gennifer Albin. Farrar Straus Giroux. 286 pp.

I won a copy of Crewel, the first book in this series, from a  blog giveaway last year. I’d never heard of it before and wasn’t particularly excited to read it, but I figured I’d give it a shot, and I was glad I did. I enjoyed visiting the world that Gennifer Albin had created, a world in which “spinsters” weave the very fibers of civilization on specially-created looms. However, creating the tapestry of life also grants an inordinate amount of power for destruction, and there are some pretty power-hungry people in Arras.

I finished the first book feeling super-excited that it was the first in a trilogy; I couldn’t wait to see where the story was headed. Last year, I actually exchanged a Christmas gift from a friend (a duplicate of a book I already owned) for a copy of the second book in the series, Altered. Sadly, the second book was a disappointment. It just didn’t live up to the promise of the first book. Still, though, certain events had been set in motion, and I retained a hint of curiosity as to how things would pan out.

As Unraveled’s release date neared, I found myself unwilling to shell out the money to own a copy; not only am I beyond out of room on my shelves, but I didn’t want to be disappointed again. However, I lucked out and won a copy from a First Reads giveaway on Goodreads.

In retrospect? Not so lucky, that win. I am SO GLAD I didn’t waste my money on this book. It was even weaker than book two, in my opinion. The characters were flat, the romance was unconvincing, and the conclusion of the love triangle seemed like a poor attempt to please supporters of both love interests. The only redeeming quality for me was [SPOILER, I guess?] that the good guys won.

I hate it when a series catches my attention and then peters out; I’m always torn between satiating my curiosity and wasting my time. In this case, I feel that my time was wasted. At least they were quick reads…

All in all: Avoid unless you really love dystopian YA and don’t mind that this will be far from the best thing you read this year.

Summer Reading List: Miscellaneous, Part Two

Wrapping up my Summer Reading List catch-ups today (phew!). Here goes.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Clarion Books. 384 pp.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford. Clarion Books. 384 pp.

This was a Goodreads win that I was more than happy to receive. It has a sort of Westing Game feel, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It’s smart and engrossing, with a fun mystery to solve, a colorful cast of characters, and a bit of holiday charm. I can’t wait to read it to my son when he gets a little older. (There’s no inappropriate subject matter; it’s just that he’s two, and this is middle grade. He’s bright, but not that bright.) The only thing I found disappointing was the weird, all-too-convenient ending. Overall, though, a great book, one that kids and parents can enjoy together.

Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary. Casperian Books. 160 pp.

Black Crow White Lie by Candi Sary. Casperian Books. 160 pp.

Another Goodreads win, one that sat on my shelf for months before I finally got around to picking it up. It was…so-so. The writing was okay, the plot was okay, and the character development was — you guessed it! — okay. I was tempted to stop reading this one, but I plowed through…and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. Quirk Books. 243 pp.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. Quirk Books. 243 pp.

This one was being given away at BookCon. I love the cover, the way the ghost in the picture frames doesn’t pop out at you immediately but has a sort of time-release fright effect. The story is clever, a sort of ghost-possessed Ikea (except it’s Orsk, not Ikea, because…you know…lawsuit potential!). It’s a quick, easy read with fun-and-eerie product descriptions at the beginning of each chapter. I don’t read much horror, but I found this one to be creepy enough. It’d make a good scary movie.

Rumpelstiltskin, retold by Edith H. Tarcov, illustrated by Edward Gorey. Scholastic. 48 pp.

Rumpelstiltskin, retold by Edith H. Tarcov, illustrated by Edward Gorey. Scholastic. 48 pp.

I grabbed this one at a book sale; I’m a sucker for fairy tales and picked this one up even though it’s yellowed and crumbling. It’s a simple, straightforward retelling, which I enjoyed (although I’m partial to the version in which Rumpelstiltskin splits himself in half at the end of the story…). The illustrations are what you’d expect from Edward Gorey (I mean that in a good way, because I enjoy his style), but I’d prefer them to have been either entirely black and white or to incorporate more colors. (The cover is colorful, but the interior illustrations are black and white with bits of yellow — and only yellow. It seemed like a budget-friendly way to incorporate color, but I didn’t love it.) I try not to keep every book I buy, especially if I think I’ll never read it again, but I’m holding on to this one. I’ll give it a good tape job and read it with my son!

Summer Reading List: Did. Not. Like.

I always feel a little guilty when writing a poor review. But if I raved about everything it wouldn’t be honest, so here we go.

The Little Prince, written & illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Scholastic. 111 pp.

The Little Prince, written & illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Scholastic. 111 pp.

I picked this one up at a local book sale. I grabbed it because I was looking at literary tattoos a while back and noticed that a lot of people had tattoos from this book. I figured that if it meant enough to that many people it would be worth checking out. Well…I don’t know if I’m remembering things wrong (maybe there were far fewer tattoos than I recalled) or if this book just wasn’t for me, but I pretty much hated it. It’s just over 100 pages but it took me forever to get through it.

It’s written in a grand storytelling style that makes it seem like it will have something mind-blowing and important to say, but in the end, it’s a series of not-that-deep observations about humanity held loosely together by a character that I didn’t find all that interesting. I’d say skip it.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Wordsworth Classics. 245 pp.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Wordsworth Classics. 245 pp.

Maybe I’ll be lambasted for this one, but I thought this book was highly overrated and…well…awful. It’s billed as a classic love story with sweeping descriptions of the moors, but I didn’t get that at all. Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is talked about more than shown, and the one time it is shown, it’s poorly done. I didn’t care about their “relationship” at all, so I didn’t care about whether or not they ended up happy and whether or not Heathcliff got to exact his revenge. And the depiction of nature? Nonexistent, except to say things along the lines of “We walked through the field and there were mountains in the distance.” (Okay, a bit more eloquent than that, but not half as much as you’d think.) Also, there’s not a single likable character in this book (apart from maybe Hareton). I don’t always need to like characters — sometimes I love to hate them — but when I don’t care at all about them, one way or the other, the book falls flat for me. This is one of the worst classics I’ve ever read, and I’d advise you to stay far, far away.

Unraveled by Gennifer Albin. Farrar Straus Giroux. 286 pp.

Unraveled by Gennifer Albin. Farrar Straus Giroux. 286 pp.

In my review of Crewel a while back, I mentioned that the second book, Altered, didn’t hold up to the promise of the first installment. I still wanted to know how the trilogy ended, though, so I was thrilled when I won a copy of this book via a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. However…it’s even worse than the second book. Why do publishers insist on writing up contracts for trilogies in instances when a single, finely-tuned novel would be much better? (I know, I know: Selling three books is far preferable to selling one. But they’re filling the world with crappy books!) There wasn’t much of interest in this book: the predicament wasn’t frightening enough, the characters were all flat and boring, and the ending was laughable. Not worth reading.

That’s it for today, folks. Here’s hoping that I have some good books coming up soon! 🙂

Summer Reading List: YA

Next installation in my Summer Reading List: Young Adult! I usually enjoy YA, but this batch of books left me feeling underwhelmed. Hopefully I’ll find a new book to love soon; I need my faith in Really Good Books to be renewed.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Delacorte. 227 pp.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Delacorte. 227 pp.

This was heavily promoted at BookCon, with chapter samples handed out and a huge board which guests were encouraged to graffiti with their own lies. There was a blurb from John Green, which also caught my eye, and, well…it seemed promising.

But…no. When will I learn that the Next Big Thing isn’t usually my thing? When will I remember that I like John Green infinitely more as a YouTube personality than as a writer? (Note: I still find him very readable, but he’s not in my list of favorites.) Maybe I set myself up for failure with this one. The characters weren’t all that likable or interesting, the romance fell flat, and the “huge plot twist,” although a little surprising, wasn’t mind-blowing. I think this might be one of those YAs that lacks cross-generational appeal.

Feuds by Avery Hastings. St. Martin's Griffin. 272 pp.

Feuds by Avery Hastings. St. Martin’s Griffin. 272 pp.

Confession time: I didn’t read Romeo and Juliet until a year or two ago. I have both undergrad and graduate degrees in English literature, but I guess everyone assumed we’d read it in high school (I hadn’t) and didn’t assign it. I was in no hurry to read it myself because I figured I’d just be annoyed by the main characters…and I was right, although there’s also some great writing, of course.

So if a tale by the Bard couldn’t do it for me, you can imagine how I felt about a dull, sloppily-told remake. Love at first sight needs to be done ridiculously well in order to be believable; this wasn’t. The scenes of dramatic tension were ineffective, and by the end of the book, I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. I feel that the concept of this one has promise, but it needs to be stronger to work.

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper. Little, Brown. 398 pp.

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper. Little, Brown. 398 pp.

Another freebie from BookCon, this one is based on an interesting premise: a family of witches protects the interests of a small whaling island until one woman decides not to step into her role, refusing also to allow her daughter, Avery, to become the witch. Obviously, the islanders are none too thrilled about this — and neither is Avery, for that matter, who has been eagerly awaiting the day that she could take her grandmother’s place. The writing is clean enough and easy to read, and I enjoyed the story.

But (yes, there’s a but) it reminded me of a sort of B-level Gemma Doyle story. (How much did I enjoy the Gemma Doyle trilogy? Find out here.) There’s a family history of magic, a mother who’s determined to keep her magical-powers-budding daughter safe, an exotic and magical romantic interest, a protagonist who’s just not ladylike enough for the time into which she was born…too similar for my tastes. It’s not a bad book by any means, but I think Libba Bray did better with the subject matter — and she did it first.

Are We There Yet? by David Levithan. Alfred A. Knopf. 215 pp.

Are We There Yet? by David Levithan. Alfred A. Knopf. 215 pp.

A pair of brothers, one in high school and one in his early twenties, are tricked by their parents into taking an Italian vacation together. Elijah and Danny couldn’t be any more different, and it’s not just because there are seven years between them. Elijah, a dreamer who lives solely in the moment, is baffled by Danny, a straitlaced ad executive. As their travels progress, though, they are able to find a bit of common ground and end their trip accepting of their differences.

If you’re new here — or if you forgot — I love David Levithan. Love. Him. It’s not about the plot, or even about the characters…it’s about the language. I can’t seem to get enough of his poetic prose and find myself re-reading most of his books at least once. (The only exception so far is Love Is the Higher Law, which I found to be just average.) This wasn’t one of my favorites by him, but it’s still a beautiful, above-average YA novel. I’d say it’s worth checking out.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. Simon Pulse. 608 pp.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. Simon Pulse. 608 pp.

I think the best word to describe Afterworlds is “ambitious.” It’s the story of Darcy Patel, a debut author who scored a ridiculously-high advance just out of high school. As she spends her first year on her own, writing in New York, Darcy learns and grows and all that jazz. In alternating chapters, though, the reader also gets to read Darcy’s novel. So basically you spend a chapter following Darcy around New York, then you spend a chapter following Lizzie, Darcy’s protagonist, as she learns to navigate the Underworld. You get used to the story changes after a while, and it’s a really interesting concept, though at 600 pages the two-books-in-one thing gets a bit lengthy.

I was more impressed by the concept of this book than I was by the execution. Bouncing back and forth between two stories makes it difficult to get to know any of the characters…or maybe they were just sort of flat. Nisha, Darcy’s younger sister, was by far my favorite. She’s spunky and has her own voice and I would totally read a book featuring her. Everyone else, though, started to sound the same after a while, and there was a time or two when I couldn’t tell whether I was reading a Darcy chapter or a Lizzie chapter because the writing was so similar. (To be fair, the narrative point of view is different for each girl, but they still manage to sound the same.) If you don’t mind the page count and are hooked by the concept of the book, check it out. If you want a moving storyline or engaging characters, you may feel like you wasted your time. I’m finding myself somewhere between the two.

Summer Reading List: Literary Fiction

I’m back!!! I took a sort of summer hiatus, largely due to never-ending morning sickness, and am up and running again now. Well, not really running. My doctor says walks are best during pregnancy, especially if — like me — you weren’t much of a runner pre-pregnancy. But I think you knew what I meant. Also, I’m still sick as a dog. I just missed writing. 🙂

Although I wasn’t blogging for the summer, I was sure as hell reading; my physical stack of books to be reviewed is almost as tall as my two-year-old. To catch you up on what I’ve been enjoying (and not), I present to you…my Summer Reading List! It’ll be separated by genre and everything (’cause otherwise the pile was too threatening to tackle). First up? Literary fiction!

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 224 pp.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 224 pp.

I got a copy of this one after Macmillan’s literary fiction panel at BookCon. Although I’d heard of the Mountain Goats before (mostly from a T-shirt worn by John Green, if I’m being terribly honest), I’d never heard any of their songs. After a brief YouTube excursion, I’d gotten a sampling and was ready to dive into the book.

Wolf in White Van is smart and scary. I love the idea of a handwritten, snail-mail RPG in today’s technology-drive society; it’s clever enough to be worthy of such a complicated narrator. The transitions between past and present — as well as game and reality — are managed clearly. Somehow, even though it’s clear to the reader which is which, these transitions still somehow manage tho show the ways in which a role-playing game can start to blur the line between fantasy and reality. The narrator’s brilliance and disturbance are fascinating and terrifying at the same time. He’s not entirely honest — either with the reader or with himself, I suspect — but he’s interesting. Worth a read if you don’t mind some heavy/disturbing subject matter.

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 224 pp.

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 224 pp.

I really enjoyed reading this one. Part travel diary, part quest for knowledge, part bildungsroman…I was surprised by how good it was. Sometimes historical fiction can be a bit dry for me, but this one was beautifully written and featured a storyline that pulled me in.

I know some people were frustrated by the ending, and I can see why, but I think it was the right choice. Even though it’s nice to have a big happily-ever-after sometimes, it’s also refreshing to read a story that’s both well-crafted and realistic.

All in all: Long and sometimes slow-moving, but well written and interesting. Looking forward to more by this writer.

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. The Dial Press. 384 pp.

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. The Dial Press. 384 pp.

I first heard about Tom Rachman when The Imperfectionists came out and a friend of mine said that it was one of the best books he’d read in quite some time. He’s a reader, so that’s high praise; I immediately added it to my list of books to read. And — this is rare for me — I got around to it by the end of that summer, and I adored it. Rachman’s writing was that rare combination of easy to read, cleanly written, highly moving, and memorable. I still can’t shake the visual of the reclusive woman scrambling through decades of newspapers, hungrily devouring the news items that she had accumulated over the years. I can see it in my head as clearly as if I’d watched a film version of the book. It was brilliant. So when I saw that Rachman had a new book coming out, I begged for a review copy. (Okay, I pressed “Request” on Edelweiss. But there’s no “Beg” button, you know?)

This book is just as good, though in a different way. It’s slow-moving at times, but it’s one of those journeys that’s worth it in the end. You know how there are certain actors whose movies you always have to see because they’re so damn watchable? Well, replace “watchable” with “readable” and that’s Rachman. He’s similar to John Irving, but not in a knockoff way…just in the “stick with it and you’ll be glad you did” sort of way.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. Doubleday. 181 pp.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. Doubleday. 181 pp.

I won this one from Goodreads, and it was pretty much what I expected: a cleverly-written epistolary campus novel. (All good things in my book, in case you’re new here.) The protagonist reminded me a great deal of a friend of mine, which made it even more fun. It’s worth reading, smart and entertaining, but not mind-blowing or life-changing. A cute gift for English majors, though, especially ones in/finishing grad school.

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai. Viking. 352 pp.

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai. Viking. 352 pp.

Another Goodreads win. I entered to win this one because of a blurb from Richard Russo (it really doesn’t take much to get me to enter to win a free book if it sounds remotely interesting). I was pleasantly surprised by this one; it’s great. It covers the history of a house over the course of a century, as it transitions back and forth from a historic estate to an artists’ colony.

Aaand…that’s the end of my literary fiction segment. Stay tuned!

Keeping It Brief!

I’m reading more than I’m writing lately, and as a result my pile of read-and-waiting-to-be-reviewed books is getting a little overwhelming. When things get overwhelming, I procrastinate even more than usual, so this has become a bit of a no-win situation for me. Rather than putting it off any longer, I decided to write a handful of short-and-sweet reviews in order to cut down on my workload a bit. Here we go!

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes. Plume. 400 pp.

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes. Plume. 400 pp.

I entered to win The Mystery of Mercy Close from Goodreads’s First Reads program because every time I read a mystery I thoroughly enjoy myself and wonder why I don’t read mysteries more often…and then I don’t pick one up for another year or so. I was happy to win this one because it gave me a reason to dip my toes back into a genre I’d been away from for a while.

Helen Walsh is a main character unlike any other: she’s misanthropic and cynical, yet she loves and values the people closest to her. She fights tooth and nail against her depression while trying to keep it under wraps. Her rants made me laugh out loud, while her inner turmoil broke my heart a little bit.

The mystery itself is a slow burner; there are more interrogation scenes than action, and there wasn’t much (if any) suspense. Some mysteries keep me on the edge of my seat, and this one really didn’t. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. But reading this book was more like untying a knot: it took time, but the details were interesting.

All in all: Not the best mystery I’ve ever read, but still not bad.

17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen. HarperTeen. 319 pp.

17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen. HarperTeen. 319 pp.

This was a terribly generic YA novel. There was a little bit of everything: drinking, hooking up, boy drama, damaged reputations, family trauma, and feeling like nobody sees “the real you.” I don’t mean to trivialize any of those elements, because (as you know if you’ve ever read my reviews before) I really do enjoy the YA genre…*if* it’s done well. This book, however, felt kind of like a connect-the-dots instead of an actual painting. It was a quick, easy read, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for a great YA work.

All in all: Might be enjoyable for teens, but I don’t think it has staying power.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares. Delacorte. 288 pp.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares. Delacorte. 288 pp.

I read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in high school and don’t really remember much about it except for the fact that it was a quick, fairly-light read. Oh! And the fact that four girls with significantly different body types all rocked the same pair of jeans. Seriously?! As someone who has to try on thirty pairs of jeans before finding one that fits (and that’s on a good day), I call shenanigans.

But back to Ann Brashares. I was intrigued by the idea that the author of such a girlie-girl classic was trying her hand at science fiction and was curious to see how it would go. And I was pleasantly surprised. I found Prenna’s personality to be lacking in the first half of the book, but I’m not sure if that was intentional or not. As she deviates from her “orders,” her personal desires emerge and she becomes much more interesting.

The time travel aspect was handled well, and I found the not-so-happy ending a refreshing change of pace. It was believable and yet it didn’t make me want to throw my book across the room. It made sense.

All in all: A solid effort and enjoyable read. Not the best YA I’ve read this year, but certainly not the worst, either.

Review: Search Party: Stories of Rescue by Valerie Trueblood

Search Party by Valerie Trueblood. Counterpoint. 256 pp.

Search Party by Valerie Trueblood. Counterpoint. 256 pp.

I started reading this book months upon months ago, but I’m a multiple-books-at-a-time reader, and something usually ends up falling by the wayside. Sometimes it’s because the book doesn’t hold my interest, sometimes it’s because something shiny comes along, and sometimes it’s just a wrong-place-wrong-time sort of thing. I’m not sure what took me so long with this one…probably a combination of the last two. I remember reading “The Finding,” the first story in Search Party, and being pleasantly surprised by it. I read the next few stories and sort of drifted away from the book; when I picked it up again, I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to read something so wonderful.

Search Party is a remarkably strong collection of stories. I enjoy short fiction but, as I mentioned in my review of Lorrie Moore’s Bark, I think some of the recent stuff is highly overrated. Not this collection, though. “The Magic Pebble” and “The Stabbed Boy” just about broke my heart with their bits of tragedy; “The Blue Grotto,” a tale of a babysitter whose overnight charge has a 105-degree fever and requires a trip to the ER, terrified me; “Later or Never” (about a caretaker) and “Street of Dreams” (about a father shepherding his homeless family) were poignant vignettes; and the opening of “Who Is He That Will Harm You” reveals its events, little by little, until the full scene pops startlingly into your mind’s eye.

The main disappointment for me was the final — and titular — tale. At 45 pages, it creates a slowly-dragging finish to what is otherwise a smooth-moving collection. It’s not a bad story, but it keeps adding new elements just when you think it’s going to wrap things up. This was the only story in the book during which I found myself flipping ahead — multiple times — to see how much I had left. Don’t let that one downfall steer you away from this book, though, because you’d be missing out.

All in all: One of the better story collections I’ve read recently. I still haven’t decided whether to send my copy to a friend or not. I want to share it but also feel like keeping it for myself, which is high praise.

Review: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick. Harper. 304 pp.

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick. Harper. 304 pp.

Call it fate. Call it synchronicity. Call it an act of God. Call it . . . The Good Luck of Right Now. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook comes an entertaining and inspiring tale that will leave you pondering the rhythms of the universe and marveling at the power of kindness and love.

For thirty-eight years, Bartholomew Neil has lived with his mother. When she gets sick and dies, he has no idea how to be on his own. His redheaded grief counselor, Wendy, says he needs to find his flock and leave the nest. But how does a man whose whole life has been grounded in his mom, Saturday mass, and the library learn how to fly?

Bartholomew thinks he’s found a clue when he discovers a “Free Tibet” letter from Richard Gere hidden in his mother’s underwear drawer. In her final days, mom called him Richard—there must be a cosmic connection. Believing that the actor is meant to help him, Bartholomew awkwardly starts his new life, writing Richard Gere a series of highly intimate letters. Jung and the Dalai Lama, philosophy and faith, alien abduction and cat telepathy, the Catholic Church and the mystery of women are all explored in his soul-baring epistles. But mostly the letters reveal one man’s heartbreakingly earnest attempt to assemble a family of his own.

A struggling priest, a “Girlbrarian,” her feline-loving, foul-mouthed brother, and the spirit of Richard Gere join the quest to help Bartholomew. In a rented Ford Focus, they travel to Canada to see the cat Parliament and find his biological father . . . and discover so much more.


Here’s the thing about Matthew Quick: he’s an ace at writing an unreliable, disturbed narrator. (Note that I haven’t read all of his works; I’m judging this by Silver Linings Playbook and The Good Luck of Right Now.) The problem with that (for me, at least) is that I find it infinitely frustrating to read a book by a narrator that’s hiding something, not just from me, but from himself. It’s the literary equivalent of banging your head against a wall, and I don’t particularly enjoy it. (Exception to this: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I found it stunning the first time I read it, and it was just as strong when I re-read it last year.)

Even though I find his narrators frustrating, there’s no denying Matthew Quick’s talent. He creates memorable, unique characters, and I enjoy watching things happen to them. His stories are sweeping and personal, all at once. The pain and struggles are universal, but the characters are still one of a kind and experience these things in their own ways.

Here are a couple of trends I’ve noticed in both books which make me think that, even though he’s a gifted writer, Quick might need to branch out a bit in his settings and themes:

  • main character is in denial/disconnect about a negative experience
  • M.C. is physically large and intimidating to others
  • MC has profound thoughts, but everyone around him assumes that his thinking is simplistic
  • M.C.’s family feels the need to protect him from the world
  • absent father/misunderstood by father
  • setting: suburb outside of an industrial northeast city

None of these elements makes for a bad story; I just like to see more diversity in an author’s body of work. This may be why I’ve stopped picking up Chuck Palahniuk’s stuff. If you like a very specific type of book, he cranks ’em out. But if you want something new, look elsewhere. Is this the case with Matthew Quick? I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to read more of his stuff to decide.

All in all: Not a bad book by any means, but with all the other excellent books out there, I wouldn’t be quick (ha!) to recommend this one.