Pithy Book Reviews 2015


#1. Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters by Carla Naumberg

I like to start the year with some nonfiction to guide me in a new year. Parenting in the Present Moment reminds parents that we really have all the tools we need if we could be less judgmental of ourselves and work towards staying present. I liked Naumberg’s STAY model, which stands for stop whatever it is you’re doing, take a breath; attune to your thoughts and those of your child; and yield. In some ways I find all of this easier to do with my 4th child as opposed to my 1st because I know that things will generally be okay and it’s not worth freaking out all the time. Quick, good read.

#2. Year of No Sugar: A Memoir by Eve O. Schaub 

Entertaining and well-written account of one woman’s mission to get her family off of added fructose for a year. (i.e. this was about added sugar, but not about glucose that comes from eating pasta, etc.). It still sounded REALLY hard. I’m glad I read it, but it’s not like I was surprised by how much sugar is in everything. Still, it was a major reminder that there are some ways to cut down, which I’m always trying to do. Another quick, good read to start the new year.

#3.  Crafting The Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Non-Fiction by Dinty W. Moore

Staying with the self-improvement theme for early 2015, I tossed a craft book into the ring that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. Moore’s advice is great, and I enjoyed most of the chapters. I especially liked this reminder: “The rewards of publication are fleeting, while the rewards of a regular writing practice are countless.”

#4. The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum (audio)

Excellent collection of essays. This is one I wish I had read, I think, but I really enjoyed the audio. I may read it, too, at some point in the future. I do that sometimes.

#5.  Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley

Good overview and important writing lessons for anyone who needs a review or just enjoys books about writing. Very back to basics. Liked this line, which sums up the tips: “Are you telling your story from your unique perspective, with a voice and style that’s clearly all you?” The best writing book I’ve read so far this month though is down there in #10. Check it out.

#6. When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris (audio)

It’s David Sedaris reading his own work so obviously it was perfect.

#7. NORMAL (Something More) by Danielle Pearl 

I thought this was YA, but there’s so much sex . . . I wouldn’t recommend it for teens. Pearl does a good job dealing with the tough topic of rape and abuse. It was a book that I couldn’t put down. That said it could have been 80 pages shorter.

#8. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Really liked the first 30 pages or so, but had to skim the rest.

#9. The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant

Liked it, but not in a couldn’t put it down sort of way. (Read via NetGalley)

#10. Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay by Adair Lara

Excellent book of writing advice. I love Lara’s style. Highly recommend for writers– more so than #5 up there.

#11. Shotgun Lovesongs: A Novel by Nickolas Butler

Loved the Midwest setting and that the book is about male friendship– not such a common set up as more often that’s a “female” topic. Really really good. Highly recommend for a more literary read.

#12. Gossip: Ten Pathways to Eliminate It from Your Life and Transform Your Soul by Lori Palatnik

I love Lori’s lectures and essays. Wish I didn’t need a reminder on this topic, but I do.

#13.  After Birth by Elisa Albert

I always love Albert’s style, but this particular story was not my favorite. Just could not get into the story or the main character.

#14. Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me by Mindy Kaling

Read this book last year, but listened this time. Loved it!

#15. The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler

Really great ideas, but had to start skimming after two-thirds.

#16. Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

Book of short stories by the very well-regarded Edith Pearlman. I appreciated the collection, but I wouldn’t say I raced through it. Skimmed some stories. Enjoyed the story “Honeydew” the most.

#17. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Loved it. Pretty much love everything Rubin does. My full review is at Great New Books.

#18. Kindness Wins by Galit Breen  

Breen makes a great point that social media is here to stay and that getting some influence over our kids’ opinions about how to behave online should start early while they’re still listening to us more than they’re listening to their friends. Great advice throughout the book.

#19. Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Really enjoyed this one. Reminded me a bit of Eleanor & Park.

#20. Us: A Novel by David Nicholls

I did the audio on this one. It was just okay because the story didn’t grab me. It was almost too detailed, too much backstory, even though backstory was part of the point of this book about the unravelling of a married couple.

#21. Once I Was Cool: Personal Essays by Megan Stielstra

Really enjoyed this collection of essays. Stielstra’s voice on the page reminds me a lot of Cheryl Strayed.

#22. Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer by Una LaMarche

I absolutely loved this essay collection. (Guess I’m into collections right now.) I had to read it with a tissue in my hand because in many parts I would tear up from trying to hold in my laughter. (I read in bed and the laughing wakes Bryan.)

#23. Open Boxes the gifts of living a full and connected life by Christine Organ

I admire Organ’s ability to write about faith in such a relatable and vulnerable way, and it makes me wonder if I could do the same one day. Really good read.

#24. Searching for Bubbe Fischer: The Path to Mah Jongg Wisdom by Karen Gooen

Really enjoyed Gooen’s stories about how she came to love mahj, and I can’t wait to try out some of her tips.

#25. Single, Carefree, Mellow: Stories by Katherine Heiny

Started with the audio, but switched to the print version. I really enjoyed these stories. I “discovered” Heiny when I read her short story in The New Yorker (or was is The Atlantic?) last year. Her style just works for me. Highly recommend for short story lovers.

#26. Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum

The atmosphere of loneliness in this book and the general apathy of the main character, Anna, should have turned me off, but there was something that keep drawing me back to this book. (And it wasn’t just the sex.)  I recommend it, but I can’t exactly say why, especially since the end was inevitable considering this Anna is in the spirit of Anna Karenina.

#27. The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition by Professor Roberta Rosenthal Kwall

I was extremely impressed with the depth and breadth of this analysis of how Jewish law has influenced culture and how Jewish culture influences Jewish law. My full reaction was my June post at tcjewfolk.com.

#28. Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories by Rebecca Barry

This was a really fast read– a memoir in bite-size segments . . . almost like diary entries. I liked it! I could relate to much of the writing angst and decisions about stepping away from the novel writing. Not sure I’d recommend it for non-writers though.

#29. Letters to the Next Generation 2: Reflections on Jewish Life by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

One of the best, most clear set of reasons and reflections I’ve ever read about why Jews should be proud of Judaism. I’m a little bit obsessed with Rabbi Sacks. Everything he writes is brilliant.

#30. When You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery) by Rebecca Stead

I loved that the entire novel was really a letter, in a way. There’s a mystery at the center so I can’t say too much more. But this YA book was short and sweet. I really liked it.

#31. Dear Exile : The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean by Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery

I’m a huge fan of epistolary novels, and this was the first nonfiction epistolary work I’ve read that sort of came off like a novel. It was cool to have this personal glimpse into the lives of these two friends keeping in touch while one was in Kenya in the Peace Corps and one was making her way in a new apartment and new job in NYC. I also enjoyed that the letters were written around (I think) 1996, which made me nostalgic for that pre-Facebook, pre-‘e’ everything time.

#32. All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir by Shulem Deen

I was fascinated by this memoir about a man who discovered the world outside of his very strict religious sect. What’s hard for me with memoirs like Deen’s is the all-or-nothing conclusion that seems to arise about Judaism. But knowing the way Deen was living Judaism, it’s no surprise to me that it’s hard for anyone who leaves a fold as strict as that to find some middle place– I wouldn’t want anything to do with it either in that circumstance. The memoir was very well written and compelling.

#33. Attachments: A Novel by Rainbow Rowell

Liked it a lot. Read it quickly. I really love epistolary novels and this one used emails with the premise of a third main character as the guy at the office reading the company emails.

#34. Fugitive Colors: A Novel by Lisa Barr

I read this World War II novel about the Nazis’ pursuit of modern artists in three days and felt a sense of suspense from scene to scene. I honestly couldn’t put it down and would have read it in one day if I didn’t have to attend to my family!

#35. Every Day by David Levithan

The premise for this book fascinated me because I loved the show Quantum Leap when I was kid. In this story, a boy (well, not a boy, really more a soul, I guess) wakes up in a different body every day. The way the story plays out is really well done, even if a little strange in some places. I liked it a lot. Very quick read. (young adult)

#36. Safekeeping: A Novel by Jessamyn Hope

This is the first novel I read by the new(ish) publishing house Fig Tree Books. It was excellent and I’m so glad I took the time to savor each chapter. Mostly taking place in Israel in the 90s but with visits to NYC, 1940s Israel, and even Europe in the 1300s, I marveled at the ground the novel covered as well as the numbers of characters we got to know.

#37. The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

NYT Book Review wasn’t so hot, but I really loved following one Jewish family in St. Thomas, where the first synagogue in the New World was built (and in real life my husband’s family, on the maternal side, helped build that synagogue). I wrote a full review at Great New Books.

#38. Mosquitoland by David Arnold

This was an excellent young adult read. I read it in a few days and really loved it. I’m linking to one of my colleague’s reviews at Great New Books. My favorite quote from the novel (pg 67) “And as simple as it sounds, I think understanding who you are–and who are not–is the most important thing of all Important Things.”

#39. The Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld

I really liked it and recommend it for writers at all levels.

#40. Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler

I found this memoir on Catholicism so interesting. I could relate to a lot of it even though I’m coming from a Jewish perspective.

#41. Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

Had to stop at the 50% mark. Started off really great–fresh writing and original concept. But the halt starts at about the 30% mark and never quite picks up again.

#42. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Quick, good read for all writers. You will feel buoyed and validated in Goldberg’s hands.

#43. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Listening to this one now and really enjoying it. I love her voice and everything she has to say.

#44. Another Day by David Levithan

This is sort of a sequel to Levithan’s great YA book, Every Day, but it’s really the same book  from another point of view. I loved Every Day, and I liked the idea of a different POV, but this one was so similar that I felt like I read the same book twice.

#45. How’s Your Faith?: An Unlikely Spiritual Journey by David Gregory

David Gregory is the former host of Meet the Press. I was interested in this book because it was described as a spiritual journey centering on Judaism. While I have no qualms with the actual writing style, voice, memoir qualities, etc., I had a lot of issues with the actual discussion of Judaism, which I found pediatric, lacking in nuance, and overly one-sided through the eyes of Reform Judaism. He often makes claims like “Jews don’t talk about God,” which is certainly not the case with my religious and yes, Jewish, friends, or with me. (I consider myself somewhere in the middle of traditional and “modern.”) I felt claims like that were all over the book. He did speak to a few religious people in ongoing study sessions, including Erica Brown, a scholar and teacher I have long admired. I’m not clear how he could have spent so much time with her yet come away with conclusions like Judaism and other religions aren’t that different from each other and that Jews don’t really have the language to talk about God. I have so much more to say, but I’ll save it for another forum.

#46. Fates and Furies: A Novel by Lauren Groff

Wow! This book was an intense narrative plunge. I felt like I was right there with Groff in the minds of this husband and wife who each get a half of the book so we see the individuals as well as the marriage. It’s a book with unexpected details and situations. Very well written and impressive. I really liked it.

#47. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Loved it. Quick read and full of goodness on every page.

#48. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

I finished the audio of this one in three days because I listened on my iPhone in every spare moment. There’s something about Kaling’s take on life that interests me and makes sense to me. She’s unapologetically Hollywood, but also seemingly normal at the same time.

#49. The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz

Excellent history of the Jewish and Christian sabbath.

#50. The Secret of Chabad by David Eliezrie

Started out great, but got bogged down in too many details later.

#51. Dietland by Sarai Walker

I did the audio and really enjoyed it though do not let this cover fool you. The book is way more serious and unusual than the cover “seems.”

#52. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel by Karen Joy Fowler

Did the audio and found that it wasn’t something I was too eager to chose over my many podcasts waiting on my iPhone. It’s for my book club though so I listened to the end. Did not really like it, I’m sorry to say. It was rave reviews  for many others.

#53. Love and Miss Communication: A Novel by Elyssa Friedland

Friedland’s novel is about a woman in NYC who finds that her addiction to her phone, Facebook, checking her online dating profiIes, etc, are keeping her from what she really wants in life. I really liked it! (I’m adding that chirpy ! because I had sworn off novels set in NYC due to massive overload, but this one made the cut because my friend Jenni insisted I would love it, and she was right.) Like every blogger, I can relate to too much time online. I enjoyed going through this journey (even in a fictional way) of conducting life entirely offline.

#54. Jewish Soul Food: Traditional Fare and What It Means by Carol Ungar

This book is a cookbook, but it’s so much more. It’s a dive back in time to traditional Jewish dishes from around the world, but mostly with a Eastern European flair (at least it seemed so to me). I loved reading about the history of certain dishes and seeing the exact directions for making them.

#55. Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Sweet story and quick read. Loved all the poetry woven throughout.

#56. And Again: A Novel by Jessica Chiarella

And Again is a medical science fiction story in the spirt of Never Let Me Go by Kazoo Ishiguro. Aside from the medical breakthrough at the center of the story of human cloning, the rest of the book feels entirely current and realistic. I ripped through this one in three days because I was so curious to see the premise of old memories in a brand new version of a body play out. I thought it was really well done. I read this one via netgalley.com. And I dd a full review at Great New Books.

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