Review: Nine Perfect Strangers

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A very unexpected book! I picked this one up because it was available at the library and I was generally aware it had gotten some attention. The beginning had me thinking it was good but pretty far outside my normal reads; not in a bad way, just a leisurely meander of a character study. But the second half pulled the rug right out from under me!

The first half is a great character study. Every perspective feels different, and allows us to see the character’s inner thoughts and motivations as they participate in the health resort. Teasing out their reasons for attending was interesting without being laborious, like a slow walk on a cool day. It was a nice change of pace.

Then things got crazy…

I’m glad I picked this one up. It’s good to get to know a perfect stranger, sometimes.



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Review: Turtles All The Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A magnificently well done look out of the eyes of someone with mental health concerns. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked up this book—I grabbed it based on vaguely knowing John Green was a YA author and because there was an underlying murder mystery. But I’m so glad I did. The teen-girl parts and the mystery were both interesting, but this book shines in its treatment of mental health. Everyone should read it, to see how to empathize with others, to try to understand.



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Review: Happiest Baby on the Block

The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was one of the few books my hospital recommended. I read it before the baby arrived (and I’m glad I did). It provides practical solutions to at least one early parenting trial: how to calm a crying baby when you have no idea what to do.

I’m not sure I love the tone of the book, which can be a smidge patronizing, but that is forgiveable for the incredible usefulness of the practical tips. I think there’s also some “noble savage” assumptions at the root of this concept, but the tips are based on real situations and examples.

In practice, I can say the “5 S’s” do really work! It’s great to have an approach to help soothe a very young baby who can’t express his needs. Plus it reduces my stress to have something to DO when baby is so very upset.



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Review: Princeps’ Fury

Princeps’ Fury by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I thought I had read this book a long time ago; turns out I was definitely mistaken, or at least I’d forgotten how great it was! This book really deepened the Codex Alera lore and did a great job “zooming out” on the rest of the world outside of Alera. It’s got military tactics, sea voyages, and cleverness aplenty. I highly enjoyed it!



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Review: The Testaments

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I picked up my copy of the book at a Margaret Atwood live event, during which she talked euphemistically about the book and why she wrote it and about her opinions on the world as a whole today. That undoubtedly colored my perspective as I read this book: I had heard Atwood’s motives and insights from her own lips, how could I be a fresh reader now?!

Of course, I loved seeing Atwood speak. She is charming, and effortlessly brilliant, and cute as a button. Her talk also convinced me that she really had written The Testaments because she wanted to, not because some TV exec had twisted her arm as I had feared.

I was not the kind of fan who desperately wanted a sequel to Handmaid’s Tale; I think the story stands up exceedingly well on its own. But will I welcome more writings by Atwood, now that her work has captured public attention? Obviously!

The Testaments is a different story; start with that. It is set some years after Handmaid’s Tale, when Gilead is firmly established and hardening in its ways, showing cracks. Handmaids are barely in the story at all, kept to the fringes of polite society. We follow three characters, including former villain Aunt Lydia. The other two offer contrasting looks at youthful views on Gilead, from both within and outside, which is an interesting comparison.

Testaments fleshes our Gilead—perhaps too much. I’m disappointed in that I anticipated all the twists and big reveals. But the book is still captivating and gives me much to think about. Atwood’s writing is inherently poetic and enthralling. And you have to wonder: facing serious hardship, is there a chance YOU would be an Aunt Lydia? Or are you meek and accepting? Or just a loudmouth teenager who has never faced real adversity?



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Things the U.S. Could Do To Make Pregnancy More Appealing

I’m in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment — again — so I finally have a second to get out my thoughts on pregnancy. Specifically, how hard it is under our current system in the U.S.

So, here are things we could work toward, besides abortion, that would maybe help more pregnant people decide it was worth it to keep a baby.

Necessary Improvements

  • Expand FMLA coverage to cover everyone, regardless of how many employees are at the company or how long the person has been employed there.
    • FMLA only hold’s someone’s job for three months, IF they work for a company with more than 50 people and if the person in question has worked there more than a year. So a lot of people fall through the cracks.
  • Make work accommodations for pregnancy mandatory.
    • An employer should have to make a reasonable accommodation for pregnant people to keep working while avoiding either hazards or challenging situations. Ex. I do not know how anyone in food services makes food of any kind in the first trimester.
  • Change work culture so it is acceptable to discuss pregnancy with a boss or HR beginning at the first trimester. Accommodations should start then.
    • The first trimester is no joke. Fatigue making you fall asleep in your desk, constant nausea. Some people have to be hospitalized or miss work. Add to that the social pressure to keep quiet about it? That’s a real struggle.
  • Encourage physicians to offer off-hours prenatal appointments and/or require that these appointments are automatically considered “excused” time off work.
    • I had no idea prenatal doctors’ appointments were both so frequent (1x a month for six months, then 2x, then weekly) and so ridiculously impossible to schedule around regular work hours. At least at my doctor, I don’t get a choice for a time of day that won’t interrupt my workday. They say show up, and I just have to do it. My work is accommodating, but not everyone’s is, and I still have to get my work done, despite having to be out so often.
  • Make insurance coverage for pregnancy mandatory.
    • This really shouldn’t have to be said, but of course it does. Pregnancies aren’t always planned, and they are challenging in many unforeseeable ways. It should be covered by every insurance, especially if you want a culture that supports people having kids.
  • Mandatory maternity leave of six weeks, minimum.
    • Ideally this would be handled with some kind of federal funding or disability insurance, but no one should have to go back to work while their body is completely wrecked, they are sleep-deprived, and leaking. Some kind of payment to help people continue to get fed and housed during this traumatic time would go a long way.
  • Distribute baby boxes to encourage safe sleep and provide supplies to new parents.
    • Other countries do this; it’s a small box with a firm mattress, and frequently comes with a few small baby items and personal care items for mom. The box is used as a safe space for newborns to sleep in proximity to the caretakers, and the supplies guarantee that every new parent has the fundamental supplies they need for baby’s first weeks.
  • Strengthen existing support systems to ensure pregnant people are able to be housed and have access to care.
    • No one should be homeless and pregnant.
  • Support for breastfeeding.
    • Obamacare mandated that every employer have a secure place for pumping, which is a start, but breastfeeding is hard no matter what. People need support and realistic expectations at work if you want people to continue to do it.

Would Be Great To Have

  • Parental leave for both parents.
    • Fathers and partners are every bit as important to newborns as moms. Moms need help. And the “pregnancy risk” employers take by hiring young women would be nullified if everyone had the option for leave.
  • Paid leave.
    • Having your job held is a start, but a pretty weak one. If we were serious about supporting parents, we’d copy other countries and provide some kind of income support. For everyone.
  • Provide qualified childcare.
    • I had no idea I needed to start thinking about childcare, and how to pay for it, and its availability, while I was still in the first trimester. It can cost more than college tuition. If you want people to have kids, you need to find ways for them to be able to afford them and protect them while the parents work.
  • Provide pregnancy leave before the baby arrives.
    • Maybe it is just my insurance, but the time I am in the hospital laboring/in surgery does not count toward my maternity leave. It’s considered regular time off, as if I just didn’t feel like going to work instead of am literally in the hospital. How is that ok? Add in all the days someone may be really struggling with a pregnancy side effect, and you could have many days of missed work — which counts against the number of days that person now has available for leave. This system is broken.
  • Make prenatal care and labor and delivery costs actually affordable.
    • We need to overhaul our healthcare system in general, but all these prenatal appointments and tests (so many tests!), plus the cost of actually having a baby — it is astronomical, even with someone who is prepared and has “good” insurance. If you want people to keep their unplanned pregnancies, you’ve got to bring these costs down.
  • Provide additional/flexible food stamp/EBT options for pregnant people.
    • The first few months, I could basically just eat crackers, fruit, and cereal. After that, I got incredibly hungry, just all the time, but still somewhat picky about what sounded actually edible. If I had limits on what I could buy because I were on EBT, I would have been hungry a lot. I support people not being hungry.
  • Provide a small clothing stipend for lower-income people.
    • This is a true nice-to-have, but any illusions I had about continuing to keep wearing my regular clothes were gone by the third month. I have a small maternity wardrobe because I am loathe to spend on clothes for a few months… but I have had to buy all new clothes, from undergarments up. It’s not just a matter of being unfashionable (I still am!), but literally not being able to put clothes on my body. If I had to choose between pants I could sit down in and eating, I don’t know what I would have done.
  • Offer free or low-cost family classes.
    • Some places offer this, but it should be standard. Babies don’t come with instructions, and neither does pregnancy. My doctor is great, but I see her for maybe 10 minutes. The public needs resources to be able to support pregnancy and new parenthood.
  • Encourage vaccinations.
    • A newborn is basically restricted to the home for about three months until they can receive fundamental vaccinations and get protected from truly deadly maladies. The general population needs to step up and protect these vulnerable folks — which will also help the parents with childcare and mental health, because they will be able to get out more.
  • Offer maternity support home visits.
    • Perhaps it’s just that I’ve watched a ton of Call the Midwife, but I am incredibly jealous of that system. A nurse visits pregnant and new moms several times throughout the pregnancy, providing not just healthcare support, but also emotional check-ins and general social needs (is the home environment safe? Are there other programs the expecting family may benefit from? Etc.) The availability of a supportive environment is one of the strongest factors in reducing medical interventions in labor and in reducing the risk for post-partum depression. It absolutely seems worth it.

If supporting families and encouraging people to have children is a social goal of the country, implementing any of these changes would have a positive effect — and possibly the side-effect of reducing abortions (which banning doesn’t actually do — women just find a different, not always safe, way).

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Review: Sword and Pen

Sword and Pen by Rachel Caine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


An end of all things. The culmination of the attacks on The Great Library of Alexandria—drama all around.
The stakes are high, and the group of former students is in the middle of it. The stakes were a little too high for me. Maybe I’m just in the wrong state of mind for this book, but it was overwrought and I kept wondering where the adults were. Maybe that’s the curse of YA, or maybe it is just me.



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Review: Damn Fine Story

Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful NarrativeDamn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t able to attend the DFW Con writing convention this year, where Chuck was the keynote speaker, but I did get to read this book, so I still feel like I got to have a good long conversation with him.

The book is both light-hearted and zippy and meaty and something you’ll ponder. It took me a long time to get through because I kept ruminating. Which is the point! Thank god this was a different kind of writing book! There is no torture over adverbs or controversially short memory devices; Chuck leaves all that to King and the plethora of his imitators. Instead, this book is about the overall shape of a story. That’s a mushy, hard-to-define topic, which Chuck handles with movie story examples, quick jokes, and great illustrative metaphors.

You’ll have something to think about, and you’ll damn well like it, young man!

(Seriously though, I just want to watch TV with Chuck. He has excellent nerd taste.)

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Review: Camino Island

Camino IslandCamino Island by John Grisham
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Sorry, Mr. Grisham, life is too short for me to keep reading this one. I got two chapters in and nothing grabbed me, and the bookish theft plus independently wealthy indie book store owner who is kinda an asshole already deterred me from continuing. Maybe it picks up? But I’m not willing to stick it out.

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Review: A Hat Full of Sky

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32; Tiffany Aching, #2)A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a warm, cheery hug. Tiffany Aching is ready to start to learn to use magic and become a Real Witch, but it means leaving home for the first time and staying with a rather odd witch named Miss Level, who is frustratingly not very witchy at all! Tiffany is a bit homesick and irritated that magic seems to be mostly helping ungrateful villagers and not a lot of swishing magic wands about. But danger has followed Tiffany, and, with the help of the Feegles (see: Wee Free Men) and a few other witches, she learns how to tap the true power of a witch.

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