Today’s batch of book reviews is a true variety platter, featuring literary fiction, a thriller, poetry, romantic comedy, and a parenting book. Let’s get right to the reviews!
An Anonymous Girl, by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen: Jessica Farris is a struggling makeup artist whose eagerness to earn some extra money leads her to participate in an anonymous psychology study. Answering a few ethical questions is easy enough, but soon the questions and assignments presented by the mysterious Dr. Shields grow more intense. Jess is initially drawn to the glamorous doctor, but as their relationship intensifies, she begins to question Dr. Shields’ tactics and even whether or not she can be trusted.
This is a fast-paced thriller that immediately grabbed my attention and held it until the very last page. I loved the back-and-forth narration by Jess and Dr. Shields—neither of whom are entirely reliable. The ethical questions presented within the study and throughout the story are intriguing and led me to think about the characters and their motives more deeply than I normally would in a thriller. And having spent quite a bit of time on therapists’ couches over the years, I found the patient/client dynamic fascinating. There’s quite a bit of implausibility in the storyline and perhaps one too many plot twists, but the novel certainly kept me entertained.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
Dream Work, by Mary Oliver: Poetry isn’t a genre I typically reach for, but with the world feeling so loud and heavy lately, I was craving a slower pace in my reading life. This collection provided the respite my soul was craving. The poems cover a breadth of topics: many are lovely observations of the natural world, while others delve into relationships, emotional expression, and the value and purpose of human life. A theme of dreams runs through a number of the poems, and while each poem stands on its own, they sit together wonderfully in the collection.
Oliver’s visceral poems unite vivid imagery with raw emotion. Though some spoke to me more than others, each one sparked reflection and admiration. Oliver’s observations are grace-filled but also grounded in truth. I was amazed at her precision with language, allowing her to convey a great deal within a confined space. I will definitely be reading more from her in the future.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child, by Daniel A. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson: According to neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel and parent expert Tina Payne Bryson, kids who possess a Yes Brain are flexible, curious, resilient, receptive to new experiences, and willing to make mistakes. Having a Yes Brain opens kids to the world and relationships and helps them relate to others and understand themselves. A Yes Brain leads to success because it prioritizes the child’s inner world and seeks ways to challenge the child’s whole brain and reach its full potential. This is in contrast to the “No Brain” which is reactive, fearful, rigid, and preoccupied with external success and people pleasing.
In this book, Siegel and Bryson teach parents the four fundamentals of cultivating a Yes Brain: balance, resilience, insight, and empathy. They provide detailed descriptions of these four fundamentals, offer tools for strengthening them, and describe their impact and importance in the growth of a child.
If you’ve read a parenting book written in the past decade, you will be familiar with many of these concepts, but I still found it helpful to revisit these principles and strategies. I appreciated the coherent description of the Yes Brain and explanations for why this is something we should be cultivating in our children and ourselves. The authors rely on their brain science backgrounds and communication skills to provide a helpful balance of scientific explantations and actionable tips.
I love parenting books that move beyond short-sighted fixes to focus on the long-term health and wholistic well-being of the child. The Yes Brain was a great reminder of the type of parenting I want to employ and why this values-based approach is so crucial.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, by Josie Silver: Lydia and Freddie have been together since high school and can’t imagine life without each other in it. But their love story comes to a tragic halt when Freddie is killed in a car accident on Lydia’s twenty-eighth birthday. With the help of her sister, mother, and Freddie’s best friend Jonah, Lydia attempts to move on with her life. That is, until she discovers a way to visit an alternate universe in which the car accident never happened and Freddie is still alive. Lydia finds herself in emotional limbo, longing to stay with Freddie in this parallel life but also needing to move on in the “real world.”
If you’ve read my book reviews for a while, you know that I am not the biggest fan of traditional romance novels, so I appreciated that this was more than a straightforward or predictable love story. The book does explore several variations of romantic themes, but it is also a thoughtful and heartfelt study of loss and grief. The first third of the book moved slowly for me, with the back-and-forth between Lydia’s wakeful and sleeping lives growing tedious at times. However, my interest peaked as Lydia’s two lives unfolded and diverged. There are some tearjerker scenes as well as some beautifully heartwarming ones, and I was impressed with Silver’s ability to make a novel surrounding such an unlikely premise feel so realistic.
Most reviewers seem to like this book much less than Silver’s first novel, but I enjoyed it quite a bit more. It reminded me of both The Bookseller and The Two Lila Bennetts—two other books featuring parallel universes (this seems to be a popular premise, and one that I happen to like)—and also of In Five Years, which I reviewed last week. Heads up for audiobook readers: the author interview at the end of the audiobook greatly enhanced my appreciation for the book!
My Rating: 3.5 Stars. (Rounded up to 4 Stars on Goodreads.)
All Adults Here, by Emma Straub: When Astrid witnesses a bus accident that takes the life of another sixty-something woman in her town, she is shaken from her quiet, complacent life as a widowed mother to three adult children. Astrid reflects back on the type of wife, mother, and grandmother she has been, questioning many of her decisions and pondering their implications. Meanwhile, her children are making difficult parenting decisions of their own. Her oldest son recently sent his preteen daughter to live with Astrid after a bullying incident forced her to leave her NYC school; her youngest son is drifting through life and overwhelmed by his preschool-aged twin sons; and her daughter is navigating old/new love while intentionally embarking on single motherhood.
There is a lot going on in this book: multiple characters, several distinct storylines, and lots of hot button issues are crowding for space. It’s messy, as are the members of this family. But while the stories aren’t exactly cohesive, and a number of the subjects are a little heavy-handed and aren’t themes I generally love reading about (homosexuality and a transgender child are key plot lines), I found this to be an engaging and incredibly well-written read. At its core, this is a book about what it means to be a parent, a child, and a human. Straub’s characters wrestle with familiar and relatable ideas and emotions, and her insights into humanity are poignant and thought-provoking. I enjoyed reading about a family who has made mistakes and doesn’t have it all figured out, but is still willing to pursue love and compassion.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
My next Quick Lit post is coming to you next Wednesday. What have YOU been reading lately?