A Hodge Podge of Book Reviews Part 2

How to Raise a Good Kid by Starbuck O’Dwyer

3/5 stars

Despite how the title sounds, How to Raise a Good Kid  is not actually an instruction manual and is instead a series of essays about the author’s childhood. While I could relate to many of the stories, and some of them were quite humorous, overall I didn’t find this collection to be successful.

Admittedly I would not have read this book if I hadn’t received a review copy from the author, but I think most people who would be tempted by this book would be hoping for something that A) they could relate to and B) described certain aspects of their childhood better than they could. I think people want to read these essays and then think,”Yes, that, exactly, that is exactly what that time in my life / place / experience was like. I wish I could have explained it that way,” or “I’ve never heard it put that way.”

Instead, the book felt to me like an average person describing their mostly average life. I’m sure the stories would be very interesting to his family and friends, but as an outsider they read more like a well-written blog than a collection worthy of publication.

The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

5/5 stars

It’s rare that short stories resonate with me. Even when I like the characters, writing, pacing, etc., I typically just feel like a good friend stopped by for a minute when they should have stayed the night. I want more! There are a few notable exceptions though, and this collection is an example.

I loved this book for the same reasons I loved Runaway. The characters were engaging, the stories felt complete, and the pacing was impeccable. While other short story writers too frequently give me a glimpse of a person I’d like to know more of, Ms. Munro’s stories all feel to me that they’re exactly as long as they should be. I read this months ago and unfortunately I can’t remember a specific story that stood out, but I am left with a very concrete feeling that this collection was successful for me and has further cemented Ms. Munro as one of my favorite short story writers.

Caring is Creepy by David Zimmerman

4/5 stars

This is the (creepy) story of a 15-year-old girl, her mother, and her mother’s worthless boyfriend. I’m not usually one for ‘suspense,’ but I was asked by the publisher to review this book and I agreed. Holy wow, it really was good.

I was expecting it to be formulaic and have a lot of SUSPENSE! and SURPRISE! and to just beat me over the head with the THRILLER! that it was. Instead it was subtle, genuinely surprising, and downright creepy.

I’m usually pretty good at guessing things and knowing what’s about to happen, but Mr. Zimmerman managed to fake me out several times. This is not the type of book I’d typically pick up on my own, but I am grateful that the publisher approached me because it did end up being fantastic.

1984 by George Orwell

2/5 stars

Yes, I made it 32 years of my life without having read 1984, and even more upsetting to my literary nerd friends – I did not particularly enjoy it.

My negative feelings about this book are due to my own prejudices rather than anything Orwell did wrong. I tried to suspend my distaste for science fiction, as I’ve successfully done while reading Vonnegut, but no dice.

I get annoyed with people responding to current political issues with, “IT’S JUST LIKE 1984. DOUBLETHINK!!” and I tried not to take that eye-roll inducing feeling out on this book, but I don’t think I was successful.

The entire time I was reading it I just kept wishing for it to be over. I didn’t like or care about the characters. I kept giving them ‘friendly’ advice, like, hey, stop making terrible life choices. But for some reason they weren’t listening to me.

Monday Mornings by Sanjay Gupta

3/5 stars

Really my review of this book could be summed up in one word: fine. The story is that of several neurosurgeons who work at the same hospital. They’ve all got their own professional and personal demons to deal with, and certainly the book is not short on drama.

Readers who love a good medical mystery will probably like this book. There’s quite a lot of medical terminology, but I think Mr. Gupta did a good job not talking down to the reader while also explaining what things were in an easy to understand way.

Individually the story lines were as interesting as any prime time drama, but the whole thing felt a little cold to me. While there were plenty of descriptions of feelings and scenarios that should have choked me up, this very much felt like it was written by a doctor focusing on the details and forgetting to add the heart.

Also, per FCC guidelines I hereby inform you that this is yet another book I received from the publisher at no cost.

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