Archive for the ‘Reading level: Grown up’ Category

Book review: The Monkey Bible

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

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Author:Mark Laxer
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:science fiction
Year of publication:2010

I am frankly very disappointed in this book. It had so much potential, and I really enjoyed the first maybe two-thirds of it. Up to that point, Laxer posed questions that I personally thought were fascinating: What is the relationship between humans and the "non-human" world? Do we have any right to separate them at all [I don't think we do]? What does religion mean? How does the mental process of religion relate to the physical world? I was also impressed that there were no direct answers to these questions, because the answers are different for any individual... And Laxer effectively communicated that flexibility with a mix of narrators who all found different answers for themselves.

BUT. After a couple of hundred pages, the answers started being drilled into me, which I didn't appreciate, because all of a sudden the open-ness I had felt disappeared. I was also unhappy that the story took a lot of turns towards the impractical, so that by the end I didn't believe in the world presented to me anymore. All in all, The Monkey Bible represents a great idea, started off very well, but ended all-too-mush-ily for me.


I forgot to mention the "Companion Music CD" included with the book. I haven't been able to force myself to actually listen to it, because the lyrics are written out of the back of the book, and my reaction to them perfectly matches my feeling that they tried too hard: to "get a message across," to be super new-agey, to "enlighten" the audience in a way I didn't want to be enlightened. I think the book would have been able to speak for itself.

-- Fizzy

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Musical Review: Rent

Friday, August 20th, 2010

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Some musicals strike us as perfect, or at least nearly perfect. We’ve seen Into the Woods nearly fifty times and would be willing to watch it weekly or more if we could afford to. The book is interesting to us, most of the lyrics are clearly intentional and speak to us, the music is complex and beautiful. Sure there are songs that we think could go, or be improved, but still.

Rent seems terrifically unfinished to us. My teenage daughter who did not experience the 1980’s when AIDS first began to wreak havoc with so many lives and who had never heard the acronym AZT was utterly confused by the initial half hour. (We paused the DVD to explain what was happening and why.)

We admired Rent as an impassioned, furious, context-free snapshot of that awful time. The performers on the DVD are gorgeous, with voices to match. But the music and lyrics don’t rise to the cause they represent. The perfect song that Roger runs away to Santa Fe to write is not.

Wonder if perhaps, if the creator, Jonathan Larson, had lived to see the show on Broadway, he would have refined it further.

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Book review: Water for Elephants

Monday, May 10th, 2010

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Author:Sara Gruen
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2007

Fizzy says:

Great book. REALLY cool. It follows the story of one man for one summer, as he runs away to the circus. Accidentally.

Gruen definitely did her research, and gets deep into the gritty life of traveling circuses around the 1930's. The hierarchy that separated bosses, performers, and workers is very clear, and Jacob, the narrator, doesn't fit into any of those categories, which leads to an interesting and fast paced novel.

I read it in about a day and a half. SUPER good. Recommend it to anyone.

Emily says:

Beautiful and deep, but interspersed with the fascinating circus lore is unspeakable cruelty, human to human, and especially, human to animal. Balanced, sometimes, by unbelievable grace.

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Book review: The Children’s Book

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

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Author:A.S. Byatt
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2009

There are so many intertwining, involving stories in The Children's Book that it was sometimes hard to slow down and remember that great novels are not entirely about what they are about.

Set in the time leading up to World War I and before women's sufferage, the plot tells of a group of families and their associates and friends. There is a destitute young boy who is nurtured to become the artist he deserves to be. There are the young women who, lacking the vote and receiving conflicting messages about how to behave socially and politically, pay terrible prices. The subplots about how various characters resolve their needs to express themselves politically, even when expressing their opinions may adversely affect those they love should be required reading for anyone thinking of a career in politics.


This is not an easy book to read, but it is also not an easy book to put down.

It's as if Byatt is leading us through a magical party. She continually blows up the most beautiful balloons and then, once you've become entranced by one, she wanders back to burst it.

-- Emily

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Children's Book, The

Book review: The Mystery of Breathing

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

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Author:Perri Klass
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:Fiction
Year of publication:2004

Repulsive. Read The Mercy Rule instead.

-- Emily

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Mystery of Breathing, The

Book review: The Jewel Box

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

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Author:Anna Davis
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2009

Wars have consequences, even when they don't impact those at home directly.

Not that horrors bear comparison, but the shock to the folks at home when, eventually they heard of the carnage of World War I seems to me as if it should have been mind-altering. Hard to believe they went right back to killing each other even more horribly in World War II.

The Jewel Box
describes one woman's response to the events that affected her personally during the Great War -- she adopts the persona of a flapper.

I admire Anna Davis' ability to show that the faces women show to the world, and also the faces of men, often do not actually reflect their true experience, their sufferings. Maybe if they did, there would be much less slaughter.

Chic lit alert!

Every time my 14 yr. old saw this book lying around, she took the opportunity to make fun of me about it again. Yes, well, maybe it IS chic lit, and the cover is -- garish is probably not too strong a word -- but I found it much deeper than most. This is a story that gives rise to much thought, if not much hope, although it is not in and of itself unremittingly depressing.

-- Emily Berk

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Jewel Box, The

Book review: Hello Goodbye

Friday, October 9th, 2009

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Author:Emily Chenoweth
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2009

Not that confronting human mortality can ever be easy. But coming to realize that your mother is mortally ill must be particularly difficult for a young person old enough to understand what death is, but not yet independent.

Chenoweth's heroine, still a college student, has known but refused to know consciously that her mother's brain cancer is terminal. In a story that could have been maudlin, Chenoweth lays out a "good" way for this young person to surface the bad news: in the company of her parents' good friends, with some younger people to interact with.


This is not a cheerful book, but it is lovely and gentle. The dying woman is not presented as a saint, but as someone who has earned her (up until now) comfortable life, and is striving to ensure that those who survive her flourish while she enjoys as much of them time she has left as she can.

In fact, nearly all the characters reveal themselves as flawed but mostly well-intentioned. I am glad I got to know them.


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Book review: The Mercy Rule

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

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Author:Perri Klass
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:Fiction, parenting
Year of publication:2009

The Mercy Rule is a rule instituted in some amateur sports leagues that requires that if one team is so far ahead in points as to be uncatchable by the opposing team, the game is ended earlier than it otherwise might.

In this extremely gentle, wise, moving story, Lucy, a physician who is also a mother and a graduate of the foster care system, unconsciously applies this rule to her family and work life.


Just about every character in the story, no matter how poorly they behave, has a sweetness and realness. For example, Lucy's pre-teenage daughter is mostly embarrassed by her mother and especially by her probably autistic-spectrum brother. And yet, she Does the Right Thing by them when crunches come. It's also the Right Thing in that it's probably not the thing that the mom would think of having Isabel do.

Anyway, if you are having one of those existential weeks, one of those where you know that you are actually a very lucky person, but you are feeling ungrateful and unhappy nevertheless, reading this book might cheer you up a bit. It did that for me.

-- Emily

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Mercy Rule, The

Book review: Eat, Drink, and Be From Mississippi

Monday, September 14th, 2009

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Author:Nanci Kincaid
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:Fiction
Year of publication:2009

Sweet story having to do with making lots of money, holding friends, family, and even former spouses close, and continuing to be able to trust both strangers and those you love while spending freely.

Perhaps coming from a small town in Mississippi helps with that?


The story mostly takes place in the Bay Area of San Francisco, there's lots of Bay Area geography to parse.

Not at all deep, but I found it relaxing to read.

After all, how often do you read a story in which, after the warning music pulses and the protagonists steel themselves for a confrontation with danger, everyone (including the scary lurker) jumps in a metaphorical hot tub (actually, they go fishing) and has a heart-to-heart?

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Book review: Poison: A Novel

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

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Author:Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Reading Level (Conceptual):For grown-ups
Reading Level (Vocabulary):For grown-ups
Genre:fiction
Year of publication:2007

Grown-up fairy tale about how the grown children and former lovers of a philandering novelist unite to defeat his widow, the children's evil stepmother, and secure his money and his legacy.

I guess that the point of the book, which is truly unpleasant to read, is that even folks who are not gifted can destroy lives, unless they are stopped. And that stopping them can take time and strategizing, even for gifted and deserving and creative people.

Or maybe, the book makes another point, which is that tremendously gifted people can so desperately hurt their less gifted spouses that they are driven to terrible evil.

-- Emily Berk

If you found this review helpful and/or interesting, consider supporting our book habit: Buy this book!: Poison: A Novel