Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Reading List

We're thrilled that our dear friend Mrs. Darling (mom of Wendy, John and Michael) has provided us with the 2nd annual MommyLand Summer Reading List.  Thank you Mrs. Darling - we adore you!

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In last year’s summer reading list, I stressed that mommies can always shoehorn in some book readin’ in when there’s a brief pause in the summer craziness and be the better for it. I’m not sure if it’s because of the wretchedly hot weather we’ve had recently or the fact that there’s been just one too many kiddie soirees that I am forced to attend and make gluten free brownies for, but I’ve grown impatient with the thought that the brief bits of mommy solitude might be wasted with a book not worth my time.

If I want a book that makes me feel like I live an excitingly rich and fulfilled stay at home mommy life then dammit I want that book right now. If I’ve got to save my sanity by saving my daughter from angst-filled vampires, then I want an antidote stat. This is not by any means a full list - we all have our different mommy needs in terms of book fulfillment- but if you need something to quickly read and get to the literary happy this might be the summer reading list for you.

I Am Mystery Mommy, See Me Multi Task. There are so many times during the summer when I am flush with triumph at the end of the day, thinking that because I am so exhausted I must have been a really productive, proactive, pro everything kind of mama. It’s only after the kids have gone to bed and I’ve sat down with an adult beverage that it begins to dawn on me that my day- one that started at sunrise and only now was allowing me to sit- consisted of getting one load of laundry done, buying goggles that fit for John, taking all the Darlings to the pool and expertly buying a roasted chicken from the local Pollo Rico for dinner. That was my glorious victory.

Mommy needs a mystery, darling.
The only way for me to handily ignore my completely lack of action is to quickly grab a mommy mystery. Most are fictional to the point of fantasy - as when the meek stay at home mom finds her voice and becomes disturbingly handy with a gun all in a few chapters. The tales could even be to the point of annoyance like the one mommy detective who works full time at a newspaper while being primary care giver to her brood while always being the go to gal for cupcake making- all while remaining as cute as a button. But I don’t begrudge these books for their lack of any semblance to a real mother’s life. I revel in the delusion that somewhere out there is a crime waiting for me to solve while my best quirky friend offers to watch my kids for hours on end, my life’s mate offers dinner and foot rubs after a long day of amateur sleuthing and within less time than it takes to get a kid signed up for one measly week of camp I have brought justice to the world.

These books, like the mommies who read them, run the gamut in tone and approach. Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone mysteries (she of the cupcake cutie fame) sticks with the coziest of cozies with titles such as The Christmas Cookie Murder and any others celebrating the holidays. Sara Rosett’s Ellie Avery series chronicles the life of an Air Force wife and professional organizer (with organizational tips at the end of the chapters- very useful although I know in my heart that I will never use them). Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schultz starts of the series as a young single mom struggling to make a go as a caterer. It’s nice to see how she changes with each mystery and even nicer to see the recipes Goldy employs added on the back of the book. In the end, I’d have to say my favorites are Ayelet Waldman’s Mommy Track mysteries that chronicle former public defender Juliet Applebaum. Yes, she has a storied life (she lives in LA with her screenwriter husband and has a fabulous group of friends) but she is also frequently overwhelmed with her kids and struggles with her choices. Besides, how can you not enjoy a book titled A Playdate with Death?

Time to Save A Daughter from the Sparkle: Wendy is not a Twilight fan. That pleased me to no end because I mistakenly thought that this was a result of my fabulous mommying. Let me be the first to say that the Twilight books aren’t really all that bad, and in the right (and older) hands would be suitable fun times. I’m a fan of many series’ that are supposed to be exclusively for the erstwhile young adult or juvenile readers. But when I first realized that the tween target audience was going to follow little Bella’s swooning every time Edward exhibited crazy stalker tendencies, I had to stop myself from flinging the book across the room with a mighty “hell no”. My lovely daughter didn’t need to delve into some tired fantasy of a bad boy take over. My daughter, I simpered self-righteously, was too smart for that.

I was yanked back to parental reality when I stupidly started reading through all of the books Wendy, who had gone to a sleepover, had strewn around her room. What I learned quickly is that, according to the library of all things Scholastic, a troubled n’ hot vampire is a troubled n’ hot werewolf is a troubled n’ hot prince warlock is a troubled n’ hot alien and is also (I kid you not) a really troubled n’ hot Leprechaun. No wonder she never took to Edward- she was too busy following the newer tales of an imperiled teen hooking up with Neptune’s cousin for underwater adventure (ick) to be interested in one bloodsucker in a small town in Washington. A change needed to be made right away or else Wendy would end up as her friend did last Halloween when she wore a team Jacob shirt with bite marks on her eleven year old neck and fairy wings without a trace of irony.

When Wendy got home the next day I quickly presented her with two relatively new books. The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley two young tween orphans join their estranged Granny Grimm to become fairy tale detectives is a great intro to strong girls that I hope will eventually be a gateway to Katniss Everdeen. These two girls face evil every day while depending on themselves and their family to make good choices. There’s enough scares and gore to make even the most jaded of readers jump and, yeah, there’s a little romance between the oldest sister and the trickster fairy prince Puck to keep the teams happy. The next, Jane Jones, Worst. Vampire. Ever. by Caissie St. Onge tells the story of a geeky, blood intolerant teen vampire (Jane) who would like nothing better than to become mortal again. She even snarks about sparkly vampires. Both of these books are fun to read, have strong and interesting female characters who delve in all things supernatural. Most importantly they don’t make a mother weep for their daughter’s dating future.

[Editor's Note: Some of us also like to read YA.  And we maybe don't have any YA's in the house. Don't judge. - K & L]

I’m Feeling Cranky and Want to Get Myself in a Literary Snit. It’s late summer and everyone’s tired of the pool, of life, and each other. I watch the Darling children sinking in the mire of apathy and disdain for everything around them and I realize that I am totally down for that. I too would like to get quickly get my grouch on so that I might get it out of my system before bath time.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein and My Father’s Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family and Togetherness by Gwyneth Paltrow are three books that should help you speedily rise to whatever level of irritation you’re hoping to get- but not for the reasons you might think.

I was all set to hate each and every one of these books. Your kids have to get a straight A average while you critique their hand made birthday cards? BOO. Mass media is forcing our daughters into a pink nightmare of a feminine stereotype? I’M WITH YOU SISTER, HISSS! Gwyneth Paltrow knows how to cook easy recipes for a family? HAH.

This is Gwyneth's book, right?
I suppose you know where this is going. All of these books have had their own hype attached to them, but if you actually give them a gander you see why someone might have wanted to read them in the first place. The Cinderella book looks at both sides of the debate over the over princess-ing of our daughters. Any easily cheap shots- like the chapter interviewing the parents from the Toddlers and Tiaras series- are sidestepped by even-handed reporting. Amy Chua is a harder sell, but her book did get me thinking. How many times do parents see their kids do a half (forgive me Darling children) assed version of a project and meet them with a ‘you can do better than that’? How many times does a parent alone know that their child can rise above the expectations of a teacher or coach with the right push? Who gives us the right expectations? After all, who would have thought that Gwyneth Paltrow would have a cookbook hawking a recipe for ‘cheesy stuffed burgers’, and the sage advice that the richness of a bread pudding could be cut by having a nice mimosa?

Why would this all make me angry? Because I never said I wanted to be reasonable and adult. I never wanted books that made me think. I wanted to pick a side and fight. But now, thanks to these lovely and misunderstood books (cue violins) I find myself on the brink of wanting to hang out with Gwyneth- if only for a half hour so she can make me dinner. And that puts me into a fit of towering rage.

Get Your Fancy Book Reading Done Now- With Ghosts! Last year I wrote about what I still believe to be the finest way to get through a book-every-other-woman-says-she-loves-but-has-probably-not-finished (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen) by reading both the original and the delightfully inspired Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at the same time. This time the narrative rules are a little looser but I still advise you to wrap both of these books together with a scrunchy or bungee cord (you have kids- you must have one of these in your house) for easy reference.

Henry James’ Turn of the Screw may be seen as a classic ghost story, or a psychological study of a doting Governess gone mad, or an examination of the injury that morally corrupt adults can have on young children. Millions of graduate thesis have been written about this book but all anyone knows for sure is (um, spoiler alert!) it doesn’t end happily. It would be easy to dismiss Jennifer Crusie’s Maybe this Time as the shiny happy version of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. Having read both at the same time, I have to say that Crusie’s version is the perfect companion piece to the James’ original 1898 story. A story that, although a brilliant addition to the canon of gothic literature yadda yadda, can sink you into the deepest funk this side of post-partum. Plus, the modern day ‘governess’ get to face down the ghosts, save the kids, and get a little romantic entanglement of her own- always a bonus for beach reading.

I Need a Trip to Bon Temps Like, Yesterday. Death’s Excellent Vacation edited by Charlaine Harris (yes that Charlaine Harris) is an anthology of supernatural summer vacation stories. There’s one with Sookie and Eric and...What? You can’t judge summer reading.

Please send in your own suggestions. Last years' were fabulous (Outlander! How had I not heard of this?) And I need some new stuff for the warm summer months.

Happy Reading?

xo, Mrs. Darling

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011

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