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!


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


  1. Oh, two series that army absolute faves are The Uglies series and Midnighters series, both by Scott Westerfeld. I just love all of his Young Adult books!

    Also, try Unwind by Neal Shusterman. (I tend to love futuristic books that tell of the world gone crazy, hehe!)

    And lastly, a really good rip-off of a classic would be The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It's a parody on The Jungle Book, but set in a graveyard, where the boy is raised by ghosts!

  2. Ok so does reading US Weekly count as summer reading?? How 'bout your blog?? I am SO WITH YOU on the topic of YA fiction -- I just did a post about it a couple weeks back!
    Did you see the movie "Never Let Me Go" with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan? (It was awesome.) The BOOK is even more awesome! You should totally check it out. Right now I'm reading "The Cookbook Collector" -- I'm about halfway thru, it's not knocking me out of my boots but its got a pretty jacket cover (I'm so shallow) so I'm willing to stick with it. Happy Summer Reading! ~Melissa

  3. Betsy the Vampire Queen series by MaryJanice Davidson are fun, well written, book candy that make mommy time pass quickly. I read the whole series (10 books) just after I had my second child. Manditory mommy tea breaks - you can read enough of this book in 5 minutes to make it worth the time. Enjoy!

  4. Just a suggestion for really cool YA books that feature awesome female protagonists- Tamora Pierce's books. They might also get the tweens out of the Twilight rut.

  5. Mirror Mirror and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire (author of Wicked) are both good reads. They are the adult versions of Snow White and Cinderella...check them out. Also have to mention anything by Christopher Moore-funny, quirky stuff!

  6. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Trust me, even though you have no reason to. Plane full of teen beauty contestants crash lands on deserted island. Think Lost meets James Bond meets Hunger Games. TRULY AWESOME.

  7. I'm in love with "The Gargoyle" by Andrew Davidson, and of course the Hunger Game series, [although I read that before it became cool!].

    "The Myst Reader" by Robyn Miller is actually three books together, its epic, but the tale is wonderful in detail. [and is also based on or spawned the game...I don't know which.]

    I just finished "God's War" by Kameron Hurley, which was so great....I seem to be into these post-apocalyptic reads lately, probably because they remind me of my house after my husband gets home and "plays" [aka makes a mess] with my son.

    I too love a good YA book or series....and sometimes it's nice to just veg out on them and pretend I had a life once!

  8. Kim Harrison's The Hollow Series. Not YA, but it's fast paced, witty dialogue and a kick ass, flawed female lead.

  9. I was introduced to YA fiction by my then-tween daughter, and haven't looked back since. LOVED the Hunger Games trilogy! And if any of you moms hasn't read the Shopaholic series, you really must -- she'll make you laugh milk out your nose. Ah, I do love summer (reading)!

  10. I started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series which has ruined my summer for new books - and also my ability to look at my neighbor's house, see their curtains drawn, and NOT imagine them being held hostage in their basement and/or having sex with everyone around.

    But still, good times.

  11. I hope I don't sound like a jerk, but why is it such a trend for women to read Young Adult books? I see some of my fb friends talking about them and I want to ask, but I don't want people to think i'm judging. I'm not, i'm just curious.

  12. I just read the first Grimm Sisters book last week. Michael Buckley also has another fun series, Nerds, about nerdy kid secret agents. Hilarious!

    But my next read is The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This is how she describes the book:
    THE HAPPINESS PROJECT is the memoir of the year I spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

    Who couldn't stand to be a little bit happier?

  13. Try anything by Karen Marie Moning, her Fever Series is AHhhhmazing! You must read all 5 (I think) books, trust me you will love them!

  14. I just finished "The Help" by Katheryn Stockett. I saw the movie trailer for this & it looked good, but I have a rule that if the book becomes a movie, I need to read the book. The book was amazing and a very easy read. Now I just have to countdown for the movie in August!

    Also, any Janet Evanovich books - her newest one "Smokin' Seventeen" just came out earlier this week.

  15. Thanks for "The Grimm Sisters" suggestion - they look perfect for both my near-tween daughter & myself! She inherited my thing for mysteries.

  16. "The Hunger Games" series by Suzanne, just wow...also "The Girls" by Lois Lansens.

  17. I second Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. Her Highlander series is also great.

    The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.

    The I-Team series by Pamela Clare

    The Troubleshooter series by Suzanne Brockmann

    The Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

    There. Now you have a nice mix of paranormal and romantic-suspense books. *grins*

  18. Blue-Eyes: I can't speak for everyone, but I love the YA books because when you find the right one, it's well-written with a great plot and you don't have to worry about a sudden graphic sex scene interrupting your book. I just don't want to read that...

  19. Anything by Julie Kenner, particularly her Demon Hunter series. Laugh-out-loud funny! Also, try The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig.

  20. I just recently read 'A Discovery of Witches'. I love, love, loved it! Think 'Twilight' (ugh, I know) but with a brilliant, incredibly powerful witch main character. Very good read...but has to become a series because 550 pages was not enough!

  21. Hi Blue Eyes- I think a few reasons: 1. They are very quick. You can pick one up and finish it (or at least half way) during a kids nap or over lunch. 2. They are put-down-able. When I'm reading one, and a kid wants my attention, I'm far less likely to snap at them for interrupting me. 3. I use my brain a lot during the day. Sometimes it wants a break. 4. They are quite fun and the line between YA and A is very, very fuzzy. 5. They aren't the sole reading of most adult readers. They're like a break between more involved reading. 6. I want to know and be able to discuss good books with my kids as they approach that point in their reading. It's also why right now I'm reading a lot of easy readers. Although those are a lot less fun for me.

  22. Thanks everyone! I was wondering what I was missing. I looked up the Hunger Games series and it sounds like something i'd REALLY like. Too bad they're on request at the library for the next two years. I might go buy one.

  23. The Hunger Games trilogy is great!

  24. Blue Eyes:I started The Hunger Games and it is fantastic.
    There is also a movie based on the book that is set to release in early 2012. It is definitely worth owning!


  26. The poster DID recommend reading PRide and Prejudice and The Turn of the Screw.... not sure how that ISN'T recommending a classic,....

    I second the Christopher Moore book suggestion from above-- he is excellent. And if you like quirky, sometimes mysterious, and odd, Terry Pratchett is always a win, and his book read quickly.

  27. My reading list for this summer:
    -Laurell K. Hamilton's "Hit List" (the newest in a series about Anita Blake, a vampire hunter)
    -Kelley Armstrong's "Spell Bound" (book 12 in a series called Women of the Otherworld)
    -Dante's Divine Comedy (currently reading Part One: The Inferno)

    Aside from that, I have textbooks to read and study.... (and the Outlander series ROCKS! I love Jamie Fraser.. mmm... men in kilts...)

  28. I'm going to throw out another suggestion for a great YA miniseries: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight: all by Terry Pratchett, and all featuring a great heroine: Tiffany Aching.

  29. Just finished Water for Elephants (loved it, refuse to see the movie partly because of the casting for Jacob); just bought The Hunger Games; and hoping for one more good read before I start classes (in Grammar and Literature LOL) the end of August.

  30. My two cents:
    -The Hunger Games Trilogy
    -The Help (I'm with Amanda, I like to read the book before I see the movie)
    -A Discovery of Witches
    I also love me some Jennifer Cruisie, "Bet Me" is my fave.

  31. To Anonymous,
    This is just my own reasoning for not reading more classics:
    I suppose one reason I don't read many classics is that, unless I'm really in the mood, I'd rather just have something light and entertaining. I have read MANY classics in my life--I have a B.A. in English and a M.A. in literature, so I'm well read. However, you must admit that most classics have a few similarities: they tend to be long; they are often depressing; and they require lots of effort. As a mommy of three little ones, I don't have the time to really delve into a classic. If I try to pick up a classic for 15 minutes here or there, it's not going to make sense. Also, I don't WANT to be depressed, and as I'm no longer in grad school and don't have a ready made discussion group to pick apart what the author is doing, I'd rather just read something fun that I don't really have to think about as a break. Maybe that makes me shallow; I don't know. I do enjoy a good mystery!
    The other point is that, on a summer reading list, why bother pointing out classics? They tend to stay the same--nothing really new there, unless you're willing to include some of the more recent works in that category, which many people aren't willing to do. In fact, some of the books listed here might eventually qualify as classics. Who knows?

  32. Any of Celia Rivenbark's books. I personally find them hilarious and good summer reads if you need a laugh.

  33. Personally, I loved Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother. I knew there was something wrong with the media view of it when I heard the book reviewer on NPR's FRESH AIR use the exact same scene as the Wall St. Journal article did. So I sat down and read every word without putting it down in 6 hours flat. I have a newly minted Kindergarten graduate, and I have found several times where the right push has made all of the difference. And quite frankly, I put a lot of myself into stuff for him and once or twice a year, I think it's reasonable to expect a thoughtful card/gift. (stepping off my soapbox now)

    I've just finished Book 2 (Catching Fire) of the Hunger Games triology today and can't wait to start the final book.

    I also recommend anything by Mary Kay Andrews for a great fun summer read. She has a new book "Summer Rental" that just came out.

  34. JD Robb's In Death series....get your scifi, romance and mystery all in one book. :) Along with a strong female main character and a hot Irishman. Seriously, I read everything from classics to YA to Pulitzer winners to romance....these are fabulous.

  35. To Anonymous...

    I think it's more important that you read something you enjoy and that your children see you reading for pleasure so that they want to read more themselves (we're at the stage in our house where Mommy reads from a chapter book at bedtime and he reads an easy reader to one of us)

    You asked about the "classics" ... to a certain degree been there done that. I have a BA in English and the discussion of classics almost destroyed my love of reading. I think there is an important place for them and I'm a huge proponent of making sure my son is introduced to them (which is why I've read the first two in the Chronicles of Narnia to him this year already) because they are alluded to in so many other ways in our life.

    I occasionally add to my lists things I feel like I should have read but somehow missed. A few years back I read "Little Women", one year I did a whole run of things that were California classics.

  36. So my favorites are a bit different, but here goes:
    the Troubleshooter series by Suzanne Brockmann (really anything by SB is awesome)
    James Patterson, again anything by him is a good read

  37. I second Hunger Games and The Help. I'm currently reading The Wild Trees about climbing redwood.

    And if there is anyone who still hasn't read Outlander, get yourself to the library! Best. Series. Ever.

  38. I really cannot say enough about Christopher Moore. His books are campy and fun. And they are easy enough to follow that you can get a page in here and there as your day goes along.

    I recommend starting with Island of the Sequined Love Nun (the first one I read)
    Then Fluke, then all the rest of them.

    Your welcome! =D

  39. Ah, Sara above, you and I could be best friends!
    I love the Gregory Maguire books.

    And I didn't realize you already mentioned Christopher Moore.

    I am the only person I know who likes both authors. =(

    Now, tell me you like distopian books like The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood and I'm all yours!

  40. Water for Elephants was EXCELLENT!!

    LOVE almost any YA - particularly the YA fantasy. Such quick, easy reads, so much fun.

    And I love the classics, Jane Austen in particular. However, I've got to be in the right mood, and usually I'll read something them in tandem with something lighthearted and fun. I took on Tess of the d'Urbervilles last fall right after having my second son - not exactly the novel to read post partum, I kid you not!

    Anything Robin McKinley. Strong female characters, and they run the gamut - several are retellings of faerie tales, but there are also dragons and vampires and who IS Luthe, anyway?

    Juliet Marillier writes some really lovely celtic fantasy, though they really read a lot more like historical fiction with just a touch of magic. They're beautifully written and tastefully romantic (as opposed to vivid descriptions of parts of anatomy I'd rather not be *looking* at anyway).

    I love a lot of fantasy - I'm reading to escape, and I'd like to REALLY escape, KWIM? If you're in agreement there, try anything Robin Hobb, Lynn Flewelling, Anne Bishop, Kate Forsyth, Carol Berg... Good stuff =)




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