Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven, translated literature

Winner of the Sapir Award for Literature and the "2010 Best Translated Book Award" by
Three Percent, a literary translation organization.

Noa Weber is a wealthy, single woman who late in life decides to write her memoirs. She’s been a single mother and a successful novelist, but her life is most marked by her obsession with a Russian Jew named Alek. Their relationship is filled with complications and at many times is completely one sided on her part: Alek has a full life without her. Noa’s life experience is more complex than most. Her attempt to recall her past motivations and experiences is problematic: “There’s a kind of lie in this linear writing which does not encompass all the details” she explains.

The novel reverses from her past to present in varying chunks, not always in chronological order. The events of her life are complicated by the social and political situation in Israel, and events in Russia as well. She is an atheist while her daughter is an observing Jew. Her mysterious relationship with her daughter is a sideline that adds to her complications and also makes the reader ask questions if this, in fact, is part of her “confession”.

The novel is beautifully written in an unanticipated way. She focuses only on relevant details to her story, so it proceeds at a quick clip that makes her seem self-absorbed. At times I found myself disliking Noa entirely, as she seemed so obsessively involved with Alek that she was completely heartless with everyone else, even to the point of neglect. She knows that too. His emotional and physical distancing from her doesn’t shake her: she is hooked: “Perhaps it is not him whom my soul loves that I am seeking, but simply my soul.” Yet her candor exposes more of her than might be shown if she presented herself as a more likable figure. In other words, her honesty is painful and risky. It’s as if she truly is in a confessional booth, stating her sins and but refusing absolution. And that dichotomy is what makes the novel so fascinating.

For example, she is remembering Alek and points to the weather as being the trigger for her memories: the smell of the rain, the warm wind, the “sight of the softened light refracted from the stone”. But she catches herself in her recounting, and in an aside, remarks “what did I just say? The warm wind and the softened light refracted from the stone in my longing? In the last analysis that’s romantic bullshit too. Setting the feeling in the ‘softened light of refracted from the stone’ to make it more photogenic. I loved Alek under the ugly neon of the hospital too, and in all kinds of other lights that can’t be poeticized.” She counters her memories in other reflections that alternate with humor and bitterness.

Thus the novel is unique and compelling because of Noa’s narrative voice. Never predictable and never easy, but worthy of the time and patience to find the truth between her memories and her reality.

This fiction novel was translated from Hebrew by Dalya Bilu. 
Special thanks to Megan at Melville House for this Review Copy. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Twin, Gerbrand Bakker, Archipelago Books

“Everything is different when you have a coffin in your living room.”

These are the kinds of sentences that fill The Twin: subtle, understated and crackling. This beautifully written novel shines with its character depiction of Helmer, a man who has made no choices in his life other than selecting the chickens for the farm. His home, the larger farm animals, his furniture and even his work clothes were passed on: choices that belonged to others.

However, the impending death of his father leads him to finally and uncomfortably assert his own will by moving the furniture, painting, and throwing out years worth of family relics. With this new and clean space, he finds that the things he can’t get rid of become more prominent. The house’s newly vacated space feels hollow, a reflection of the state of his heart and mind. He’s aware of his emptiness, and it’s illustrated when he buys a map to hang as “art” for his walls. The lack of anything attractive on the walls of his house makes the single picture lost and the emptiness all the more obvious. All he can do is look at the map and memorize the places he’d like to someday visit, an urge that seems impossible with all the burdens laid upon him since his teens.

He spends his days managing the meager farm, tending carelessly to his father and reeling from the thirty year loss of his twin brother Henk. For a time he allows a wayward teen to help as a farmhand, bringing new dynamics to his empty space.  The complexity of the novel isn’t simply the missing twin, that sort of story has been written countless times before. Rather, the theme is based on identity of self, not in relation to anyone else (his father or brother) but in the form of his own destiny. He appears to make no strides towards the independence he aspires to, and the contrast between his thoughts and actions creates a tension that is sometimes funny and sometimes brutal. Self-determination is an entirely unknown concept to Helmer, and throughout the novel you question if he ever can achieve it. Some could read a geo-political message in this, but I’d rather leave that out and focus on the beautiful writing and the descriptions that make you pause: in reference to an old log, “even a dead thing can be beautiful.” 

A symbolism that is repeated throughout the novel is of a solitary hooded crow that stalks Helmer through the windows and around the yard, silently glaring. Since crows generally represent sadness or death, I thought it was appropriate in many ways.  Yet the way Bakker concludes the story, and accounts for the crow's presence, was still an unexpected surprise.

This title was translated from the Dutch original by David Colmer.  It is available at Archipelagobooks.org or Amazon.com.
Special thanks to Jill Schoolman of Archipelago Books for the Review Copy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Best and Worst of Book Trailers, from Melville House

Megan at Melville House sent me the link as Melville House helped sponsor the Moby Awards,  an annual best and worst book trailer awards ceremony in New York (I would have easily given up one of my kids to get to go!).  Alas, no takers so I only got to read about it in this hysterical link.

All are amusing, but be sure to listen to the Sounds Of Murder trailer, awarded Least Likely to Sell a Book, and resist the urge to impale yourself on any nearby sharp object.  I couldn't believe it was for real.   Head Case has a great trailer, very funny.  The others are all fun to watch (worst waste of corporate cash?).


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Giveaway by NancyO, Nesbo's Devil's Star

Nancy O (a SRC participant) has a giveaway at her blog for Nesbo's The Devil's Star!  Here's the link...


Pretty cool, eh?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who am I? Just for Fun!

If I were a...

I saw this on another blog I follow and thought it was cool. So here are my answers....

If I were a month, I'd be April.
If I were a day, I’d be Saturday.
If I were a time of day, I'd be 11 am.
If I were a font, I'd be Papyrus or Calibri.
If I were a sea animal, I'd be a mudkip.------look how cute!
If I were a direction, I’d be West.
If I were a piece of furniture, I'd be an antique secretary desk.
If I were a liquid, I’d be Shiraz.
If I were a gemstone, I'd be a torquoise
If I were a tree, I'd be an coast live oak.
If I were a tool, I’d be a ruler.
If I were a flower, I'd be a gerbera daisy.
If I were an element of weather, I'd be cool breeze
If I were a musical instrument, I'd be a kazoo.
If I were a color, I’d be blue-gray or teal.
if i were an emotion, I’d be hope.
If I were a fruit, I'd be a kiwi.
If I were a sound, I’d be baby giggles
If I were an element, I’d be water.
If I were a car, I'd be a Toyota Sequoia (my current ride).
If I were a food, I'd be a California roll.
If I were a place, I’d be the crest of Montano de Oro above Spooner's Cove.
If I were material, I'd be a soft cotton, worn and washed to softness.
If i were a taste, I’d be citrus.
If I were a scent, I’d be night jasmine.
If I were a body part, I’d be a heart.
If I were a song, I'd be "Life on Mars" by Bowie.
If I were a bird, I'd be a mockingbird.
If I were a gift, I’d be a leather journal.
If I were a city, I'd be Santa Barbara, CA
If I were a door, I’d be weathered but painted softly.
If I were a pair of shoes, I'd be barefoot.
If I were a poem, I'd be "Agony River" by Scott Wannberg.
Anyone wish to add their choices?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Language of Secrets, Dianne Dixon, mystery

The Language of Secrets is a tightly wound mystery, with a plot unlike any other I’ve ever run across. The entire story is unusual and grabs you immediately. The main character had moved to London to pursue a career, and remained out of touch with his immediate family. After many, many years, he returns to California and tries to reconnect. He finds his parents have died, and when he visits their graves, he sees another headstone next to them. His. Showing that he died at age four. Immediately he’s bounced into a living hell of flashbacks, waking delusions, and disquietude that infects his own marriage. He has no idea who he is and what has happened.

Thus begins this twisted and complex tale that takes you through the lives of several members of his family. It is suspenseful and anxious…so much so that I felt nauseated at times. Perhaps it was the suspense of the missing four year, nearly the same age as my own child, which made me anxious. All I can say is that this story fascinated me by just how off-the-wall it was. I read a lot, and running into an utterly unique premise is unusual.

That said, it’s apparent that this is a plot driven story rather than built on solid characters. I felt a bit cheated that some of these amazing situations came from some rather superficial characters who seemed predictable despite the unpredictable plot. Some were so shallow that I could actually foresee their actions, and others exemplified tremendous character values yet no rationale for their behavior was given. It was the characters that detracted me from the story.

The story proceeds at a quick pace, and the only other “blip” that occurred was when one character’s almost unimaginable actions were explained, in an ‘aside’ by the author, where she attempts to justify the actions in light of the socio-political values of the time period. It was only two paragraphs, but it didn’t fit. She should have been able to show those details without such an invasive explanation. It felt a bit preachy, actually, and it derailed the pace. And while she tried to account for the actions, it wasn’t sufficient to overcome the initial doubt about the behavior, and effectively made her argument less powerful.

This is a intriguing book, and one that I will share with friends. The minor flaws it has doesn’t take away from this tremendous story and fascinating plot.

Special thanks to Judy Jacoby of Doubleday for the Advanced Review Copy.
She's provided me with a copy to giveaway of this title, ending June 2, 2010. See previous post for entry requirements.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Siamese, Stig Saeterbakken (Norway)

Edwin lives in his bathroom. A rocking chair placed within is his world, and a nearby dresser holds his cups of flat soda and boxes of Orbit gum. The floor is wrinkled with wrappers, and while he’s blind, an overhead fluorescent light illuminates his miserable existence. Once an exacting businessman, overseeing a convalescent home of deteriorating elderly people, he now sits in his own waste, deteriorating slowly as he chews gum and has conversations with Death. Screaming at Elna, his wife, is his only source of distraction from his roving thoughts.

Siamese examines the inner thoughts and outer actions of this strange pair, in the most intimate of ways. Elna is so involved in Edwin’s death (as it is he is more dead than alive) that she lacks the most basic grasp of common sense, unless it comes to deceiving Edwin. Edwin glories in his demise, cataloguing each symptom and detail with relish. It’s almost as if his decay proves that he existed in the first place, because in his constant reminiscing he often tries to analyze if he really did live. His thoughts are random, vulgar, and filled with hate. He asks himself: “Where is this road heading? What will become of everything? Will the future be like what’s already going on in my head? No, the world’s still out there. Nothing ever goes away, it just accumulates. Especially for me, who can’t see worth a damn, yes, I just sit here with a head full of stupid pictures…”

It’s clear that even in younger days, Edwin was far from kindly. He treated the patients in the rest home with distant efficiency but secretly thought they should be suffocated in their beds. He loses his job just as his sanity lapses: he attacks a nurse. From then on his busy career fades into the small, smelly room where he ruminates about prior patients and coworkers and pleads for Death to arrive soon to release him from his thoughts:

“Take it all, I mean it, don’t leave so much as a bedroom slipper behind, annihilate me, smash me into kindling, into dust, then vacuum me up, leave no evidence, I don’t want to be remembered for anything…I long for you to come and beat my thoughts into submission…they’ve plagued me long enough, do nothing but torment me,…all they can think about, all they remember, is themselves…But I don’t want to think about them anymore…letting them have their way with me is a worse defeat than death.”

Elna, for her part, remains distant from Edwin, as his still breathing corpse is no company and company is what she craves. A broken light bulb, necessitating a visit from the building’s young superintendent, finally gives Elna a chance. And the malevolent force that enters their miserable life changes everything.

Siamese is not a mystery novel, but at times I had to remind myself to breathe as the suspense built. A character study of two deeply connected but polarized individuals, it is fascinating to read and see how their actions push each other into reactions that are both ugly and frightening. It’s also terribly frightening: the helplessness and lack of contact along with the certainty of impending death gave me chills.

I look forward to more books by this author, as the reading of this was a complete escape.  Not pretty, but definitely fascinating.
The novel was originally written in Norwegian and was translated by Stokes Schwartz.
Special thanks to Martin Riker and Jessica Henrichs of Dalkey Archive for the Review Copy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Need Input on Future Challenges: please add your two cents

The Scandinavian Readers Challenge runs through year's end but many of the participants have completed or are close to completing it already.  So I'm pondering some future challenges, and would love some feedback.

First, I was considering running a June only "Global Poetry Challenge" that would encourage reading of poetry, particularly lesser known or newly translated poets.  Rather than requiring a certain amount of reading, I'd ask participants to contribute phrases or quotes that they particularly enjoyed, and what they know about the poet.  Thoughts?  Interested?

Also, I've been chatting with Richard di Santo at Object Press about a future "French Translation Challenge".  As he describes it, it would "cover books originally written in French that have been translated into English, regardless of country of origin. The books could be from anywhere in the world, from any nationality, as there are a number of authors writing in the French language who are not French nationals (from Canada, Senegal, etc.)"  The great thing about a challenge like that would be that any genre could be included: crime, nonfiction, literary fiction and poetry.  It would also encourage reading translated works that are now being translated, and are more likely to be unknown by many readers.  New horizons, essentially.  Thoughts on this?  I would estimate it would start in September 2010 and run to December or into 2011, depending on response.  Please comment on your thoughts about this Challenge and whether you think you'd participate.

I had considered other challenges, but Australia is well represented in Challenges online now, as is many Asian literature titles.  Another option would be Russian translations (into English) or books about Russia...

Input appreciated!

Winner and New Giveaway: The Language of Secrets

Congrats to "Cal" who was randomly selected to win A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks.  She/he has 48 hours to confirm or another winner will be selected.

Next giveaway:  The Language of Secrets by Dianne Dixon.  Due to publisher restrictions, this is also a US only address (no PO boxes) giveaway.  Scandinavian Challenge Participants are automatically entered, so others must leave a comment (followers only please) in the comments for this post to enter.

This giveaway ends a bit later, as I will be out of town at the end of the month.  June 1, 2010 at 9:00 pm Pac time a winner will be selected and notified.

Review for this wonderful title coming up this week...it's a great story!

Additionally, I'm passing on the Prolific Blogger Award on to Nicole Trist at her Australian blog,
http://bookywooks.blogspot.com/  "Books, Books Everywhere". 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Article on Why Book Covers Vary by Country


This link was in today's Shelf Awareness newsletter, and it's an interesting read about how European covers are so different from US ones.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Three Old Men, or Why Random Selection is Anything But!

I have all my books spread around the house, and most of the ARC's I get are mixed in with my own purchased titles.  So when I'm in the mood for a new book, I usually just pick a random mix, and keep one in my car, another by my desk and one on the nightstand.  So despite the random nature, I ended up with a strangely united selection of dying old men.  First is a book of poetry called Winter Garden by Pablo Neruda (a lovely collection, and he's classy and poignant as always), then Siamese by Stig Saeterbakken (a novel), and finally The Abyss of Human Illusion by Gilbert Sorrentino (short essays and perceptions).  While the tone and content is completely different on all of them, they are similar in that all are the words of dying older men (sadly, in real life in two out of three of the titles).  Somehow I feel like I'm visiting a bizarre rest home of especially profound, expressive and nuanced men...I imagine they'd drive the nurses wild with their prose (except Edwin, they'd run for their lives on soft, padded soles). 

Anyway, because of the surreal nature of reading all three at once, I'm going to put two away and finish Neruda and start with some other voices for now:  Linda Olsson's Sonata for Miriam (she wrote my beloved Astrid & Veronika) and Jo Nesbo's The Redbreast.  I think this will not only refresh me but make reviewing easier.  Reading the three men together diluted the impact of each one individually, and made them sort of morph together. 

My review of Neruda's Winter Garden is coming soon.  He's as lovely as ever, and exhibits the strangest combination of insight without self-pity, and composure balanced with emotion.  He must have been fascinating to be around.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Reporting at Wit's End- Tales from the New Yorker

Everyone that knows me knows I adore the New Yorker...some of it is a bit silly but I really love it when a reporter is able to do an in-depth article that includes volumes of research and subtle details that make you really know the subject.  For example, last month they had a very detailed and fascinating article about some Serbian diamond thiefs, the "Pink Panthers".  It didn't just cover their crimes, but went on to their upbringing, their techniques, the methods of searching for them, and on and on.  Most magazines are not willing to give up the space for such depth.

That's why Reporting at Wit's End "Tales from the New Yorker" by St. Clair McKelway, is such a treat for me.  It's a collection of the best articles New Yorker has offered, but in a totally inventive way.  It selects feature articles from different decades, the 1930s, 40s, 50s and concludes with two from the 1960s.  These aren't famous people biographies or even well-known articles, just well-written articles about subjects fascinating at the time. 

One is "Average Cop", a very long study of one of New York's finest, as he goes about his day, from a 1930s issue.  Big details and little details are combined to make a complete character study, and it's done uniquely: there's no mockery or subtle elevation of his character.  It's just about him.  As he is.  There's no effort made to push a political agenda or disclose social ills.  It's a simple story about a man, and it's fascinating.

From the 1950s, an article called "The Rich Recluse of Herald Square" about the death of an elderly hoarder, and her mysterious life.  Little details make it painful and tragic, and yet there's this strange sense of power that this woman and her sister had, in order to put the world in its place (and out of theirs).  Little pictures of human kindness abound.

This is a great collection, and one that I personally enjoyed very much. I thought it was interesting to see the changes in writing and social details between the decades discussed.  What was considered improper in the 1930s is handled without note in the 1960s.  A great supplement to American history for the 20th century.

Thanks to Kristina Jutzi of Bloomsbury for the Advanced Reading Copy. 

Prolific Blogger Award

thanks to Caroline Bookbinder for the lovely award!

She has a lovely blog:


Friday, May 7, 2010

The News Where You Are, Catherine O'Flynn, British mystery

The News Where You Are, by Catherine O'Flynn, begins as a gentle character study of an aging news anchor, popular to viewers but something of a joke to his colleagues. Off the air, Frank Allcroft spends his time obsessively analyzing parts of his life: the legacy of his deceased father, his depressed mother, and his unfulfilling job. After the death of a close friend, he suddenly feels untethered and lost. To ease his conscience about the superficial nature of his job, Frank makes a habit of taking a personal interest in news stories that feature abandoned people. He explores parts of his town, old and new, and watches the march of time and its effects on the inhabitants and their attitudes. He visits the graves of those who die nameless or unloved, and in this he becomes involved in a mystery that actually wraps around his own obsessions with the past.

It’s at this point that the novel, set in small town England, becomes far less simple or gentle. By searching the themes of abandonment, the race of time, and the nature of friendship, the author creates a suspenseful, if untraditional, thriller that leaves you pondering how much of what we know-whether about friends or family-is actually real.

A main theme in Frank’s life is his late father, an architect, who was usually absent; Frank had consoled himself as a child by imagining that his father sacrificed his family for a greater good. His belief system is reevaluated when the buildings end up demolished. “As his buildings were bulldozed, one by one, Frank began to suspect that often what vanished revealed more than what remained.” His mother finds the demolition far easier to bear, and in most ways she is able to move forward despite her age and depression. She chides Frank: “Everything was a memento for you. Everything reminded you of something. Nothing was allowed to be forgotten. I can’t imagine anything worse”

Catherine O’Flynn writes in a beautiful prose that alternates between bitter and sweet, comical and tragic. At times she illustrates the pain involved in the most personal of disappointments without overwrought emotion. I appreciated that while Frank, the protagonist, is pensive, he never descends into the maudlin or pathetic. He still manages to go through his life with responsibility and acuity. Modern fiction is populated with plenty of self-absorbed and despondent characters, lost in messes of their own design. This novel is refreshing because Frank doesn’t fit that cliché; he keeps functioning and proactive, despite his inclinations to dwell in the past.

The denouement of the novel is complicated, and I won’t spoil it here. Much must be said, though, about O’Flynn’s fascinating voice and style of description as embodied in Frank. When Frank visits a dead man’s house, one who died alone and unknown, he imagines him “…diligently cleaning a house that would only be visited by strangers after his death. He thought squalor would have been less sad.” Or when observing a mental hospital converted into condos, he muses “who would choose to live in a place of former suffering? What level of hubris was required to feel so utterly undaunted by the past?”  Lines like those stopped me in my tracks, wondering how a mystery novel could be so deep and relevant and still retain its suspense.
The mystery is a introspective read, and it left me pondering more about the people I know who are alone, who appear to be lost, and in comparison those who seem to have it all. This novel reveals that nothing is so simple as appearances.  In all, I'd say this in the top five of books I've read in the last several years...it's that good.

Special thanks to Jason Leibman of Henry Holt and Company for the Advanced Reading Copy.
This title releases in the US in July 2010.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Man from Beijing Winner and New Giveaway: A Week in December

Congratulations to Ken M. for winning the Man from Beijing book giveaway.  I've contacted him and he'll have 48 hours to get me his mailing address.

The next giveaway is for A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks.  Though not a Scandinavian genre (it's British), all Scandinavian Challenge Participants are automatically entered.  Others can enter via comment.  The review for this title will be up next week.  Sadly, this one is US addresses only, and will be shipped by the publisher (no PO boxes please).  This giveaway ends on May 12, 9:00 pm Pac time.

Elegy for April, Benjamin Black, Dublin Noir

Crime fiction has no shortage of brooding crime-solvers, and it’s usually their vices and complications that make them so memorable. In Benjamin Black’s new novel, Elegy for April, the “facilitator” is Dr. Quirke, a pathologist who doesn’t investigate crimes as much as he observes the key players and encourages them to talk and communicate until the mystery is revealed. His perception and the way he moves people is the key to the solution, rather than typical detective techniques. Dr. Quirke is one of the most memorable characters I’ve run across lately, and this novel is an engaging read that constantly offers surprises and complications.

The biggest surprise to me is that it is not politically correct: Quirke is a raging alcoholic and the book begins with him leaving his treatment center, and he manages a few hours of sobriety. His drinking is stupendous, with blackouts and all, and yet the author doesn’t try and preach anything from it nor romanticize it. It’s a refreshing change that makes Quirke’s character that much more sympathetic. Other complications in his life, such as his relationship with his daughter and several women, also demonstrate conflict without resolution. He clearly doesn’t have all the answers, yet he’s able to help solve the disappearance of April with subtle questions.

Several things really struck me about this book, clearly an example of Dublin Noir. Sure, there’s rain in most of those style books, but Elegy for April features rain, sleet, mist, hoarfrost, fog, and drizzle. Black uses these weather features to illustrate twists to the plot and factors in the mystery, without ever getting cutesy or formulaic. Additionally, many scenes feature characters looking in or looking out of windows, and the symbolism of introspection and separation from the outside world is clear. This aspect of the main characters is especially telling, yet done subtly.

Lastly, the other symbolism in the story is the archetypical meanings of black and white, light and dark. Characters step into shadow, out of bright rooms, into shadowed corridors, under bright streetlights, and into gloomy booths. The contrasts between the light and dark are intertwined with the story and it creates an air of tension and suspense. Quirke himself uses the analogy of an ocean to observe:

“All around lay the surface of the ocean, seeming all that there is to see and know, in calm or tempest, while, underneath, lay a wholly other world of things, hidden, with other kinds of creatures, flashing darkly in the deeps.”

If this were ever made into a movie, I'd hope they’d film it in black and white to keep the feel and mood of it united. It’s set apart from other mysteries because much is left unresolved, as happens in real life. My only critique of it was that it ended rather abruptly after a tense buildup through the greater part of the book. I think I simply didn’t want to let go of the mood and characters. Altogether though, I enjoyed this and intend to seek out Black’s earlier books that feature Dr. Quirke.

Special thanks to Jason Liebman of Henry Holt and Company for the Advanced Review Copy. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, Charles Demuth

The Great Figure

I saw the figure 5
In gold
On a red
To going clangs
Siren howls
And wheels rumbling
Through the dark city.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Sour Grapes: A Book of Poems
Four Seas Company, Boston, 1921

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Books for Moms....Two New Titles

Two great "Mom" books came my way over the last two months, and I want to let you know about them.  The first is Just Let Me Lie Down, from the editor of Real Simple magazine, Kristin van Ogtrop.  I enjoy the magazine so I knew I'd love this title.   It's a dictionary format, with a humorous slant, but it's not simply snarky anti-Harriet diatribes like many of the newer "Mom" oriented titles.  There's no pushy political agenda or religious ideology.  This has real suggestions and real anecdotal experience in a 'this is what I did, so now you can do it better' style.  It acknowledges the struggles mothers have without trying to elicit pity or accolades.

I personally loathe 99% of "mothering titles" because of the silly positions they push:  stay at home vs. working, disposable vs. cloth, or bottle vs. breast. The arguments that so impassion so many authors are just plain annoying to most of us without the leisure of analyzing every move for future reference. 

She explains what "creative control" is to the stressed mom:  "knowing when to micromanage, when to let go, and tricky ways to appear to let go while continuing to micromanage."  Her experience indicates "I have learned to give up those things without feeling like I am an absolute failure as a parent, a woman, and a human being."    Thanks to Karen Ukraine from Hatchette for the Advanced Review Copy.

The second title is Mom-Over by Dana Wood, the "New Mom's Guide to Getting it Back Together".  Wood addresses the struggles new mothers face with time and how putting the kids first often leaves moms unravelled and cranky.  Actually, not often.  Always.  So the thinking is that if a mom feels great, the whole family will benefit.  A great idea, really.  Except that in some ways, it puts additional pressure on new moms already overwhelmed!  The "nudge" it tries to give feels a bit forced at times.  Many of the suggestions are cloaked in "getting it together", which assumes the mom reading it doesn't have it together at all. 

I'm not against any of the advice, it's all great and sensible and would be beneficial to implement.  But as a mom, I really feel that a bit of a pat on the back with a 'you'll do just fine' can also be helpful. "Ditch the sweatpants" is a great idea, but does a new mom really need to consider breast implants at any time in the first few years? Some of it is just a bit over the top. 

I think this would be a great gift for a new mom, as long as they understand that the suggestions are idealized in most ways and that no one expects them to be that 'together'.  That enjoying their baby is the first priority and worrying about saggy skin can come later!
Thanks to Adams Media for the Advanced Review Copy.