Amy Clark

Great Reads for Moms: March ’10 Edition

Photo Credit: Charles Williams

I am so enjoying sharing what I am reading each month and I hope it inspires you to crack open a book or two as a special treat just for yourself.  Whether you challenge yourself to join a book club or you just do a solo challenge of reading, I really encourage you to make your reading a priority!

This month I read five books and I am sharing my thoughts here on each of them.  I hope that these reviews and book ideas are helpful to you when choosing a great read at your library!

You can also join the GoodReads community and friend me (my username is momadvice), if you would like to get an early sneak peek into what books I have my nose in. to read my past reviews, visit our Books category to get more ideas for your reading list!  Happy reading!

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been was one of the best historical fiction books that I have read in a long time and surrounds the life of the real life Alice in Wonderland. As someone who was not familiar with the story of Alice or Lewis Carroll, I found the story both intriguing and disturbing. Alice led far from the enchanted life that you might have thought and ultimately, the friendship between her & the author lead to the demise of many relationships in her life.

Alice Liddell was the muse for Mr. Dodgson, a professor at Oxford, who later wrote the book of Alice in Wonderland under the pen name of Lewis Carroll. Alice and her sisters spend many days exploring the grounds, going on boat rides, and spending time in the company of Mr. Dodgson. He is fascinated, in particular, with Alice and tells a story to her one night about her adventures in wonderland. Alice begs him to write her story out and he later does, which becomes the book series that he is so known for.

As their friendship grows, Mr. Dodgson and Alice began to have a relationship that is both confusing and exciting to Alice. Mr. Dodgson has an interest in photography and tells Alice that he would like to take her on a special outing where he can take special pictures of her. He writes her letters and Alice writes him back in an almost courtship that would be very inappropriate for a child of her age. That day of photography ends the friendship of Mr. Dodgson and the Liddell family, causing difficulties for Alice to find true love later in her life under her clouded reputation.

As Alice grows into her own person, she finds and loses loves in her life and increasingly finds the burden of being the Alice in Wonderland that everyone is dying to meet very cumbersome. She later decides to use her celebrity status and the sacrifices that she made in her childhood later aid Alice to have a better life than she could have had on her own.

If you don’t know anything about the story of Mr. Dodgson or about the real-life Alice, it is a fascinating look into a friendship that was altogether inappropriate and, in this historical fiction perspective, caused a lot of heartache for Alice in finding love later in her life.

This is a book that you just want someone else to read so you can talk about it! A fantastic first novel from Melanie Benjamin and makes me excited to read more books from her in the future!

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars)

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley

Ann Brooks is a newly single mom taking care of two little girls while her estranged husband is busy doing scientific research surrounding an H5N1 virus (avian flu) that has struck their community. It starts in the bird population and quickly jumps species and becomes a level 5 pandemic among the human population. Now this estranged family must come together to survive the worst scenario of their life- being quarantined together while they must rely on the government and medical system to find a vaccination to stop the virus before it kills them.

The portrait of what life would be like if this situation would happen is terrifying. It begins with Ann rushing to the grocery store to stock up on food, where people are hurting and even killing each other fighting over bottled water and food. They lock themselves in their home where the electricity is out for over a month, garbage is no longer being picked up, hospitals are not operating, and everyone must be scared of their neighbor and friends to prevent being struck with the H5N1 themselves.

The family is forced to make tough decisions that they never thought they would face and learn to live without the luxuries in life of clean water, how to protect those you love while still caring for others in your community, and how precious life really is.

As the situation escalates, the character development builds and you began to root for this family to pull together and to survive this ordeal.

This book was amazing, thought-provoking, and made me question what I would do in such a scenario. Could I still stick to my virtues when I have to protect my family or would I become as many of the people become, fighting and stealing to protect what is mine?

The book slowed down a little in the middle and I did not really like the narration switching in the last chapter over to the daughter, but overall, it was an excellent book that will make you hold your children a little tighter and make you aware of all of the precious blessings we all take for granted.

(MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars)

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

I am a huge Jodi Picoult fan and could not wait to dive into her new book, “House Rules.” I have found her books lately to be a little predictable and formulaic and I was hoping for a little more with this book. In some ways it was a huge success in the exploration and research of Aspergers syndrome, in others, the book fell a little short with me.

Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy who has Asperger’s syndrome. He is intelligent, can memorize facts and movie quotes better than anyone, and he has a huge love of forensic sciences. He lacks the ability though to connect with people, can only understand literal meanings of words, can easily become overly stimulated, and has never understood the social cues and unwritten rules of personal space or relationships.

His true obsession with forensic science is what takes up the majority of his day and research. He has a love for a CSI show and keeps hundreds of journals on the episodes, trying to crack the cases himself and documenting each case dozens of times. His obsession with forensic science and his inability to engage with others makes high school tough for this teenager.

Thankfully, he has a great friend, Jess, who has stepped in to offer guidance on learning social behavior and who has been hired by the family to help him survive the tough world of high school. Jess is a college student and an all-around golden girl who has a true devotion towards helping make Jacob’s life easier and help him understand all of this cues that we take for granted.

When Jess is murdered, her abusive boyfriend is the first person to taken into custody and seems the most likely suspect. His boot print is found at the scene of the crime and his previous physical abuse towards
Jess makes him seem the perfect murderer.

When the news shows the victim’s body wrapped in a quilt that could only belong to Jacob, his mother steps forward and says that she is concerned that Jacob may have had something to do with the crime. Jacob is taken into custody and the entire world of the Hunt family is sent into a downward spiral.

All of Jacob’s behaviors, due to his Asperger’s, are behaviors that are often exhibited in someone who is guilty. Jacob can’t make eye contact, he can act violently or inappropriately if he is over stimulated, and he seems to have no emotion. His lawyer, Oliver, has a tough case on his hands and must convince a jury that Jacob acted innocently because of his emotional detachment and inability to understand the social cues of others.

As a reader, I really enjoying the pacing of Picoult’s books and the usual twist that occurs at the end. Unfortunately, I was able to solve the case on my own within the first twenty pages and then had to read another 500 pages in hopes that the twist was not so obvious.

The worst part about this book was that the book seems to be missing a final chapter, as though Picoult was on a writing deadline and just stopped short before bringing the reader into a conclusion of how the case actually ended or where the relationships of this family went. For all of that research and the bulk of this book, it was a disappointment for me.

The careful research and beautiful prose were definitely there, but the ending and predictable twist made it not as solid of a read as some of Picoult’s earlier work.

(MomAdvice Rating- 3 Stars)

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

I might be a little late to the Julie & Julia bandwagon, but I have finally arrived and read this fun little read that was just what this blogger needed for a fun pick-me-up! I will admit, it was not one of the best books I have read, but in many ways I related to Julie’s commitment to her blog and recreating recipes in her kitchen for her blog audience. That being said, I have heard from many that the movie was much better than the book itself, and that is why I am looking forward to watching the movie soon.

Julie Powell is a frustrated secretary living in a small New York loft apartment, with her husband and cats, who decides that the thing that she needs to do to jumpstart her life again is to become passionate about something. When she runs across her mother’s old copy of Julia Child’s, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” she remembers how her mother whipped out that particular cookbook for special occasions and created recipes out of it to impress their dinner guests. She decides that she will challenge herself to cook all 523 recipes within a year and chronicle those adventures through a blog, in hopes that the challenge will add something into her life that has been missing.

It is a laugh-out-loud funny book that had me giggling from the bottom of my toes as she tries to find rare ingredients, attempts making dishes out of live lobsters, and goes on a journey of self-discovery as she attempts to master the art of a little of her own French cooking. It really isn’t a book about cooking, unless you are looking for a person that is simply struggling to cook, but more about what is discovered about herself through this adventure.

As she works her way through this cooking challenge, you see how it brings her closer together with those she loves and how those around her (both in the blogging world and her real life world) come together to eat, share, and become a part of her cooking adventures.

The book wasn’t enlightening at all, the language was rough, and Julie was not always a likeable character, but I appreciated her realness and how so many of us find our place and discover ourselves through blogging.

It didn’t change my life, but it did make me giggle…and sometimes you need that!

Editor’s Note-  There is graphic language in this book. (MomAdvice Rating- 4 Stars)

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown

To be honest, this was definitely not my favorite read this month, but I am including my thoughts on it for my mom friends who love a good soap opera or Melrose Place type of drama.

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a Silicon Valley satire that takes a glimpse into one family’s life and showcases how the threads began to unravel when they discover that money really is not the key to happiness.

Janice is a relatively happy trophy wife who has helped her husband in every way that she knows how to be the roaring success that he is. She reads her Gourmet magazine and replicates the dishes, she is carefully groomed and has maintained her figure over the years, and her family lives in the immaculately tidy home of their dreams.

When her husband’s stocks soar, after making an important pharmaceutical drug, she runs out to grab the ingredients for the most perfect celebration dinner. When she arrives at home, she finds a note from her husband letting her know that he is leaving her for her best friend and that he will be filing for a divorce.

What happens to a woman when her whole career and existence are based upon caring for her husband? Janice quickly spirals out of control and the reader is taken through Janice’s downward spiral and the downward spiral of her two children who are both trying to find themselves after making bad decisions.

One daughter who grew up the valedictorian in her graduating class, now is deeply in debt after her the feminist magazine she started failed to bring in any profits. The other daughter has a desire to be liked by her peers and begins sleeping with her classmates to garner attention and her feelings of self-worth. She later decides that Jesus might be the key to her salvation, but her poor choices have taken her so far off path that you are unclear where her life will really end up. Janice, meanwhile, has decided to take crystal meth because she feels happier and more in control when she is drugged. With their mother drugged out and the two children both choosing their own destructive paths, the reader can only hope that the resolution will be filled with deep discovery and a realization that they have each other and money is not everything. It just did not end the way that the reader might hope.

I found the book to be a fun and impressive premise of self-discovery when each of the characters are trying to find who they are without their fortune, but the book was depressingly dark and never went anywhere other than the dark and dreariness that it began with. If you are into dark satires though that is filled with a little bit of dreary, this just might be the ticket for you!

Editor’s Note-  There is graphic language, sexuality, and drug use in this book. (MomAdvice Rating- 3 Stars)


Published April 13, 2010 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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