Quarantine Reads | Round 1

I'm back with my latest quarantine reads - because in a pandemic, it's comforting to "get away" even if it's just through literature. I'm reviewing two recent releases and two throwbacks that I'm juuuust getting around to reading because, I'm slow (seriously, for further proof of my slowness, refer back to this blog post I penned in 2016). A state-wide shelter-in-place seemed like the perfect time to finally get around to reading them.

First up was Jessica Simpson's new memoir, Open Book. I had no idea what to expect when opening it up, but I ended up being all sorts of delightfully surprised. You're going to read this book and, no matter how you felt about Jessica Simpson prior to reading it, will end up loving her. It's evident that she has a big heart. But it's also evident that she stayed frozen at that teenage age she became famous at. Her actions and reasoning lack growth and maturity, and so many times during her story did I want to just reach out and shake her out of whatever bad situation she was in (namely letting her father and boyfriends take advantage of her, and letting relationship issues self sabotage her work life). Still, she presents her story with no apologies which I just respect the hell out of. Plus, the effort put into writing the book was no small feat - coming in at 400 pages, she (and her co-writer) do her story justice.

I love that the book literally took me back to senior year in high school, when Jessica Simpson emerged onto the mainstream scene. I vividly remember watching her music videos on MTV's TRL after school with my bestie, Christine. Side note, how odd is it to think that, back in those days, live television and the radio were the only ways to see music videos or hear songs, save for buying the CD. It's such a given now that, from any phone or computer, you can pull up just about any song or music video in mere seconds. Anyway, back to the book. It was fascinating to pair her accounts of events with what I remember seeing and hearing at the time - like her marriage to Nick Lachey and their reality show, Newlyweds, that I watched with my little sister Michelle (I think she loved it so much she owns the DVDs). Their divorce was played out in the media, as was the fact that Jessica came into the marriage less famous than Nick, left more famous than him, and had to pay out. 

There are endearing parts of the book - like when Simpson sang the wrong lyrics to God Bless America while performing at The White House, and how then President Bush assured her that "God blessed the rivers, too." And there were absolute cringe-worthy moments as well. At one point, John Mayer was royally messing with Jessica's head and she spent all night obsessing about him instead of preparing for a performance... then drank so much before she went onstage the next day that she messed up all the lyrics and had to stop singing mid-song and apologize to Dolly Parton, the shows honoree. Simpson's drinking reaches a tipping point that she addresses (out of order) first thing in the novel. The story is harrowing - how she started each day with a drink and spent Halloween so drunk she couldn't dress her kids in their costumes. This finally led her to therapy and giving up all alcohol, which, again, has my respect as very commendable. I mean, there's the question of how ethical it was to serve as the face of Weight Watchers while taking large amounts of prescription stimulants and undergoing two tummy tucks, buuuuut, I guess I'll let that one slide. 

Amazon rating: 4.7/5
My rating: 4.6/5

The other recent release I read was the latest from B.A. Paris, The Dilemma. Y'all, I have been counting down the days for this book to be in my hands. Psychological thrillers are my jam and no one does them better than B.A. Paris. Behind Closed Doors is maybe one of my favorite reads, ever, and The Breakdown was also incredible. So maybe my very high hopes for The Dilemma doomed it from the beginning? Like, it would be impossible for it to live up to my mind's expectation? If you've read it, let me know what you think, because I found it lacking. Furthermore, the entire length of the book I was searching for the sociopath. Where was the sociopath? Spoiler alert: it wasn't a psychological thriller at all.

Amazon synopsis:

It’s Livia’s 40th birthday, and her husband Adam is throwing her the party of a lifetime to make up for the wedding they never had. Everyone she loves will be there, except her daughter Marnie, who’s studying abroad. But Livia is secretly glad Marnie won’t be there. 
Livia has recently uncovered a secret about their daughter which, if revealed, will shake the foundation of their family to its core. She needs to tell Adam, but she’s waiting until the party is over so they can have this last happy time together.
Adam, meanwhile, has his own surprise for Livia: he’s arranged for Marnie to secretly fly back for the party. But before Marnie arrives, Adam hears some terrible news. Now he too is faced with a dilemma: Does he share what he's learned with his wife? Is hiding the truth the same as telling a lie? And how far are Adam and Livia willing to go to protect the ones they love—and give each other a last few hours of happiness?

I kept making up wild scenarios that would provide a twist, but alas, it was super straightforward. I feel like if I hadn't been expecting, say, a husband who was gaslighting his wife into thinking she was crazy or something similar, I *might* have enjoyed the book more, but alas I'll never know. Again, please share if you've read it! I'm dying to know what other people think on this one.

Amazon rating: pending
My rating: 4.1/5

Class Mom randomly popped up on my Amazon account, which is how is found its way (Clorox wiped and sanitized) onto my nightstand where I picked it up and was shocked to discover, after the first page, that it was a totally fluffy novel. I'm not sure why I expected something meatier (maybe after my years of teaching I take the role of class mom too seriously?), but this book was definitely "chic lit" - I'd compare it to the Shopaholic series but with an edgier main character.

Amazon synopsis:

Jen Dixon is not your typical Kansas City kindergarten class mom—or mom in general. Jen already has two college-age daughters by two different (probably) musicians, and it’s her second time around the class mom block with five-year-old Max—this time with a husband and father by her side. Though her best friend and PTA President sees her as the “wisest” candidate for the job (or oldest), not all of the other parents agree.
From recording parents’ response times to her emails about helping in the classroom, to requesting contributions of “special” brownies for curriculum night, not all of Jen’s methods win approval from the other moms. Throw in an old flame from Jen’s past, a hyper-sensitive “allergy mom,” a surprisingly sexy kindergarten teacher, and an impossible-to-please Real Housewife-wannabe, causing problems at every turn, and the job really becomes much more than she signed up for. 
Relatable, irreverent, and hilarious in the spirit of Maria Semple, Class Mom is a fresh, welcome voice in fiction—the kind of novel that real moms clamor for, and a vicarious thrill-read for all mothers, who will be laughing as they are liberated by Gelman’s acerbic truths.

This genre definitely has its place and if you're slow like me and haven't read it yet, it will give you a laugh. I was so slow picking this one up that the author has actually released a sequel.

Amazon rating: 4.4/5
My rating: 3.7/5

And my last read was Educated. I had heard of this memoir many times over, but was never in the right head space to take it on until recently. The lack of basic necessities granted to the author and the abuse she endures is a lot to process.

Amazon synopsis:

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

This is truly an amazing story, although my one critique is that the entire last part seemed rushed. The author goes into such great detail for her early life but just kind of skims her graduate years (which are the ones in which she returns over and over to her family's land in kind of a Groundhog Day repetitive scenario before finally severing connection and departing for the very last time). Also, my goodness what happened to boyfriend Drew? He was peppered in the novel as her long-distance boyfriend and has such a profound effect on her story, but is listed in the Author's Note as just a dear friend. What happened to Drew? Inquiring minds want to know! Or, you know, inquiring minds are quarantined and are starved for gossip. Same thing.

Amazon rating: 4.7/5
My rating: 4.5/5
What's on your quarantine book list? 


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