Today Will Be Different – Review

“Because the other way wasn’t working. The waking up just to get the day over with until it was time for bed. The grinding it out was a disgrace, an affront to the honor and long shot of being alive at all.”

Today Will Be Different is exactly the book I needed to read! The story about a woman, Eleanor Flood, struggling with her identity in so many ways. She is a writer, but she keeps avoiding her editor and pushing back the book. (minus the editor, SO RELATABLE) Excuses build, pressure mounts, anxiety looms!

The book opens with a mantra of all the things she will do differently. She will be present. She will make eye contact. She’ll spend time with her son and make effort with her husband. She will be kind to strangers and smile. There is more, but you get the idea. Her goal is to be the person she wants to be, not the person she generally is. Which is, quite frankly, a mess.

There is something to the theory that the Universe gives us what we need, and we see that theory shine as the day unfolds for Eleanor. First her son, Timby, says he is sick and the school makes her take him home. Determined to teach him a lesson, they end up going to her husband’s office, where his staff thinks they’ve been on vacation. They haven’t. She is forced to take Timby to a lunch she tried to cancel, only to find out that it was with a former colleague. And he doesn’t know that parts of her past were definitely, assuredly, and soundly put to rest in the past. Now Timby is asking questions he shouldn’t be asking, Eleanor still doesn’t know where her husband is, and nothing in her day unfolds anything like what she envisioned when she woke up.

“The world isn’t your friend,” Joe told Eleanor. “It’s not designed to go your way. All you can do is make the decisions to muscle through and fight the trend.”

I completely related to Eleanor. Not just with her sarcasm, or the way she really does try to make better decisions. It is a struggle sometimes to remember to be grateful, or to smile at strangers, or to remember the little things when the big things feel so big. It isn’t that you mean to fall in a rut with your marriage, or to get frustrated when your kid is being a kid. It just can happen sometimes. We all need reminders to help us stay on track. And when reminders don’t work, well, getting knocked with a hard dose of reality usually does the trick.

And that’s what this book is about. Eleanor has been in a rut. A big rut for a long time. But her husband was always the steady hand guiding her on the tightrope she felt balanced on. She knew him. She could rely on him. So, when he isn’t in the office, the giant flare of ‘what ifs’ force Eleanor into a full panic. Which, again, I think is completely understandable. Everything is fine. Until it isn’t.

While Eleanor scrambles through her day trying to solve the mystery of Joe, she is dragging along her third grade son, and the conversations these two had were amazing.

“Gee, I said. “I always thought you didn’t get my jokes.”

“I get them,” he said. “Most of the time they’re just not funny.”

Anyone who has had a child too smart for their own good can probably relate to that! The other thing I adored about this book, is this is all one day. It may seem that filling a book with the mundanity of a single day would be tedious and boring. Except, it isn’t. The brilliance in this, is of course, we’ve all had days like that. Maybe not in these exact circumstances, but I know I have had more than one day that seems to stretch into an eternity of disaster. We empathize with Eleanor more and more as the endless procession of he day just keeps unfolding, and she just tries to stay afloat.

The book sounds like it should be an eye-rolling romp through first-world problems. But the thing that makes it leap from tolerable to entertaining is that Eleanor completely admits to the ridiculousness of her life, and her problems. She is up front about why her life shouldn’t be as hard as she makes it. She is self-deprecating and full on admits that her problems are tame in nature to people with more serious obstacles in their way.

“If I’m forced to be honest, here’s an account of how I left the world last week “worse, worse, better, worse, same, worse, same. Not an inventory to make one swell with pride.”

This book may not resonate with everyone. I get that. We don’t all have mid-life crises looming or wonder how our lives landed in such different places than we aimed. It isn’t that life is bad. It’s just not how we pictured. It runs away with itself, and we can be helpless passengers. The trick is in admitting that we allow the train to derail. That we slip into the gentle comfort of mediocrity so that we can then blame the world for our misfortune or bad luck. Today Will Be Different gently nudges us into this realization that life is indeed what we make of it. That we cannot rely on the steady husband or the tenacious child to hold us afloat. That we must face the secrets of our past, and that we must choose the life we want to live. Of course, all of this is easier said than done.

It is easier to accept difficult truths through laughter, and this book, if nothing else will let you laugh. Eleanor is a character in every aspect of the word. And perhaps, through the people she meets, or the situations she finds herself in, you may also find that you can laugh at yourself as well.

Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and review! I LOVED it!!!

Slipsliding by the Bay – Review

“We can’t stay locked in the past. That’s one of the temptations of the ivory tower, to fall into the trap of complacency.”

Slipsliding by the Bay was a fun, quirky read. The book follows the trials and tribulations of a struggling Lakeside University in the 1970’s. Lakeside has been struggling for a few years, and a new President, John Gudewill, is determined to set things right. But no matter what he does, it seems that both students and faculty alike are determined to have things go their own way. Even if their way leads to the continued failures of Lakeside.

“Do you ever have the feeling we’re merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?”

Each chapter is short and follows one of the characters. We hear from Eliot, the snobby English professor determined to Unionize the University, regardless of the consequences. Lucy, the sexy librarian who has her own agenda regarding Lakeside. Stein, Gudewills assistant, who does his best to keep tabs on all the plots and scandals. Along with a handful of students, some of which aren’t really worried about the future of Lakeside or the dysfunctional happenings of the campus.

Setting the book in the 1970’s gives it a unique flavor, and really makes the politics of the campus interesting to read. After the rebellious 60’s, there are many people, faculty and alumni alike, who are hoping that the protests and social justice movements become a thing of the past. But the students realize that going backwards isn’t the answer, and do everything they can to help move the campus forward.

I really liked the way McDonald framed the larger social issues of society at the time within the framework of the college campus. The book actually covers a lot of ground and gives a good perspective of the social unrest of the time. It also gives a good feel for how the issues and ideals that triggered the sixties formed the framework for larger change.

McDonald captured the contentious relationship that every generation faces with the past. Here, you have young idealists, who see the power of social revolution, wanting only to have a voice in their own futures, battling an older generation who simply wants to go back to the way things were when they themselves were young. While previous generations may not remember their youth as being quite as rebellious or contentious, I think in their own way, youth always rebels against the norms of their parents. The seventies were no different.

With the short chapters and the diverse cast of characters, this book reads like a fun caper. Each miscommunication and mishap unfolds like a comedic tragedy. The comedy isn’t just in the quirky characters, but in the irony of the results. McDonald captures the stubbornness of human nature, and our sheer refusal to sometimes step back and see the bigger picture. Lack of willingness to communicate leads to an outcome that could have been avoided. The lesson is that this is true in many facets of life and continues to unfold in similar ways over and over and over again in current events.

The politics of academia was also really well done. It wasn’t surprising to read that McDonald had been employed by a University, because she does seem to really understand the dynamics that each individual and collective group brought to the campus. Reading on the impact that Unionization could have, and the arguments for and against the changes were interesting and very well done.

“There comes a time in the economic life of an institution when it must become pragmatic and ruthless.”

I found that quote to be at the heart of not just the politics of this campus, but probably many campuses everywhere. Where do you draw the line between providing a good education and maintaining profit? Looking back on how colleges have changed over the years, it was compelling to read about a campus in the midst of that transition and crisis.

Slipsliding by the Bay was a joy to read. I read the book in a day. Again, it was a fast and fun read. My one downfall with the book is the ending felt a little abrupt and several characters were sort of quickly faded out, so it felt rushed. But, I suppose that in the spectrum of life, the ending wasn’t the point. This book was more about the journey than the destination.

Thank you to BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy of this book to read and review as part of their pop up blog tour!

Lying to Children – Review

“Believe me, it’s not easy being a dad. It takes love, strength, patience, understanding… and the ability to lie sincerely to impressionable young children about all manners of things, from the existence of Santa Claus to why they can’t have a puppy.”

Lying to Children is a funny novel, set up as a series of vignettes. Each chapter is named after the appropriate lie, like “Daddy loves his job”, which then goes on to tell the children stories related to that lie. It’s a unique take on telling parenting stories, and reads as seamlessly as a well-structured fictional novel.

Anyone raising kids, or who has already raised their kids, will connect with this book. The writing is funny and captures the insanity of having children. Telling these stories from the perspective of the children already grown, gives it an added twist of humor, because let’s face it, owning up to some things we do as parents is quite hilarious at times.

At the end of each lie, there is a lesson. Or a piece of parenting advice. So, the use of ‘lies’ is riddled with deeper meaning. Sometimes we realize later in raising children, that they are tougher and smarter than we give them credit for. Sometimes the white lies and mistruths we tell them to protect them were unnecessary. Or they serve a purpose, to help teach a lesson. This novel does an excellent job of taking through that journey in these short snippets.

Many pieces of this book are seriously laugh out loud funny. Even though the father is definitely a caricature of a father, he reminds you enough of a normal father that these embellishments serve to highlight the lunacy of life rather than belittle it. There is a Chevy Chase in Family Vacation humor to this father. He is over the top and ridiculous, but at times, aren’t all fathers in some way? Have children: and at the end, if you’ve never questioned your sanity, you will be my all time hero. They make us behave in bizarre and inexplicable ways.

My absolute favorite chapter in this book is “If you eat too much candy, your teeth will fall out.” The piece when he describes leading his daughter and her friends as Frodo, is one I was laughing through the entire time. Imagine a father rallying the teenage troops, and they are all true to character, and he has no idea what these characters are. It is quite comical.

“One does not simply walk into Palisades Park,” the other human with the sword said. “It is riddled with fire and ash and dust. The poisonous fumes alone could kill you.”
“What?” I asked.

The pieces that I found the funniest, and I’m sure this is true with any reader, are the ones that felt relatable. As I mentioned, the Halloween one was one of my favorites. I am sure that my siblings and I have mystified my father on more than one occasion. If we begin talking about Star Wars or Harry Potter, at some point I’m sure he thinks we’re just making things up. When this father shakes his head and plunges forward not understanding his children, I thought of how many times my dad probably did the same thing.

As with any good novel on parenting, there are a few moments that warm your heart and make you want to call your own dad. They aren’t super sappy, or over the top heavy with emotion and sentimentality. They are fitting and appropriate for the book. Raising children is ridiculous and filled with wonderful moments. But there are just as many that make you angry and break your heart. And at times, our children will terrify us with their own fragility. This is part of being a parent, and again, Shahla navigates those waters with each lesson fitting appropriately within each lie.

“I learned a valuable lesson the day. There are no shortcuts in life, and there are no shortcuts in parenting.”

This is a fast enjoyable read. It’s perfect for reading on vacation, or near your own family. I found myself reading parts aloud to my husband and son. It is a book that would be fun to share with my parents and siblings.

While there are the hilarious moments, there are some moments that drone on a bit and feel like Shahla is simply trying to hard. The humor misses, and it feels more like rambling than a cohesive story. A few chapters would have been a lot better with those parts cut out.

Whether you had a ridiculous father or not, there is enough truth written in each story that I think people can identify and relate. It is meant to be funny, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth written in the humor.

Lying to Children is available on Amazon  now.

Thank you to Booksparks for sending me this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review!