November Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Hey, guess what!   I’m actually reviewing books that I read in November!  Progress!

Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome – 3.5*

//published 1932//

I’m slowly working my way through the Swallows & Amazons series, and LOVED the first two books.   Peter Duck was still adorable and fun, but because it felt a lot less plausible, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.  I was also confused because in the last book, Swallowdale, Peter Duck was an imaginary character that the children had created a bunch of stories about.  In this book, Peter Duck is a real person that they meet.  I could get behind them finding a real live person with the same name as their imaginary friend, but they NEVER acknowledged a single time that they had ever even heard the name Peter Duck before!  It seems as though there ought to have been at least a paragraph of something like, “Can you believe we’ve found a real live sailor with the same name as our imaginary sailor??”  Still, overall this was a fun one, and also had a great book map, which is kind of my favorite thing in the world.

Birthright by Nora Roberts – 4*

//published 2003//

This ended up being romantic suspense  that was a surprisingly emotional story, touching on things like adoption, nature versus nurture, what family means, divorce, and second chances.  I couldn’t get completely behind the book because the main character, Callie, was just a smidge too abrasive for my personal taste – her go-to response was just RAGE every time and it got old for me.  But I really liked the way that the love story was between her and her ex-husband, as he is quietly determined to do better the second time around.  This was definitely one of the better reads I’ve pulled out of the random Nora Roberts box, and it’s one I can see myself reading again in the future.  I will say that it’s definitely a mature rating as there is some language and some sexy times, but it was stuff I could skim over for the most part.

They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They? by Patrick McManus – 4*

//published 1977//

McManus is one of those authors that I don’t remember reading for the first time – it’s as though I have always read McManus in the past.  He wrote humorous articles for magazines like Outdoor Life in the 1960’s and 70’s (and beyond), and most of his books are collections of those articles – so short stories, or essays on a topic.  They mostly focus on hunting, fishing, and McManus’s childhood on a small, poverty-stricken farm in the backwoods of Idaho.  Like all collections, some of the stories are stronger than others, but there wasn’t a single one that didn’t make me laugh at least once.  The childhood stories are definitely my favorites, and there is a regular cast of secondary characters, including (my favorite) an old backwoodsman named Rancid Crabtree, who always knows how to accomplish important things, like skinning a skunk or cutting a hole to go ice fishing.  If you’re someone who thinks hunting is barbaric, steer away from McManus at all costs, as you will definitely be offended.  But if you’re a bit of a country person at heart (and have a sense of humor), you should definitely give him a try.  Many of McManus’s life lessons have been imbedded into my family’s philosophy permanently, as he tackles all kinds of hardships with a good-natured dose of self-depreciating humor.

The Phantom Friend by Margaret Sutton – 3* 

//published 1959//

In this installment of the Judy Bolton series, my mind was blown.  The entire premise was that an unethical advertising company was creating television commercials with faint phantom pictures that would cause the viewers to be semi-hypnotized into purchasing what the company was advertising!  Subliminal messaging taken to the next level!  What I don’t know is – was this a serious fear back in 1959??  I can see that it would be, as television was still a very new technology that many people found suspicious.  In many ways, it reminded me of The Secret Benedict Society – can subconscious messages be transmitted into our brains via other technology we are taking in?  Maybe Sutton was onto something, and it’s only our long association with television that has numbed our natural suspicions.  Or maybe the subliminal messaging over the decades has convinced us that television is harmless??  So many questions.

A Regency Rose by Miriam Lynch – 3*

//published 1980//

This one started out at a regular level of 1980’s Regency romance ridiculousness, but then took a sharp turn into the completely implausible, which was disappointing, since I actually did like the characters for the most part.


Bare Minimum Parenting // by James Breakwell

//published 2018//

Subtitled “The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child,” Breakwell’s parenting book probably isn’t like any other parenting book you’ve read.  Breakwell is a father of four (and the owner of two house-pigs) who, among other things, tweets regularly about the adventures within his own household.  Personally, I love his weekly newsletter, which just updates on some randomness from his life.  This week’s installment included the sentence: “Her best find was a box of chocolate lobsters, which actually contained zero percent lobster and 100 percent chocolate,” so I’m really not sure how you can not like this guy.

This is Breakwell’s second parenting book.  The first, Only Dead on the Insideis the first parenting book ever to delve into the nitty-gritty details of how to get not just yourself, but your dependents, through a zombie apocalypse.  Bare Minimum Parenting isn’t quite as event-specific.  Instead, Breakwell pokes a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun at our culture’s obsession with superior, over-achieving parenting that strives to create perfect, outstanding, genius kids.  As he points out in the first chapter, while your child is definitely special and one-of-a-kind, the odds of him doing something that’s going to change the world are extremely slim.

Chances are they’ll lead an ordinary life not that different from your own.  Right now, there are literally billions of amazing, creative, and brilliant people who will never do anything particularly amazing, creative, or brilliant.  …  That’s okay.  Your kid doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-generation talent to lead a good life.  Being a genius at something doesn’t lead to a high job-satisfaction rate.  Tortured artists seldom die of old age surrounded by loved ones.

Instead of trying to raise THE BEST KID EVER, Breakwell encourages parents to achieve three simple goals:  Your kids should be able to support themselves.  Your kids shouldn’t be social deviants.  And your kids shouldn’t blame you for everything that’s wrong with their lives.

While it’s obvious that a lot of Breakwell’s advice is meant to be a bit over-the-top for the sake of humor (I don’t think he genuinely advocates having your kids watching television all day), his overall message is genuinely refreshing.  I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak from experience, but I know a lot of parents, and so many of them are so worried all the time, so guilty that they aren’t doing enough, so caught up in the “well so-and-so is doing such-and-such so we should do probably do it to” game.  While Breakwell’s book is all in good fun, it’s still a good reminder of the fact that raising kids is a huge crapshoot.  You can’t really control how they turn out.  Kids from great families go on to be terrible people, and kids from terrible families go on to be great people.  All you can do is your best, and sometimes your best means relaxing and not trying to do everything.

Some of the chapters were funnier to me than others.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter explaining why you shouldn’t have just one kid.

You children will have a hard time being deviants with other kids around to teach them social skills – and to tattle on them when they step out of line.  Never underestimate the value of a narc.

At times, Breakwell’s writing can be a little uneven – sometimes it seems like he goes a smidge too far in making his point on the importance of relaxed parenting – but overall I found this to be an enjoyable and entertaining book, and an important reminder that none of us – or our children – are the center of the universe.