On Tuesday, I promised to post about the last four books I read while on vacation last week and I'm nothing if not a promise keeper (and okay, sometimes breaker). Regardless, in this instance, I'm keeping my word. Here are some more mini book reviews:

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner      ** 1/2

I wish there was a nice way to explain this book without invoking the words "chick lit." But there isn't.

That said, Weiner's work is some of the best in the genre. It gives you the warm fuzzies, it features young women in New York, but it's not completely predictable.

This one tackles the world of infertility, from egg donation, to IVF, to surrogacy. Women's lives intersect. Things get a bit tense, there are several red herrings, and ultimately,  a happy (and unbelievable) ending. It's a decent beach read, but I wouldn't say it's more than that.

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg    ***

I liked this book. It read like very (very) light and accessible version of Unless by Carol Shields. It features an aging writer-narrator, still dealing with the sudden death of her spouse a year ago, who must also face her writer's block while navigating her relationship with her adult daughter (who often finds her exasperating).

The best thing about this book is the voice of the writer/narrator. She's appealing, and I felt like I could relate to her, even though she's more my mother's age than my own. I'd recommend this, but I'd warn readers not to expect too much.

Lemon by Cordelia Strube     *** 1/2

This is probably one of the "best" books I read all week, in that it is very well written, and very literary, but I'm not sure it's mainstream or accessible enough to warrant a full-on endorsement.

Title character - Limone (aka Lemon) is a 16 year old girl with a whole lot of angst. No false optimism for her. Sounds predictable, but it's not. For one thing, the book's written in a stream-of-consciousness-esque teen-speak that twists and turns in unpredictable ways. For another, the basic plot is ultimately WAY more upsetting than any teen-focused book you're likely to encounter in the main stream. Expect disturbing sexual assaults, for one thing.

My one quibble is that I'm not 100% convinced that teens like Lemon even exist. She's a bit too literature/history obsessed. A bit too Holden Caulfiend.  As I said, this book isn't for everyone, but I do think it's good. It was on the Giller Long List. Make of that what you well.

Heaven is Small by Emily Schultz     ** 1/2

This is definitely the weirdest book I read all week. The premise is this: protagonist Gordon Small dies and (failing to notice his death) seeks new employment. He gets a post-mortem job at Heaven -- the world's foremost publisher of romance novels.

Bizarre, right?

The rest of the book is about Gordon realizing he's dead and trying to figure out exactly how "Heaven" works. It's kind of funny, I guess. And ultimately pretty light.

In the end, however, I'm not sure what to make of it. I thought the book was okay, but I didn't feel edified by it. I finished reading on the plane ride home and closed the cover thinking... nothing. Little about it resonated.

The book's strangeness makes it kind of interesting, but even having finished it, I'm on the fence about whether I liked it or not.

Anyway. There you have it. Four  more mini-reviews to round off my week of holiday reading. I've begun Eve Ensler's Insecure At Last now, but I'm not sure how that's going to go. I think I need a book break. I sort of feel like watching TV and reading some magazines instead.
Nate and I just got back from a week-long trip to Cuba, filled with nothing but surf, sand, food and books. I burned my way through eight solid tomes (plus a couple of magazines). I read fast. It's not always a good thing. When I go on holiday, it means taking a very heavy suitcase. (No e-reader suggestions, please. Not for me. Not yet.)

Anyway, here's what I read and what I thought about it, in two parts. I'll post about the first four books today and the last four on Thursday. None of these books are really new, but that just means each will be a little cheaper if you want to pick one up yourself.

(P.S. Nate read Game of Thrones over the course of the week, for which I teased him mercilessly.)

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff      *** 1/2

This one is a heavy memoir about a parent's relationship to his son's addiction to crystal meth. I think both author father and addict son were on Oprah once, so maybe you've heard of it.

Sometimes people ask me about why I haven't had kids yet. The answer is in this book, to some extent. Because having a child is TERRIFYING. You never know what might happen. You can do everything right (or as right as possible). You can try your best. Your kid may still become a meth addict. Anyway, like I said, this book is heavy. A little dense, and not for everyone, but I thought it was very smart, and very worth reading.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks      ****1/2

This was the best thing I read all week, by far. It's historical fiction about a small town in 17th Century England (1665-1666) that is beset by plague.

Over the course of one year, more than half the population dies. The novel is narrated by a housemaid who survives.

It's incredible. Really. Totally engaging. Totally disturbing. In some ways, hard to read (because bad thing after bad thing happens, with almost no relief), but I couldn't put it down.

3 Willows by Ann Brashares     ***

By the author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, this book is about a "new sisterhood" of three eighth-grade girls.

It's not an adult book, and it's not great literature, but I enjoyed it. The struggles each girl faces are fairly predictable, but then again, I'm in my 30s. The girls in the story are familiar, and that's a good thing in YA literature.

If you have a younger teen daughter, I'd recommend this to her. (It also contains lots of interesting facts about willow trees. Bonus.)

The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele     **

Not terrible, but the weakest thing I read all week. It's about the relationship between two (predictably different) sisters. One sleeps with the others husband. Drama ensues. But you know how it is... relationships are complicated. There's family history to consider. Sisterhood. Blah blah blah.

The thing that bothered me most was the book's obsessive weight chatter. Body type was regularly noted as if it was important to the plot. At one point, the narrator describes a woman (who weighs 160lbs, FYI - Gabriele actually tells you that) giving her a "fleshy" hug. Eesh. Such things ruined an otherwise average book.

Okay, so there's the first four books down. Like I said, I'll tell you about the last four shortly. Happy reading.
Since I last posted here on the Reviews blog, I've tried out a few new shows I thought I'd tell you about. But before I get to that, here are my updates on the ones I posted about last time:

Pan Am: I think it's awful. Badly written. Predictable. Trite. People like it because the faces/people are pretty and it's getting massive press. But I think it stinks.

The Playboy Club: Already canceled, which is really too bad, because it was my front-runner for the best new show of the season. I think it bombed because the network didn't support it with a good marketing campaign.

Ringer: I'm still love Buffy, but Ringer has been going steadily downhill since the first episode. Not worth it.

Revenge: Surprisingly watchable. Silly, certainly, and DEFINITELY a soap, but it doesn't try to be anything else. It feels like a night soap meets Gossip Girl meets The OC and it's working for me.

Now onto the new shows:
Person of Interest
At first, I kept thinking this show and Prime Suspect were the same thing. They are NOT. On J. J. Abrams' name alone, I gave this a chance. Wish I hadn't. That's an hour I'll never get back. The show is boring. The dialogue is terrible. The cast is fine, but nothing special. If you've been looking forward to POI, expect to be let down.

Prime Suspect
I NEVER thought I would like this show, but I didn't initially realize it was based on the ITV series of the same name. As far as traditional cop dramas go, I think it's the best of late. (Shocker!) It's like The Closer meets NYPD Blue. The gender dynamics on the show are interesting. Best of all, it's well-paced and it's NOT predictable. That's saying a lot for a cop show. I highly recommend you give it a try.

Up All Night
I'm not a comedy person in general, but I tried this because the cast looked good. I enjoyed it. It's not amazing, but it has lots of funny moments and the baby is adorable. Maya R. does her usual over-the-top thing, but not everyone is so in your face. The Lorne Michaels/silly SNL influence is strong. If you saw last year's Mr. Sunshine, compare it to that. You'll find this to be a LOT better.