Saturday, December 9, 2017

November Reads

I LOVE this time of year.  The holiday decorations up, the lights and warmth from trees and candles, plus the fireplace glow just makes such a cozy environment to read in.  This past month I met my goal of 70 books "to read"  in 2017 and I feel great about that.  As always, though, I want to challenge myself more.  I'm hoping to put on the docket for next year -100 books in 2018.  We will see...

So in no particular order here are the reads for November.

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The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

I picked up this book after getting to listen to the author receive the Paul Engle Prize Award winner for 2017.  This award was given to Alexander Chee during the Iowa City Book Festival in October.  The prize is given to those individuals who "represent a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing publishing or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts." (iowacityofliterautre.org) 

This book is a historical novel about an opera singer.  Lilliete Bernet is a famous Paris soprano opera singer.  She is a Falcon.  Falcon's are a type of opera singer is very rare and the definition I found is based on the original Falcon Cornelie Falcon who could sing a low A-flat to high D (2.5 octaves).  As Chee describes throughout the book, a Falcon's singing life can be quite short lived if specific voice rest and training are not followed, for too much singing/strain the voice can be lost for ever.

So you would think that this is an opera book, but truly this book is an EPIC love story.  I listened to this book on audio and I think I did Chee a diservice by "reading" this book in that form.  It was too EPIC for me to keep track of characters, happening, and what year in the life of Lilliete I was in.  The story spans years and the story has sub stories, sub plots, so many characters I felt like  I needed a cheat sheet with characters names and their relation to Lilliete.  I think if I could have read the book I would have been more present in my "reading".  I gave this 3 stars.  I plan to read  his debut novel "Edinburgh".  Pretty cool to here a author speak and read from his book and then go forward and read the book.  Very lucky to live where I do and have such great access to the art and literature.  

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How To Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs

This was my Blogging for Books (bloggingforbooks.com) read for the month.  I have already written my review in past blog post.  If you want the more detailed review I suggest you check that out.  Overall I was disappointed and didn't find this book very "readable".  I thought the writing was disjointed and I just didn't really get much insight from this read.  2 stars

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Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
Katherine Applegate;s books one really can't go wrong for adults or kids reading pleasure.  This was our Van Waning/Gutierrez Family read for Thanksgiving holiday.  Grandma Sophie even got involved.  It was a meaningful story about what community and neighborhoods are made of.  What diversity can bring to a town/city/community- which is difference and learning.  The main character is Red, the Oak Tree.  Red is the wishtree.  Every year people from the community tie their wishes to Red's branches.  When a new family moves into town- across the street from Red- there are people who do not welcome this Muslim family.  You could substitute Muslim for any ethnicity, race, or religious following that isn't the norm in our country.  Katherine Applegate has a way of talking about tough subjects in ways that all can understand and she shows us what the obvious answer is to inability to accept those of difference- love and friendship.  The animals who live in Red also have great voices and bring a lot to the story.  We all liked the story.  4 Stars.  

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The Good Sister by Drusilla Campbell
This was our book club read for the month.  I gave it 3 stars.  It was great story line and a subject matter that I feel is important and could have more written about it: post partum depression, depression, and mental health issues that occur due to child hood adverse events.  Why I didn't give this book more stars was I felt the writing could have been cleaner and more in depth.  I really liked "the good sister", Roxanne, and felt her character could have had more "punch".  Her sister, Simone, clearly was suffering from depression after so many babies (her husband wanted to keep trying until that 'boy'- UGH!).  However, Simone, even as a child had developmental delay and learning difficulties which added to her being a "mess" of a mother. 

This story also sheds light on how we can enable those we love.  Roxanne did this all the time, throughout the book, and almost lost her marriage over it.  I think this part of the book could have also been further developed.  It was a good/easy read, but I just wanted more to the writing/reading experience.

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Bonfire by Krysten Ritter
This was a 5 start book for me.  I read it very quickly due to wanting to know what was going to happen.  I liked the story line, the main character- Abby Williams, and the writing was clean and believable.  It reminded me of "Erin Brokovich" meets "Girl on the Train" or "Gone Girl"- accept not as heavy and twisted.  I also kept on thinking of the term "mean girls" throughout the reading of the book.  Why are girls so mean to other girls- especially in high school?  Abby Williams has so much baggage from high school and she gets to reopen that suitcase when she returns to her town to investigate possible environmental illegality with the main company in town.  She is no longer the awkward high school student, she is now a successful environmental protection lawyer.    Her return to the town brings back a flood of memories and with it some current day revisiting of those people from her past.  I also liked the backstory with her own father which was highlighted during the story.  I was so engrossed with the story that I didn't even think twice about the author.  The author is an actress and also is in a rock band.  I think her acting experience may have given her some great writing skills on how to make the characters seem truly believable. 

Side note- I really enjoyed this book and so pushed my husband into reading it.  He didn't have the same reading experience.  He thought the story line was too sophomoric and didn't intrigue him much at all.  Just goes to show you we all can come out of a reading experience differently.  

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I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak
This is a book I've been looking forward to reading for quite a while as I loved "The Book Thief" the author's first book.  I gave this book 4 stars.  The main character, Ed Kennedy, early in the book comes across as a "loser"  He doesn't doesn't seem to have much focus, goals, or priorities in life.  He is a taxi driver, barely making a living, who lives with a horribly smelly dog. He hangs out playing cards with this three friends.  He is obsessed with the one friend and wants their friendship to be more, but never seems to have the gumption to go after that desire.

However, that changes after he stops a bank robbery.  He then receives his first ace in the mail- yep a playing car- with a message.  The message is an address.  I thought the use of the playing cards with a street address was perfect for Ed's character, a taxi driver.  Ed decides to see what the message on the cards entails and becomes the messenger. Her reminded me of a current day Robin Hood.  He helps the needy, those in unsafe situations, and those who don't have much money.   My biggest complaint with this book was I had a lot of unanswered questions even after finishing the book.  This theme was supported by other readers I'm connected with.  I think this is Markus' style.  He likes to make you "think".  I gave this book 4 stars.  If you have to pick start with "The Book Thief" first and then try this one out.  

Lab Girl
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Another Audiobook for November.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I gave it 4 stars.  The book is mainly about Hope's building three labs in which she is head scientist and studies trees, flowers, seeds and nature's growing process.  You think you are reading a book about plant life and growth, but it is filled with so much more: the hard work and hard life of a scientist, what happens when mental health issues and life mix, and the amazing relationship that is built with her lab partner Bill. I found this book entertaining, educational and at times gut wrenching.  Real life stuff- real good stuff!  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Blogging for Books- Take 3


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How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs

Quick read. Didn’t enjoy the writing voice. Reminded me of a “blah” textbook style with so much referencing throughout the book. 

I think it was “too smart” for me. High power thinking/analysis. Liked some of the ways he tied in personal stories to topic, but a lot of referencing of other’s works made me lose some of the personal stories and ways in which I could tie the topic into my own life of thinking. 


What I got the most out of was in the afterword: The Thinking Person’s Checklist. This is what I could have used more of. One of my favorite lines of the book... “What is needed for the life of thinking is hope: hope of knowing more,understanding more, being more than we currently are.”


Thanks to Blogging for Books for supplying me with this book for review. Look forward to my next one. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

October Reads...


I love OCTOBER!  I love OCTOBER for a lot of reasons: fall decor, my birthday, football games, falling leaves, crisp mornings with sunny afternoons, fire pits when it feels really good to be next to a fire, and of course where there is a fire there is a s'more.  Lastly, some great READS.

Here they are in no particular order...

The Names They Gave Us
The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Sometimes I need a break from the heavy and go towards some good YA fiction.  I read two back to back this month and both were entertaining and didn't disappoint.  However, this one in the beginning had me a little worried.  It started a little slow and the main character Lucy, a preacher's daughter, was acting like a typical preacher's daughter (the good kind not the Footloose kind of Preacher's daughter).  There were heavy references to God, her religion and she seemed pretty judgmental.  Then the book changed and morphed into a great  "summer camp" story.  Lucy's mother has cancer, again- no I didn't just ruin the book- you discover it early.  While her mom is dealing with having to a go through chemo treatment she pushes her daughter to try something new this summer.  Instead of being a camp counselor at their church camp Holyoke.  Her mother recommends she work as a camp counselor at the "hippie camp" a mile from their church camp.  This experience is life changing and I can't believe how I really changed my thoughts/opinion of this book and story line as I read on.  I went from being worried it was going to be overly "churchy" to tears dribbling out my eyes at the end and wanting more- wanting to know the rest of  Lucy's story.  Good YA read and I appreciated the author's ability to weave religion/faith into struggling with life decisions and growing up as a teenager.  
The Sun Is Also a Star
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Last March I read "Everything is Everything" by Nicola Yoon.  I liked it so much I picked it for my month of hosting the Bookies.  Then one of the Bookies read this book afterward and said she thought it was better.  As mentioned above I was needing a little "break" from the serious and so started my two YA read at the end of the month with this one.  I really liked it.  Not sure if I liked it more than "Everything is Everything", but thought the book was very poignant and well written.  It flows well and I really believed the story that unfolded.  One of my friends recently stated she struggled to believe the love story that unfolds, but for some reason  I didn't.  I need to believe love stories can unfold in this way- it makes me feel that the world is still OK despite the world's craziness.  I also was constantly feeling like Nicola's descriptive writing was spot on and I could visualize scenes based on her descriptive writing.  I liked the concept of "what if" and the story line reminded me of that "Sliding Doors" movie Gwyneth Paltrow starred in.  

By the way when I googled "Sliding Doors" (wanted to make sure I had the name of the movie correct) the following google phrase came up in search box- Gwyneth Paltrow sliding glass doors haircut....  So I'm trying to grow my hair out right now and this picture made me miss my short hair-
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OK back to reality and the blog post :)


The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Holy Macaroni!  This book was HILARIOUS!  It was RAUNCHY!  Total R Rated listening  status- aka never let your kid hear you listen to this book.  It was SAD (at times)! It was REAL!  The subject material was what a lot of comedians bring to the table: heartache, honesty, some messed up family stuff, and surprisingly some major characteristics of  introverts (despite being able to get paid mega money to stand on stage in front of many people and make them laugh).  Amy Schumer made me laugh out loud while walking into work- yep people thought I was walking to the psych unit at work due to my outbursts- I'm pretty sure.  Her discussion of topics varied anywhere from: masturbation, dad shitting his pants at "Adventureland" (nope not the one in Iowa- the one in NY), her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, gun violence, and rape.  Some heavy and very personal topics, yet I  was laughing throughout most of the book- not during the gun violence chapter- that was probably next to the rape chapter the toughest for me to listen to as this book was 4 years old and the Las Vegas shooting had just occurred not a month earlier- the USA has learned nothing!!! about gun violence). 

I love audiobooks that are read by the author.  This was a GREAT one!  Again don't recommend listening to it out loud as it may be offensive  to  young and old, but if you are looking for some entertainment with a dose of honesty about the problems in our great nation I recommend it.

A Farewell to Arms
Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
This was the Bookie's read for October.  I was very disappointed.  I normally really appreciate Hemingway's story line and clean/crisp writing.  I felt this story was very sophomoric.  It was short and to the point, but it lacked some depth and the one main female character I really couldn't stomach as I felt she was a immature, selfish and irritatingly weak female- also a nurse which made me mad as I felt she didn't have the "gumption" I think of when I envision nurses involved with war.  I went into reading this book thinking I would love it as I fondly remember watching "In Love and War" with my at the time boyfriend, now husband.  Sandra Bullock and Chris  O'Donell were supposed to portray the main characters of Hemingway during his stent as an ambulance driver in WWI- which "Farewell to Arms" is also based on-Hemingway's experience during the war.  
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The movie was totally different than the book and I think I remembered the "romantic" notions from the movie and then pushed them onto the reading of this Hemingway story and as normally happens I got disappointed.  Note to self- book and movie don't equal the same equation so treat each as a separate entity.  I like to think in this one instance the movie is actually more reflective of real life- the movie was written by Villard, Hemingway's hospital room roommate, during  the "war to end all wars".  "Farewell to Arms" was a book about an ambulance driver who falls in love with a nurse and his experience with rehab from war wounds, love interest, love of alcohol, return to the "front", escape from assassination by Italian army, and of course the end/demise of his relationship is the main content/story line.  I respect Hemingway's writing so much- his ability to write so cleanly and succinctly is known world wide.  He is famous  ( or so urban legend says) for his 6 word  memoir...  "For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn." .  This book didn't have that panache.  

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
This was my other audiobook for October.  It has been on my "TBR" for a long time.  I am an extrovert and my husband is an introvert I thought this was a needed read.  He thought it would be biased towards introverts and all about justifying who introverts are.  He doesn't need justification so I'm not sure he'll read this one :).
The author Susan Cain calls herself a pseudo extrovert- so really an introvert.  I thought it was a well written nonfiction read that brings out many points of interest in regard to what being labeled an introvert can really mean and do to a person.  I think the point I found most interesting in this book was when she started talking about highly reactive people- HRP (otherwise known as highly sensitive people) and how many introverts also are HRP.  This is where I was dumbfounded for I'm the HRP in our family/relationship, not my introvert, accountant hubby.  He is logical and not HRP.    Good listen/read.  Again I think it shows what labeling people can do long term.  I was always called "the sensitive/demanding" child and until about a year ago I struggled with that label and thought it made me a "weak/bad" person.  Come to find out it is what makes me pretty good at a lot of things!  So lets stop  labeling and start instead to understand each other and our personalities and work on maximizing our personalities to make us the best people we can be and henceforth do the most good!

Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
She had me at the title and the book cover!  Smart title and marketing!  I also was "had" when I discovered this Celeste Ng was the same one that wrote "Everything I never told you"- read it last year. That was a great story!
"Little Fires Everywhere"  was my book of the month club pick and I wasn't disappointed.  It was chalk full of interesting characters, multiple story lines, that all end up on one road.  I also like flash back books and this one started really at the end and went back to the beginning and story line crosses over many years.  Adoption, surrogacy, teenage lust/love, artists, disowning family members, were just a few of the topics covered in this fiction story.  I liked it a lot, not as much as "Everything I never told you.", but well worth a reader's time.  Thanks Celeste Ng for writing a story line that lived up to the beautiful cover and smart title.   

The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters
The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith
This was one of my "blogging for books" reviews.  I already posted an earlier review of this book as Blogging for Books likes the reader to post a review after reading it.   Here is a brief review of the previous post on this book.  

Emily Esfahani Smith has put together a great read about finding purpose or meaning in your life.  I think no better than the present to be reading this book as I've struggled recently with answering some of life's tough questions: am I making a difference in my patients lives?  Am I having a positive impact on my children as their mom?  What do I need to be doing to figure out what my true purpose is on this earth?  So when I saw this book as an option I jumped at the chance to review it.  

I could tell this book was a good one because since I own it I can write in it and underlie sentences or phrases that catch my eye during reading.  This book has a lot of chattynatty script now written in it- a sign of a good book.  

Overall I gave this book four stars.  Although nonfiction Emily does a great job of weaving real life stories throughout the book and the weaving of educational content on finding purpose/meaning along with these personal stories really makes the book flow quite easily.  It was a fast read and smooth going.  The only reason I couldn't give it a full 5 stars was there was one part of the book that just didn't do anything for me.  I think this is just because of the content and the type of gal I am.  That part was chapter 5 on Transcendence. This however, was just one of the many chapters and I got so much out of the rest of the book that I still would highly recommend this book to anyone who is like me that is always asking the What if's?  or the Why's? or the How come's?  

If you are at all an avid reader and enjoy sharing reviews on books via social media/blog posts I'd highly recommend you look into http://www.bloggingforbooks.com/.  

That wraps up one of my favorite months of the year.  To date I've read 65 out of 70 books for my 2017 reading challenge.  I'm hoping to bypass that goal of 70 within the month of November.  



Friday, October 27, 2017

Blogging for Books- Take 2



The Daily Question: My Five Year Spiritual Journal
by Waterbrook

Think Goodreads states it best on their description of this book... The short questions at the top of each page are quick to answer—but their impact could be life changing! You’ll go back and answer the same question a year later for five years in a row, creating a time capsule of soul transformation.

This description intrigued me and as someone who likes to journal I thought- Why not?  So it arrived and it is lovely, useful, and easy to get done daily.  The cover is very serene, not overly feminine, but pretty with blue, green and white flowers and leaves gracing it's cover. The size, 4 x6, in hardbound cover makes it just "cute" if I can describe a book's cover in that way.  It is also small enough in size to take in purses, travel bags, etc.   Each day has a question to journal or answer daily.   I was worried it was going to be overboard with "religion", but it really is more "spiritual".  Here are some examples of questions I've answered thus far:

What do you have a hard time leaving as is?
Do you feel more comfortable alone or in big groups?
When God looks at you, He sees _____.  When you look at yourself, you see______.
What motivated you today?

Each page as a date and month and then there are 5 areas on each page that start with 20___.  You fill in the year and write your answer- you get about 4 lines per that day's answer.  The goal is to answer the daily questions and in 5 years you will have a book of answers, ideas, and perspectives on your life, your spiritual being and I think the ultimate goal is these answers will help you know yourself better.

I REALLY like this style of journal.  It is reasonably priced- $14.99 and I liked it so much I have already purchased a few others as Christmas/Birthday gifts for special people in my life.  My only negative comment is the type face and front cover art is very feminine and I think it is heavily marketed for women, but I think the above questions could be asked to a man and it could be marketed to either sex as a way to journal yourself over 5 year's time.  That's the only negative. 

I'm so grateful my Bookie friend introduced me to Blogging for Books. I thank Blogging for Books for sending me this book for review.  Can't wait to order my next one.   

Thursday, October 19, 2017

September Reads

The following are what I read or listened to in September.  These days I'm averaging about 1-2 audiobooks per month and then 2-3 books of reading per month- monthly average about 5 reads. If I could change one thing in my reading life it would be to be reading more.  One thought is all the time I waste on social media and email daily.  So I'm going to try a new daily time limit on both "tempters" per day.  It is the middle of October so we will see how many books I can read by the end of the year However, I also think my ability to read or listen to more books also correlates with how great the "reads" are.  September I read some books with pretty heavy subject matter and that tends to weigh me down in my speed of reading.  I also, recognize that my "likability" for a certain book can also increase the speed of reading.  So books I love I read quick, books I am not really digging I tend to get in a "holding pattern" and can't quite get it done as fast as I'd like.  So with 2 and 1/2 months left in my 2017 reading year I plan to try and be more thoughtful in the books I invite into my life in hopes that I will become a more productive reader.  If anyone has any great suggestions on how to become a more productive reader let me know.  Happy Reading !

The Wonder
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
One of my audiobooks for September.  It was just OK.  I liked the premise which was an 11 year old girl, Anna O'Donell, has stopped eating, and only takes water, but lives on. "How does she survive on water alone" the main plot line.   Due to the amazing feat of the fasting of this girl the local catholic church wants to document this miracle and so the community brings in a nurse and nun from outside the village to observe her fasting and document that the child is truly involved in a miracle- subsiding by faith alone.  The book takes place in Ireland, and the nurse is a former student of the one and only Florence Nightingale.  I think I was more intrigued with the nurse's story more then the child's story throughout the book.  This book could read like a mystery: What is keeping this girl alive if she isn't taking any sustenance?  Why did this girl start fasting?  What is the back story with the girl's family?  and Lastly, how does the nurse and her back story play into the book?  I didn't realize until after listening to the book that this author wrote the nationally acclaimed, and made into a movie, "The Room".  Can see some cross over in psychology topics from the two stories. Wonder if when writing this type of story the author experiences any depression, anxiety, stress over the character's duress endured?  

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
This was our book club read for the month of September.  I have had it on my "to read" list for several years and was happy to finally get pushed to read it.  It is an amazing story of 9 Americans who persevered at collegiate level crew and then went onto represent the USA in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Things I liked about this book were the characters: Joe Rantz (came from nothing, bad family situation throughout childhood and even through adulthood, amazing girlfriend/wife who helps him accomplish much, and amazing strength to overcome physical/emotional odds), Al Ubrickson (coach of the Washington crew team, and 1936 USA crew team, serious, stern, non-emotional, amazing leader while man of few words), and George Pocock (builder of the boats, talented craftsman, mentor to many especially Joe Rantz, silent supporter). I also, of course, loved the way Daniel wove the history of pre-WWII stories into the story of these 9 men.  What I struggled with in the book was the minutiae, the details, the over explanation of some of the rowing techniques and at times the book just seemed to slog along.  I'm glad I read it and it was an extremely good reminder of what one can do mentally to overcome physical, financial, and social roadblocks in life.  There is a YA version of this book and think it would be very motivational for a junior high aged student to read.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Last month I listened to "Let's Pretend This Never Happened" and loved it.  Well no disappointment again with this book on audio.  Jenny reads the story herself, which I think makes this audiobook even more enjoyable, and believable.  In "Let's Pretend This Never Happened" Jenny tells some pretty funny and not always funny stories about her life, her family, her marriage, etc.  This book takes it a step further and the elephant in the room is really let out- Jenny's battle with mental illness.  I know how can a book about anxiety and depression be so enjoyable? Well that's where Jenny's talent to tell it like it is and not get overly morose comes in to save the day.  This is a five star book and I encourage anyone to go out and get this book.  All of us know someone or maybe personally have struggled with anxiety and depression and this book allows us to talk about and explore the mental illness struggle with open eyes and some humor.  Please, read this book or better yet listen to it!

Lilac Girls
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
The cover had me immediately. I knew I would read this book, just by the looking at the cover.  I know maybe not the most intellectual way to decide to read a book, but most author's and editors/publishers know that the cover can sometimes make or break the book.  Well this cover sells the book very well. However, I was somewhat disappointed by how the cover made me think what I was getting into was a WWII story that would be informative, but yet a little dreamlike, filled by of course horrors, but more so by "niceness"/"romanticized" war stories and friendship as the lilacs and the three friends walking arm in arm so portrayed to me.  Well I was hoodwinked!  This story is a WWII story about women and it was VERY informative of a little place called Ravensbruck- largest concentration camp for women during WWII.  Two of the main characters are present in this camp- one a polish girl and the other one of the only female German physicians at the camp.  The last character never steps foot in the camp, but is an American who works at the French consulate. Their I'm really not going to say much because this book will suck you in and the stories of these three will unfold, weave together, and ultimately give the reader a picture of the horrors of WWII, the aftermath that I was somewhat oblivious to (What happened to people of Poland- mainly Polish women), and the way life and things like love, family, and friendship continue on during some of the most trying times in history.

  Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #13)
Glass Houses by Louise Penny
I was asked the other day if you could recommend an author to read who would it be. I answered, "Louise Penny".  I LOVE her Armand Gamache series and this is the latest.  I LOVE her books so much I pre-ordered this one to arrive to my door after it was released.  I recommend reading this series in order- this is #13.  Louise has an amazing way of writing a mystery that allows the reader to visualize or make the picture of the story as graphic as the reader wants.  She doesn't give every detail of the atrocity committed. She writes just enough to let the reader take it from there and that is true writing genius.  Don't get me wrong I enjoy a good old blood/guts murder mystery, but her mystery writing is really story writing with a little death, deception, and sin written in.  Her characters are so believable.  Her setting is so believable- it reads like creative nonfiction. You will want to go to "Three Pines" and meet the people who live in this fictitious community after reading just the first book.  I again won't discuss the story line here, because that would just be giving it away.  Instead I hope if you haven't read her Armand Gamache series this review pushes you to getting to the library, visiting your local bookstore, or going online and purchasing her first in the series "Still Life", and reading on from there- you won't be disappointed!  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Power of Meaning- my first Blogging For Books Review


So one of my Bookies has been blogging a lot about books lately.  I'm pretty jealous she blogs about books at least once a week, not once a month like me- there always has to be an over achiever among us :).  So this Bookie introduced me to this great site bloggingforbooks.com.  You sign up and the company will send you a book.  All you need to do in return is blog about it- get the word out about the book they sent you.  Before you can request another book you need to post a review.  So with no further ado here is my first review of my blogging for books Book.  

Emily Esfahani Smith has put together a great read about finding purpose or meaning in your life.  I think no better than the present to be reading this book as I've struggled recently with answering some of life's tough questions: am I making a difference in my patients lives?  Am I having a positive impact on my children as their mom?  What do I need to be doing to figure out what my true purpose is on this earth?  So when I saw this book as an option I jumped at the chance to review it.  

I could tell this book was a good one because since I own it I can write in it and underlie sentences or phrases that catch my eye during reading.  This book has a lot of chattynatty script now written in it- a sign of a good book.  

Overall I gave this book four stars.  Although nonfiction Emily does a great job of weaving real life stories throughout the book and the weaving of educational content on finding purpose/meaning along with these personal stories really makes the book flow quite easily.  It was a fast read and smooth going.  The only reason I couldn't give it a full 5 stars was there was one part of the book that just didn't do anything for me.  I think this is just because of the content and the type of gal I am.  That part was chapter 5 on Transcendence. This however, was just one of the many chapters and I got so much out of the rest of the book that I still would highly recommend this book to anyone who is like me that is always asking the What if's?  or the Why's? or the How come's?  

The words or themes that most impacted me in my reading were her evaluation of four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence.   Belonging is such an epic part of having meaning within this life road we are on.  Emily, as I said a few lines earlier, has an amazing way to talk about research studies in one line/paragraph and then the next line or paragraph is tying the research study and it's findings in with a personal story and "belonging" the personal stories definitely impressed upon me the importance of having loved ones, family and friends present in your life to give it meaning and feel purposeful.  The purpose section of the book was great also.  I loved the story in this chapter that highlighted a man named Coss Marte.  He grew up on New York's lower east side.  It wasn't a great neighborhood and he got involved in drugs and went on to become a successful and very rich drug dealer.  However, his dealing and selling drugs ended one night when over two pounds of cocaine and $5000 in cash were found in his apartment.  He was sentenced to prison.  He became very focused on health and wellness within the prison and he also found his faith.  He helped others become healthy through physical fitness on daily basis in prison.    When he left prison he decided to open a gym to continue his purpose of helping others be healthy.  He today is a successful owner of gym that utilizes a prison-style workout program to help his members get in shape.  Emily writes "Coss's story contains an important insight: living purposefully require self-reflection and self-knowledge.  Each of us has different strengths , talents, insights and experiences that shape who we are.  And so each of us will have a different purpose, one that fits with who we are and what we value- one that fits our identity".

The third pillar is storytelling.  This may sound kind of cheap or chintzy, but it makes sense.  I especially liked the discussion and definition of "narrative identity".  Emily writes... "McAdams describes narrative identity as an internalized story you create about yourself- a personal myth, as one writer puts it, 'about who we are deep down- where we come from, how we got this way, and what it all means". Later she comments, "When we want people to understand us, we share our story or parts of it with them; when we want to know who another person is, we ask them to share part of their story in turn." I could totally identify with this idea.  I love to share my life story with others and in turn I also like asking people I meet about their stories.  I am definitely a story teller.  

Although I said I didn't like the transcendence chapter it is one of the four pillars.  Emily defines transcendence as "experience is one in which we feel that we have risen above the everyday world to experience a higher reality."   Maybe this is just to lofty a thought so maybe hard for me to grasp.  However, what I did take away from this chapter was a reminder of how important being present and being mindful is in figuring out or understanding one's purpose or meaning in life.  The famous quote of Jon Kabat-Zinn reads "mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgementally."  This was a needed reminder.  

I also very much appreciated in the beginning of the book how she spends time analyzing/evaluating the idea that being happy is equivalent to having meaning/purpose.  I won't give away what she found when she researched this topic.  You'll have to read it to find out what role happiness plays into our purpose in life.  

It was a great book to review, so with that I will say thank you for this book  Blogging for Books 


Thursday, September 14, 2017

August Reads

Enjoying a beautiful Indian Summer day today and catching up on some "to do's" before kids get done with school.  It always seems funny to me when I go to write my monthly "reading posts" how I so easily forget those books I've read.  Glad I'm keeping track on Goodreads.  It helps me avoid rereading books I've already read.  I know it may sound silly to some, but just the other day I picked up an Anne Lamott book from the library and got home and just had this sense that I had already read it.  I checked my goodreads list and sure enough I read it last year.  So here is a recap of what I read/listened to in August.  It was a somewhat depressing/sad month of stories, which is OK occasionally, but I needed a break after August to return to some good old fiction, comedy and mystery for September- can't wait to tell you about my favorite mystery writer's new book next month. 

In no particular order... August Reads:

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
One of my audibooks for August.  A friend had given this four stars on her goodreads list and she likes historical fiction as I do and so I took her praise of the book and checked it out.  It was an interesting story that went from current day to recent past.  It is the story of really two girls. One grows to become a woman during the story and the other a teenager.  Their connection is they are mother and daughter. 

The way Lisa See, author,  can weave the story along with geography and history lesson is amazing in this book. She through Li-yan's story (main character) introduces the Akha, a Chinese ethnic minority, and educates on tea production at the same time.  Li-yan's family comes from the Akha and they are tea farmers.  Both of these subjects I knew little to nothing about. Tea production fascinating!  Li-yan's character development in this story is perfect.  She goes from girl, to young women, to mother, to business women, to constant searcher of her child she gave up for adoption.  Her daughter ends up in California and you have to read/listen to the book to find out how and if the two find each other.

My only complaint with the book was that I think more time could have been focused on the last 1/3 of the book.  Parts in the middle were a little slow going.  The reason this book depressed me some was the way in which Li-yan's Akha ethnicity put her at extreme disadvantages at times due to their traditions, customs, beliefs.  These beliefs especially affected the women of the Akha group. For instance if you have twins that is forbidden in their culture.  The babies are killed right after birth and the mother and father are banned from the community.  Can you imagine?

I also felt sadness about the whole unknown plight of a mother trying to find her daughter.  Can't imagine what families go through that adopt- on one hand the adoptive parents wondering if the birth parent(s) will ever return to find the child or what if their child wants to look for her/his birth parent(s).  The other side of the coin the birth parent(s) who search trying to find their biological children and the heartache that must cause.  It was a good book, but not a "real feel good" one. 

Goodbye, Vitamin
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
This was a my book of the month club pick.  It was probably my least favorite book of the month.  I thought the writing was choppy and the story didn't flow the best for me.  I wanted more development with certain relationships in the book, and that didn't occur so that disappointed me.  The main characters are a daughter and her father who has Alzheimer's disease.  Her father is a  history professor who is no longer teaching due to his Alzheimer's.  His daughter comes home to help take care of him, and this occurs after her major break up with boyfriend (can't remember- maybe they were even engaged). 

Alzheimer's isn't fun to live with and I found it isn't always fun to read about.  The book just didn't sit well with me.  I liked the main character- the daughter- but thought that her character could have been better shared/explored during the progression of the book.  There were some funny parts to this story, but the Alzheimer's and what it did to the father was hard to read. 

The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City
The Mole People, Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City by Jennifer Toth
Our book club book for August.  It was a fascinating read.  A story I knew nothing about.  This nonfiction story is about people who chose to live under the streets of New York City.  Some are addicted to alcohol and drugs, others are mentally ill, and some are professionals with college degrees (even Master's Degrees) that have chosen to make their home there.  The chapters highlighted different people who live in these tunnels.  Jennifer Toth went down into these tunnels sometimes alone to document with her pen what these people's stories were.  Again- I think you can see why I'm calling August my month of depressing reads.... These stories were hard to fathom.  The pain and suffering some of the people endured, including the author was hard to swallow.  The environment some of the Mole People lived in sounded beyond disgusting, unsanitary, and horrific.  Other communities and groups portrayed in the book seemed pretty functional.  However, some of these groups reminded me of cults or communes.  There was something not quite right with these communities.  

This was a great book for book club as it stimulated a lot of great discussion.  One of the topics brought up was whether this book was really accurate.  One of our esteemed members had read up on the author and the book prior to reading it.  She found some thought Jennifer had elaborated or maybe even falsified the information in this book.  It sounded like that information tainted the reading of the book for her.   It would be hard to read nonfiction book if biased with "this might not be the whole truth" before even breaking the cover.  I'm glad I didn't have that info prior to reading the book, because I overall enjoyed (if that can be used to describe reading about people living in horrible situations and environments) the book.  A great book club pick for great/fascinating discussion.

  At Home in the World
At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
Tsh, her three kids under age 10 and her husband decide to pack up "home" and travel for 9 months.  They start in China (the smallest "home" they will stay in during the 9 months) then travel to Thailand, followed by Australia, Sri Lanka, Uganda, France and Croatia.  Their story is one I think so many Americans need to listen to and possibly even experience.  The experience of packing up your personal belongings, deciding what you "need" to get you through the next 9 months, and then traveling to different countries, experiencing different cultures, all the while learning about your family and realizing that "at home" is really where your loved ones are.  I listened to this book on audio and really enjoyed it.  I look forward to reading other books by Tsh. 

This is How It Always Is
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
I had heard about this book on the "What Should I Read Next" Podcast that Anne Bogel produces.  I heard about it not once, but three times on different Podcasts as a book people really enjoyed or were currently reading. I put it on my Goodreads "to read" list and found it awaiting me a the library one day last month.  I picked it up without even reminding myself  what the story line was by reading the inside cover. I was going in a little blind.

I was surprised by the story line and it was another tough read for the subject content.  A couple meet and marry and end up having four boys.  The mom gets pregnant a fifth time and they (her and her husband) do anything they can or are told to do to ensure that the fifth child is a girl (have your bed facing south and other "old wives tale" suggestions).  Well the fifth child comes out and it is a boy... or is it.  Claude, the fifth son, realizes he wants to be a princess when he grows up pretty early into his childhood.  Yep Gender Dysphoria is the leading "lady" of this story.  The story helped bring to light what many children and parents must go through when trying to figure out how to handle gender dysphoria.  Very well written and the characters work so well together to make this story great, it is just a tough and at times sad/painful read.  The world can be really tough out there if you don't follow the norm.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir
Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson
Again a bookie (made up word for one my book club buddies) gave this five stars on goodreads.  So I had to find out what it was about.  It was another audiobook for the month and I really enjoyed it.  Jenny Lawson started her writing career via a blog- The Bloggess.  http://thebloggess.com/
This book will just make you laugh, or at least it did me- several times out loud as I was walking into work or out to my car after work.  I'm sure I got some raised eyebrows for the unfiltered chattynatty laugh.  

How to explain this book?  Well it isn't a book I would listen out loud to with children around.  Her language is pretty crude at times and the subject matter is pretty crazy too.  This book cracked me up. Who can write about her obsession with taxi-dermied, costumed animals (hence the cover of her book). The book made me laugh/ she made me laugh- which I needed after some of the other story lines I read this past month.  Sometimes though the laughter couldn't cover the brutal truth.  Jenny Lawson has mental illness (anxiety, depression, history of suicidal ideation to name a few). She makes no excuses about this in the book, but there are times when she is describing certain scenarios that even despite the humor you want to cry for her pain with being her.  

I loved listening to this book on audio.  I'm currently listening to her second book Furiously Happy and enjoying it even more!  

If you need a little laughter in your life while staying grounded with tough subject matter like sneaking a dead Cuban alligator on a plane, then this book is for you.

100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love
100 Day s of Real Food by Lisa Leake
Recommended read by a good friend.  I actually did read through the whole book.  It wasn't your typical cook book as it has several chapters in the beginning of the book that focus on what healthy/real food eating is comprised of and how to make the change.  There were some pretty good recipes in it too.  

Well that is all my book loving friends.  August was a productive reading/listening month full of some tough subjects: Alzheimer's, gender dysphoria, Adoption, mental illness.  Moving onto, hopefully, some calmer waters in September reading.  



Sunday, August 13, 2017

July Reads- is it really important?

Sometimes writing about what I've read this past month seems pretty silly in comparison to the big things occurring in this world.  I'm very troubled by a lot of the events that occur daily in our world.    The Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally has me just sick to my stomach.  People have died- innocent bystanders, pilots of Virginia State Patrol helicopter, and many injured.  The light in the darkness for me was the post on FB with the picture of white children reaching out a window to shake former President Obama's hand and with that picture Obama's quote from Nelson Mendela, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.  For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

So how is reading related to this mess of a world we have made.  Well reading for me is some of the best therapy around.  I think of it as an education on how to love by reading stories of love.  I think of it as an education to history I'm unaware of and ignorant of and therefore the books show me history, ugly truth, and sometimes how to resolve these issues.  Finally, reading is an escape.  It is a way to step away for a few minutes to an hour(s) to find some deep breathing, and rhythm of the reading that helps my anxiety, anger and sadness feel less so.  I found these quotes on reading and feel they are very in line with how I too feel when I read or what I think reading can accomplish. 

“I mean, most people want to escape. Get out of their heads. Out of their lives. Stories are the easiest way to do that.”
Victoria Schwab, This Savage Song

“I spent the rest of the day in someone else's story. The rare moments that I put the book down, my own pain returned in burning stabs.”
Amy Plum, Die for Me

“You're trying to escape from your difficulties, and there never is any escape from difficulties, never. They have to be faced and fought.”
Enid Blyton, Six Cousins At Mistletoe Farm   

Now some may say I'm selfish and escaping through a book is not how we deal with things, but sometimes escaping via reading gives me just enough time to blow off steam and reenter the world in a better frame of mind.  Maybe reading will give me some answers to problems I face or help those I love. Wouldn't it be an amazing feet to conquer some of our current state of affairs , which is depressing if you follow any major news station or media mogul, by opening a book and reading.  So today I'm cutting my commentary short on the books I read this past month, because I'm just sad, angry, scared and confused on what is happening in our country and throughout the world.  I'm hoping to sit down with a book this afternoon and take a break from the Charlottesville sadness, and other too numerous things wrong with this world.  I'll take some deep breaths, and start reading and hopefully I'll be able to do what the last quote above states "... and there never is any escape from difficulties, never. They have to be faced and fought".  I'll hope to be a better fighting woman after an afternoon of reading. 
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Four out of 5 stars.  I found this a great story, but not my favorite of the series.  I thought it was too packed with multiple stories within the story and could've been easily made into two books.  I did love the end, even though it was sad.  I also struggled with at the end of book skipping forward 10 years- felt kind of disjointed for me.  What a great series though.  What would the reading world have done without this young man and his brilliant author?  Thanks Harry and J.K. Rowling!

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
4 out of 5 stars.  Listened to this on audio and the author read it which made this memoir even more powerful.  A book everyone should read/listen to.  Obesity, body image, rape, redemption, depression, are just a few of the topics covered in this book.  Made me look at my own thoughts on obesity in a different light.  Well written and despite the heavy topics covered read very quickly.

The Summer Before the War
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
4 out of 5 stars.  Another audiobook for the month.  Loved listening to it for the accent of the reader.  A book that starts in 1914 East Sussex, England.  Beatrice Nash is the main character and I really love her "gumption".  Great leading lady.  This book mainly occurs prior to WWI, but the lead up and brief discussion of events during the start of WWI again make me aware of how little of history I really know.  Great Read/Listen

How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living
How to Be Here: A Guide To Creating a Life Worth Living by Rob Bell
5 out of 5 stars.  I previewed this book earlier- the last post on my blog before this one.  It was jam packed with so many great quotes/ideas/answers I had to share.  Look into this post if interested in seeing what I found so great about this read.

Since We Fell
Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
3 out of 5 stars.  Rachel Childs, main character, is so interesting and I loved her character development.  There are a couple different stories within the main story which revolves around her husband and their marriage.  I can't say a lot or else I'll give too much away, but the reason I didn't rate this book higher was I was disappointed with the ending.  I wanted something different and based on the character development of Rachel throughout the book I thought something different should've happened.  I'm not sure that is a fair way to "star"/rate a book, but that is how I role.  I will be picking up Mystic River soon as I found Denns Lehane's writing style intriguing and read very well.  It has been on my "to read" list for quite awhile and when I picked this book up I had no idea he was the same author of Mystic River. 

   
Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession
Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession by Julie Powell
3 out of 5 stars.  I was disappointed in this story.  I listened to this one on audio also this month.  Julie Powell read it so that was a plus, but the story was very "me, me, me" and I just got tired of it and frustrated and angry with what I was listening too.  Not giving anything away here.  She and her husband are having major marital problems, due to her infidelity and then he joins in on the infidelity game.  She decides she needs time away so she becomes an apprentice in a butcher shop and tries to figure out her life by cutting meat and then traveling abroad to learn further about meat and butcher profession.    Again probably not the best way to judge a book, but I just really didn't like Julie Powell much after listening to this book.  Her first book Julie and Julia I loved, so unfortunately I was going in with high expectations.  Note to self- no expectations is best in life- even in my reading life.

Homegoing
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
4 out of 5 stars.  This was our Book Club read for the month.  This book was recommended to me by another friend whose book club in Texas read it and found it very interesting.  I'm so glad she recommended this book.  It was filled with rich characters.  It was filled with historical fiction which again taught me more about slavery,African and African American oppression.  It is a story many should read.  It is unbelievable what people will face and how they will persevere.  The book spans generations of two half-sisters' and yet it, like many books/stories, circles back around.  Great author and writing!

So friends/bookies/strangers out there that might be reading this I wish you peace and rest in your reading. 


Saturday, July 15, 2017

"How To Be Here" by Rob Bell

How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living
How to Be Here
by Rob Bell

I don't do this very often, but every once in awhile I read a book that really strikes me or impacts me and I can't wait for my monthly recap to share.  I was waiting to board a plane on Wednesday and due to some fun thunderstorms going through the Chicago area I was delayed for several hours.  So I pulled this book out of my bag and started reading. 

I had heard about this book on the "What to read next" podcast by Anne Bogel. It caught my interest because the reader was talking about feeling "burned out" at work and how this book really helped answer some questions about how to handle work/life issues. 

Overall I think this book is more "life coaching" than just one's profession/work. The following are some of the quotes that really spoke to me when reading this book. 

pg 9 What you do with your life is fundamentally creative work.  The kind of life you lead, what you do with your time, how you spend your energies- it's all part of how you create your life.

pg 50 The more you do the work, the more you build muscle for that particular work.

pg 51 Everybody starts with a blank page, then everybody starts from the same place.

Such a good reminder.  We all start from the same place.  Blank page- it's up to us to create our masterpiece on it.

Part 3 of the book is title "The Japanese have a word for it".... that word is "ikigai". 
pg 56 Ikigai- sense you have when you wake up that this day matters, that there are new experiences to be had, that you have work to do, a contribution to make.

Lovely word and meaning.  Maybe I'll be posting this on my bathroom mirror to remind me that this day does matter, I have work to do and contributions to make. ~ Ikigai

pg 62 Getting a paycheck for doing that thing you love may actually ruin it.

Kind of gut check- maybe the grass isn't as green on the other side of the fenceGetting a paycheck may put different expectations and demands on one's profession/career path- and those stressors/expectations could change your passion/love.

pg 84 Success says what more can I get? Craft says, can you believe I get to do this?

pg 86 What would it look like for you to approach tomorrow with a sense of honor and privilege, believing that you have work to do in the world, that it matters, that it's needed, that you have a path and you're working your craft?

pg 153 If you feel stuck in your life, like it's passing you by, like there's something way better for you somewhere out there and you're missing it, try this- try throwing yourself into the small things and repeating to yourself "This is where I start".

I like this idea of "This is where I start" as a mantra or meditation that will remind me to be where I am. Focus on small things and with making those small great bigger things will come.   Sometimes the small things really are those that matter the most. 

pg 157 The details of your life are vital to your staying true to your path.

pg 158 How you do anything is how you do everything.

pg 159 The details matter... there is a difference between details and clutter.

pg 161 Our external environments mirror our internal lives.

So much good stuff in this book.  Hope I haven't given away too much and I hope I have given enough away that makes you want to read this book.

So many things are constantly going on in life. The world is ever changing.  Negativity seems to reign these days.   Every minute is another minute gone and another memory or moment made or lost depending on how you see it.  This book was a quick read and a great reminder of how precious life is.  We all start from the same place.  A blank slate awaiting some great creation!  We all have the ability to create whatever life we desire. Sometimes one just needs a little nudge from some great writing by Rob Bell. 

Happy summer reading. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

June Reads



There is something about summer which turns on the "reading bug" in me.  I feel like I should be reading all the time.  This past month I read some great books and it helped that I traveled which gave me ample reading time.  Here are my June Reads in no particular order...

Paper and Fire (The Great Library, #2)
Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine
The Great Library #2
I loved the first book in this series "Ink and Bone".  Once I was finished with it I rushed out to library to borrow the next one only to find out it wasn't published yet.  Then time went by and I kind of forgot about this series and so at the end of this school year when the kids and I were perusing the shelves of the Young Adult reading area at our local library I came across the 2nd in the series.  I was very excited to read this book, but alas the first one I enjoyed much more than the second.  Jess Brightwell, the main character in both books, comes from a family of book thieves.  The Alexandria Library is not like the libraries we know and love.  In the first book you learn about the library's control on books and who has access to them.  In this second book Jess is part of the library's army and he endures some major stresses- loss of his best friend (Supposedly dead), loss of his love (she is being held in the Iron Tower due to her special abilities), and loss of family.  For some reason I just really struggled with the story line and the pace of the story- I felt like it was on "slow-mo" in comparison to the first book's fast pace, easy and quick read.  I will likely read the next one to see if Rachel redeems herself.  Also of interest the author- Rachel Caine is really Roxanne Longstreet Conrad.  Rachel Caine is just one of a handful of pen names.  I found this interesting.  I wonder why someone uses a pen name, let along numerous pen names. 

The Hidden Letters of Velta B.
The Hidden Letters of Velta B
by Gina Ochsner
When I read the following excerpt I thought this sounded like the perfect audiobook for June...

From a critically acclaimed fiction writer comes the moving story of a boy with extraordinary ears who — with the help of a cache of his great-grandmother’s letters — brings healing to a town burdened by the sins of its past.~ Good Reads

However, it was my least favorite book from June.  I just couldn't get into the story line.  I normally don't mind and actually really enjoy books that go back and forth from present to past multiple times, but this book's time travel bothered me for some reason.  I just didn't really like any of the characters nor felt the "audioversion"  was enjoyable.  I felt ready to give up about half-way, but didn't give up in hopes of redemption, but alas none was had. I gave this book only 2 stars per the 5 star Good Reads rating scale.  To my surprise the average stars for this book based on reading patrons of Good Reads was 3 and 1/2- so other readers saw or read something I didn't into this story.  So reminder that my views on these books are my views and maybe you might get a whole different reading experience out of reading or listening to these stories.  That said, Velta B's letters just weren't interesting enough for me. 

                                                             The Nest
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
This was the Bookie's June read. First off whomever designed the cover did a spot on job.  It is so easily visible and for those who haven't heard of the book just by describing the cover one would say "Oh yeah I know that book".  Bravo cover book person! This book stimulated some great discussion about dysfunctional families and how money can play into family's dysfunction.  Prior to reading this book I had heard a podcast discussing how this book was one of the very few books which looked specifically at how money can be so rooted in dysfunctional families.  The book's main premise is about four siblings who are all relying on money from a trust fund or "the nest" as they all call it.  As one can imagine counting on inheritance money is not always the smart way to bet on sound financial status.  I found this book irritatingly honest, so honest and ugly is the story that it made me somewhat want to stop reading.  However, this book is a great reminder of why one should read on.  I loved the last 1/3 of the book and in that last 1/3 redemption occurred and I really ended up enjoying the story.  The story was packed with many more separate stories and themes/topics than just "the nest".  Themes such as infidelity, single parenting, questioning your sexual identity, 9/11, stolen art, and amputees learning to survive without their limbs (Bet you didn't see that one coming).  I recommend reading this book as it is a great reminder to all of us who live in dysfunctional families (which is likely anyone reading this post) how the importance is really being family.  This book is also a great reminder on how sometimes family grows and builds without blood ties and through friendship. 

                                                             Letters from Paris
Letters From Paris
By Juliet Blackwell
I was trying to pick up nonfiction or fiction books based in or on Paris over the last several months as a lead up to my trip in Paris.  I found this book early in June at a used book store and couldn't pass it up.  This fiction story which takes place partially in Paris and partially in New Orleans, LA was a beautiful story.  The main character Claire travels to Paris in search of information regarding some letters found in her grandmother's attic.  Of interest, and added liking from this reader, part of the story takes place during WWII with Claire's great grandfather being an American army officer in Paris acquiring some Parisian goods (think soldier's souvenirs from abroad).  He had acquired a death mask of "L'inconnue" the unknown woman. He has it shipped back to the states and with the letters Claire finds in her grandmother's attic trunk she also finds this mask.  The rest of the story is her search for answers to who "L'inconnue" is and what the letters mean.  I loved this book and plan to read other books by this author. 

The Red Notebook
The Red Notebook
by Antoine Laurain
I bought this book awhile ago and have been waiting to read it until my Paris trip.  The story takes place in Paris.  The main characters are a bookseller, Laurent Letellier, and a young lady who has lost her red handbag.  The plot is a simple one Laurent spending time on finding the young lady with the red handbag, which just happens to have in it a red notebook telling many of the young lady's thoughts and dreams.  However, simple the plot the writing is quite clean, and beautiful.  I read this book quickly and was sad to see the story come to an end.  He also has written other books, one called "The President's Hat" which I plan to pick up very soon.  What a marvelous addition to my trip in Paris to read such a wonderful story which takes place in Paris written by a Parisian author. 

Invincible Summer
Invincible Summer
by Alice Adams
I won this book.  Yep, you read right, I won this book from Good Reads a couple of months ago.  Good Reads has giveaways.  If you mark a book as "want to read" and it comes up as a giveaway they will contact you and you can enter to win.  Well low and behold I actually won something- a book even better.  I also had held onto this book to read during my Paris trip as I was only bringing used or owned books with me just in case I lost them.  So this lovely book, isn't the cover beautiful, traveled with me to Paris.  It was a good summer read.  This story was not overly heavy in topic/theme, but wasn't total fluff. It is a real coming of age story of four friends (two girls and two guys).  The chapters all started with a certain date and the following chapters were dated several months or even a year(s) or so from the previous chapter's date.  I liked the way this progressed the story line.  I also thought the time this book spanned showed how friendships can real morph and change over time.  It wasn't a total feel good story and brought out many true topics that friendships sometimes end over: alcoholism, success of one friend professionally while another just can't catch a break and is pretty much unemployed, marriages, divorce, wanting more than just friendship, and again how friends can be like family to those who don't have family.  I'm so glad I won this book and was able to pack it on my travels to Paris.  Great Travel Reading!

Dark Places
Dark Places
by Gillian Flynn
Last but not least I listened to Dark Places this month.  I was hoping it would redeem my love of audiobooks, since I really didn't enjoy Velta B.  It did redeem that love and it also reminded me to read more of Gillian Flynn's books.  I first fell in love with Gillian Flynn's stories when I read "Gone Girl".  That book and story line was amazing and so real it was disturbing.  One of my coworkers said he liked this book the best of hers so I gave it a try.  I did enjoy, but still think "Gone Girl" is my favorite work of hers I've thus read.  However, Dark Places again brings out Gillian Flynn's ability to take a gruesome story (The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas).  This horrific murder of a mother and two daughters leaving one surviving daughter and one son- who is found guilty of the murders, is an amazing story.  What is more amazing is the story that comes after and before these murders.  Gillian does a great job of flashing back and forwards with the countdown to the exact date and time of the murder.  She really had me guessing up until the very end.  It is realistic murder mystery at its best.  Gillian Flynn knows how to write about "gone girls" and "dark places" and I can't wait to read what else she can write about!