Books I Read This Week 2019 – 09

A lot of reading this week because we were on vacation and there was a lot of driving.  Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

Freefall (3.5stars):  I read The Silent Patient last week. I had heard it was a page turner, but, for me, it didn’t turn out to be. Whereas Freefallwas in fact just the right pace for me and I kept wanting to read it even after I’d figured out the whole plot. 

There’s a twist or two. Most of them I saw coming but it didn’t bother me. I still enjoyed reading this fast-paced story. I won’t remember much of it in a few weeks, I’m sure, but that’s ok. Sometimes it’s just about enjoying a book in the moment. 

And this was one of those

The Test (4 stars):  This is short story was a super-fast read and I really really loved it. I have read Themis Files and loved it so I was looking forward to Sylvain Neuvel‘s new book and figured I would like it.

It didn’t disappoint. This is a quick but really engaging read. The story is told in a way that allows you to experience it along with the main character. It’s high anxiety, stressful and devastating all at once. As with Neuvel’s other novels, the sci-fi setting is a way to deliver a thought-provoking story that creates dialogue around our society.

It also has the added layers of topics like the ramifications of choices we make, the value of human life, and of course immigration. A lot to think about packed into this one short story. 

Becoming (5 stars):  I’m not a huge memoir person. Even though I’ve always admired Michelle Obama, I didn’t feel a pull to read this particular book. I still knew I was going to want to read it at some point so I added it to my audible account, especially because I knew she had narrated it. 

Once I started reading this, I didn’t want to stop. There so many profound one-liners in it.

Bullies were scared people hiding inside scary people.

what an eloquent and simple way to explain something that i often try to talk to my kids about.

Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.

this one struck me so hard that I had to stop and write it down. 

This may be the fundamental problem with caring a lot about what others think: It can put you on the established path—the my-isn’t-that-impressive path—and keep you there for a long time.

This is a lesson so many of us have to learn. Something I learned when I was in my twenties and I find myself having to learn it over and over again as the voices in my head are so ingrained. 

I now tried out a new hypothesis: It was possible that I was more in charge of my happiness than I was allowing myself to be.

This is a great reminder. Something I need to remember more and more.

There was so much wisdom, so much hope, and so much truth in this wonderful book. I am so glad I finally took the time to hear her story.

The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom (2.5 stars):  The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom is about Aliza who was raised as an Orthodox Jew and decides to take a different path at a crucial moment in her life. Her teen daughter finds out about her history and is having a hard time. The book is told in alternating chapters between then and now (about 16 years or so apart.)

There are a lot of layers to this book. As a Jew who grew up around Orthodox Jews, many of the parts of the book weren’t surprising to me but I know they might be to some readers and it’s an important part of the story that somehow doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the blurbs. 

At its core, this is a book is about choice and loss and the complexity of relationships and understanding who you are, what your place is, how you’ve been raised and what that means about who you get to be. There were parts of the book that made me think deeply about choice and how each time we choose to “stray” no matter how far, we give up a little bit of our belonging and how hard that can be.

I think this book had the potential to be deep and complex but it seemed to want to stay lighter and maybe this is why it didn’t impact me as deeply as it could have. Aliza makes deep changes in her life in this book and while some of the confusion that could cause is explored, it all stays mostly on the surface. She makes major changes and it’s as if they are not that impactful. Some parts of the story have levity that just didn’t resonate with me. And her relationship with Alex was just off. Maybe because we don’t really get to know much of Alex except for a conversation towards the very end of the book. He stays reasonably 2-dimensional. Of course, we find out so much more about Aliza since she’s narrating the book so that might also account for the lack of balance between the development of the two characters.

But there’s still much to love about this book. Especially her relationship with her grandfather, her relationship with her brother and her best friend. There are some profound conversations (there were parts where the dialogue just felt stilted and off to me but then parts where it was spot on.) and the author is not afraid to tackle deep, scary topics like infertility, domestic abuse, adultery, and more. 

Maybe that’s why it was a hard novel to read because there were so many real bits to this book that were serious and hard and some parts where it felt like the monumental impact of all that wasn’t handled as seriously as it could have been. But then again I still enjoyed reading it and I got attached to Aliza/Eliza even as I was rooting for her at times and scolding her at other times. This Jewish mom couldn’t help herself 🙂

with gratitude to netgalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

After (2.5 stars):  Ok so I knew going into this one that it would not be good. I had already read that the writing would be bad, the relationship was toxic, and it was just going to be bad, bad, bad. 

So maybe that lowered my expectations enough. I knew I likely might want to see the movie and I also knew that I don’t watch movies unless I read the book. I’ve heard people rant about Twilightfor the same type of reasons and I liked those books and I also heard people rant about Fifty Shades of Greyand I couldn’t read that book to save my life. 

The book this reminds me the most is actually is Beautiful Disaster which has a similar toxic relationship with angry boy/sweet innocent girl at its core. I listened to this on audio at 3x and basically listened to it all the way through. 

Maybe knowing what to expect and listening instead of reading made me more generous towards the writer.

99 Percent Mine (4 stars): Meh I think Sally Thorne is just not for me. I wasn’t able to read The Hating Game despite trying a few times. So I am not sure what made me want to read this today. I figured after finishing After the bar was pretty low. But alas, this book just wasn’t all that interesting to me. The characters weren’t interesting and nor was the plot. 

I know many people said The Hating Game is much better so maybe I should go back and try that. But I think it’s time for a break from Romance for now.

Digital Minimalism (3 stars):  I’ve been a fan of Cal Newport for quite some time. So, even though I wasn’t sure there was anything major this book would offer me, I wanted to read it because he’s smart and thoughtful and I knew there’d be some ideas I might be able to incorporate. 

I wasn’t mistaken.

This book is a good read if you’re spending a lot of time on social media and are ready to do something about it. It’s not radical or extremist. I has some good ideas on how to move slowly away from using it too much. 

I already do some of the ideas in this book. I keep my phone on “do not disturb” pretty much the whole time. I use Facebook only on my desktop and only on one of them so I check it about once a week at best and generally for about 15 minutes. I don’t use Twitter at all. I rarely spend time on Netflix anymore. My one “social network” is instagram and even that is mostly filled with bookstagrammers. Even there, I rarely spend more than 4-5 mins before I am disengaged. 

All of this sounds/looks good on the surface except for the fact that I read or listen to books all the time. I rarely have absolutely silent time in my life. And Newport talks a lot about the value of silence and solitude. This one, I will have to think about for a while.

Liquid Rules (4 stars):  If you’re into science, this book is a gem.

It’s written by a material scientist and the story is told on a flight from London to San Francisco, ostensibly focusing on all the liquids on board but it’s really just a premise to tell the stories he wants to tell. The fact that he was on board a flight was cute but seemed contrived a bit at parts. But I didn’t really care because the science and stories were super interesting to me. 

This book has 12 chapters, each chapter focusing on a different substance like glue, ink, etc. I loved the bits about how candles work and how the wick pulls water up against the force of gravity. I learned about how the World Trade Centers buckled due to the strength of the steel decreasing under such high heat and then putting pressure on the lower floors, etc. And how flavor is a multi-sensory experience (and how we assume and ‘can taste’ flavors related to the color.) I also loved reading how icarus story wouldn’t be possible because it gets colder when you fly higher 🙂 I loved learning about ballpoint pens and how they work (and how amazing they are!!) and about tar and all the interesting new innovations they are making to help the roads last longer.

There is just so much fascinating science in this book. Highly enjoyable. 

thanks to netgalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

When You Read This (3.5 stars):  This cute novel is told in emails/texts/blog posts etc. It goes back and forth in time so if that’s something that will frustrate you, beware. I really enjoyed this sweet little novel. I liked the characters, and the way the story was told.

Having said that, I am not sure how much of it will stay with me over time. But sometimes, that’s ok.

Organic Painter (4 stars): This book is one of the most unusual art books I’ve read and considering my 80+ collection of art books, that’s a lot to say. I’ve even taken classes using unusual materials before and have used tea in my art before, too.

But this artist has such an unusual style of painting that I couldn’t help but be awed with the result. I tried to recreate some of the amazing art in this book and it was quickly apparent to me that I will need a lot more practice. But I am super intrigued and am looking forward to experimenting more.

My favorite section was the combining of embroidery floss with the art. I’d seen some of that before but the artist put the floss on the page, painted around it, then removed it to create whitespace, and then added floss to another section. 

The art in these pages is layered, flowing, organic and detailed and complex. You can see something different from afar vs up close. You can look for a long time and find some small new interesting bit each time. 

If you want a challenge and a way to really shake up the way you do art, this is a great find.

Happy Money (4 stars):  I’ve had an interesting relationship with money. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to have enough of it all my life, I still have a lot of anxiety around it, especially around providing for my family. I think the anxiety is not serving me but I haven’t really figured out a way to resolve it. So when I saw this book, I was excited to see what it could teach me. 

I’ve highlighted many, many sections of this book and of course I am not “healed” but it has given me a lot of food for thought. It focuses a lot on what the author calls your money EQ. I will say that if you’re looking for how to invest your money or if you have serious money problems, I would not start with this book. It focuses very much on your emotional relationship with money. 

There are several sections around how our approach to money and our feelings about it have a lot to do with how we were raised and how our parents approached it which gave me a lot of pause. On the surface, I don’t remember any tension around money in my house hold. But as I dig deeper, there’s a lot there that I still have to really excavate my way through. 

By checking whatever feeling you project onto money, you can recognize your own emotional baggage. If you can do that, you can see money clearly.

And that’s always the crux of everything, isn’t it. Food, money, so many of the essentials of life and how we treat them and how we think of them is intertwined with our emotional baggage. 

I’m a big saver, so this quote really resonated with me:

In other words, we want to have something to show for our life’s work. We want it to mean something.

certainly true for me.

There is a whole section around gratitude and thanking the money for coming and thanking the money when spending it. I love this idea and have to do it more. The cultivation of gratitude and abundance and the feeling of having enough. 

There are also things I’ve read before: spending money on experiences, doing something i love and am good at to make more money, being willing to receive chances/opportunities given to me, make friends, don’t compare with others, make your own rules, etc.

There is the reaffirmation that no matter how much I save, it will not erase the unease I feel. (not what I want to hear, even though i know it to be true, and yet another parallel to body issues.) The fear is not related to money, it’s about life in general.

There’s a wonderful story about a candy factory where there’s a song playing with kids who say thank you so the people who work there remember what they are doing it for. I loved this idea of remembering what it’s for. It’s something I can do more at my work: remembering the users we make happy each day. 

I loved this too:

What would someone watching you say is important to you based on the way you act in your daily life?

I try to live by this so often. I spend time with my kids, my husband, etc. But I also fail more than I’d like. Often not on behalf of money but books, art, doing the things I want to do.

There’s also a reminder that fear and anxiety is often about fear of the future and what we fear usually doesn’t become reality and yet we waste so much energy on worrying. I certainly do. 

At the last chapter, he lists all five steps to happy money: shift out of the scarcity mindset, forgive and heal your money wounds, discover your gifts and get into the flow of happy money, trust life, say arigato all the time. My favorite is “trust life.” 

We know that everything that happens, positive or negative, will end up working out to support our lives in its own unique way. This is what frees us from the paralyzing anxiety of judging things in ur lives as “good” and “bad.” This is why trusting people are more passionate and successful.

When we trust, we are able to become our authentic selves.

I need to remember this again and again. Trust life.

Trust life. And say thank you.

thank you to netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review

Look Closer, Draw Better (4 stars):  If there’s one thing I could snap my fingers and become, it’s a person who can see like an artist. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to become better at drawing but my ability to slow down and really see isn’t really all that great. I do everything fast and drawing is no exception. 

If you have a ton of art books at home, like I do, this book doesn’t really contain anything shockingly new. But there are two takeaways from my time with this lovely book.

1. Start practicing again. I used to draw daily but I gave it up. Getting better is about practice. She recommends having a 15-minutes a day practice. She recommends all the things I hate doing: blind contour, contour, etc but alas there’s a reason those are recommended again and again. It’s about training your hands, training your eyes. It’s about getting out of your head (where I live so much of the time and it doesn’t really serve me when drawing.) so 15 minutes a day it is. Who doesn’t have 15 minutes?

2. Slow down. Go in layers, start with the light and build up. Slow down. Look. I feel the need to say it again: slow down.

Much of this book is graphite and charcoal and ink. I wanted to see the watercolor projects and they didn’t disappoint. I found the steps more broken down than usual in most of the books I have on hand and I really appreciated that.

If you want some inspiration to take you back to the basics and remind you the core elements of how to create solid drawings, this is the book for you.

thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review

Things My Son Needs to Know about the World (5 stars):  I’ve been a Fredrik Backman fan for quite some time. I didn’t start with A Man Called Ove like many others did. I read that book and thought it was okay. I didn’t dislike it but I also wasn’t blown away like many seemed to be. And I thought that was going to be it between me and Fredrik Backman. I figured I’d given him a chance and it was okay but nothing to write home about.

Then, a few years ago, my friend K told me I had to read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and I said “Oh, I’ve read that author before, I’m not a huge fan.” But she insisted that this book was different and I was going to love it. I rarely turn down book recommendations and I really like my friend K so I decided to give it a shot.

I didn’t get up from the chair the whole time I read that book. I laughed, I cried, I couldn’t believe someone could write like that.

Thus began my journey to read everything Fredrik Backmanhas written since. His ability to weave wisdom and depth into his characters and his stories is unparalleled. His stories touch my soul and connect with me in the best ways a book can.

This book is written for his son and it’s full of short stories and really short stories about lessons he imparts and really funny anecdotes from when his son was a newborn. It’s personal and nonfiction but yet it’s full of his magical stories, his sense of humor and his deep, magical way of connecting with his readers on things that matter.

My favorite part, of course, was the Money Island 3 solution. As a fan of Lucasfilms games, that made me laugh out loud. There are so many bits of my childhood in this book. So many ways in which I could relate to the author as a person. I am delighted to find that this author whose books I love also seems to be a wonderful person. (Not that I am all that surprised.)

Many bits of this book reminded me of Nick Hornby whom I also love. If you haven’t read Backman before, I would have to recommend you start with My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and then I am pretty confident that you will feel compelled to make your way through everything he’s ever written. Then you’ll finally end up on this one and you’ll have a giant smile when you find out the person behind all those books is as hilarious and magical as you hoped he would be. 

big thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in return for an honest review

And there we go, a really solid week of reading. Here’s to another fantastic week.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too!

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