Books I Read This Week 2019 – 10

Big reading week this week and quite a variety in both genres and author diversity.  Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! I’ve also started an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art.

The Island of Sea Women (4 stars): I’ve read many Lisa See books over the years and she never disappoints. This wonderful novel is no exception.

At its core many of See’s novels have the same theme: female friendship. They are often overlaid against a historical background and the history is of course inextricably linked to the experiences the women are having and how their friendship evolves (gets impacted) by everything in their lives.

This book in its most basic has the same premise. It’s about two women who meet as girls and are as close as siblings from a young age. They are on the Korean island of Jeju and they are part of an all-female diving collective. This culture is characterized as matrifocal, which is, focused on females. The women do all the hard, dangerous work, earn the keep and the men cook and take care of the babies, etc.

The story takes place over a long tumultuous period, including Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, World War II, the Korean War and what follows, and then ends up in current day era, a few generations later. There are some horrible horrible things that happen in the book. I am sure much of it is historically accurate and it was tough to read. 

The overarching story, as always, is the friendship between the two women. What we keep from each other, even in our most trusted friendships. How we can destroy each other even as we’re trying to protect each other. How we can hold on to hatred and resentment for much longer than it serves us. And, of course, regret.

I am grateful for the time I spent with this book, to Lisa See for both teaching me about a time and place in history I knew little about and weaving a deep, touching and thought-provoking story into this time period to make it come even more alive for her readers. 

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

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

An Anonymous Girl (2.5 stars):  This was your run-of-the-mill psychological thriller, something reasonably rare in these days when all the books have to be filled with twists and turns and unreliable narrators. I didn’t love it but I also didn’t dislike it. I don’t think the characters were developed enough for me to care about them in any deep way. The plot moved fast enough that I kept listening to it without wanting to take a break, so that’s likely the best thing I can say about it.

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) (4 stars):  I have never heard of these authors, nor have I listened to their podcast but I always love the idea of grace-filled conversations in any area, let alone politics. I had a few friends mention this so I thought it would be a good read.

And it was. There are some thought provoking recommendations here specific to politics but the premise of adding nuance and not being extremist and not completely ruling out a person based on categories we put them into, being comfortable with the uncomfortable, exiting the echo chamber and getting curious are applicable in every area of being human. So we can all learn something from this book.

For those of you, like me, who have not listened to these authors before, I want to mention that there are references to religion and scripture in the book. I am not religious (and have a different religion than the authors) and this didn’t bother me or take away from the book in the least but I always think it’s important to mention so people are aware and don’t write off the whole book on account of that. 

It’s a well-organized, thought-provoking book and a very worthwhile read.

The Art of Visual Notetaking (5 stars): This book is fantastic! 

I am always fascinated by the videos and pictures of people taking visual notes as they listen to a lecture. I wish I were that talented and able to not only listen to, process but distill and visualize information so quickly and well.

This book breaks down the process for you step by step and highlights all the important factors in creating a visual representation. Emily makes sure to mention all the “basics” that are really the crucial aspects of where to sit, how to listen, how to prioritize and how to plan.

Then she talks about handwriting which she breaks down to simple steps and shows you exactly what you need to practice to get to a place that you like for yourself.

And then comes the part that I consider the hardest: the visuals. Here, too, Emily is fantastic at breaking it down and introducing a concept I’d never heard before called leveling it up where you start with the basics and keep adding to them in little bits to make it better and better. 

Emily also talks about adding color, creating a visual library, headers, containers, correcting mistakes, using metaphors and other parts of your visual notetaking journey. Like with all the other chapters, she builds it up in a very consumable, practical way that makes it look achievable.

Like everything else, the only way to really get good at this is by lots and lots of practice which she makes a point of mentioning and giving lots of examples of her progression so you know what pace to expect and she also has exercises at the end of each chapter so you can practice what you just learned. 

I know she makes it look much easier than it is and it will take a lot lot lot of practice but this book is inspiring and informative and encouraging in all the right ways. If you’re even remotely interested in this area I cannot recommend it enough.

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

The Happiness Diary (4 stars):  I’m a big fan of living with intention. To me, this means being clear about many different areas of my life and aware of the choices I am making and paying attention to the way those choices impact me both day to day and cumulatively.

Being happy is something that doesn’t come as naturally to me as it might to others. My natural state is lower than average and I have a tendency to remember the negative more strongly than the positive. So this is an area where I make a lot of extra effort to be even more intentional.

This book is the perfect tool to do that with. This is not a “reading” book, it is a “working” book. You have to work with it, live with it, think and take the time to really be intentional. It has eight different sections from definition to focusing on present moment to changing your brain to capturing the small things, etc. There are future looking exercises, ones that encourage repetition, ones that you revisit in intervals of time, etc.

Some of the exercises encourage introspection and you can do them in one sitting. There are others that are about making future commitments. And then there are ones that are about remembering the past or the present. Ones that encourage practicing new behavior and ones that encourage practicing new ways of thinking. 

There is a wide variety in this book and while my digital copy didn’t allow me to take advantage of the beautiful way this book is laid out for writing, the prompts and exercises are all easily transferable into your own journal. It’s not about the looks (though it’s so pretty too) it’s about the content. 

This book will be my close companion all throughout 2019 encouraging me to be intentional and thoughtful about my life so I can welcome more happiness (or be more aware of the happiness that’s already there.)

with gratitude to netgalley and the publisher for an arc in exchange for an honest review.

Where Reasons End (4 stars):  What an unusual book. This short book is an imaginary dialogue between a mom and her son who committed suicide. They talk about ordinary things: her writing, the world, poetry, etc. So I know some of the negative rates think there’s no emotion in this book when it’s clearly such a horrible emotional tragedy but I actually felt like there was a lot of emotion there. It was subtle and more acute in small moments but it still felt really sad to me. (Maybe because I listened to it on audio.)

I’m still not fully sure how I feel about the book but I am glad I read it.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls (4.5 stars):  This is one of the few cases where I felt like the blurbs that quoted The Mothers and An American Marriage did a little bit of justice to what this book feels like as opposed to just throwing titles on there to encourage readers to buy and then sorely disappoint them because of the lack of actual resemblance. Even though I’d say The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is not like either of them, it does have the same feel as both of them in some ways.

This book is about a couple who go to jail for embezzling from their charity and the siblings of the mom, as well as their two teenage kids. The chapters shift perspective mostly among the three adult siblings but there are a few chapters with the dad, too, but not as many. While much of the book is the impact of the incarceration on the kids (and the adult siblings), it gets intermixed with the history of each sibling going back in the past and revisiting abuse in their own childhood, dealing with the scars of that and in some cases working hard to make peace with things. In fact, I’d say each character is on his/her own path to peace in this book. And there are varying levels of getting to it, just like in the real world. 

This book was very well written, the characters are deeply developed and there is a wide range of issues raised that are so real and told with such honesty that it’s hard not to connect with the characters. 

This is definitely up there as one of my favorite reads of 2019 so far.

Territory of Light (3.5 stars):  This small, quiet novel takes place during the year after the narrator separates from her husband and lives with her young daughter in an apartment. What I liked so much about this novel is that it’s told in little vignettes and moments from their lives. 

There is the sorrow, loneliness, and journey of the mom overlaid with the wonder, joy, and sometimes agony of the little girl. There is a lot of detail of simple every day things, the small pleasures, the small things that cause us deep sadness.

One of my favorite scenes happens pretty early on in the story when the water tank in the building has a leak and water floods everywhere and the two of them sneak out at night and go play in the water. There are so many little scenes like that. 

I am really enjoying reading novels that are different in the rhythms and language they use and this was one of the ones I am really glad to have read.

And there we go, a small week of reading. Here’s to another good week next 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! I’ve also started an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art.

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 09

After all that wonderful reading last week, I only got to read four books this week. It was a long work week.  Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! I’ve also started an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead (4.5stars): This is a powerful book. Despite a few jokes here and there, it’s not a funny book. It’s not your typical dooce stories. It’s an honest and raw book on the profound toll depression can take on your life and the lengths to which one might be willing to go to release themselves from the grip of it.

Back when my kids were in their toddler years, I used to read dooce and while I didn’t relate to many of her stories, her blog was compulsively readable. It was honest (maybe honest is not the right word since everyone writing online is presenting a version of themselves) and funny and it gave me something to do during those endless nights with little babies. I stopped reading it over the years and have maybe checked in on her site twice in the last ten years. 

Nonetheless, when I saw this ARC, I knew I wanted to read it. I have my own stories with depression and knowing how raw she can be, I wanted to read what she wrote. I knew it would be well written in her compulsively readable style.

This book was probably one of the rawest descriptions of depression I’ve ever read. The feelings and thoughts were articulated with such honesty that it hurt to read them. It was hard to get through much of this book, especially if you can connect with any of the feelings/thoughts. I found myself connecting with her mother and feeling such an overwhelming sadness of watching your kid go through all that and also such awe at her showing up for her daughter again and again.

It’s so easy to believe that the pieces of ourselves we share online (or even offline for that matter) are who we are. But they are far from it. The truth is always far from what we see. It’s layers and layers of complicated truths. And of course even with this book we won’t ever know the full story but I am still grateful Heather chose to write this story, chose to articulate what depression can feel like. We need more stories of the not-so-pretty but honest parts of life so all of us can feel less alone in our mess. So all of us can be more compassionate towards each other.

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

The Unwinding of the Miracle (4 stars):  Reading two really sad books back to back was maybe not the best idea. Two books about death that both also have bits that are really hopeful and both remind you to live life.

Like The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying and When Breath Becomes Air, this is a book about dying. The main character starts by telling you that they are dead by the time you read this. 

Much of the book comes out of the blog Julie had while she lived with colon cancer. It’s heart wrenching in bits, inspiring in others, and beautiful in yet others. What I really appreciated was the honesty she shares in its raw form in many, many parts of this book. The anger, the resentment, the frustration and the total unfairness of it all. 

The whole time I was reading this book I was thinking that I need to be more grateful for my life. I am not that far from the age Julie died. Life is unpredictable and it’s short and it can change on a dime. It’s hard but important for me to remember. 

The Last Romantics (4 stars):  I really enjoy stories about families and this one has all the bits I love. It’s about siblings who are deeply affected by their dad’s passing and the impact that has on their mom. Their journey over the years as they are close, get upset with each other, keep things from each other, support each other and all the other things siblings do.

Early Riser (2 stars): It’s clear I’m going to be the outlier here. As someone who has never read Jasper Fforde before, I am not exactly sure what compelled me to pick up this book in the first place. I do read a bunch of science fiction and I’ve read many dystopian novels and I can be a big fan of the absurd, clever humor. I’ve devoured and loved every book by Douglas Adams so I thought this might be fun.

But then I got lost almost immediately. One review I read said it might be fun to read this on audio but I am wondering if that’s what went wrong for me. If I should have just read it on paper instead. Or if I should have read it more in one long sitting, etc. I just kept getting disconnected from the story and never had any attachment to any of the characters. 

I thought of putting it down many many times throughout and in retrospect that’s exactly what I should have done. Midway through this would have been a 3-star read but by the end I was so tired and frustrated that I could not possibly give it that. 

There are many, many fans of the author and maybe one day I can pick up a different book and give it a shot but for now, I’ll move on.

And there we go, a small week of reading. Here’s to a better week next 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! I’ve also started an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art.

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 08

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!

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 08

An okay week of reading this week. Some great, some less great.  Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

The Lost Man (4 stars):   Mystery doesn’t tend to be my favorite genre. Usually novels with a major mystery in their core tend to be very plot driven and don’t spend much time on character development, especially on side characters. I prefer stories with rich, deep character development. 

Over the years, I’ve found a handful of exceptions to this rule. Mystic River was one of the first books I read where the character development was deep and rich. I’ve read several other Dennis Lehane novels and he seems to be reasonably consistent with taking the time to develop his characters and such deepen his novels.

Jane Harper is the same way and then more. Her novels are full of rich, 3-dimensional characters, atmospheric plot that is almost another character itself, and beautiful dialogue. There is a mystery at the heart of each of her novels, too, but that’s just the icing on the cake instead of being the cake itself.

Harper’s novels are a joy to read. The audio is often hard for me to follow because the narrator is Australian but that makes it even more authentic, of course.

Looking forward to many more novels from this wonderful author.

The Silent Patient (3 stars):  This book was a super fast read. I know others got into it really quickly whereas I found myself being relatively apathetic the whole time until the twist came together. Having just finished Jane Harper’s new novel, I think I had even less patience for a novel like this than usual. 

If fast-paced, thrillers with a twist is your thing, you will enjoy this book. If you’re in a slump and can’t find a next novel to get you out of it, this might be a good one to go with. 

More than Words (3 stars):  If you’ve read The Light We Lost, you’re likely already familiar with Jill Santopolo’s novels. More than Words is in the same vein. 

It’s about people finding themselves, learning truths about the people they love, facing the truths about their own lives and triggered by events, choosing to finally step into the life they want to have. It’s not a badly written book, it’s just not a book I will remember for a long time. 

The characters are fine, just not deeply 3-dimensional. They won’t last with me. But I still enjoyed reading this little book.

The Fifteen Wonders of Daniel Green (4.5 stars):  What an absolute gem of a book. This story took me a while to get into, I kept reading a few pages at a time and not really connecting with it but I finally sat down today to give it a full hour and I was sucked right into the story.

This is one of my favorite kind of novels. There’s some plot but really what carries the novel is the rich, layered, 3-dimensional characters. The story is told in rotating chapters from three different characters’ points of view. And they all felt real, complicated, and wonderful to me.

There are so many sweet, quiet moments in this book. Moments of everyday life. Beautiful descriptions:

Nesssa was always like her father, all emotion and action bundled together by translucent skin. She’s a cluster of raw nerves shooting pain and joy alike straight to her heart, and it was my job to sheathe them all, to shield her.

It was long and wordy in places but by that time, I didn’t mind at all because I had grown to love these characters and wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. All the interesting crop circle plotline was icing on this beautiful cake.

Absolutely loved this one.

huge thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in return for an honest review.gratitudes to netgalley and the publisher for an early copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Plotters (3 stars):  This was an unusual novel. 

I have been exploring reading a wider variety of authors and I thought the plot of this Korean novel sounded really interesting so I was curious to read it.

While I didn’t really find myself getting into the story as much as I would have liked to, there were a handful of really interesting characters. One thing I’ve noticed is that this novel had a different rhythm. It was quieter, less explosive, especially for a novel about hired killers. It felt very matter of fact. Not too much dwelling on emotions/drama etc. 

I enjoyed reading it especially because it was different for me.

And there we go, not as many as usual but next week’s vacation so hopefully it will pick up. Here’s to a 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!

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 07

Another solid week of reading.  Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

Recursion (4.5stars):  It’s always challenging to explain a Blake Crouch novel and this one is no exception. If you’ve read Dark Matter, you have some idea what you’re expecting in this book. His books are fast-paced, “keep you on your toes and wildly confuse yourself as you try to keep track of things that are happening” books. 

Recursion is about physics, the science of the human mind, memory generation, politics, and so much more. It’s also about grief, our desire to set things right, connection, greed, and so much more. And most of all, it has character development that’s rich which is rare in books with the kind of plot and pacing his books have. 

I’ve read a bunch on quantum physics and I studied a bunch of computer science and have even taken classes on the human brain but I can’t really tell you which of his ideas in the book are possible and which are pushed well outside the realm of possibility and which are just completely made up. Partly because they are a bit mixed up together but mostly because I don’t really care. If you’re a complete stickler for accurate science, this book might frustrate you, but if you take it for what it is, a fast-paced, very entertaining, though-provoking book that uses science as its story source, then you will enjoy it thoroughly and find that not only is your mind blown during reading it but that you think about it well after you’re done. And if that’s not the sign of a good book, I don’t know what is.

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

Elsey Come Home (3.5 stars):  This quick little book started out not being able to hold my attention too much but by the time I was more than halfway through I was really invested in Elsey. There is so much suffering and so much realness and so much tenderness in this book. Marriage is hard. Being a human is hard. And while I don’t drink, I could still connect to her feeling of wanting to escape and her feelings around choosing between being a mother and being a thing you want to be (painter in this case) and being a wife. Her internal conflict is so real in this book and so easy to connect to that I couldn’t help but root for her. 

I’m glad I persevered with this one.

The Body is not an Apology (4 stars):  For the last few years, I’ve been on a journey towards trying to make peace with who I am both inside and out. As part of my word for 2019, I’ve decided to dive deeper into this journey and that means reading books that teach me to unlearn many of the messages I’ve been given (or I chose to distort) throughout my life. This spreads over many areas but none more than my body.

So even though I had not heard of Sonya Renee Taylor before picking up this novel, I knew it would be good for me. It would help change some of the messages in my head. 

And it was.

The messages I have in my head will not disappear with one good book. Years and years of conditioning and messaging doesn’t get erased in a few hundred pages. But like most journeys, it all begins with one step forward. And this was a solid step in the right direction.

I don’t think there is anyone who couldn’t benefit in some way or another from this book. It’s not about fixing your body issues, it’s not about fixing anything, in fact. It’s about learning to love yourself (I was going to write radically but that word doesn’t sit well with me and if you’re like me, I don’t want you to not read this book just because of that word.) There is so much goodness in this book. I had heard of the concept of how you’re not your thoughts from many many other books but this one brought it home for me. I get it so much more now.

If there’s an inkling of interest when you read the title of this book, then I’d say grab it, you will not be disappointed.

The Shape of a Life (4.5 stars):  I don’t usually read biographies, let alone biographies of mathematicians. But this particular book caught my attention with its description and it’s similar timeline to when my father-in-law got his PhD in Math (his PhD adviser is in fact one of the names mentioned) so, on a whim, I decided I would read it.

I am so glad I spent some time with this book. There were layers and layers of interesting stories and learnings for me. Even though there is a lot of math in the book, much of which I didn’t understand, I still deeply enjoyed reading Yau’s journey. I had never heard of this mathematician before and now I feel like I have had a window into math, or a type of math, at a certain time in history. Of course, this is all written from one person’s perspective, with one person’s biases but it was still interesting. 

In my experience, solving hard math problems takes hard work, and there’s no way around it, unless the problem is rather trivial.

I loved this because I think it encourages hard work and discourages the belief that we are born “geniuses” at math. 

Yau’s childhood and youth are a heart-wrenching read and very eye opening to me. It was incredible to see his success despite all of the hardships he (and his family) had to endure. 

There were so many opportunistic coincidences in Yau’s early life that culminated in his ability to end up in the United States (and his ability to study math vigorously) and it made me realize that we all have a lot of random coincidences in our lives and what might look like a disaster (not getting into the any schools for example) might turn out to be the thing that sets the course of your life positively (as it did for Yang.) and also that a single person can completely change the course of someone’s life. There are many who played a major role in getting Yau to where he could really thrive. Like Salaff who worked extraordinarily hard to get him into Berkeley.

“I have spent a whole day without eating and a whole night without sleeping in order to think, but it was of no use, I got nothing out of it. Thinking cannot compare with studying.”

It was quite depressing to me how incredibly political academia is. I knew this of course but as someone who has spent all her life in corporate America, with a brief stint in non profit land, it was depressing to see how academia can put all of the greed and political shenanigans to shame. All that bickering and blocking each other’s paths. What a waste of incredible mental talent. (I know there’s a lot of cooperation, too, which is also clear in the book.)

This was a really enjoyable read for me, despite (or maybe because of) being very different than my usual fare.

gratitudes to netgalley and the publisher for an early copy in exchange for an honest review.

Golden Child (3 stars):  This was a challenging book for me to read. I don’t want to write too much about it because it will be easy to give away the plot. But as a mother, it made me think a lot about sacrifices parents think they should make, how much parents alter the course of their kids lives, how words have power (and of course actions too.) and how some decisions are ones i will never agree with or understand. Maybe if I had read this book at another time, I might have been able to separate myself from the story enough to have some sort of literary criticism on this story. But I am not able to do that at the moment. Some books just come at the wrong time (for a reader) and this was one of those cases for me.

Lie With Me (4 stars): This quiet, small, and beautiful novel takes place over decades of two characters’ lives. The story is told from the perspective of one of them when they were teenagers and then again a few decades later and then again about ten years after that. This not a plot-rich story. It’s not about what happens but it’s about youth, identity, and love.

It’s about connection and how brief but powerful connections can (and do) have lasting impact on our lives. I originally wanted to read this book because I thought it might be like Call Me By Your Name which I loved. And parts of this story might have similarities to that story but to me the two felt very different. 

The prose in this novel is very sparse, very clean. It’s so stark that the emotions come to the surface that much more. I have never read Besson before and it sounds like he is a famous writer and this might be his style. At first, I found it jarring but, over time, I really appreciated the space it provided for me.

This is not a happy story. In fact, I would say it’s a really sad story but it’s not presented in a way that makes you feel the sadness on the surface like some melodramatic books do. It’s subtle and quiet and so the sadness I felt was deeper and quieter. 

Overall, it was a really beautiful story and I am excited to have discovered a new-to-me author. I am looking forward to reading more of his books.

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in return for an honest review.

Here and Now and Then (3 stars):  This book took me a while to get into. I listened to it on audio and decided that the narration wasn’t good. I also felt like I couldn’t get interested in any of the characters. There wasn’t enough character development or depth to make it so I cared about any of them. I felt like each character had 1-2 token things about them sprinkled in to make them “interesting” but there was no real depth. Which meant I didn’t end up caring about them enough. 

The plot is very unusual and maybe for a lot of people that’s enough but that usually isn’t enough for me and this book was no exception. By the end, I was a bit more interested and I am not sorry I read it but I feel there was more opportunity here for the author to develop the characters further and make this story deeper.

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!

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 06

Another solid week of reading.  Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

The 4 Habit of Joy-Filled Marriages (3.5stars):  I’m a firm believer that it’s easier to work on your marriage when it’s working than when it’s in trouble. It’s easier to do things to strengthen a solid base than to patch up one that’s teetering. I make a point to read these kinds of books when I am feeling like we are in a good place and feeling a lot of love towards my spouse. This way it doesn’t feel like the exercises explained in this book are coming from a place of despair but a place of love and connection.

When I saw the title of this book, it sounded like the exact thing that might be a wonderful addition to my life. I definitely have 15 minutes a day and I love the idea of a joy-filled marriage.

This is a really quick read. I finished it in one sitting. But, of course, most of the value of this book is not in the reading of it but in doing the exercises suggested in the book. Much of the science in the book wasn’t new to me and was explained in a way that felt too simplistic (though I can totally understand why the authors would choose that path, this is not a science book.) But I really liked a lot of the suggestions in the book and the perspective they added.

Joy isn’t simply a choice you make. Trying to choose joy can feel like trying to fall asleep when you have insomnia. Joy is a feeling you get when you’re happy to be with someone who’s happy to be with you.

I don’t know that I agree with all of that (I think it’s possible to experience joy when you’re alone, too.) but the idea that joy isn’t the choice but the outcome resonated with me and I’ve been noodling on it since.

Brenda was modeling for me what it looked like to keep the relationship bigger than the problem. Since then, we have tried to make that our “go-to phrase” when we get upset. It is not uncommon for one of us to say, “Let’s keep the relationship bigger than the problem.”

I really liked this idea. While it’s terribly hard to do this in the moment of a major disagreement, this idea is a great one to keep reinforcing and baking into the fabric of our marriage.

I also really liked their clear definitions around the negative emotions you feel so that you can recognize your own emotions. Naming the difference between sad, anxious, despair, shame, anger and disgust can be subtle and difficult at times and it’s not possible to address your (or others’) feelings unless you can connect with them and tell the difference.

I have learned that there is a big difference between saying “thank you” and feeling appreciation.

This, too, was a poignant sentence for me. Often times, even in a gratitude practice i do alone, it can be easy to list things from the day which isn’t always impactful. Whereas, if i sit down and close my eyes and really conjure the feeling of that moment I am listing, I can feel the contentment and joy. Appreciation is about feeling the joy, and sharing the joy.

Many of the exercises in this book are about being together, holding hands, sharing stories about your day, your past, your marriage. The exercises are simple on paper. They encourage connection both physically and emotionally (and psychologically.) and I can totally see how it completely strengthens (and adds joy) to your marriage when you do them regularly.

I will mention that this book has Christian-based religious references which wasn’t clear from the blurbs. It’s not the core of the book but there are many examples. Had I looked up previous books of the authors, I probably would have been able to guess that. I focused on the examples that resonated with me and the concepts they were highlighting.

Overall, this book is a great way to strengthen your already strong marriage. It’s also a wonderful way to start a new marriage.

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

The Editor (3.5 stars):  I read and really loved Rowley’s previous book, Lily and the Octopus, so I was looking forward to reading this. I know some people are big fans of Jackie Onassis but I knew very little about her and wasn’t sure this book would be interesting enough. In fact, I had no idea she’s been an editor for many years, so I wasn’t sure if the author had made up that premise. Apparently, he did not.

While some of the color added by the Jackie bits were fun, to me, what made the book enjoyable was the story under the story (always) and in this case it’s about the relationship between the main character and his mom. It’s about family, connection, belonging.

“But I struggled my whole life with identity. To know who I really was. Why I didn’t feel connected. Why I never truly fit in, And all this time you had the answer! You could have saved me when I was spiraling and you didn’t.”

My mother nods, and it’s a long time before she speaks. “It breaks my heart to hear you say that. From the day you were born, you’ve always been more yourself than anyone I’ve ever met. I guess I felt deep down you didn’t need to know anyone else in order to know who you are.”

So much of this resonated with me. Both the feeling of lack of belonging and lack of identity and the feeling of being so much myself. I feel like both of those things can be true at the same time.

This book is quiet. It’s slow. There are a few big things that happen but it’s really not even about those things in the end. This is not a “let me read and see what happens” book. It’s a book where if you connect with the characters, you like it and if not, you might not.

I really liked it.

thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a preview copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Journey into Yourself (3.5 stars):  It seems a bit weird to be giving Eckhart Tolle anything but five stars. I like to make sure to listen to these at least a few times a year. I think the reason it’s not a five-star for me is because I’ve heard these types of thoughts/teachings several times and there wasn’t much new here for me.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t life changing the first time around and it also doesn’t mean I don’t get value out of it every single time. I read that someone said his calming voice is soothing and wonderful for them but for me, it has a bit of the opposite effect. I tend to prefer Tara Brach or Sharon Salzberg because I connect with their voices right away. Also Karen Maezen Miller. But this might be the one better suited for you. I think when you’re doing this type of work, it matters most to connect with the person so you can be more open to hearing the teachings.

I am grateful I took the time to listen to this. I am grateful for the learnings. I am grateful for the reminder that my stories are just that, my stories.

Beneath the Sugar Sky (4.5 stars):  Another gem from Seanan McGuire. I can’t believe no one recommended these books to me in the last few years. They are absolutely amazing. The detail and creativity in each book is only overshadowed by the variety in her characters who are all so unique and so layered and delightful. And the dialogue is exceptional and observant. These tiny books pack so much.

I have only one more to go which is due at the library in a week and I am almost sad to start it because then I will not get to fall into one of McGuire’s worlds until the next one is out.

This story, like the second one, does not require you to have read the first in the series. More than a series I’d say these are companion books. They can be completely stand alone but if you’ve read the first one, there are a few repeat characters, making the experience deeper and more delightful.

It’s such a joy to find books like these.

So Lucky (3.5 stars):  (I don’t why 1-5 never seems enough for me that I have to give half points!)

This was a very interesting read. It reads like a memoir when it’s fiction. Even after reading it, I am not sure if parts of it are true vs made up. I guess it doesn’t matter. It reads like a raw memoir of a woman recently diagnosed by MS.

I have an ex-boyfriend who has MS so I was curious to see what the author wrote about it. While there are some bits about MS itself, the book, was so much more. It was about helplessness, anger, frustration and all the feelings you feel when your life starts on a negative spiral and doesn’t seem to let up. There are so many simultaneous horrible things in this character’s life. I don’t want to ruin any of the plot but it’s just one bad news after another. And then she tries to fight it all and that ends up backfiring on her.

And she can’t rely on anyone really. Not her loved ones, not people who are supposed to protect us. Not her own body (or mind.)

I love that the emotion in this book is real. It’s not sugar-coated. It’s not fake. It does choose your empathy over the character’s realness. It gives it all to you raw and in abundance. It’s hard to read because you’re so uncomfortable with it all. But that’s the point. (or so i assume.)

I’m glad it was a short novel, I am not sure I could have taken it if it were twice as long. But I am also glad I read it.

Our Life in a Day (4 stars): I don’t know why I thought this was going to be a cute story with cute little bits. It wasn’t. Maybe the “game” concept threw me off from the beginning and I had expectations that it would be light and sweet.

So I think it’s important to make it clear that this is not a light book. In fact, I’d say the opposite, there are several heavy subject matter in these pages. I want to give trigger warnings but I can’t really do it without giving away some of the plot so I will refrain. Just make sure you’re going in with the expectation that there is serious, heavy, difficult topics discussed in this story.

Now that that’s out of the way, this book wasn’t a quick/easy read for me despite the fact that it’s a small book. Maybe it was partly the subject matter, and the jumping back and forth in time due to the nature of the “game”, but I think it also was that I didn’t feel invested in the characters and their relationship.

Ordinarily, I love character novels. I don’t need a plot to make me happy, but I do need rich, layered characters and we had some of that here. The characters were real and flawed but since most of the stories are from Tom’s perspective, we get a lot more of the depth of his feelings than Esme’s. And even though we do learn a bunch about her (and she’s definitely not 2-dimensional) she’s not as rich as I would have liked.

I loved the honesty of the story. The mental health issues weren’t glossed over (for the most part, some of Esme’s pain is definitely not dealt with in as much detail since these are Tom’s stories.)

‘Me too,’ she said, shifting slightly closer to him, ‘But you’ve got to remember that it’s not just about today. It’s the whole year we’re celebrating. It’s always dangerous to plan these things too carefully.

I loved this part. I’ve been guilty of focusing too hard on an anniversary, a new year’s eve, a moment in time and then having so much ride on that moment. It’s so important to have all that in context.

He knew as he was doing it that he was making up a different version of his life. The one he wanted people to see when they looked at him and Esme. Not the actual one they were living. Complete with all its unhappiness, secrecy, and heartbreak.

This made my heart break. Don’t we all know how this feels sometimes? The way things look. The way we try to make things look. It’s important to remember this when looking at others too. How they are also trying to do this.

Most of this book felt raw, real, true. It didn’t shy away from the hard things. It didn’t sugarcoat how hard it is to live with mental health issues, how hard it is to be in a relationship, how flawed we humans are. It’s rare to see a book like this. I almost wish the “gimmick” wasn’t there because, for me, it took away from the depth of this story a bit.

thank you to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy in return for an honest review.

In An Absent Dream (4 stars):  I don’t think I’ve ever read a series quite like this before. This is not exactly a series. Book one gives an overview of a place and an overarching idea and then each of the books go down deeper into the characters/worlds that book one implies. This could theoretically go on forever (I hope it does!)

This particular book is Lundy’s story. As a book reader, it was one of my favorites. I loved her, I loved the deep dive into fair value. There is so much ache in this story. There’s so much depth. That’s what’s so unique about these books: there’s so much depth in both the imagination and the ideation. The philosophy behind each place and the richness of description, the depth of character building. Each of these are exquisite and well-crafted.

I have loved every single one of these books and I cannot wait to read more. I hope the author keeps giving us more and more of these wonderful children and their worlds.

I Owe You One (4.5 stars):  Loved this book! I haven’t always been a Sophie Kinsella reader but I’ve read her on and off for the last five years or so and I like her quirky but real characters. It’s important for you to know what you’re signing up for when you read her books. These are fun, sweet books and if you go in with a different expectation, they will disappoint or frustrate you. I find that there are moments where her books are just right for me.

I like the windy plots that you know are going to end well. I like that she drives you mad with “why is the character doing that?!” but deep down you know the character is just being human and it’s hard to be a human.

Her characters grow as you read the book and you fall in love with them piece by piece and root for them even as they drive you mad. And then when the book is finished, you feel sad knowing you will not get more of those characters.

I think this book was exactly what I needed right now. It’s light, it’s sweet, it’s like a nice, warm hug that made me smile.

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!

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 05

Another solid week of reading. The 3-day weekend gave me a bit extra room to read. Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

The Dreamers (4 stars):  I really enjoyed making my way through this story. It teetered between a 3 and a 4-star book for me while I read it depending on how much of it I was reading at a time. The more I read, the more engulfed I was in the story and the more I enjoyed the sweet softness of it.

Even though this sounds like a disaster, mysterious illness story, it’s not about that. It’s really about people and their connection to each other and there’s this added layer of an inexplicable sickness that’s spreading across the town that may or may not overtake you at any moment for no reason. The anxiety this causes is palpable in the novel.

The book tells the story through the experiences of different sets of people. A couple with a newborn baby, two young girls and their dad, the college students where the whole things begins, etc. Each story is touching and interesting and thoughtful from its own perspective. There are also small but poignant bits about immigrants, marriage, parenthood and more.

If you pickup this book because you want to know what happened and the mystery behind the illness, etc. you will be sorely disappointed. This is a quiet novel with slow, soft moving progress. It asks more questions than it answers. But it’s very beautiful and I really enjoyed my time with it.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (4.5 stars):  Another 4.5 stars. Almost 5 even in this case.

This tiny novel that I couldn’t stop once I started is a sequel to Every Heart a Doorway but it’s really more of the backstory of Jack and Jill from the first book. The story both sad and eerie and, as with the first one, so touching. I had never heard of this author up until a few weeks ago and I am really surprised because these books are fantastic. Little gems and so, so unusual, creative, well-written and just such a pleasure to read.

I know there are two more books out in the series and part of me wants to swallow them whole and another part of me wants to savor this new-to-me and amazing author by reading one a week or so. Let’s see if I can manage to be patient.

O’s Little Guide to Finding Your True Purpose (3 stars):  A super quick little read. These are articles written by different people. Some may speak to you and others might fall flat. Finding your purpose is such an overloaded term, in my opinion. So I wasn’t expecting all that much from this tiny book. I just figured small pieces of gold might lie here and there. The variety was nice in my opinion and most of the articles came with a small nugget that I will be thinking about.

Talk To Me (2 stars):  I read this book quickly. It was fast-paced and even though I knew what was coming, I kept wanting to read it. I am not the kind of person who slows down to watch a car wreck. I don’t usually feel fascinated, instead I feel sad and worried for the people. I don’t like watching human drama unfold. And this book felt just like that. So maybe I should have just abandoned it.

The premise almost felt didactic to me and I was worried the author was going to use this book to focus so much on the social commentary that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. While there are definitely pieces of that, I didn’t feel the direct commentary part was over the top. However, the story was completely predictable all the way to the end.

One of the main points of this book is how we live in a society that is largely ruled by the commenters now and how media is not run by the professionals, etc. While there are bits there I totally agree and sympathize with, I also feel like when you make a point like this, it’s important to show the other side, too.

There are stories that would have never come to the surface if it weren’t for the amateurs. For as many corrupt, click-baity journalists, there are also real ones who care about people and unearthing the truth. For as many self-absorbed-but-not-harmful people who do something stupid, there are ones who actually are out to cause harm knowing they won’t get caught (they’ll be protected) that this system fights.

These issues are complicated and layered and while this book was one story of one person at one point in time (fictional too of course) I still feel uncomfortable with the fact that several of the characters were cartoonish in their one-dimensionality. People are often much more complicated than that and if you’re going to develop the main character, you owe it to the reader to spend time developing the major opposing characters, too.

I guess I had a lot more to say about this than I thought I did and while I had rated this 3 stars when I started, writing this all down made me realize it’s actually not even that.

If, Then (3 stars):  Hmmmm, a lot of thoughts for this book….

First of all, it’s a bit of a mixed genre. What would otherwise be a pretty straightforward general fiction novel has elements of science fiction sprinkled into the plot to make it a notch different than other novels in the genre. Which, for me, as someone who reads across both genres, is not a dealbreaker.

The characters start slow and it took me a while to get into the story, to care about the characters enough to want to know what was going on. But after a while, I was definitely on board. I cared about each of them (a little less about Mark for some reason) and wanted to know how their stories were going to turn out.

I like that the ending was a mixed bag with some going one way and others remaining the same (i don’t want to give away anything so I will leave this vague.)

In the end though, I felt like the story didn’t take me anywhere. I didn’t learn something new. I didn’t think differently. I didn’t gain some insight. And I think that’s because the novel stayed pretty shallow throughout. The author didn’t give me enough depth into any of the characters for me to “feel” their struggles. I didn’t connect to their humanity in a way these kinds of books can accomplish. Maybe the plot device of using the scifi angle detracted the novel from having to be better.

But I wanted more.

thank you to netgalley and the publisher for an advanced proof in return for an honest review.

Professor Chandra Follows his Bliss (4 stars): This book is not what it looks like on the surface. At least not what it looked like to me. It’s not a light beach read. It’s also not a “quirky character” read like quite a few that came out last year. I like both of those genres just fine but I wanted to make sure to say what it’s not because I find that the expectations we have for a book before we read it end up coloring our feelings about the book (at least it does for me.)

Anyhow. This book is about a father, (and his family), whose life is not turning out the way he thought/wanted/worked for and at almost seventy, he is reflecting and taking steps to understand what life is about and to reconnect with his children.

There are several lovely passages in the book. Here’s one I liked:

“….Even my wife, my former wife, I mean. I used to know her, but now I only think I knew her. She left me for someone else. His name’s Steve. I think he understands her. I don’t think I ever did.”

“It’s a bit cliched, isn’t it?” said Bryan, whose grin seemed to have prevailed for three hours now. “The aging male whole wife left him all alone and now women are this giant cosmic mystery….”

“So now I am lonely and a cliche?”

“I don’t think it’s about understanding women. You’re just up against a universal conundrum. Look, I have a partner, right? I like him. I love him. But I don’t 
understand him. Sometimes I think I don’t even know him. And that’s not because he’s an atheist or Hispanic or an only child. It’s because he’s another human being. Humans don’t understand each other. Punto. That’s the way it is. But start saying you don’t understand women and you’re making yourself the problem. Let is go. You’re just a human like anyone else.”

There are a few bits of wisdom here and there that really spoke to me. I also loved that it didn’t tie up into a big, pretty bow in the end. There are moments of realization, moments of progress but there are also moments of sliding back. These characters are human. They are flawed. They are real. Even the ones you don’t know much about, you can connect with.

I really enjoyed this gem and thank you to netgalley and the publisher for an early copy in exchange for an honest review.

White Fragility (4 stars):  I want to say a lot but I think in this case, I will say less. I think reading this book was eye opening. I think it was, by far, not enough. This is an area where I need a lot more education and a lot more perspective. I’ve been trying to read more but I, especially lately, feel it’s not enough. I am thinking about what that means for me and what I can do more and how I can grow and be and do better.

If you have books to recommend, I would love recommendations. For now, this is all I will say. Maybe after a while, I can say and do more.

Have you Seen Luis Velez? (4.5 stars):  I’ve read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novels before and I knew this was going to be good. She did not disappoint. This book is about the friendship that develops between a 92-year-old blind woman and a 17-year-old boy. That sounds like an interesting enough premise but there’s so much more to this story. By the end of the novel, the author has covered issues around ageism, belonging , racism, asexuality, family, friendship, divorce, justice system, and even quantum physics. All of these, plus much more shows up in this book. It’s layered, interesting, touching and and deeply profound in places. Even though the dialogue feels didactic and stilted in a few places, to me, the overall book was so wonderful that I didn’t care.

I highlighted many sections but here area few that really resonated with me:
I think you’re the first person I’ve ever known…I might not say it right. We’ll see…who really sees me. And I mean the whole thing of me, not just the part that fits with how they want to see me. And it seems weird to me, because the first person I met who really sees me for all of who I am …you know.. can’t see.”

“When it comes to seeing what’s important about a person,” she said “I think it’s possible that what our eyes tell us is only a distraction….”

I’ve heard sentiments like this before, but I really liked the distraction phrasing.

Life gives us nothing outright. It only lends. Nothing is ours to keep. Absolutely nothing. Not even our bodies, or brains. This ‘self’ that we think we know so well, that we think of as us. It’s only on loan. If a person comes into our life, they will go again. In a parting of ways, or because everyone dies. They will die or you will die. Nothing we receive in this life are we allowed to keep. I am not some spoiled child who . will take my toys and go home because I do not wish to accept that this is the way things work.”

A very interesting perspective (for me) on (not) giving up. I’m still thinking about this one…

“The world will still be a place where people do terrible things. But here’s the thing about despair. We fall into despair when the terrible gangs upon us and we forget the world can also be wonderful. We just see terrible everywhere we look. So what you do . for your friend is you bring up the wonderful, so both are side by side. The world is terrible and wonderful at the same time. One doesn’t negate the other but the wonderful keeps us in the game. It keeps us moving forward. And, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Raymond, but that’s as good as the world’s going to get.”

I loved every bit of this.

The thing that’s magical about Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novels is how they manage to feel light and profound at the same time. I’d say this is not a “hard to read” book but it’s full, it’s not lightweight, it’s layered, and textured and manages to be sad without depressing and manages to be profound without leaving you broken. In fact, it leaves you hopeful about humanity for the most part. Or manages to really show you how the the world is terrible and wonderful at the same time.

What a joy to read. Huge thanks to netgalley and the publisher for the advanced copy in return for an honest review.

Inheritance (4 stars):  I’ve read a few of Dani Shapiro’s books and she has a similar tone and approach to them that felt familiar in this book. The story behind this book was really interesting to me and I could tell how life changing it could be to uncover information that fundamentally shifts your perspective on life.

I’ve had experiences before where I find out something reasonably important which then causes me to pause and go back through all of my history and try to pinpoint times when that information was true but I didn’t know about it and I comb through all of those experiences and relive them with my new lens. It’s an effort to rewrite the past with this new information you know now (which was also true then but you didn’t know.) and that’s just not possible. Life doesn’t work that way. We only get to live forward and new information can fork the future paths we have but it can’t alter our lived past.

And so much of this book is the author trying to come to terms with her new reality. To try to go back and find clues as to whether her parents knew and whether words/phrases uttered at different times in her life had deeper meaning behind them or not.

The story felt raw and real to me and I was able to feel for the author. I was able to experience her pain, confusion and the feeling of being unmoored by the news. There is no resolution in this book (well there is some but not fully since her parents are deceased and so many of her questions can’t be answered.) and that’s part of what makes it so real and so raw and so much like life. Real life.

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!

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 04

This was a fantastic of reading. Several really wonderful reads across multiple genres. I read a fantasy (Every Heart a Doorway), a historical fiction (The Widows), a non-fiction (Brave, not Perfect) and a literary fiction (Normal People) I loved in one week and I don’t even know how to classify Karen Thompson Walker’s book. Despite a few books I wasn’t crazy about, I am very happy with this week’s reading. Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

Every Heart a Doorway (4.5 stars):  This book is unlike anything I read in all the ways that’s hard to explain. It’s the first in a series and the last book just came out last week. Emily May’s review of the first book convinced me to give it a try. I figured it was reasonably short and if I didn’t like it, I could only stop at the first one.

I read it pretty much in one sitting and was entranced right away. I was pulled into the story, and the atmosphere, the characters, the unusual plot all came together to create something magical. I loved the range of the characters and their unique worlds. I loved all the gender-focused undertones that were smart and thoughtful but yet didn’t hit you in the face with any of it.

Most of all I loved the way the characters interacted with each other and had their own unique personalities and goals but also came together in their apartness from other, “normal” people. I loved that being at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children was closest they could get to belonging in this world.

When you read 200-300 books a year, it’s rare to find a book that’s so unusual. Especially one that’s quietly atmospheric, thought provoking, enjoyable and well written. This one checks all the boxes. I am looking forward to reading the others in the series.

The Au Pair (2.5 stars):  2.5 stars. I don’t know what is wrong with me that I can’t seem to rate with whole numbers. 2 stars seems too stingy for this novel and 3 stars seems too generous. So there we go.

If you’re looking for a quick read that will keep you occupied and entertained without annoying you too much, The Au Pair is not a terrible choice. The story alternates between two characters and two moments in time. I liked the present day character more though both of them were a bit whinier than I like in general.

Here’s the thing: there’s almost no character development in this book anywhere. Not an inch of depth into any of the characters. She wants to know who she is and she loves the house she grew up in and that’s pretty much all you really know about Seraphine, one of the main characters. The alternate narrator, The Au Pair, is even shallower than that, in my opinion. For someone who cares way more about characters than plot, this book was likely a poor choice from the beginning.

There are twists and turns, though not super unpredictable since, you know, there aren’t a huge number of possibilities. The one thing the book has going for it is the pacing. It’s reasonably fast paced and you do want to keep reading it. So I read it in one gulp.

Now that I’ve written all this, 2.5 stars might even be a tiny bit generous.

The Water Cure (2 stars):  Not even sure where to begin…

Here’s another book that is blurbed with labels that have nothing to do with the book. I don’t know what the marketers are thinking when they try to compare a book to a classic. I understand it might have initial appeal and might cause me to pickup the book but then the let down after reading it and, finding out that you have completely lied to me, makes me so mad that I am now skeptical of anything and everything that comes after this. I can’t imagine the one single sale based on a lie is so much better than all the sales you’re now not getting because of the lie.

Ok rant done. This book is nothing like Handmaid’s Tale. Nothing. So I want to set that expectation first and foremost.

The only reason I gave this book two stars is because the author’s lyrical language is powerful and it was, for me, the best part of the book. I don’t usually prioritize paying attention to the language because if I am prioritizing the plot, it means your characters don’t have the depth I need and if I am prioritizing the language, well it means there isn’t much else that’s getting my attention enough. But in some rare cases, the language is beautiful and really adds to the story. This was one of those cases. Especially in the beginning and the ending.

This is where my positive feelings about the book stop. I have so many questions and so many complaints. If you’re going to have three narrators, they need to be distinctly different from each other so as to have a reason that the constant switching helps the story (instead of just giving the reader whiplash.) While there are small differences between the sisters, there is really not enough distinction (besides their plot of course) to make the rotating narration worthwhile.

The plot is convoluted and there are so many holes in the story that at some point I just gave up. I didn’t even care what was going on in the outside world, why they were here, where the others were, and on and on. This wasn’t a slow building story where you can understand the background of the characters and see how they ended up in the completely messed up places they ended up. I am not sure if the author’s goal is for me to conclude “men are evil” and “don’t mess with women” but those are not lessons. This is not a valuable take away. This is not feminist. It’s just another way of stereotyping. These topics are so complicated and so layered that writing a story like this and then selling it as feminist dystopia does it a disservice.

I was confused, horrified, angry and frustrated for most of this story. Maybe that was the intent. But to me, a book that makes me feel those things and doesn’t teach me anything or give me some questions to grapple with is just there to mess with my emotions. And, that makes me mad. I don’t think this is a powerful story. I think this is a missed opportunity.

I did love the author’s lyrical prose, however, so I’ll give her that.

The Widows (4 stars):  What a fantastic book!

Historical Fiction is not my favorite genre. It’s not generally what I would lean towards but I’ve read many in my time and, as with most other genres, what makes or breaks the novel for me is the characters. The character development in this novel is deep, rich and layered. The writing is solid and has just enough texture to envelop you in the atmosphere and is not so flowery (which I feel is sometimes the case for historical fiction) that it gets in the way. The fact that her characters happen to be a strong female characters is just an icing on the cake.

This novel doesn’t move fast. While there’s a crime (or two) at its center, it’s also not a who-did-it. While the characters are motivated by the events that precipitates their meeting, it’s so much more than that. It takes place in the 1920s and speaks to issues around coal mining, unionization, power balance (or imbalance), women and their place in society, and just so much more. All of these are the underpinnings and they are the layers of this story.

But all of that would have been nothing without the amazing character work. At its core, it’s a character-driven story and that is, by far, the very best part of this novel. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this new author!

Brave, Not Perfect (4.5 stars):  What a fantastic book!

Reshma Saujani’s TED talk was recommended to me by several colleagues at work, so when I saw the book, I knew a little about its premise. I have two boys, and yet, I am a girl 🙂 So it was quite interesting reading this book with both my mom filter on and as a woman myself. I’ve already recommended it to all the parents I know, because so much of this book is about highlighting behavior that exists in a way that feels indoctrinated. Things we don’t do consciously maybe because we’ve done them this way such a long time. It’s highlighting the invisible hidden in plain sight.

And like most truths, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

A few years ago, I picked “brave” as my word of the year so that I could become braver. And one of the biggest shifts that happened that year wasn’t that I became brave but that I realized how brave I already was. The author talks about the positive cycle of how bravery begets bravery and that is very much the case. So does realizing how brave you are because it shifts the way you see yourself and now you’re no longer “afraid” to be brave. It is imperative that we turn this cycle around for our girls. The subtle (and not so subtle) push towards perfection is one of the most damaging signals women receive (and then internalize.) I still see this people-pleasing, “looking perfect on the outside but falling apart on the inside” every single day. Not only does it curb our potential as women, it also keeps us disconnected from each other because it’s not possible to have real connection/belonging without authenticity.

I’ve highlighted so much of this book and I will continue to recommend it to every parent (and woman) I know. We can only do better when we know better and this book is a solid step forward in that direction. And it also has tangible, specific next steps you can take to move into the practice of bravery.

Thank you Reshma Saujani for helping us all get less perfect and braver. (and thank you netgalley for the early preview of this awesome book!)

Normal People (5 stars): I loved every bit of this book. From the moment I read the first few lines, I knew I would have a hard time putting it down. I had a visceral connection to it almost immediately and I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want to.

The books I love fall into two categories: books i have no qualms about recommending to everyone and books I love but I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending without a bunch of caveats. This book falls in the latter category. (Plainsong, however, falls in the former.)

I want to start with the caveats:
– this might be boring for many, there’s no plot, nothing really happens and there’s no “ending” either. It’s almost like a glimpse into the lives of these characters over the course of a few years.
– there is a lot of sex and drinking and some drugs in the book. not many graphic descriptions of any of it but if you’re sensitive it will bother you.
– the secondary characters are not well developed and are so not the point of the story that writer clearly couldn’t be bothered to work on them.
– it’s hard to tell what the “point” of the story is or if there even is one.

I will also say while I liked it ok, I didn’t love Rooney’s first novel and I didn’t go into this thinking it was going to be amazing. Man Booker prize long lists are a mixed bag in my opinion so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Ok, now that I have all the other caveats out of the way, I am going to come back to: I loved this book. I will thinking about it for a long, long time. I’ve underlined many parts of it. So much of this book connected with me.

I don’t even know how to describe what spoke to me so deeply. It’s so human is the best way I can think to describe it. The emotions the two main characters have, the deep conflict, the constant miscommunication (or lack of communication) that is a result of their own insecurities, their own feelings of inadequacy can be felt so acutely in this story that it made me wince several times. There are so many moments of realizations for the characters, moments where they see how their idea of something doesn’t really match up with the reality of the world and how their distorted thinking ruins their chances of joy again and again. It felt so true and real to me.

Here are a few quotes that really spoke to me::

Marianne sometimes sees herself at the very bottom of the ladder, but at other times she pictures herself off the ladder completely, not affected by its mechanics since she does not actually desire popularity or do anything to make it belong to her. From her vantage point, it’s not obvious what rewards the ladder provides, even to those who really are at the top.

The ladder is complicated for all people, at all rungs.

Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.

This was such a touching moment for me. Those times in your life when you can experience something monumental and be aware of it’s hugeness at the same time. Sort of like both living and observing your life simultaneously.

He knew that the secret for which he had sacrificed his own happiness and the happiness of another person had been trivial all along, and worthless.

Isn’t this the saddest moment when you find out this thing you were so afraid of being “found out” for was meaningless to others? What you made so big in your mind, what you contorted your life for.

You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

i wish this were true. I don’t know if it is.

No one can be independent of other people completely, do why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.

this might be the crux of this story in the end. if only we could.

I can’t even tell you what the story is about. I just know that there’s so much of it that spoke to me. And I can totally see that at another time, in another place, I might have found all of it sappy and pointless. But I didn’t. I connected with this deeply and felt rewarded again and again throughout the story.

huge thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an advance copy in return for an honest review

The Dreamers (4 stars):  I really enjoyed making my way through this story. It teetered between a 3 and a 4-star book for me while I read it depending on how much of it I was reading at a time. The more I read, the more engulfed I was in the story and the more I enjoyed the sweet softness of it.

Even though this sounds like a disaster, mysterious illness story, it’s not about that. It’s really about people and their connection to each other and there’s this added layer of an inexplicable sickness that’s spreading across the town that may or may not overtake you at any moment for no reason. The anxiety this causes is palpable in the novel.

The book tells the story through the experiences of different sets of people. A couple with a newborn baby, two young girls and their dad, the college students where the whole things begins, etc. Each story is touching and interesting and thoughtful from its own perspective. There are also small but poignant bits about immigrants, marriage, parenthood and more.

If you pickup this book because you want to know what happened and the mystery behind the illness, etc. you will be sorely disappointed. This is a quiet novel with slow, soft moving progress. It asks more questions than it answers. But it’s very beautiful and I really enjoyed my time with it.

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!

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 03

This was a good week of reading. I finally decided to take advantage of netgalley and between that and my library accounts, i have a lovely list of books on my TBR pile that I am excited to read.  Here’s what I have from this week:

Plainsong (5 stars):  In the last few weeks of 2018, I spent time reading a lot of posts around best reads of the year and added content to my TBR. Somewhere along the way, I picked up Plainsong. I don’t know who recommended it or what they said that made me add it to my list. Especially since it’s a book that was published long before 2018.

Whoever it was, thank you.

This book was a pure joy to read. The characters, the dialogue, the atmosphere of the book all come together to envelop you into the story. Much of the book is sad and has real, raw, and bad things happening to several characters. But underneath all the realness of life there is this thread of hope that emerges from the quiet goodness of other characters. The way people express their feelings, their thoughts, their worries feels so true to character. 

The overall quietness of the book was something I cherished the whole time I read it. Especially after Uprooted which was lovely in its own right but certainly not quiet. I have never read this author before and I have no idea why. I was very sad to find out he’s passed away but grateful that he’s left a body of work. I look forward to spending more time with his words in 2019.

Talking Across the Divide (4 stars):  After the last two books I finished, I needed a change of pace so I decided to pickup a nonfiction book. This was new on my pile and I liked the premise of it so I figured it was a good pick.

Overall, I think it was a good book. I liked all the ideas/approaches he introduces in the book and I felt that, in general, he was pretty realistic about how tough it can be to talk across the divide. He clearly has experience with this. ( Though I will say while I liked the E.T. example as a way to show how people might have different stories they have accumulated in their life, I felt that telling me to have them watch E.T. was too simplistic for the example he was giving. That was the one time in the book he completely lost me.)

The reason I gave this 3 stars is really because there wasn’t much new here for me. I’m lucky enough to have a wide range of interests and friends from a wide range of backgrounds. This has taught me that people I love and respect can have wildly different opinions/perspectives than I do. Having such a variety of people in my life has helped me work on some of these tactics and has helped me be more open to listening because as Brené Brown often mentions, it’s hard to disregard someone’s thoughts/opinions/words if you know them as a human being. Not that I always get it right, of course, but I’ve done a lot of growing up in the last twenty years and I am aware that things are a lot more complicated than they might seem and I have but my stories, perspectives, experiences so it’s important for me to remember that those are not the only ones there are in the world. 

Anyhow, these are good books for me to read. Good reminders to keep an open mind, to listen, to care, to remember to not perpetuate a divide. As my favorite Ram Dass saying goes: We are all just walking each other home.

A Key to Treehouse Living (3 stars): Most people who review this book start with its unusual style. The book is written with alphabetic titles as if you’re reading an encyclopedia. I’d read this style before in The Lover’s Dictionary which at the time had delighted and surprised me. Maybe because of that, in this case I felt like it was mostly a gimmick.

I’ve read a lot of books so the gimmicks don’t do it for me anymore. I much prefer novels that have deep, rich characters and solid writing. To be fair to the author, this book is written well and even though all the other characters are ephemeral and not developed much at all, the main character here is layered and complicated. 

I also liked the writing. I highlighted this little sentence that made me smile: “An old man with the need to ruminate will pop like a champagne bottle when you ask him a question and stories will come out like the foam.” I like how it was both so visual and so relatable. 

Had the author trusted his ability to write strongly and develop rich characters, and made this book less gimmicky I probably would have rated this higher. Still really enjoyed it and look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Bad Blood (4 stars):  This book showed up in my life in so many ways that I couldn’t continue to ignore it. When my book club picked it months and months ago, I thought it would be a boring, sensationalist read. I live a few streets down from where Theranos was. I work in Silicon Valley and all the little cafes mentioned in the book are in my neighborhood. I figured I knew all I needed to know about this story. 

Then it started popping up all over my Instagram feed by several bookgrammers I follow. My friend whose judgement I generally trust said it was a really good read. And then the clincher was when my brother-in-law said he was up until 2am reading the book and that it was one of his best reads of 2018. I finally succumbed to the universe and bought the book with my audible credits.

It took me a little less than 24 hours to finish because this book is written in a way that makes it very hard to put down. Even when you know half the story. The number of unconscionable acts in this story are appalling. The fact that the house of cards didn’t come down for as long as it lasted in quite mind blowing.

But what made me the saddest reading this book wasn’t even Holmes’ actions. She clearly lost her way at some point and decided to put her greed above anything else and that part of the story I knew (even if I didn’t know all the bullying, secrecy and just outright creepy things she did to her employees.) What caught me by surprise was the way in which people/companies came on board even while suspecting there was something off. They were so worried about their FOMO that they chose to be a part of fraud rather than miss out on something real. Walgreens was worried CVS would do the deal if they didn’t. The number of times people say But what if we pass on this and it’s real blew my mind. Couple FOMO with a charismatic, passionate, successful-looking female CEO and you have yourself a perfect smokescreen. One she took advantage of to its fullest extent. 

Parts of this story made my skin crawl. And other parts were more like facepalm. I don’t know whether to be grateful that the journalist kept pushing until it finally fell apart or horrified that it took as long as it did.

Some Assembly Required (4 stars): This was the only non-fiction Anne Lamott book I haven’t read, so when the library added the audiobook, I put it on hold immediately. Anne Lamott reads her own audiobooks and they are a joy to listen to. I am not a grandmother yet (and not for a long while I hope) but here’s what I know about Anne Lamott: there’s wisdom in all of her books regardless of topic so I knew this would be no different.

And I was right.

Anne Lamott is neurotic, difficult, selfish, and struggling in all the ways the rest of us are. She’s human, she’s fallible, she’s flawed. And yet she’s also wise. She surrounds herself by other wise people and she puts all that vulnerability into her books. So when you read her books, you see the mess that life is, you see someone being honest with you about her own struggles, and you connect with her humanness. 

Or at least I do.

And I am grateful for her openness, for her willingness to be vulnerable so I can feel less alone and so I can grow and benefit from her wisdom. I am always grateful to read one of her books. This one had the added advantage of including bits and pieces of her son Sam’s thinking. It’s so lovely to have read Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year and now to hear the baby from that book speaking as an adult with his own baby. 

Super thankful for writers like Anne Lamott

The Happiness Project (3.5 stars): I joined netgalley in 2009, and then proceeded to do nothing for ten years. Last Monday, I finally decided to dig up my login information and see if I can start using it. The Happiness Project was the first book that accepted me so I decided it had to be the first one I read. 

And I am glad I did. 

Apparently this is not the first book, so the author jumps right into the story without giving too much of a background on each of the characters. This didn’t bother me at all, though I will say by the end of the story I still couldn’t really tell you much about the physical characteristics of any character except that one of them is pretty petite. This, too, wasn’t a huge problem for me. I did feel like I got to know each of the characters as a “person” and they felt uniquely different from each other, and reasonably three-dimensional to me. They were flawed, interesting, thoughtful characters. 

The book was a fun and quick read. When I was reading it, I liked getting lost in their stories and when I wasn’t reading it, I found myself looking forward to reading more. While there were some learning moments for each character, this wasn’t a story of major growth. 

When they first make the “Happiness Project” I thought it would end up being that they would each learn something about what happiness meant for them and how their project/goal would shift with the learning etc. but it wasn’t a book like that. It was light, fun and one of those books that come together beautifully at the end, leaving you smiling and happy. 

If you’re looking for a deep, literary book that will make you learn about new cultures, or appreciate complex characters, I wouldn’t recommend you pick this one. But if you want to have fun, enjoy a good story with characters that are real and experience real-life situations, especially around marriage and motherhood, I think this is a fantastic pick. 

I gave it a 3.5 stars because while I would have liked a bit more depth, I really enjoyed the story and had fun the whole time I read it.

Chief Joy Officer (3.5 stars): 3.5 stars but I decided to round up this time partly because I am so happy leaders like this exist and I want to encourage these types of books to be written more and more and I want other leaders to take their cues from this type of advice and leadership.

I’ll start with what I liked: I liked all the examples of how the author’s company works and how much time and effort and, most importantly, thoughtfulness they’ve put into the process of making decisions that serve their purpose around creating a more joyful and collaborative company. It sounds like it’s clearly a wonderful place to work and I have subscribed to their newsletters and earmarked it as a place I’d love to go visit when/if I make it to Michigan (which I am decidedly likely to in the next 3 years.) I am a firm believer that such environments don’t happen magically. It takes a lot of effort, dedication and intentionality. 

Now, the part I wish there was more of was specific to me. I work at a large company and I run operations for a reasonably large organization where I was hoping I could take away some tangible, interesting ideas from the book and start recommending that we implement them (or at least experimenting with them) in my organization. Alas, with the exception of one small idea, I didn’t walk away with anything else. Partly because some of his suggestions are things I am already working on and partly because it was hard for me to envision how to integrate some of his other ideas into our organization. But this is not to say there are no ideas in the book, just not a major aha! moment for me.

All in all, it was a worthwhile read and I am looking forward to tracking the company for a little while through their newsletters and seeing if I get some gems there. And super grateful companies like this exist.


Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2 stars): This came up on my library hold so I decided since it was a quick read, I could go ahead and tackle it. I wanted to read it before I see the movie. Because I refuse to see movies without reading the book and I knew I wanted to see this one. 


The book left so much to be desired. There’s nothing to learn or even something to enjoy in this book, for me. While some of the tidbits of the letters she wrote were fun to read, I felt the lack of any emotion, any remorse, or even anything that made this person real for me, stopped me from connecting with the author at all. 

I understand this is a true story and the truth likely is that she didn’t feel remorse and that she didn’t have a big, amazing reason why she did what she did except that she could and she needed/wanted the money. Sometimes the truth is as simple and straightforward as that. 

That doesn’t mean I have to like it and it doesn’t mean it makes a good story. At least not for me. 

I will still likely watch the movie, though I am decidedly less excited to do so now.

Juliet, the Maniac (4 stars):  Wow so many feelings for this book. I don’t even really know where to start…

I’ll start with part of the book’s description that totally made me mad: “An explosive portrayal of teenage life from the perspective of The Bad Friend…” what?! This is a terrible description for the book I read. There are few things that make me angrier than reading blurb copy that was written to raise curiosity/to sensationalize and then book ends up being something completely different and now you’re disappointed not because the book was bad but because the blurb set the wrong expectation.

The first sentence of the blurb here in goodreads is closer to the truth of this book: “It’s 1997, and 14-year-old Juliet has it pretty good. But over the course of the next two years, she rapidly begins to unravel, finding herself in a downward trajectory of mental illness and self-destruction.” but really if I were explaining it to a friend, I’d say this is a book about a 14-year-old who is suffering from several forms of mental illness, most specifically being bipolar. It’s the story of her trying to (or her parents forcing) to find her way back. It’s raw and honest and disturbing in all the ways life can be when you’re suffering from mental illness and are also a teenager. 

She is not a “bad friend,” she’s just a girl who’s struggling so very deeply and keeps making choices that don’t serve her because she’s sick, because she’s struggling, because she’s lonely, because she feels “not right” inside, because…well for all the reasons many of us struggle during some of the most formative years of our lives. 

I can’t relate to any of what Juliet does in this novel (side note: or is it non-fiction? I could never be sure and still am really not. If it’s meant to be a novel it would have been better served by the main character having a different name. in my opinion this only serves to confuse the reader and doesn’t add to the story.) I didn’t take any drugs or really much alcohol during my teen years. I don’t want to give away much of what happens in the story (even though I think the things she “does” isn’t really what the story is about.) But I could relate to her anyway. I could relate to her suffering. I could emphasize with her. The writing was so real that I could almost feel it crawling under my skin.

What was most interesting to me is that I alternated between reading the book as my teen-self and as my parent-of-teen self. I don’t even have a daughter but there were parts of the book where I got so mad at her for continuing to self-sabotage and make choices that wouldn’t stop hurting her. I felt angry and frustrated and wanted to stop reading. And then there were other parts that brought me right back to my own old teenage self where I could connect with her feelings of emptiness and pain. 

Clearly, this book left an impression on me. I will say that I didn’t want to be reading it as I was reading it. It was painful and raw. I didn’t want to watch her as she was doing so much harm to herself and others. But yet, I am glad I read it. And I will likely think about it for a long while.

[ps. this was my second netgalley read, hence the early review.]

Keep Going (5 stars):  When I saw there was an Austin Kleon book coming out, I knew it was an occasion to celebrate. I was super excited when I got the approval email from netgalley, and not-shockingly, I read the whole wonderful book in one sitting. (I am sure he would tell me to slow down, savor, and appreciate the book. But I couldn’t. I will just have to reread it so I can do that the second time around.)

I’ve read several of Austin Kleon‘s books and this has the same format as the others. It’s a little book, full of wisdom. I highlighted so many parts of the book that I am not sure I can capture all of them here. 

I am not a full-time artist, I don’t make a living on art, or even make any money, but as someone who has stopped spending time being creative in the last year, I knew this book would help get me back on track. 

And so much of the wisdom here is exactly what I am trying to implement to bring art/journaling back into my life. Here are some of the notes I took:
– a daily routine and observe, where are the spaces in my day (maybe i can book a 30 minute meeting at work to do art? could I pull that off?)
– choosing what I spend my time on (am I spending my time the way I want do, what am I doing on automatic?)
– make a list of all the todos, make a list of all the won’t dos, make a list of all the want to learns
– i loved the journaling idea of thankful/”need help with”
– make a list of all i did that day, what i want from tomorrow, and then be done with the day (i love this as the ritual of letting the day go.) i also loved the idea of letting the day be (instead of crumpling it up.)
– “If you wait for someone to give you a job title before you do the work, you might never get to do the work at all.” This is so true in so many areas. At my job, too!
– Practicing art is helps make your soul grow. so important for me to remember!
– i liked the idea about rereading my diaries. a bit scary, too 🙂
– i also loved the idea of visiting the past, reading old books, I should read some Seneca!
– i also loved remembering that art (like many things) happens in cycles and that maybe i was in a quiet cycle for the last year or so.

This is just a sampling of what I highlighted in this lovely book bursting with wonderful inspiration and quiet wisdom. It’s a book I will keep coming back to again and again.


And there we go, a really solid week of reading. Pretty happy.

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!

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 02

So here we go, hello to 2019. Since I’ve spent the first week of this year at home, I’ve had a lot of time to read and have had some wonderful reads. Since I am using Good Reads here now thanks to Gypsy, I will go ahead and link to and copy my reviews here which means there will be a lot more writing per book. 

Ikigai (2 stars): I bought this book back in February of 2018. I had just heard about Ikigai and wanted to learn more about it. At the time I bought this one on audio and Awakening Your Ikigai for my kindle. I was in Sydney for a work trip and decided to read the print book first. I loved it. Even though the book didn’t really tell me all that I wanted, I highlighted so much of it.

So I was looking forward to starting 2019 with a reminder on what I love so much about the concept. Alas, this book didn’t do it for me. If you’ve never read any books around the topics mentioned here, this book might appeal to you but as someone who’d already read Man’s Search for Meaning and already familiar with concepts of Flow, there wasn’t much in this book for me. It felt like it jumped back and forth and it even managed to annoy me in certain places. 

Depending on where you are in your journey this book might work for you but if you’re going to read one book on this topic, I’d recommend Awakening Your Ikigai over this one. 

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (4 stars):  I should have started with this as my first read of 2019. This moving story was spectacular. I loved the characters, the plot that circles back in on itself, and the sentiment of the novel. I listened to the author’s note at the end, too, and I love the fact that this novel was inspired by his own mother’s fight for his brother. To me, what makes or breaks a novel has everything to do with how the characters come alive and stay with you. I know these will stay with me for a long while.

I will say a few bits that might matter: 
– the women in the novel are more one-dimensional than one might like. Especially the secondary characters. ordinarily this would bother me a lot, but in this case it didn’t. i can’t tell you why.
– this is not a deep, literary novel, in my opinion, it’s a feel good story about the unbounded love of a mother and thus things fall into place in the ways in which they do in such novels.
– there is a strong religious component to the story as the mother is very religious. that didn’t bother me but i know it might bother some.

I bounce around in my reading. I will be in the mood for something educational, something sad, something light, something serious, something weird, something thought-provoking and sometimes something uplifting. Each of these books have their own types of formulas. I know that going into the story (and sometimes the book surprises me, of course, but that happens relatively rarely.)

This is the uplifting kind. And on that note, it delivers beautifully.

Born a Crime (4 stars): I finally finally got around to reading this book. It’s been in my audible pile forever but I kept prioritizing my library checkouts so this one has been sitting quietly waiting for me to be ready for it and today was the day.

I had heard so much praise about this book that it was going to be hard for the book to live up to the hype. But it didn’t disappoint. 

I’ve stopped watching The Daily Show since Jon Stewart stopped hosting it so I knew nothing at all about Trevor Noah. I also knew almost nothing about growing up in South Africa and so much of what he talks about in this book. I think this is one of the reasons why this book is such a success: he talks about topics most of us don’t know about and manages to make the reader feel the horror at the same time as making the reader laugh. There are moments of terrible tragedies in this book and yet it doesn’t feel didactic in the least.

And, of course, the biggest joy is seeing where he came from and where he ended up. The kind of story that gives you hope, reminds you much is possible in this life, and makes you feel another level of respect for Trevor Noah.

The Library Book (3 stars):  I have mixed feelings about this book. 

I checked it out of the library several times before I finally decided to tackle it today. Often times, there’s a reason I end up putting the book off but sometimes a book I’ve checked out six times ends up being one of my favorites and I regret not having read it sooner. I’ve liked Susan Orlean’s previous novel and I love libraries so I had reasons to read this one. When I saw it was the Reese bookclub pick for January, I decided it was a nudge from the universe (or Reese?) to finally read it.

The book is told sort of in alternating chapters. There’s the story of the fire which I found fascinating and then there are stories about the author’s childhood around libraries and also about the history of the library which I found less interesting. In my experience, many non-fiction novels end up stretching their subject too much in an effort to make a book out of it when it could be a really intriguing long article. This felt a little like that. Like there was a lot of filler. And the book, in my opinion, didn’t fare better for it.

I did enjoy several of the stories and especially the little mention of Overdrive which I love and use multiple times a day. But there were too many side stories, too much of the history, and too much back and forth for my liking.

I am still glad I read it.

The Art of the Good Life (2.5 stars): It’s always tricky to write a book on “how to be.” I know this book isn’t titled as if it’s telling you what to do/who to be but it’s trying to do exactly that, in my opinion. Even though I agreed with some of his ideas, learned new ideas, and disagreed with some of what he said, the part of the book that put me off the most was the tone in which it was written.

Maybe it’s necessary to be “authoritative” when writing a book on how to live, but I would have been more open to his ideas if the author took some of his own advice and was more humble and argued the opposite of his ideas more often. Presenting alternate ways of thinking is most valuable to me when you give me both sides of the coin and I can make my own choices with what I’ve learned. But then again maybe that’s an altogether different book and this one is the author having done his homework and telling me the choices he’s come to after having done his homework. 

Alas that was my favorite part of the book, all the stories throughout and the appendix which is full of his sources, other thinkers that he quotes throughout, etc. The author clearly did his work. He’s well read, he spent the time thinking about what matters to him, what he thinks should matter to me, etc. But I guess I didn’t end up as big a fan of how he distilled it all. He brought together several different thoughts of school, wrapped it in a nice bow for me and ta-da! I have my present on how to life my life well.

I guess, for me, part of living a good life is learning what that means for me. What my definition looks like and what are the pieces that contribute to it. So a book that’s wrapped up this neatly was never going to get me there.

Having said all of that, I’ve highlighted a bunch of this book and it gave me a lot of ideas to think about and of course a lot of sources on who else to read to go deeper, to learn more, to think more. Hence the stars. 

Here are a few of the ideas that stuck with me:
– First pay, then enjoy. I don’t like to spend money, especially on myself. When I buy things, I like to pay cash because, at that moment, I made up my mind and I am ok to spend it and generally I get an immediate satisfaction (of whatever I bought in return.) With a credit card, I get the bill in the mail later and I have to “re-pay” that bill. I have to relive the decision to spend that money. It makes me unhappy all over again. The downside to paying with cash is that it’s very hard to track where your money goes which is why I now usually use credit cards. The author here talks about how he pays for the hotel at the beginning of his vacation so he can really enjoy it and end it on a high note since we know endings matter so much. So this made me think about how I can incorporate more of that into my life. Maybe I can get a prepaid credit card where I put X amount of money up front into it and then use it. This way I have the “records” of what I spent it on but I am not paying again at the end of the month. (In this same chapter, I think, he talks about how the duration of the vacation is less important than how it ends, which gave me a lot of food for thought on how to spend our vacations, too. this one is still forming.)

– It’s easier to do it 100% of the time: I believe in this wholeheartedly. Gretchen Rubin has a saying that what you do everyday matters more than what you do occasionally. I find that it’s easier for me to commit to something every single day than it is to do it X times a week etc. If it’s everyday, there’s no question or bargaining around it. I am doing it. 

– Don’t pick a side. When we pick a side, we look for proof that our perspective is right, that our story is the correct one and we keep feeding it so it gets more and more solid. I like the author’s idea of a “too complicated” bucket. Saying “I don’t know” helps reaffirm the truth that I don’t actually know.

– Don’t assume the things/people you’ve accumulated in life are due to some credit to what you’ve done to deserve it. So much of life is chance. The part of this thought that resonated with me the most was this “The best attitude to have is that all of them are on loan to you, and may be taken away at any time.” I love this. Not just for the non-attachment part but as a reminder for me to really pay attention to what I have and how lucky I am. Not sure the author meant it that way but it doesn’t matter to me. 

– The idea of pre-mortem was not new to me in this book but it’s a good reminder to help avoid potential circumstances I can avoid and also help pinpoint sources of my own anxiety around a decision.

– I wildly disagreed with reading only a handful of books of course. The fact that I don’t remember much of what I read doesn’t bother me and doesn’t detract from the experience of reading it and feeling what I feel at the moment. Maybe it’s a way to honor my experiencing self 🙂

– I liked the idea of mental subtraction but I have to read about it more to really understand it better. 

– I liked the idea of applying Sturgeon’s law to my thoughts too. 90% of what I think is garbage. It helps me not take myself so seriously.

A bunch of food for thought. I’d really give this 2.5 stars but somehow it doesn’t feel right rounding up to 3. Maybe in a few weeks, I’ll come back and change it.

Uprooted (4.5 stars): I started this book yesterday thinking is was going to be slow and long but I had three more days before I had to go back to work. Having read Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver I should have known better.

The moment I started this book, I was lost in Novik’s world. I am not usually a fantasy lover. The more complicated the world building, the sooner you might lose me. I am not super patient and have no appetite for unusual creatures. But if you give me flawed, interesting, funny and three-dimensional characters, you pretty much have me. Novik’s characters never disappoint. Her twisty, dark, rich plot is just icing on the cake. The fact that her main character is a strong female character is the bonus that just makes her one of my favorite fantasy writers ever.

Not to say that the book is perfect. I think if I had read this first, I would have given it five stars because discovering an author this talented comes with a halo effect. But since this is my second one, I think a bit of that has worn off. This book definitely could have been edited down a bit; there were parts that I would have likely glazed over had I not been on audio. I’d say this is a 4.5 star book, for me, but not enough to tip over to 5. 

Having said that, I couldn’t stop listening to it all day, and it took me less than 24 hours to finish this ~18-hour book, even at 2x, you can do the math that I pretty much read it the whole time I was awake. On a side note, the audio narrator is excellent and aligns with the feel of the story perfectly.

If you haven’t read any of Novik’s books and like Fantasy, I say it’s time to grab one of her novels. Just make sure you have nothing else to do all day.

And there we go, a reasonably solid start to 2019. I am now reading book number 7 and loving it. Here’s to wonderful books in 2019.

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!