Books I Read This Week 2020 – 1 & 2

Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! I also have an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art. Since I didn’t post last week, this will be an extra-long post. And going forward I am experimenting with auto-posting my reviews as I post them to goodreads so we will see how that works.

Float Plan (4 stars): If you’re a fan of sweet romance novels with strong female characters, some steam, you will enjoy this story of Anna whose husband to be has committed suicide and she decides to go on their dream sailing journey anyway.

Along the way, she finds help, kindness, love and herself. I really liked that she’s strong and capable and he’s kind and generous. I also really enjoyed some of the transient but sweet secondary characters.

Sometimes a sweet, semi-predictable love story is exactly what’s needed and this one hits the spot beautifully.

with gratitude to netgalley and St. Martin’s Griffin for an advanced copy in return for an honest review.

Enneagram Empowerment (4 stars): Last year I discovered the enneagram which at first sounded very astrology-like and wasn’t appealing to me. But after some work, I have become very interested in it and have been reading most of the books I can get my hands on.

It is often eerily accurate and quite interesting. This book was no exception. It is a great starting point if you don’t know much about it (though I wouldn’t recommend going by the quickie quiz it has in the book. I’d recommend you find several online tests, read heavily and then figure out your type. To be fair, the author recommends reading each type thoroughly, too.)

It has a quick (4-page) overview of each type and then a section for self-empowerment (self-compassion, responding to stress, living strengths, empowered thinking, and more) and then relational empowerment (setting boundaries, centers of wisdom, etc.) Each section is short and quick but there was still quite a bunch of food for thought.

If you’re new to the enneagram, you will enjoy this book. If you’re not new, you’ll still like the empowerment focus.

with gratitude to DK and netgalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review

Just Work (4 stars): I have so many thoughts about Kim Scott’s new book. This is generally a sign that I need to sit with it a while more so I might come back to this review and change/add. But I just finished it so here are some of my raw thoughts.

– There’s a lot of vulnerability and honest sharing of life experiences in this book. Kim shares a lot of what she experienced as an employee and decisions she made as a leader, she recounts many of her regrets at both times
– There is a structure to the book that makes it easy to parse and contextualize the definitions, roles, and actions
– She gives a lot of examples of both what not to do and what to do

And while she shares a lot of examples of where she made the wrong choice and how she regrets it, she doesn’t give a lot of examples of where she made the “right” choice when her own life/career/etc was on the line. She gives a lot of examples of when she was in a consulting or power position and acted as an upstander (her nomenclature) on behalf of highlighting, correcting, and speaking up about a situation someone else was in. But not a lot of examples of her own career as an employee where she did take a risk to stand up or as a leader, where she corrected something in real time. She definitely owns up to her incorrect behavior (which is definitely commendable) but somehow it started to bother me that they were all examples of where someone else rescued her out of a situation, or she waited it out, or some other thing she says not to do – and she also readily acknowledges the person harmed (I really appreciate her not using the word “victim”) should completely get to do what they believe is right for them which I totally understand. But I kept thinking that if her advice in this book is so sound, why is she herself not taking it? I couldn’t tell if this was a biased view and I am sure there’s a flaw in the thinking but because it kept creeping up, I wanted to acknowledge it.

Putting this aside, there are a lot of tangible pieces of advice here both for leaders and observers that I found very helpful. These are not platitudes. They are real, tangible ways we can hold ourselves and our leaders accountable, and start the journey towards change.

This book is hard to read and can be demoralizing, especially if you belong to an underrepresented group. Several of her gender-specific examples really were tough for me to read, especially where it paralleled my own experiences. But it also ends on a hopeful note, pointing out that just workplaces are possible and worth working towards.

No book on this subject will be perfect. No author will get it all right. I appreciated Scott’s honestly, openness, vulnerability, and no-nonsense advice in this book. I will have to sit with it a while longer to see what else stays with me.

with gratitude to St. Martin’s Press and netgalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

How to Fail at Flirting (3 stars): Enjoyed my time with this light read. Both of the main characters are great and so are the secondary ones. Serious issues like abuse and racism are covered here but the spotlight shines on the romance and it’s lovely.

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett (4 stars): what an absolute joy of a story. i fell in love with this book from the first few minutes. I loved all of the characters. I loved both the past and the present stories and i loved the quiet way in which it was told. Really sweet.

Take it Back (3.5 stars): An interesting mystery story. Stands out from the pack because it handles issues around religion and groupthink and masculinity. But it also has some tropes that didn’t thrill me. I could see several of the twists coming and felt frustrated maybe because my expectations were so high going in.

Three O’Clock in the Morning (5 stars): “There are occasions when you need to talk, and you mustn’t take anything for granted. Then there are other occasions when you have to keep silent because there’s something intangible, something precious in the air, and your words might dispel it in an instant. These are two simple concepts. The hard part is to know when to apply one rule and when the other.”

Loved this beautiful story of a father and son who spend two days awake in Marseilles because of a medical procedure and walk and talk and bond during that time. They talk, really talk, for the first time. The book is told from the son’s perspective (he’s a senior in high school) and the reader gets to experience both their dialogue and the son’s inner thoughts.

“In other words, I again blended in with my contemporaries, while at the same time wanting to be very different from them. All teenagers suffer from the same schizophrenia. They do all they can to be the same and dream of being different.”

They go through many different topics : family, life, career, choices, sex, and more. I often think about how we as children do not get to experience our parents as adults or even full humans really. They are always playing the role of “parent” in our life so it’s hard to see them as humans with their own lives and regrets and choices and thoughts alongside that. In this story, the son is experiencing his dad as a human for that brief period.

“I don’t know. Maybe leaving something you care about in a place you don’t really want to leave is a way of staying connected to that place—of hoping to get back there. I don’t know.”

I loved so much of the dialogue, the son’s thoughts, the quiet and deep and wise nature of this book. It was like a perfect movie. I was in Marseilles just a few years ago so I was also able to visualize some of the scenery and imagine them walking down the streets.

“Perfect comes from the Latin perficere, to do something completely. Imperfection, in the etymological sense, is that which isn’t complete. Incompleteness distinguishes jazz from any other kind of music. In classical music, for example, the score contains all the notes to be played. The performer reads it and plays the written notes, nothing less but also nothing more. His performance is all about the many different ways he can interpret those notes, but the notes are always the same. In jazz, the score is just the starting point.”

The blurb of this book likened it to the movie “Before Sunrise” and I think it was a perfectly apt comparison. I loved every moment I spent with this book.

With gratitude to netgalley and HarperVia for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review

Caste (4 stars): I have so many thoughts about this book but I feel like I still have to sit with it some. I absolutely agree with the author’s premise and it was eye opening to read so much of this book. While I usually love the storytelling and example-focused non-fiction narrative, in this case, I found myself wanting to learn a little more about the structures and academic understanding of caste systems. Which is why I feel like I need to go learn more, think more, and then revisit this book. If you’re like me and have been intimidated by the size of this book, I highly recommend you pick it up, it is very well written and the fact that it’s not super academic and has a lot of examples and stories makes it easy to digest and (for me) considerably less intimidating to read. I have already had several discussions in my household as a result of this book and expect many more to come.

The Color Purple (5 stars): What an exquisite novel. I know that many people read this book when they are much younger but I had never read it before and in some ways, I am so glad to have read it when I am a mother, and older, and can understand and appreciate some of the nuance in this story as well.

I was worried that this book was going to be very sad, so I kept putting off reading it for book club, but finally 4 days before the meeting, I decided it was now or never. I am eternally grateful that I read it. The story is definitely very sad, but maybe because I knew how horrific it was going to be, I was able to move past the devastating parts enough to deeply appreciate and enjoy Alice Walker’s story. There’s hope woven through this story and especially by the end, I felt the power of women supporting, uplifting and being there for each other.

If you’re like me and haven’t read this one, I cannot recommend it enough. The audiobook is fantastic and also highly recommended.

The Lost Apothecary (4 stars): This is the story of two women: Caroline, who is in London where she was scheduled to celebrate her tenth wedding anniversary before she found out her husband was cheating on her. So now she’s made it to London alone and stumbles on an apothecary vial near the river which then sets her off on a journey to figure out where it came from. And Nella, an apothecary in late 1700s who has moved away from her mother’s traditional apothecary shop to a much more nefarious one where she sells poisons for women to kill to be free of the men in their lives. The book goes back and forth between the two women as you see Nella’s story unfold and Caroline’s story colliding with it.

While I enjoyed both women’s perspectives, I liked my time with Nella more and found myself looking forward to those chapters. This is not your modern mystery where everyone is over the top and there are giant twists and all the characters are unreliable. This is old-school mystery that develops its characters, brings the setting into the reader’s mind and imagination, slowly unwinds, builds up to some twists to show you life is not as expected and finishes with a very satisfying coming together of the story. Much more my kind of mystery.

with gratitude to harper audio and netgalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Why We Sleep (4 stars): I put off reading this book forever. Started and stopped it many many times. I found it to be both incredibly useful and detailed and scientific and also really hard to read. There’s just so much there and much of it is quite academic. At some point, I was like “I totally believe you, no need to give me details, just tell me what to do and what not to do” Maybe because I am so tired and need more sleep 🙂

Joking aside, sleep is serious business and if you didn’t think so before, you absolutely will after reading this book. It will absolutely change your understanding of the necessity of sleep and will definitely make you reconsider your life and choices around sleep.

Good Company (4 stars): This is the story of Flora. Flora and Julian have been together for 20+ years and have a beautiful daughter they love and a life they’ve worked hard to build together. Flora and Margot have been best friends and Margot is a famous actress now. While she’s digging through drawers in her house to find a photo to give as a gift for her daughter’s graduation, Flora stumbles upon her husband’s wedding ring that he had lost 15 years ago.

This small act slowly start unwinding her life and having her rethink many of her choices and at a loss for what she should do as a result of this discovery.

I found it interesting that many who read the author’s previous novel found this one to be not as good. I felt the opposite. This book is decidedly quiet. Not a lot happens and if you need big things, over the top personalities, crazy twists, loud shouting matches, this is not the book for you. This book, in my opinion, is so much better than that. The characters are well built and each and every one of them is 3dimensional. You can find something to like and something to dislike about each of them. You feel for them and root for them and also shake your head when they disappoint you, which almost all of them do at some point.

This book felt real to me. I could imagine these people in the world, living their blissful-looking life with all the layers of struggle, pain, joy, and hard work under the surface layer. I loved the nuanced struggles of what you tell people and what you keep to yourself. When is it your duty to divulge something that you know about someone else that could completely change their life. How much of what we do is for our own benefit vs others’ good. How to navigate a loss that’s actually 15 years old but you just find out. How to feel when everything you thought you knew is not what you thought it was but it also kind of is. What makes a marriage, a family, a friendship. There’s so much good in this book. So much subtle depth.

I loved the time I spent with this book and if quieter books are your cup of tea, I highly recommend it.

with gratitude to netgalley, Harper Audio, edelweiss and Ecco publishing for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

And there we go, grateful to be reading.

Books I Read this Week 2021 is a year-long project for 2021. You can read more about my projects for 2021 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 also have an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art (paused at the moment but restarting soon hopefully.)

Review: The Lowering Days: A Novel

The Lowering Days: A Novel
The Lowering Days: A Novel by Gregory Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a gift of a book this was. There are so many things that I loved about this book but at the very top of my list is the exquisite writing. There are so many sentences in this book that stopped me in my track and made me rewind the audio to listen again. It’s truly exquisite writing.

This is the story of a small town in Maine along the Penobscot River. The town is adjacent to where the Penobscot Nation is and the town’s mill is harming their land. When the mill is burned to the ground on the eve of its reopening, it causes ripple effects across the town.

Most of the book is told from David Almerin Ames’ perspective as when he’s old and looking back to this time in his life. There is a wide range of issues covered in the book: identity, family, marriage, racism, war (Vietnam) and what it means to be man.

This is a quiet, slow-moving book. Even though a lot does happen in the book, it’s not about the action or the pace, it’s about the slow build of the characters, who they are, how they interact, how their lives intersect to both help each other and cause harm to each other.

The characters are well developed and complex and memorable. The setting is vivid and most definitely a part of the story, too. Absolutely magnificent. I have enjoyed every moment I spent with this book.

with gratitude to netgalley and Haper Audio for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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