Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quiet by Susan Cain

I finally know the difference between shyness and being an introvert, thanks to Susan Cain and her book Quiet.  I always have called myself shy, but wondered why I wasn't shy all the time, just in certain situations--like a party.  Reading Quiet gave me many "AHA!" moments and a better understanding about the person I am today.

Quiet is about introverts, and how they function in today's world, and how they get lost under all the noise of the loud and extroverted world we work, play, and live in everyday.  Introverts--and there are many of us--are those who prefer to work in a quiet space, enjoy conversations with small groups of people instead of large, loud parties, and work best being creative when they have space and peace.  They think things through before making decisions, and are more apt, as leaders, to provide opportunities for other people to try out their ideas.  Extroverts thrive on the fast pace, the aliveness of today's world; they are charismatic and ebullient; they are most of our leaders.  Donald Trump, I think you're an extrovert.  

This is not to say all extroverts are bad, and all introverts are delicate creatures.  Susan Cain stresses that the world needs both, and we need to be aware of how each works best.  Anyone who has sat in a meeting and been told to "brainstorm" shudders at the thought.  Much better to have everyone go to their separate spaces,  come up with their ideas, and then get together to discuss a plan of action.  As the author says, the person who speaks the loudest is not always the person who has the best idea; why should we automatically assume they do--and why take the chance that they don't have the best idea?  

What struck me the most about this book was the understanding I now have of myself.  No one is a complete introvert or extrovert; we all fall somewhere on the scale.  But what makes an introvert push past their apprehension of standing up in front of people, or speaking up at a meeting, is their passion for the cause they support. I would not want to get up in front of people and talk about computer programming, because it's not something that interests me, and I would be very uneasy being the focus of all those eyes.  But, give me a book to talk about that I love and I think people should read--I have no problem standing in front of a crowd of people and talking about it.  When you have something you believe in (for me, it's books and reading), you as an introvert can use those extrovert characteristics to speak up.  

So I'm okay with preferring to sit at home and read a book instead of going to a noisy bar.  I continue to love having coffee and chatting with a small group of friends about books, life, and whatever else we having going on in our lives.  I am okay with being quiet and listening, but I will stand up and be heard if I have something to say.  And yes, it's okay if I'm tired and a bit drained after spending a weekend with my large, loud, family.  I can be large and loud with them, too.  But I know that I'll need to go home and spend time in the quiet afterwards.  

If you think you may have an introverted child, or even an extroverted child, read this book.  It will go a long way towards helping you understand your child, and how they approach the world.  Too many people are told they are too quiet, and meek.  They're not meek.  They just are more alive and fully functioning in a quiet space.  Creativity needs some solitude sometimes in order to pop out.  There is too much pressure on all of us to be loud, work as a team all the time, and be "on".  Well for some of us, it's exhausting, and for some of us, it's just not the way we roll.  And that is okay.

Rating:  8/10 for an enlightening look at what being extroverts and introverts mean; how the world has changed over the past 100 years to embrace extroverts, and how introverts can thrive and succeed in their own quiet way.  

Available in paperback, audio, and e-book format.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wedding Girl by Stacey Ballis

This is my first Stacey Ballis book, and I'm sure it won't be my last.  She is firmly under the "chick lit" moniker, but her character Sophie is a refreshing change of pace from the typical lovelorn heroine I've read in other chick lit novels.  I am a big fan of novels where women are faced with rebuilding a life whether it's due to a job loss, or a loss in their romantic life.  I want women to know, even if it's just by reading a novel, that we can continually remake ourselves, and find happiness and strength in moving past a rough patch in life.  

Okay.  I'm off my soapbox!  You've got to feel bad for Sophie:  it's her wedding day, she's spent $70,000 on her wedding, and her fiancee never shows to the wedding.  He doesn't even send her a note.  Instead, guests at Sophie's wedding see on social media that he has eloped to an island paradise with a thin, moneyed woman that is the opposite of Sophie.  Crushed, but being brave, Sophie instead invites everyone to enjoy the food, the band, and the venue.  Sophie throws herself into her party, and unfortunately, pictures flood social media, and she's humiliated.  Sophie is a well-know pastry chef in Chicago, and her plans to open a restaurant with her ex-fiancee were big news, and her humiliation is complete.  

Months later, Sophie has lost her job, sold her condo, and is living with her lively grandmother Bubbles.  She's in debt up to her eyeballs, and burned a few bridges professionally with her bad attitude.  Seeing a sign in the local neighborhood bakery, she starts working part-time, with an eye to getting back into the pastry world in Chicago.  But life, of course, has a way of throwing curve balls, and Sophie is about to get a few tossed her way.  

There is a lot of plot going on in this book.  There is Sophie's relationship with Bubbles, her relationship with her parents, who have been together for 40 years of unwed bliss, her budding career at the local bakery (which is threatened by a new entry into the neighborhood), and there is the annoying son of the owner--Mark, who wonders why Sophie is even bothering to save the bakery.  I found Sophie refreshing because she isn't a size 8, she enjoys food with no feelings of guilt, and instead of jumping into a big job and career change right away, she takes the time to sift through her feelings to decide where she wants to go next with her serious pastry skills.  And most of all, I love the family dynamics between Sophie, Bubbles, and her parents.  Chicago is a big part of this novel, and I always have a soft spot for the city in which my family made home for three generations.   

There's much more going on in Sophie's life, and you'll get the title pretty quickly.  I did feel there was almost too much going on in the plot and in Sophie's life.  I was exhausted!  And it seemed that the end was pretty quick, after many pages of Sophie's life moving a bit slowly.  I would have liked an epilogue.  

Thank you to Penguin-Random House for an advanced copy to review.  

Rating:  7/10 for an enjoyable novel about restarting life, being resourceful, enjoying food and loving the people in our lives.  

This book will be available May 3rd in paperback and e-book format.  

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

I had to wait a bit to get this at the library, but it was worth the wait.  The Forgetting Time is a book that will distract you while you're working, stay on your mind while you're driving, and not rest until you've given up and sit down to finish it.  

I've always been intrigued by reincarnation, and read Dr. Brian Weiss' book Many Lives, Many Masters years ago, followed by pretty much any book I could get my hands on regarding reincarnation.  I definitely believe our souls live over and over again, and we spend time on earth learning lessons--and sometimes failing at them, too.  

This story is told by multiple narrators:  Janie, mother of four year old Noah, Jerome Anderson, a psychiatrist who threw away a promising career to devote his time to researching children and reincarnation, and Denise, a mother who stopped living the day her child went missing.  Janie is troubled by Noah's behavior:  he has terrible nightmares every night about drowning, he constantly tells her he wants to go home--and not the home he has with Janie.  He wants his mama--his real mama.  Completely freaked out, and thinking her child may have serious mental issues, Janie's life is out of control.  Noah is increasingly getting worse, and she's forced to take him out of preschool and keep him with her all the time.  Desperate one night, listening to Noah slowly wind up into his nightmare, Janie stumbles on Dr. Jerome Anderson's reincarnation information online.  She has nothing to lose, and contacts him.

Dr. Jerome Anderson has been given a terminal diagnosis:  a brain disease that will slowly rob him of the ability to speak, write, and remember language.  He's desperate to give his life's work one more chance with a final published book.  But he needs one more subject, and his editor demands an American child so the book will generate more interest and connect with its audience.  Jerome finds his subject in Noah.  

Denise's son Tommy disappeared one day, 7 years before on his way to a friend's house.  She has become engulfed in her grief, and shuffles through life. She hasn't given up on finding her son.  How does all this connect with Janie and Noah?  It comes at you like a freight train, and you'll find yourself gripping the book completely in your reading zone.  

Wow this was a good story.  There is so much in this book:  about life, love, death; I know, big themes!  But so worthy of discussion.  Two mothers who love their sons so fiercely they will do anything to protect them.  A man who is running out of time, and reflects on his life and how he lived it.  And how he sees the end coming quickly.  How do you make peace with that?  Is there life after life?  Do we somehow retain memories of other lives, other people we've loved?  Such a worthy book club selection.  Put it on your list.  

Rating:  8/10 for a book that will keep you pondering the mysteries of life.  Hard to put down!

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio-book. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

24/7 French Lessons: My Quest to Learn French in a Dordogne Village by Karen Eberwein

It is true for me that I regret not learning a language when I was younger.  I do not have much of an "ear" for language; I am so used to hearing an American mid-west accent that anything else throws me off completely, and I have to really pay attention to what people are saying to understand them.  Yes, sometimes even when I travel around the U.S.  All the more reason to get out and travel!  

Karen Eberwein did what most of us would love to do:  spend a year in France, in a small village, learning the language by conversing with folks at the market, at the cafe, during political functions, and visiting neighbors in their homes.  Total immersion.  Her book 24/7 French Lessons takes us to the Dordogne area of France, where Karen rented a small home in Cenac et St. Julien, took weekly French lessons with a small group of women, and had a remarkable experience.  Blowing through a country as a tourist can be exhausting and once done, leaves you with a bit of melancholy:  what did I miss in my haste?  Why couldn't I have slowed down, and just enjoyed my surroundings?  We all know it's impossible to see everything, so the smart thing is to stick to a few places, talk to people, walk around, and take it all in slowly.  Karen does just that, and finds that the people she meets appreciate the time and effort she puts into understanding their language and lifestyle. Folks are more forthcoming in conversations, more willing to let Karen see the behind the scenes of a typical day as the village baker, a chef, a politician.  Her sincerity and life-long love of France shines through this memoir.

24/7 French Lessons is sprinkled throughout with photos that add to Karen's adventures, and show just how beautiful France is, even during an especially soggy year.  My only issue with this memoir is the size of the book; it would be easier to read in a small package.  I am afraid at first glance potential readers may think it is a workbook and not a memoir.  

7/10 for a lovely memoir about living your dream.  It is never too late to learn a new language, and always a wonderful idea to explore another country without all our tourist baggage and a healthy respect for locals.  

Available in paperback on Amazon.  Thank you Karen for a review copy!  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

DNF: Here's a Few from February!

I was surprised at the number of people who read my post on DNF's and why I don't feel a lick of guilt setting a book aside to read something else.  I'm certainly not the only one who does this.  Right now I have so many books to read under a deadline that the DNF pull is getting way too tempting.  I'm resisting and forging ahead on the books that I want to read and review. Some I would push to the back of the pile if I had all the time in the world to read them.  I simply have too many choices and it's making me crazy and unable to settle down with my usual rotation of 3-4 books.  The life of a book lover and blogger is tough sometimes.  Boo hoo.  

 I promised to start a new feature talking about the DNF's I have each month.  Here are a few from February that I planned on reading, started, and just couldn't complete:

 I love M.J. Rose.  I've read many of her books, and enjoyed her mix of history and magic.  I didn't get a chance to read this book when it first came out, so I thought now would be the time.  I was wrong.  I got about 50 pages in, and just couldn't latch onto the story.  I will return to this book in the future and read it.  But for now, it is a DNF.  

This novel had me alternately enjoying it and being puzzled by it.  I was ready to give up by page 50, but kept plugging away until 150 pages, and I was enjoying it.  Then I read the end, was pissed at what happened, and lost all desire to finish it.  With that being said, I was hoping for a humorous book, and it wasn't humorous enough for me to stick with it. 

 I saw the movie Life of Pi, and loved it.  The premise of this novel intrigued me; I was ready for a mystical Paulo Coelho type book (and this was a new release!).  I made it to about 100 pages, and gave up.  Couldn't hold my interest at all.  Bummed.  

So there you have it.  I'm pretty sure there were more DNF's in February, but these three stood out for me in the DNF ring.  

Now I'm off to conquer my required reading stack.  


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Bootstrapper: a Memoir by Mardi Jo Link

I found this audio book while rapidly scanning the non-fiction offerings at the library.  I was in a hurry, but I recognized the cover from the bookstore, and remembered that it had intrigued me a few months before, so I checked it out.  

So far I've listened to audio books where the narrator is also the author.  This book was the first one where someone else other than the author narrated it, and I have to admit I had a hard time with that for the first day of listening on my commute.  So much so that I almost stopped listening.  I'm glad I kept plowing through (also I didn't have another audio book to get me through the weekly commute!) because I ended up looking forward to listening to Mardi's life in Michigan.  But while I did enjoy it for the most part, I have a few issues with the memoir.

Mardi Jo Link was a woman with a 19 year marriage and three young boys, living in an old farmhouse (with a half-done remodeling project) on a  6 acre spread in Michigan.  Her marriage falls apart, and her husband moves across the street, leaving Mardi with what she calls Happy Valley.  She's always dreamed of living on an acreage, growing her own food, and having horses.  Now that she's finally got that, her impending divorce and lack of money threaten to take it all away.  Mardi is a tough woman, but sometimes I felt she was too willing to take the extremely hard road instead of confessing to her parents that she was in some financial trouble.  I feel that her absolute determination to keep her farm and raise her boys on it sometimes kept her from asking for help.  It's no shame to ask for help when you are struggling.  Yes, grit and determination are all well and good, but also being sensible and making sure you've got heat and food on the table to feed your kids is important  too.  Her parents would have helped her in a second.  That was a big beef for me.  

This memoir is about the year following the end of Mardi's marriage, and the ways she and her boys kept things moving along in the dead of winter:  scouting around for firewood, winning a year's supply of free day-old bread at a local bakery by growing the largest zucchini; applying for free school lunches for her boys.  And then there is the local carpenter, Pete, who is waiting for Mardi to give him the okay to finish the remodel of her second floor.  There's a whiff of romance there that flits in and out of the story, and I did like that.  It was unexpected by both Mardi and me as the reader.  She most definitely wasn't looking for romance that first year. 

**warning all animal lovers and/or vegetarians!**

 I got the biggest laugh over the chickens she bought as chicks to raise for food.  Mardi and her sons decide not to name them, as they will be food eventually.  Instead they call them "the meats".  I found that really funny, and I don't know why.  What's even more amusing is that when it came time to do the deed, Mardi couldn't do it.  Instead she ended up giving the chickens away, and made herself feel better by realizing that the people who took the chickens needed them more than she did in her diminished financial situation.

So does Mardi hang onto her farm?  How does she do it, if she does succeed?

For the most part, I liked this memoir.  I like to read about women who move through the difficult parts of life and come out the other side stronger and smarter than before.  I admire Mardi for deciding that come hell or high water, she was going to hang onto her farm, her childhood dream, and her desire to raise her sons her way.  That fire kept her tough when she didn't know what to do, and was often at her wit's end.  But much of this drama probably could have been if not eliminated, at least diminished if she'd just asked for help.  I think part of being a strong person is having the strength to ask for a hand when you need it and accepting help with grace.  

Rating:  6/10 for an entertaining memoir.  Mardi  can write very well, and I had moments of tearing up and laughing out loud.  But, I was annoyed that she refused to ask for help.  That caused some teeth gnashing on my part.  I still prefer to hear the author narrate their audio book instead of an actor. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

I've been missing my historical fiction, so I was glad to pull this off my bookshelf and dive into it.  Of course I read Water for Elephants years ago; if I remember correctly, I even read the hardcover on the way to Chicago to visit a museum exhibit with my sister Pam.  I did attempt to read this book when it first came out, but I admit I tried and just didn't get into it.  

Now, a year later, it's in paperback, and I forgot I'd tried to read it before and bought the paperback last month.  I think the cover is so striking you can't help but pick it up.  So glad the publisher kept the same cover from the hardcover version to the paperback.  What drew me to this book, besides the cover?  Well, the Loch Ness Monster, of course.  If it's a book that involves anything "mysterious", I'm ready to read.  

There were many comments I've read about this story in which people were disappointed and unimpressed.  I, however, am happy to say I found it a compelling read and had a hard time being patient when work and other tasks (sleep) kept me away from it.  No, there isn't a lot of action in this novel, but instead it is the growth of Maddie's spirit that moves the storyline.  

Maddie is a young woman married to Ellis Hyde, the son of a prosperous Philadelphia man and his socially conscious wife.  They can't stand Maddie, who's mother, while rich, was known as a beautiful flirt, and a crazy one at that.  Unhappily married to Maddie's father, she made Maddie's life hell, and poor Maddie grew up completely unloved by either parent.  She thought she'd found love with Ellis, but was vaguely dissatisfied with her young marriage, and terrified of her mother-in-law and her obvious disdain for Maddie.  Ellis and his best pal Hank are two men who have been kept out of World War 2 by color-blindness (Ellis) and flat feet (Hank).  They spend their days in Philadelphia sleeping away nights of drinking and partying, with no cares in the world.  Soon enough, Ellis makes a giant drunken mistake at a party, and his parents kick him and Maddie out of their home, leaving them with lots of luggage and little else.  In a desperate bid to redeem himself, Ellis decides they will travel to Scotland--in the middle of World War 2--and find the Loch Ness monster.  Ellis' father had years previously done the same thing, and had been humiliated after claiming proof of the monster's existence.

With nowhere to go, Maddie travels to Scotland with Ellis and Hank.  Their reception in a remote village on the banks of the loch is chilly and they aren't made very welcome.  Maddie, stuck at the inn while Ellis and Hank go off in attempts to spot the monster, slowly begins to form friendships with the women who help at the inn:  Anna and Meg.  And there is the mysterious Angus, who runs the inn.  How is he connected to the headstone in the local cemetery, which bears the sad dates of a baby and mother who died just a few months apart?  

The main point of this novel is the evolution of Maddie, who comes to Scotland a cowed and unsure young woman with no control over her life and at the mercy of other people.  Her relationship with her husband undergoes a dramatic turn, and as Maddie finds out, sometimes monsters are all around us.  World War 2 is a big part of this novel, but mostly in the food rations and night time air raids Maddie experiences.  And of course, there is the suspicion by all that Ellis and Hank are perfectly health for combat, and are actually cowards.  You'll have to read At the Water's Edge to get the whole story!

Rating: 7/10 for a solid story about one woman's search for herself set against the wilds of Scotland and World War 2.  The Loch Ness monster is a background character, but adds a few surprising twists to the story.  I would recommend this as a good book club read. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio book. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

DNF: I Do it, Do You?

None of us have unlimited time to read.  Life would be grand if we did, right?  If you're a fan of books as I am, there is always a pile (or two) of unread books, and that list that you keep adding titles to, and...well, it's a bit overwhelming.  I am confounded when I hear "I read two books last year" from people.  How do you only manage to read two, when there are hundreds to choose from?  

DNFdid not finish.  If there is one thing I learned early in life, it's that life is too short to keep reading a book that just doesn't hit all the right notes for me.  I have had friends who will keep reading a book, even if they don't like it, and want to read something else.  They are committed, and they will stick with it until the bitter end.  Oh no, not me.  Reading is my number one pleasure, my safe spot, and my happy place.  I will not continue with a book that doesn't grab me by page 100.  Sometimes if I know I won't finish a book, I'll read the end anyway.  Yes, I am also an end reader.  I do it without shame.  That's why I struggle with mysteries, but I'm trying very hard to read them without peeking at the end.  It is a rare book that I haven't end-read before I finish it.  Usually I'll peek before I get too far.  It actually helps me slow down and pay more attention to the story.  Crazy, I know.

It used to bother me how easily I gave up on some books, but I've realized that not every book is meant for me, and that's okay.  What may be someone's wonderful all-time favorite may not be mine, and vice versa.  That's the wonderful thing about books:  there is one for every taste.  

Yes, I DNF on a regular basis.  Just yesterday I called it quits on two books and returned them to the library.  Maybe someday I will return to those books and give them a chance again.  I'll be a different person then, and they may appeal to me in a way they didn't right now.  This is why I don't list what books I'm reading on my blog and instead just blog about books after I've finished them.  It is true that the moment I say what I'm going to read, I change my tune and read something else. I am consistently inconsistent. 

I think it would be fun for me to post every month books that I started and didn't finish, and why.  Or even books I'm struggling to finish and are taking me way too long to read.  For instance, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a prime example.  I've had this book for over a year, and I've been slowly, painfully trying to get to the end for months.  I remember telling people last April that I was going to read it in the next week.  Here it is, 11 months later, and I'm still not to the end.  I can't figure out why.  It's a brilliant book, and the language is beautiful.  But nevertheless, I find it impossible to sit down and read it and be done with it.  It weighs on my mind that I can't finish this book.  I will, eventually, finish it.  But I'm not saying when.  

So, the DNF Files  will begin in March, with a look at what I didn't finish from February.  I'd love for you, dear followers, to comment on anything I've ditched that you've read, and what you think of the book.  You may turn me around!