Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle
By Jeannette Walls
Published in 2005 by Scribner
Paperback, 298 pages
Read: April 29, 2015 to November 20, 2016

The Glass Castle is Jeannette Walls' memoir, published in 2005 where she recounts the unconventional and poverty-stricken upbringing she and her three siblings endured at the hands of their eccentric artist, possibly mentally ill, mother and their alcoholic father who may have also suffered from a mental illness.

Walls weaves together the good and bad childhood experiences and young adulthood memories into a powerful memoir that made me so grateful for my own upbringing and good childhood. Walls proved through her life experiences that it's possible to overcome adversity and become successful in her own right rather than blame others for what she can control. She recognized that it was in her own power to change her life rather than blame others. She captured her fathers alcoholism and his different personalities of sober and drunkenness. We see that her parents loved her and her siblings in their own unique ways. We have a brief glimpse at both of her parents upbringings and, understandably, didn't get more details because they were both very close-mouthed about their own childhoods. Much like Jeannette was when she moved to New York City. She was ashamed of her parents and where she came from and felt compelled to lie to cover it up for fear of being found out and proven to be a fraud. Yet, she was fortunate to have a few teachers and employers who saw her hard work, talent for writing and getting the story out there for people to read. I can't believe I ever let this sit on my bookshelf half unread for a year and a half. I spent half a day reading the last 150 pages because I wanted to find out what happened. I wanted to know how Walls made it to being a successful author.

Walls has an innate ability to write stories together seamlessly and not lose the reader. It is easy to follow the passage of time between several stories, especially later in the book between her middle school and high school years. Just a few simple sentences explain the important details and you'll feel like you didn't miss a beat.

A must read for everyone.

My rating: 5 out of 5

Friday, November 18, 2016

Poem: She's Tired

She said she's fine
And you took her word for it?
Let me tell you,
she isn't fine.

She's tired.
She's tired of being tired.
Tired of being broken down.
Tired of being strong all the time.
Tired of being let down, disappointed.
She's tired of the never-good-enough pain.
She's tired of always being judged,
always being held to higher standards than men.

She's tired of the frustration.
She's tired of always fighting an uphill battle
towards a glass ceiling.
She's tired of repeatedly telling herself she's good enough,
when no one else will.
She's tired of building others up
when she doesn't get it in return.

She's tired.
She's tired of being tired.
Tired of dragging herself out of bed.
Tired of going through the motions with no satisfaction.

Next time, don't take her word for it when she says she's fine.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published September 2015 by Bloomsbury
Paperback, 276 pages
Read: September 20-27, 2016

This is the book I needed to read right here, right now in this chapter of my life. I saw this sitting on a friends coffee table in May. I've been struggling with finding my inspiration and sticking with it. Gilbert managed to tell me in her own unique way that maybe, just maybe, what I'm doing isn't so wrong after all and that I'm on the right track. Keeping my day job to pay bills is the logical thing to do until I feel confident that I can rely on my artistic endeavors to support me. There's also nothing wrong with taking the leap into the unknown and quitting your day job to focus solely on your artistic projects. This same friend of mine who read this book in the spring, took such a leap and she's doing very well for herself. We met through our day jobs and she got to a point where she was no longer feeling appreciated and creative so she took a leap to quit her 9-5 job in April to go to work for herself as a marketing and social media consultant for non-profits, start-ups, and small businesses. She couldn't be happier, and it's reassuring to see it work for her and so then maybe, just maybe, it might work for me too.

From Elizabeth's personal stories to others stories she's shared, each one had a purpose of being an example of the point she was trying to make. It was obvious that she wrote this book for herself, not for any one else. She even flat out said so and that's where I knew I had to keep reading. She drove home the fact that to create your own big magic you need to do it for you and only then will it actually happen. As soon as you start doing it for others, it'll take away the happiness, the real inspiration, and will block the creative juices from flowing, and your break through will fail to happen. And if you're not getting the results you want, take some time away from that project and focus on something else for awhile and that new project just may even be the answer or solution you've been looking for all along.

I could keep going and will stop here to say that you need to read the book for yourself because you might even get something completely different out of it depending on where you're at in your life journey.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert
Published 1999 by Ace (first published December 1st 1965)
Hardcover, 517 pages

On Goodreads, I set the "Date finished this book" as "Date I gave up on this book" because I had a hard time getting into it and following everything. Reading sci-fi is just not my thing, but I persevered and somehow made much more progress with this book than I did with The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. That book is a post for another day if I could ever get into it again.

With Dune, I made a point of reading as much as I could, which was 83 pages out of 517, and still attend the discussion tonight with Vermont Books 'n' Brews at Cattails Restaurant in Brandon, VT. Generally speaking, I felt like there are way too many details to remember for me to be engrossed in it early enough to stick with the story. Being a stubborn reader though, I gave it a chance and took the advice of the person who recommended it and kept reading. He pointed out that the first time he read it he struggled for the first 100 pages or so, but then cruised to the end.

Because of Herbert's writing style, I could tell right away and understand why it's such a classic, especially in the sci-fi genre. That helped a little bit in keeping me interested - that and it's subtle similarities to Star Wars, which made me wonder if George Lucas drew some inspiration from Herbert's stories. Although I picked up right away that there were some dated material (like blatant sexism and technological advances of the time), I was able to recognize why Frank Herbert has been hailed a classic sci-fi author and why so many people who enjoy sci-fi enjoy his writing.

That said, I'm not sure that I'll be able to ever finish the book since it was such a struggle for me to even get into. I feel comfortable being able to say no to this one and be okay with not finishing it, and therefore I am not going to rate this book because it would be an unfair subjective rating of something I highly dislike. Certain genres are not for everyone.

Rating: Abandoned (0 out of 5 on Goodreads)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
336 pages

Station Eleven is such a hauntingly beautiful dystopian work of art. I don't normally enjoy dystopia futuristic type genres, but this one definitely held my attention once I sat down and made a point of reading. I loved the traveling symphony orchestra and Shakespeare caravan. I was also fascinated that people were living out of gas stations and restaurants instead of abandoned houses - it made me question why? Are the houses filled with ghosts of the past? Are they too much of a reminder of what was? This is just one example of how the tension between the old world and the new surfaces as the population revert back to an age where advancements only exist in the minds of those old enough to remember.

The characters are as much tragic as they are charming, looking for answers in an age where curiosities can no longer be entered into a search engine. I was curious to know if any of the characters in the separate stories cross paths at some point, especially Clark, Jeevan, and Kirsten, and if they figure out how they're connected.

St. John Mandel's writing style is a bit lyrical, which gives the story a character all its own in a sense, which is a great touch, and perhaps on purpose because of the symphony orchestra. The different perspectives and stories of the characters also gives the story an interesting and attractive twist. It's something that Jodi Picoult, my favorite author, does that I love. St. John Mandel and Picoult both have a way of seamlessly moving between character plots and making the story work over all.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Review: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This took me over a year to finally finish reading, and of course it was a book club read. With the 2016 Summer Olympics having just happened I figured it'd be a great time to finish it. I particularly enjoyed the story and the writing style, which is what kept me going once I sat down to read. I think knowing I'd enjoy the book once I sat down to read it is what hindered me. Knowing that I'd need a few hours of uninterrupted time kept from reading it. So I finally decided tonight that I'd keep reading until I was done and 2 hours later here I am writing my review and I don't feel guilty about staying up too late.

In all, Brown's writing style made me feel like I was one of the young men who grew up poor, and then I felt like I was right there on the water vying for a spot on the varsity boat, and eventually as if I were a member of the crew team that won the Olympics.

This is an amazingly written book based on a true story of underdogs. It's an inspiration to every reader and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good, hardy story about overcoming the odds. One does not need to have an interest in sports, let alone crew. This story is so much more than crew. Like any great team sport, the story is so much more than the sport. It's about individuals coming together to form a team, a bond, a family, and a connection that is beyond breaking. It's about working through the obstacles together, only to make celebrating the successes that much sweeter. The Boys in the Boat is all of that, and so much more. It's about the small town underdogs with little to no experience on a national level, let alone an international level, giving their home country hope, excitement, and pride during a difficult time during our nation's, and world's, history.

A tear-jerker of happiness for sure, The Boys in the Boat, left me feeling proud of these boys, and proud of my country, for working their asses off and representing us in an amazing way on the international stage. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
My rating: 5 out of 5

I read this, or rather listened to an audio version, for a book club I found out about from a member I usually see at my usual book club called Vermont Books 'n' Brews. This other one is run out of the Maclure Library in Pittsford, VT. The library itself has so much history that I could write a post just about the building! But that's for another day.

The Art of Racing in the Rain was the perfect book for me to read for the first time with this club because I was immediately drawn in and felt accepted by the dog as the main character. I thoroughly enjoyed how the story was told from the perspective of Enzo. His temperament and character is so well developed that I felt immediately welcomed and at home. We were immediately friends! I couldn't stop listening to the audio version and one day I'll go back and read the book. I have a feeling that I won't be able to put it down and will most likely finish it in one sitting.

Enzo and his owner manage to stay together despite everything that happened. Stein did an excellent job of showing how a dog is truly a part of the family from the dog's perspective. And then the sign at the end just tugged at the heart strings and made me cry, which is significant because I never cry when I read a book, watch a movie or show. I would've been upset if it had ended any other way.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review: Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

Published February 28th 2012 by Recorded Books

Jodi Picoult never fails to write a wonderful story that keeps you wondering what's going to happen next. I love that she keeps the punchline a secret until nearly the end of the book. It's the suspense that keeps me from putting the book down (or stop listening in this case)!

I kept wondering whether Luke was going to wake up or if they'd take him off life support or keep him on it for any length of time. I feel like it could've gone either way and the decision/result is ultimately what was needed for the story and for the characters.

I'm not sure how I feel about the ending and the ultimate choice the family made. I also didn't understand the point of the epilogue and how it tied, or rather didn't, into the rest of the story. I think it would've had a better impact on the reader had the epilogue been about how the family members are doing after their decision and what they're all up to now. If that's the only complaint I have of Jodi's story, then it's not much of a complaint or critique is it?

Rating: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review: Mud Season by Ellen Stimson

Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After AnotherMud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another by Ellen Stimson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finally finished a book for book club! We decided to read this in April at the height of mud season in Vermont. Although this was a quick read, it was also a bit annoying in that the author seemed to have an attitude that she was better than the locals and didn't want to "assimilate" at all. The community rejected her because she didn't accept them and she didn't seem to understand, or even want to understand, why her ideas weren't being accepted. Stimson did fully admit that she was always jumping from one project to the next, and while I understand that it's difficult to manage a store, especially in a town you're unfamiliar with, I couldn't help but be annoyed that she was making decisions based on her misconceptions of the area. She thought she knew what was best and made assumptions, rather doing her research and taking the time to figure out what the locals wanted. As a flatlander myself who moved to southern Vermont and eventually to central Vermont, I learned very quickly within a few months that I needed to adjust to my new community instead of the other way around. She just didn't seem to get that, or if she did then it wasn't conveyed very well in the book.

It was a quick, easy read in part due to her obvious lack of book writing experience. It often sounded like journal entries and an inner monologue. Some people enjoy that style, but it really turned me off because it took away from the story at hand.

Also, at some point I'd like to try the recipes she calls Vermont recipes in the back of the book. I laughed out loud at that section.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Hardcover, 152 pages
Published July 14th 2015 by Spiegel & Grau

There is A LOT to think about with this memoir by journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates. Between the World and Me is structured as a letter from Coates to his 15-year old son, and it is certainly worthy of all the attention and awards it has a received.

I picked this up from the library because my book club choose to read it for August. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it to the discussion so this post is solely my review. I listened to the audio version and want to go back and read the book so I can make notes and cite specific passages that made me react out loud. There were a few places where I thought it was total crap before realizing my ignorance. He was talking about his own experiences growing up as a black male and I had to remind myself that many black people could relate to him and I wondered if there were others who couldn't because they had a different experience.

As a white woman, I felt I couldn't relate to most of the experiences in terms of gun violence and the likelihood of not having a father around. I could relate to the need to act or speak a certain way around others, especially men, in order to protect my body. And I was realizing that I have been conditioned to be afraid of or to fear the black man through their portrayal in the media and pop culture. That said, I am appreciative of a perspective completely different than my own.

I often prefer when an author is the one who records their book, but one critique I have of this one is that Coates kept saying "ax" for "ask" and "birfday" for "birthday." Those different pronunciations of a different dialect are almost exclusively black to me, which isn't meant to be racist. It's one of my biggest pet peeves because it sounds like an uneducated mispronunciation, and a great example of the different cultural nuances that exist in our society. A friend pointed out to me when reading a shorter version of this review on Goodreads, "while AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is often understood in popular discourse as representative of ignorance or a lack of education or a lack of intelligence, these associations are actually spurious, as I think is demonstrated very aptly by the author here. It is looked down on because it is a dialect of an underclass in a particular society, in the same way that there are deep class associations with different varieties of British English (e.g. Received Pronunciation versus Cockney English). But these associations say more about the relative social power of the groups that speak these different forms of English in a particular society than they do about the correctness of any particular kind of English."

All that said, I think that Coates is a great writer and I enjoyed the format and the perspective of him writing a letter/essay to his son. This is worth a second or even third read for me to hopefully better understand his perspective, and to be able to cite specific passages where I reacted strongly. I will also seek out his other writing.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Create Your Own Happiness

I spent today at a free-form writer's retreat in Grand Isle, VT, sponsored by the Burlington Writer's Workshop. My plan was to work on a personal essay, which I did, and then I got distracted by one of my favorite quotes. I'm not quite sure who wrote it, but it's definitely awe inspiring!

It reminds me a lot of another quote I love, "Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Love the ones who don’t just because you can. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a second chance, grab it with both hands. If it changes your life, let it. Kiss slowly. Forgive quickly. God never said life would be easy. He just promised it would be worth it."

Both of these inspired me to write this poem:

Create Your Own Happiness
Embrace the people who support you
and cheer you through the bad times.
They're the ones who will celebrate your successes.

You will need to actively and consciously remove yourself from the drama
and the people who create it because it's not just a one time thing.

Be the change you wish to see in your own life
and you'll be able to naturally apply that to the rest of your life
and to be the change your meant to have in the world.

Realize that you are a work in progress.
You are constantly evolving.
Every aspect of your life will change, sometimes slowly
and sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly.
Sometimes the change is a planned choice
and sometimes it's an unintentional external force.
How you choose to manage that change will determine your success.

Confront your demons head on.
Grab them by the horns and bring them down.
They will battle you day in and day out.
Some days they will win, leaving you feeling defeated.
The important piece to remember is to not let that defeat consume you.
Choose happiness.
Choose to get back up after falling
and get back to living.
Create your own happiness.
Be who you want to be.

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Audiobook produced in 2015 by St. Martin's Press

This has to be one of my favorite books. I just couldn't stop listening to it and I've recommended that we read it for my book club, Vermont Books n Brews, for our January 2017 discussion because I'm so in need of discussing this story with other book lovers. I'm sitting in my car right now with tears streaming down my face because it was that emotional. I just had to finish listening to the last 10 minutes of the story to get closure. And closure I got. The ending wasn't what I was expecting or hoping for, but I'm so glad there was some sort of closure. The closure I was hoping for wasn't the realistic, natural way of things in life, and Kristin Hannah has an innate ability of making a fiction story so realistic feeling and relatable.

I enjoyed the fact that the majority of the story was like a flashback but it wasn't necessarily written that way. It was a 3rd person story that switched back and forth between Viann and her sister, Isabelle, about the girls lives during the war. Viann's present day life at the beginning of the book left me wanting more details of the rest of the family.

This is such a heartbreaking story, yet a true testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

When softball was discontinued as an Olympic Sport

This article says it all -

Many of you know how important softball is to me. From the age of 8, I developed many life long friendships that lasted through the middle school and high school years - a time that's notorious for being difficult. Softball, because of my teammates, made those years easier. We learned how to pick each other up on and off the field. We learned in time that an important loss, no matter how painful in the moment, wasn't the end of the world. We learned how to celebrate each player's individual victories, and those as a team. Those lessons somehow naturally translated over to life off the field.

I was 10 in 1996 when softball became an Olympic sport for the first time. From there on out I wanted to play for Team USA. Other things eventually became more important, but watching Jennie Finch live my dream was like a dream in of itself. Watching the team lose to Beijing in 2008 was heartbreaking. And just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, softball  was discontinued as an Olympic sport. I was pissed. It was like, as Jennie says, a step backwards for female athletes.