Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Review: The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

I have now read three of Ms. Moriarty's books and I always enjoy them. Set in Australia, they're not as light and fluffy as the book covers imply. In this one, Cecilia finds a letter from her husband addressed to be opened after he has died. But he isn't dead. He's on a business trip in the United States. But when she tells him what she's found, he comes back early, unexpectedly, alarming her as to the content of the letter. So she reads it. And it will change her life.

Meanwhile, Tess has just been told by her husband and best friend (and business partners) that they are having an affair. She immediately leaves Melbourne to go to her mother's in Sydney with her small son in tow.

Rachel works at the local school, which both Tess and Cecilia attended as children, and where now their kids go. Rachel's daughter went to school there too, before she was brutally murdered, decades ago.

Their lives will cross in unpredictable ways as secrets are revealed, morals are questioned, and these women each have to reach deep to plumb the depths of their hearts and discover for themselves what they can forgive, and what is truly unforgivable.

Some members of my book club weren't thrilled at how perfectly the plot threads all came together at the end and how the story was resolved. I did like that though, as I felt like it was a story that started with the end, and the author then worked her way back to where the story began for the three protagonists. If you look at it that way, it isn't as hard to believe. These aren't three random people whose lives impact each other, they are people whose lives will cross, and who they were before, and after. It was a very fast read, in fact I couldn't put it down for the last 100 pages and just whipped through the second half of the book. The voices of the three narrators are very distinctive and well-drawn, possibly better than I've ever seen that done before. And it was brilliant how, for example, Cecilia seemed annoyingly perky and chatty to Tess, and you were annoyed by her when you were in Tess's shoes, but when you switched to Cecilia as narrator, she wasn't annoying any more and now Tess seemed unusually reserved, but their characters hadn't changed--just the perspective had. It was very clever. The twist with the letter I pretty much saw coming but that happens about 100 pages in, it isn't the climax. I do wish the three roles were more even in terms of their importance to the story--Tess felt much less important and yet I liked her a lot. But it makes sense for the storyline that each of them got the importance that they did.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was another excellent outing by Ms. Moriarty and I'm glad I have more books by her on my shelves.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

“Waiting On”: The Decent Proposal

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan

Synopsis from Goodreads:
An addictively readable debut romantic comedy, drama, and mystery rolled into one, about two very different strangers whose lives become intertwined when they receive an unusual proposition. This is a funny, tender, and enchanting story about love, attraction, and friendship: Jane Austen in Los Angeles.

A struggling Hollywood producer, Richard Baumbach is twenty-nine, hung-over, and broke. Ridiculously handsome with an innate charm and an air of invincibility, he still believes good things will come his way. For now he contents himself with days at the Coffee Bean and nights with his best friend Mike (that’s a woman, by the way).

At thirty-three, Elizabeth Santiago is on track to make partner at her law firm. Known as “La Máquina” The Machine—to her colleagues, she’s grown used to avoiding anything that might derail her quiet, orderly life. And yet recently she befriended a homeless man in her Venice neighborhood, surprised to find how much she enjoys their early-morning chats.

Richard and Elizabeth’s paths collide when they receive a proposal from a mysterious, anonymous benefactor. They’ll split a million dollars if they agree to spend at least two hours together—just talking—every week for a year. Astonished and more than a little suspicious, they each nevertheless say yes. Richard needs the money and likes the adventure of it. Elizabeth embraces the challenge of shaking up her life a little more. Both agree the idea is ridiculous, but why not?

What ensues is a delightful journey full of twists, revelations, hamburgers, classic literature, poppy music, and above all love, in its multitude of forms. The Decent Proposal is a heartfelt and often hilarious look at the ties that bind not just a guy and a girl but an entire, diverse cast of characters situated within a modern-day Los Angeles brought to full and irrepressible life.

Publishing April 5, 2016 by HarperCollins.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Book Beginnings: A Man Called Ove

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch

"Ove is fifty-nine."

And he's in an Apple store, where being 59 puts one at a distinct disadvantage. And honestly, Ove acts more like he's 79 for most of the book. There are times when it's shocking when you remember how old he is.

Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch

My book club picked this book and I was excited, as one member had been raving about it for weeks. I understood that it was funny and involved a cat so I was sold. But then at the meeting before it was discussed, a different member said she'd started reading it and it was depressing, which confused me. When I began, I thought it was charming and I really liked the curmudgeon Ove (even if the cat wasn't in the book much at first) and I thought she was crazy. But then, just as I was putting the book down for the night around p. 80, it did all of a sudden turn quite depressing. I worried a little, but I looked again at the blurbs on the cover, all calling the book delightful and humorous, not words commonly used for dark and depressing books, so I continued on with hope, which was rewarded.

Ove is living in his small row house in Sweden and trying to kill himself (trust me, it's actually kind of funny.) But events and people keep getting in the way. First a pregnant woman and her giant lumbering oaf of a husband back over his mailbox with a trailer that they can't drive. Ove must fix it. Then the husband, who has borrowed Ove's ladder, proves his ineptness further by falling off of a ladder and the wife and kids need a ride to the hospital. Then, because he is laid up, the wife needs driving lessons. Meanwhile, on his daily rounds in the neighborhood, checking on things, Ove accidentally adopts a cat, and he meets a teenage boy trying (and failing) to fix a bicycle for a girl he likes. Ove has to fix the bicycle because no one can do anything practical for themselves anymore. As Ove accumulates new friends and obligations, the reasons for his suicide attempts start to fade. (And perhaps the pregnant woman has more to do with that than Ove is aware.) Eventually, after years of letting his wife be his link to the world outside their home, he makes connections himself and starts to stretch his rusty socializing skills.

I completely agree with the reviewers who call the book delightful and charming. Yes, Ove is a curmudgeon of the first order, with strong beliefs that his way is not just the right way, but the only way. But eventually he comes to realize that he needs people and he can live with their foibles and that when you are nice to people, they're often nice right back. No man is an island. The book gives hope without being treacly or saccharine about it. That's something I love about curmudgeons. I find their hopefulness much easier to tolerate than earnest and sickly-sweet hope.

I loved this book. It was tender and thoughtful, it was subtle and clever, and it went places I wasn't expecting, yet set them up beautifully so they weren't shocking left-turns. Everyone in book club loved it which is rare. I can see it appealing to a very wide swath or people, and I think I will be recommending it a lot. it was easy to read, and aside from a weird thing in the Swedish health care system (why a neighbor was being forced into a nursing home), nothing about the translation was difficult to understand. I am very glad I read it. It will hold a special place in my heart. I wish I could hug Ove. And his cat.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Book Review: The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters by Wes Moore

Wes Moore's inspirational story in The Other Wes Moore, inspired me to look for this book about moving on with his adult life and finding work that matters. But it wasn't quite what I was expecting. I was expecting more of a straightforward memoir, like the first book. Instead, we get moments of memoir, although superficial and skipping over large parts (in particular we barely get to know his fiancee at all). And interspersed are stories of inspirational people he meets along the way, from one of the founders of KIND bars to the assistant director of the Peace Corps.

After his stint at Oxford University for his Rhodes scholarship, Wes tries out banking, and then goes to Afghanistan (he's been in the military all along), then focusing on finding his life's goals when he returns. With all the inspirational stories, he gives brief but full biographies of these amazing people, delving into what in their backgrounds inspired the way they live their lives, and I particularly liked the story of three siblings who founded a nonprofit that ultimately failed, but they didn't see themselves as failures. The story of the assistant director of the Peace Corps was to me the least effective even though in some ways she was the most inspiring--she didn't feel real. No matter what hardships she faced, she had such an unwavering attitude of optimism and belief that things would work out, that she was hard to identify with. Someone who never doubts is hard to emulate. But the other stories were inspiring, although, as someone in my 40s who knows what I'm doing with my life, it all felt a little remote and somewhat irrelevant to me. I certainly remember massive worries and the feeling that I would never find my way--and if all I was doing was eliminating jobs one by one that I didn't want, I would never luck into the right job for me.

This book would be perfect for a recent college grad (or soon to be college grad.) Asking a 22-year-old what they're going to do with the rest of their life only causes anxiety. Giving them this book might actually help them think about that question and formulate a path. Mr. Moore is an accessible writer with a kind attitude and is easy to identify with, despite his opportunities and advantages. He doesn't take his advantages for granted and he struggles with the guilt he feels, not maximizing his economic potential and if that's worth the personal sacrifice to his soul. This book doesn't proscribe any answers, but can help a young adult, struggling to find their way in the adult world, see a way forward and what options are available.

I bought this book at my local used bookstore.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

“Waiting On”: Paper

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From the New York Times best-selling author of Cod and Salt, a definitive history of paper and the astonishing ways it has shaped today’s world.

Paper is one of the simplest and most essential pieces of human technology. For the past two millennia, the ability to produce it in ever more efficient ways has supported the proliferation of literacy, media, religion, education, commerce, and art. It has created civilizations, fostering the fomenting of revolutions and the stabilizing of regimes. Witness history’s greatest press run, which produced 6.5 billion copies of Máo zhuˇ xí yuˇ lu, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Zedong), or the fact that Leonardo da Vinci left behind only 15 paintings but 4,000 works on paper. Now, on the cusp of “going paperless”—and amid rampant speculation about the effects of a digitally dependent society—we’ve come to a world-historic juncture to examine what paper means to civilization. Through tracing paper’s evolution, Mark Kurlansky challenges common assumptions about technology’s influence, affirming that paper is here to stay. Paper will be the history that guides us forward in the twenty-first century and illuminates our times.

Publishing April 2016 by W. W. Norton & Company.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Book Beginnings: Unforgettable

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon

"Mother called: 'I can't talk. I'm surrounded by handsome men.' Emergency surgery. If you can hold a thought for her now..."

Sorry, I know this is more than one sentence, but Scott Simon starts each chapter (and ends most of them also) with a tweet that he wrote while sitting beside his mother's hospital bed in her final days. She never lost her sense of humor.

Book review: Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon

I remembering hearing about NPR's Scott Simon's tweets from his mother's bedside in the hospital when she was dying, at the time that it happened. I'm not much for Twitter but I'm big on NPR so I was interested, but not enough to hunt them down. So when I heard they inspired him to write a memoir, that hit a lot of the right notes for me and I added it to my To Read list right away.

The book covers both the one week his mother lay dying in the hospital, and also his whole childhood growing up with her. As the sing, reminisce, and go through therapies, waiting for doctors that never come, Scott jumps back in time to talk about his hardworking single mom. Pat was a single mom at a time when that was rare to the point of scandalous, but as much as she loved Scott's father, she couldn't live with an active alcoholic any longer. She worked a real variety of jobs, including being a local model, anything to keep food on the table. And in retrospect, Scott realized that there were times at the end of the month when his mother would skimp on food for herself. They shared a one-bedroom apartment with a lot of love. Family and friends populated Scott's life as he grew up, standing in for his missing father. While Pat did eventually remarry (twice), for most of Scott's formative years, it was just the two  of them, forming a strong bond.

The memories are interwoven seamlessly. The many characters are well-drawn and distinctive. His mother seems like quite a character herself, being both the friend of mobsters and also the custodial staff. She insists that Scott go find her manicurist and hairdresser and apologize that she wouldn't be coming to them anymore, along with giving them each a large tip. She was renowned for her thank yous. Even when they were at their poorest, she still managed to throw memorable birthday parties for Scott, always with name cards (which he amusingly renounced as symbols of the bourgeoisie when he was about 12.) She had her own depressive episodes, which she might have inherited from her mother, But usually she showed the world, and especially Scott, a brave and cheerful face. Pat sounds like a wonderful woman. I wish I could have met her. She would have been proud of such a beautiful and caring tribute to her. It is a touch sad in moments, but overall it's a celebration of her wonderful life.

I bought this book at my local used bookstore, The Book Rack.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

“Waiting On”: The Nest

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs joint trust fund, “The Nest” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

 This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

Publishing March 22, 2016 by Ecco.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: Son of a Gun: A Memoir by Justin St. Germain

It's really a miracle that Justin ended up a successful writer, when his whole life was leading towards a bad end. His mother, while well-meaning, a good mom, and a qualified paratrooper, made dozens of bad decisions in her life, each getting worse. Justin was not yet 20, flunking out of community college, when his brother got the worst call imaginable: their mother had been murdered and their step-father was the suspect. He was her fifth husband, and one who didn't physically abuse her (they hoped) so he didn't seem as bad as some of them had been, although the failed ex-cop turned out (obviously) to be the worst. Justin remembers his peripatetic childhood, moving from town to town, and even when they settled in Tombstone, Arizona, moving from apartment to trailer to boyfriend's house. His father left when he was very young and never paid child support. Step-fathers varied in terms of their abusiveness and fatherliness, His mother flitted from job to job, always working very hard, but never getting much of anywhere. Without focus and with a bit of a hippy streak, the family often were on the edge of poverty, sometimes almost homeless.

As an adult who has turned his life around and decided not to be white trash (his words), Justin returns to Tombstone from San Francisco and tracks down old boyfriends, ex-husbands, old friends, the detective who worked the case, and others. He tries to piece together what happened with his mother and Ray and how everything went so wrong. I'm not sure anyone who wasn't there can ever fully understand something like this, but he does at least end up in a place of understanding and a sad peace.

While no where near the caliber of books this one is compared too, it is captivating and a fast read. It's hard to put down as you wonder what lead to this, what happened to Ray, and could this murder have been prevented. It wasn't heart-wrenching even though the subject matter is necessarily depressing, and the author at times felt at a remove from the events, even though it was his own mother's death he's talking about. The flashbacks were well done and the research seemed to be as thorough as possible (even if still full of gaps) but overall it was an enjoyable book, so long as you're aware of the subject matter going in.

I bought this book at The Book Rack, my local used bookstore.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Book review: Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

I think the title and cover (mostly the cover) do this book a disservice. I had assumed it was about an older woman (probably a widow) who had lost her mojo and found it again, and romance, through ballroom dancing lessons, or something else cheesy like that. That's not the kind of book this is at all. If a good friend hadn't read it and liked it, I'll bet I never would have gotten to it. I also don't like the tagline about lying which really isn't as pervasive as the book implies. All the lying is about one thing.

Molly is nearly 40 and after a lost pregnancy and hysterectomy, she and her husband are going through the adoption process. It's very hard for her because she herself is adopted in an open process (which is also what she and Aidan are pursuing) and not only has she never told her husband this, but she's never told him much at all about her background, including lying that her mother is dead so she wouldn't have to discuss it.

Then we flash back to when Molly is fourteen. But these parts aren't memories for the adult Molly--they are very obviously from the perspective of a naive fourteen-year-old (which was done very well). She lives in North Carolina, on family property with her two sets of aunts and uncles and her grandmother all on the same property. And her birth mother.

Being fourteen, that summer (1990) was all about New Kids on the Block and Johnny Depp to Molly. She makes a new friend, Stacy, who is more of a "fast" girl and whose boyfriend introduces Molly to a high school senior that she quickly becomes infatuated with. Meanwhile, she spends the summer helping her father write his latest book, which he needs because MS has been ravaging his body and he now only has control of his head. Molly types as he dictates. He's a therapist and he developed a new therapeutic technique based on pretending (hence the book's title). He can still practice which is convenient, although he does have a full-time live-in helper. The big secret, which fourteen-year-old Molly is blind to, is pretty obvious to the reader (at least to this reader) from early on and wasn't a shock at all. And while I do understand her upset at that age over what happened, I do not understand why in the past 25 years, she hasn't come to some kind of adult understanding of the situation. And why it's so horrible to hide it from her husband, who seems really nice and understanding (in fact those seem to be his only personality traits. He isn't in the book much.) Even though the book starts and ends in the present, about 80% of it is in the past. I wish I'd gotten more of a feel for the era (I was sixteen that summer, so pretty close in age to Molly, but it seemed like there were those two cultural references to 1990 and that's it. In fact at two points the electric slide was mentioned as a popular dance of the time and that's from the 1970s. I wonder if the author had it confused with the line dance that was done to REM's "Stand" that was popular that summer.) It also didn't feel very Southern to me. While Molly lives in San Diego now, the majority of the book takes place in Swannanoa, North Carolina, but to me, it could have been in Vermont and Michigan and nothing would have needed changing.

Still, despite these flaws, the book was an easy read with the plot moving along convincingly, and an excellent voice of a young teen who is not quite ready to grow up as fast as she ends up having to do that summer. It's an enjoyable, light coming-of-age story masquerading as a serious, literary novel of secrets.

I bought this book from Park Road Books at Bibliofeast.

Book Beginnings: Pretending to Dance

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

"I'm a good liar."

This is a good first line. Although I think it's not accurate. The main character, Molly, has decided she doesn't want to talk about one part of her life and that has necessitated a couple of lies (that her mother is dead, for one) which, as an adult living on the other side of the country, are actually pretty easy to maintain. She's not a habitual liar, nor does she enjoy it remotely. And when you feel it's necessary for your peace of mind, it's a lot easier to lie, when it wouldn't be for any other reason.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Grunt

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee.

She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders in the same way again.

Publishing June 7, 2016 by W. W. Norton & Company.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Book Review: Landfall by Ellen Urbani

You ever read a book at the wrong time? And you just know that if you'd read it at another time, you'd have liked it better? Sadly, that happened to me with this book. I had to read it for book club. And as I mentioned a few months back, I've been trying to avoid a reading slump. It's improving, but I am still mostly avoiding depressing books as those have been tough for me lately. And this book is about Hurricane Katrina. And a fatal car accident. And a nameless girl who is killed while another is orphaned. Not really cheery topics. But I love Ellen Urbani and I wanted to love the book! I should have waited for summer. I prefer my depressing reads in bright sunlight by the pool, so they don't get me down (and I prefer happy, light "summer beach reads" in winter when I could otherwise get depressed in the dark and cold.)

Rosy and her mother are in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward when Katrina hits. A friend nearby has a brick house where they think they can wait out the storm but as we all now know, that was a terrible idea. Rose and her mother see the news about Katrina and, several days later, are driving to make a donation for the hurricane victims when their lives cross with Rosy's in a devastating way. Rose then sets out on a quest for the truth and for the past which takes her across three states and she uncovers a story neither she nor Rosy had ever expected.

The descriptions of the hurricane and the flood itself were very visceral. They felt completely real in a horrible and immersive way. You really felt like you were there. But those parts were also, naturally, harder to read as it was such a wretched situation and so fraught with danger. Also Rosy's mother is bipolar and the stories about her again made me uncomfortable and sad. At first I didn't like Rose as much as she didn't have as much going on and therefore didn't come alive the way Rosy did. But as the book went on and the action shifted to being mostly from Rose's perspective, you got to see her also become a three-dimensional young woman, struggling with a difficult situation. The dual-perspectives worked very well as did the non-matching timeframes in a way I wouldn't have expected to work.

I had some minor issues with a few details that didn't feel correct for me, and I guessed the big twist pretty early on. If I hadn't had the issues with it being too depressing, this book would have benefited from a straight-read-through (or nearly so). Instead, I read it in small bits over nearly a week, which did not improve matters. It kept me distanced from the characters and therefore more critical and not as emotionally involved. But I really think that was due to where I was in my head when I was reading it, not the fault of the book itself. I don't want it to sound like I didn't enjoy it, because I did. But it was the wrong book at the wrong time for me, sadly.

I bought this book at Park Road Books.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Book Beginnings: Presence

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

"I'm sitting at the counter in my favorite Boston Bookstore-cafe, laptop open, writing."

Well she's certainly going to endear herself to bookstore owners everywhere with that opening line! But seriously, she's about to be interrupted by a woman who saw her TED talk about body language and who wants to tell Dr. Cuddy how important it was to her. This happens a lot.

Book Review: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

I picked up this book, aiming for a book that would be quiet and technical, thinking it would be great to read before bed (and put me to sleep.) Instead I found an utterly fascinating and profound book that I can't stop talking about.

Amy Cuddy did the now-famous TED talk on power poses and this book grew out of it, but it is about so much more. We need to be present for things in our lives, and that often starts with the body. if we sit in a position of powerlessness (legs wrapped around each other, shoulders caved in, arms crossed), we feel powerless, like a victim, and that affects our responses to life: we are more aware of outsiders, we don't listen well since we are distracted by potential dangers, our self-confidence is shot, among other things. But something as simple as shifting our sitting position--to crossing your knee at the ankle, putting your shoulders back, and even spreading your arms onto an adjoining chair if possible--can change your attitude, change your ability to listen and absorb what you're hearing, and change others' opinion of you (mostly from your confidence level).

There are a lot of nuances to this theory and she talks about everything form breathing to yoga to visualizing power poses. Backed up by clinical studies, this book is 100% science, not just some woo-woo notion that someone made up. Instead, you read about study after study where after sitting in the Coba position for two minutes, people picked power words out of a list of words, and vice-versa, things like that. Dr. Cuddy is a professor at Harvard Business School so she's eminently qualified to write this, and she gives both personal examples (she had a traumatic brain injury in her late teens which impacted her forever, and she has experienced Imposter Syndrome herself, partly as a response to that earlier injury) and examples from the hundred of people who have contacted her to say how her talks have affected them. I particularly liked the last chapter which was almost exclusively anecdotes from people who have put the power poses into practice and how they worked (the most interesting one being a horse trainer who got her horse to do power poses of a sort.)

I couldn't stop reading parts of this book out loud to my husband. I told my therapist and personal trainer about it. I have started doing some of its suggestions. This morning I danced in my office as studies show that dancing and singing are things you do not because you are happy, but in order to make yourself happy. This book is impacting my life. I am an evangelist. You must read this book now.

I got this book for free at Winter Institute.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book Review: Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen

A memoir about an odd medical condition is going to get to the top of my TBR list every time! Cole was always odd. Growing up, she had learning disabilities, spacial disabilities, and an unusual level of not understanding math and science for someone who was obviously gifting in writing and language. She and her parents always knew that she wasn't stupid--after all she had straight As in some subjects with barely Ds in others--but they had no idea there was an explanation for all her problems, even if it was a bizarre explanation. When she wanted to go away to Los Angeles, car country, for graduate school, she was determined to finally learn how to drive even though she'd attempted it multiple times before and always failed. Her mother called a local occupational therapist office for help, and based on her description of Cole, they recommended she see a neurologist. The doctor and his intern were fascinating as they thought Cole had some rare syndrome, but an MRI revealed a much simpler explanation--her parietal lobe is gone. There is a hole in her brain the size of a lemon, where it ought to be. It could have happened in utero or at birth, but they know it had happened by the age of five, which was when Cole could not learn to tie her shoes, which turned out to be the first sign of this problem.

Cole goes back to her old school records and tracks every diagnosis and supposition and treatment plan she's been given over the years. In retrospect, it is obvious that she had something more serious wrong when ADD or a learning disability, but the truth was so odd and so improbable, it makes sense no one ever considered it. Meanwhile, even with the diagnosis, there's no cure. She can't regrow her parietal lobe. All she can do is cope. And she does get a Master's, she has a boyfriend, and eventually she even manages living alone (it's harder than you might think if you can't manage even simple math, to pay your bills.) She does sometimes feel sorry for herself, and she certainly has a lot of anger. She does write smoothly and occasionally even comes out with a perfectly apt and unique description which made me pause and wonder at her language. But overall this book felt a little self-indulgent, which is not a word I use with memoirs lightly (by nature they all must be somewhat self-indulgent, so I give a lot of leeway.) It was a short and fast read (I really read it in about 3 hours) and if you enjoy medical memoirs, it's a good one. But it's not profound. It does give you good insight into what someone with this bizarre medical problem go through, and she does have impressive coping techniques for what must be very frustrating limitations the rest of us never think about. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it could veer towards whiny at times.

A friend gave me this ARC.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Two-Family House

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Brooklyn, 1947: in the midst of a blizzard, in a two-family brownstone, two babies are born minutes apart to two women. They are sisters by marriage with an impenetrable bond forged before and during that dramatic night; but as the years progress, small cracks start to appear and their once deep friendship begins to unravel. No one knows why, and no one can stop it. One misguided choice; one moment of tragedy. Heartbreak wars with happiness and almost but not quite wins.
From debut novelist Lynda Cohen Loigman comes The Two-Family House, a moving family saga filled with heart, emotion, longing, love, and mystery.

Publishing March 8, 2016 by St. Martin's Press.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My month in review: February

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. I did SO much better this month in terms of my book acquisitions which I'm trying to keep very low, maybe to none.

Books completed this month:
The Richest Woman in America: The Life and Times of Hetty Green by Janet Wallach
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
The Defense: A Novel by Steve Cavanagh
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen
Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain
Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Landfall by Ellen Urbani

What I acquired this month:
I bought these at two different used bookstores:
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin