2 Stars · Book Review · Bust · Grandparents · Self Help

The Storm: How Young Men Become Good Men by Dan Blanchard

Holy freezing in May, Batman!  The weather this month has been nuts.  I didn’t even realize it until now, but The Storm was a great title pick for the last few weeks.  We’ve gone from upper 70’s to snow and back again.  Anyway, on to The Storm: How Young Men Become Good Men by Dan Blanchard.  This was another free Amazon kindle pick and I’m undecided on whether I liked it or not.

The Storm is essentially one very long conversation between a grandfather, Granddaddy, and his teenage grandson, Dakota.  During a walk, the two take shelter in a park picnic pavilion to avoid the rain storming around them.  As they talk, Granddaddy shares his life secrets for success with Dakota, who has started learning his own lessons through trial and error.  While the premise of the book is sweet, the conversation tends to read as a giant checklist of motivational quotes and practices from every great thinker and self-help guru since the dawn of time.

The character development in The Storm is incredibly weak.  We learn that Granddaddy fought in WWII, is still married to Dakota’s grandmother and is estranged from his son, who is Dakota’s father, but we never learn much more about him than that.  We don’t know why he isn’t actively involved in Dakota’s life.  It also bothered me that despite not being around, Granddaddy and Dakota seem to have a strong and open relationship.  It also bothered me that Grandma and Mom remained vague mysterious characters who weren’t mentioned, Dad was stereotypical and Big Brother was the martyr hero type.  Not even Dakota was fleshed out.  We learn he is a high school wrestler dealing with an abusive father and has a pretty girlfriend who tends to be a positive influence.  Aside from his wrestling training and occasional references to the difficulties with his dad, Dakota remained very one dimensional and just wasn’t believable as a teenage character.

My biggest pet peeve with the entire book was how unnatural and forced the conversational style between Granddaddy and Dakota felt.  Granddaddy would ask Dakota if he knew who Michael Phelps was and instead of answering “yeah” like a normal teenager, Dakota would answer like a Wikipedia entry, “Michael Phelps is US Olympic Swimmer who won 28 medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics”.  Multiply that by about a hundred other anecdotes and it got old, quick.

I did enjoy a lot of the quotes in The Storm and I liked the idea of a grandparent sharing so lovingly and openly with their grandchildren.  I just wish there would have been some more personality infused into Granddady and Dakota and that their entire history and family line had been really fleshed out.

Overall, the book was a quick read, it just wasn’t very deep or life changing.  Going to rate this one somewhere around 2.5 stars.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers-

R

 

 

Book Review · Bust · Historical Fiction

Take 2 on Caroline: Little House Revisited

It’s the end of May and I’m still wondering where the heck April blew off to.  I didn’t do much reading (or posting) in April, but I did watch a whole lot of Netflix.  It was super cold and wet here, so most of my time was spent crafting and watching The Umbrella Academy, Supergirl, The Flash, Empire Games, and probably a few more.

I did finish Caroline: Little House Revisited and felt like my original post could use some updating.  There is a section in Caroline, where the prairie starts on fire.  Ma is so focused on the fire that she can’t think and Miller is forced to write outside of Ma’s head.  This is where Miller really hits her stride.  Her descriptions of the prairie, the fire, the actions of the animals, the people, and the overall fire experience were excellent and very well done.  I was completely immersed in this chapter and was heavily disappointed when Miller returned to the first person narrative (which she obviously had to do in order to keep with the rest of the book.)

Caroline, in my opinion, would have been an excellent book if Miller had written exclusively in this third person style and focused more on Ma’s perspective of the Little House stories and less on creating a first person narrative which turned Ma into a boring whiny insecure Puritan.

I’m in between activities and writing on the go, so short and sweet today!

Until next time, Happy Reading!

-R

 

 

Uncategorized

Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller

2019 has not been my favorite book year so far.  I’ve been snagging new books through the Amazon first reads program and flipping through a lot of different genres and authors.  Some, like The Storyteller’s Secret have been absolutely amazing, others like Rock Needs River have been disappointing.  Caroline: Little House, Revisited goes into the disappointing pile.  The premise of the story is absolutely irresistible for Little House lovers like me.  Caroline takes on the Little House epic through the eyes of Laura’s mother, Caroline Ingalls.

Unfortunately, Caroline is one book I’m giving up on.  Miller’s writing is downright boring.  She drowns the story in a flood of words and endless descriptions that add nothing to the story but definitely take away from it.  There were too many times I had to go back and re-read a paragraph just to figure out what started the endless paragraph in the first place.   Miller spends a lot of time on the mundane tasks and unnecessary detail.  There were whole paragraphs dedicated to pregnancy nausea, sore breasts after a day jiggling during the wagon ride, Laura and Mary needing to use the “necessary” before bed, someone always needing a chamber pot.  At the 30% mark, I decided to give up reading Caroline because the book was only about 4 days into their trip and I just couldn’t imagine following this boring tale through another day.

Miller also includes a lot of historical details that aren’t well known and create odd juxtapositions like a “corduroy bridge” and then fails to provide any context clues to help readers figure out what she’s talking about.  Apparently, corduroy bridges are a thing, but unless you’re well versed in early 19th century road history, you’re going to struggle with how a fabric type relates to a bridge.   

Boring superfluous writing aside, the worst sin in my opinion is how Miller has taken our beloved Ma, as written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and depicted her as a boring, insecure, whiny, hyper-Puritan type who dwells on the negative.   In one story, Charles (or Pa as we know him) is teasing and flirting with Ma, to which she responds by hiding her braid so Charles can’t get worked up.  This was just so absolutely bizarre.  Ma, as written by Miller, comes across an angsty emo and it ruins the entire dynamic Laura created of Pa as the wild frontiersman and Ma as his ever ready and capable partner.

Miller has taken the fun and adventure out of the Little House stories.  0 stars.

Until next time, happy reading!

-Cheers,

R

Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Historical Fiction · WWII

The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey

Some books are just fun to read.  The Beantown Girls is one of those books.

Written by Jane Healey The Beantown Girls takes on WWII through the eyes of the Red Cross Clubmobile Girls.  In all of my years of reading and studying WWII history, I’ve never come across anything about the Clubmobile Girls, which is an incredibly fascinating piece of American and WWII History.  The Red Cross essentially recruited attractive, outgoing, college-educated American women between the ages of 25-35.  They sent these young women to England and France during WWII to boost troop morale by serving coffee and donuts while engaging troops in lighthearted conversation.  The girls were trained to drive and maintain trucks fitted with little kitchens and often followed the troops right into the thick of things.

Healey did a fantastic job presenting the history and strength of the Clubmobile Girls while also dipping into the horrors of war that these young women actually faced.  In many ways, the Clubmobile Girls carried the same unspoken mantle that mothers, sisters and wives carry everywhere; to support our men and be strong so the men won’t fall apart.  I appreciated the way Healey wrote her female characters in a way that was both strong and vulnerable, as well as true to the times.  The girls constantly applying fresh lipstick in the midst of a war was almost comical, but also an obvious nod to how seriously they took their roles as Clubmobile Girls.

I also liked how Healey strung together several true Clubmobile Girl accounts into a single believable tale, unlike Beneath a Scarlet Sky, which placed the main character in so many events it was unbelievable.

The love story in The Beantown Girls felt like a neatly placed after thought and I think the book could have continued along smoothly without a predictable love thread being tossed in.  The book does end rather neatly, but after all the girls go through, I was rooting for them to get everything they wanted.

Great topic.  Engaging writing.  Well developed characters.  The Beantown Girls gets four stars from me and a strong recommendation for lighter WWII historical fiction.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers, -R

2 Stars · Autobiography · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts

Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady

There’s nothing worse than being home sick with the flu on a beautiful day.  I did get in about a million naps and was able to finish Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady which had been in my list for a few weeks.

Adoption is something that has always interested me and I was hoping to learn more about the entire process, especially open adoption, which seems to be gaining more popularity as adoption becomes less stigmatized.  Unfortunately, Rock Needs River didn’t really answer any of my questions about adoption or teach the reader anything about the adoption process.  Instead, this book was a hot mess of the author oversharing other people’s lives and it was depressing to read.

McGrady spends the first part of Rock Needs River detailing her love life, failed relationships and desperation for a baby.  This portion felt a bit too personal and unfocused in the broader scope of the book.  The sections about McGrady’s family were also a bit cringe worthy and there was a bit more personal family business shared than really needed to be.

Rock Needs River switches gears about halfway with McGrady’s marriage to Peter, and the eventual birth and adoption of her daughter, Grace.  McGrady and her husband accept a last minute adoption after the birth parents pulled out of an arrangement with another potential adoptive mother, leaving them with just a few weeks to get ready for the baby.  The process of working with the adoption agency, how they found them and how they prepared mentally and emotionally for the adoption was not addressed, leaving a gaping hole in the story from “let’s adopt” to “the baby is here!”.   McGrady also glosses over the first few months to first year of Grace’s life, leaving another hole in the story for how she experienced new motherhood as an adoptive mother.  I was interested to know how this experience of having a baby two weeks after notification differed from a birth mother’s experience of mentally and emotionally preparing for nine months.  I also wanted to know how McGrady’s experience compared with maternity leave, hormones, lactation, pain, and all of the leftover physical symptoms of giving birth.

The McGrady’s and the birth parents, Bill and Bridget, choose an open adoption but never outline or define roles for how the birth parents will interact with Grace, leaving Bill and Bridget moving in and out of Grace’s life rather haphazardly.  When Bill and Bridget end up homeless, the now divorced McGrady asks them to live with her and Grace for a while.  This creates an entire situation of boundary issues, with McGrady essentially taking on a nagging disappointed mother role for two adults who can’t get themselves up to her standards.  McGrady essentially laundry lists the ways Bill and Bridget fall short of her expectations and “the real world”.  A similar approach is taken to her husband’s drinking and their subsequent divorce.

Honestly, I was so uncomfortable reading this book and couldn’t imagine how the birth parents or her ex-husband felt with all of their life history, mistakes and painful decisions laid out for strangers this way.

Despite her attempts to help them with a place to live and the occasional cash, clothes and food gifts after they leave, McGrady treats Bill and Bridget with utter disdain and disappointment.  Her expectations of a couple who knew they were not capable of the stability required to raise a child, are just astounding.  Rather than accepting the gift of her daughter and moving on with her life, McGrady inserts herself over and over again in the birth parent’s business.  Eventually, she follows them to Texas to hear their side of the story, which is disappointingly NEVER shared in this book.  Of all the things I wanted to know about this couple, their decision to give up their child and their experience of the open adoption process, was number one.  McGrady glosses over this section with a quick statement of how they felt used by the adoption agency and then runs away to take a walk.  So disappointing!

The book ends rather abruptly, without any real resolution or conclusion and utilizes an epilogue to update readers on Peter, Bridget and Bill.

After reading this book, I was so upset with how McGrady treated Bridget and Bill that I did a quick google search to see if either of them had given any interviews about the book or the adoption process.  While there wasn’t anything from either of them, I did come across McGrady’s blog.  Several of the stories in Rock Needs River were taken directly from her blog, however the tone in which they were written on the blog was beautiful and loving and a little bit confused on how she could help and what she should do, and most importantly empathetic with their struggles.  In the blog, McGrady comes across as a woman who genuinely cares about Bill and Bridget.  Unfortunately, this love and genuineness was edited out of the book.  Whoever edited Rock Needs River, did a great disservice to McGrady, Bill, Bridget, Grace and the reader.

All in all, 2 stars.

Until next time, Cheers and happy reading!

-R

3 stars · Autobiography · Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Politics · thoughts

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming is the hottest book on the market right now.  It’s listed as Amazon’s number one best selling book, as well as the number one selling book in the Law, Lawyers & Judges and African-American and Black literature categories.  With over 7,800 reviews, this book is a hot topic!  I was/am a little bit apprehensive about reviewing this book because it is such a political hot button.  Many of the reviews reflect the reviewer’s political views rather than the book itself, which can be frustrating for reader’s wanting to know about the book itself.  My review is strictly on the reader’s experience and not my politics, beliefs or opinion of the Obamas.

Becoming is written in three parts.  The first section, Becoming Me, describes Michelle’s life from birth to meeting Barack.  The second section, Becoming Us, takes the reader through the Obama’s life and relationship as a couple, right up to the time Barack decides to run for presidency.  The final section, Becoming More, details the presidential campaign and the Obama’s eight years as the first couple.

For me, Becoming Me, was hard to get through.  There were so many details, so many names, so many memories.  This portion was incredibly long and very boring.  The writing felt haphazard and choppy, like Michelle had recorded her thoughts and later typed them out without planning or editing for a bigger picture or a cohesive story.  There were many memories that really resonated with me, as a minority female, that just didn’t get the stage time they deserved.  These big important memories that could have served as a connecting point for many young women across the U.S. were drowned in the memories of how orderly she kept her Barbies.

This section was also notable for its constant references to race, particularly in relation to white people.  I understand that she was trying to emphasize how large of a role race played in Chicago during her childhood and how difficult it was/is to be black or brown in America, even today, but the constant references diluted the message when those references were truly relevant and important.

This section was by far, a huge disappointment and I almost gave up reading the book.

Things switched gears rather quickly when Michelle met Barack.  As far the book goes, the writing for Becoming Us got much tighter, better edited and significantly more interesting.  This portion of the book feels like it was written by an entirely different person and I wonder if Michelle was more comfortable sharing these memories and the distance she could maintain in this section or if this portion of the book was edited by someone else.

There is no doubt, after reading this section, that Michelle loves her husband.  This part felt heavily filtered with positive PR and it did get a little old to hear about how amazing Barack was (over and over and over again).  The worst thing we learned about him was he smoked and couldn’t manage to put his dirty clothes in the hamper.

While Becoming Me felt like Michelle was struggling with how to connect to her audience, in Becoming Us, Michelle hits the right chord, sharing just the right amount of memory, emotion, and spirit to connect with anyone who has ever been married, hated their job, desired soulful work, balanced kids and reigned in or chased after ambition.  It was incredibly interesting to read about the Obamas as a new couple, their infertility, how they balanced work and family life and the struggle to keep their own identities and values amidst the political machine.

I appreciated how open Michelle was about her core fear of “not good enough” and how that tiny negative little message influenced many of her actions and decisions.  It was also very interesting to read about how an extremely ambitious and well educated woman grappled with her husband’s dreams and ambition.  Surprisingly, Michelle did not want her husband to enter the political arena and spent almost twenty years waiting for him to return to the private sector.

Becoming More was by far the most interesting portion of the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed  going behind the scenes and learning about the campaign process, the transition from president to president, living in the White House, the Secret Service and all of her First Lady initiatives.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the stories of their children growing up in the White House and appreciated how all of Michelle’s decisions revolved around her children and maintaining their family unit.

There are several major reoccurring themes throughout Becoming which I think other readers will find inspiring and valuable.  Chief among them is the importance of family and good meaningful friendships.  Michelle is deeply rooted in her family and cultivated friendships to last a lifetime.  Over and over again, we see friends and family as her source of strength.  Second, the value of an education.  Throughout the book, Michelle emphasized her belief in using education as a means to free oneself from your circumstances.  And finally, the power in accepting who you are and where your heart lies.  After a long battle with herself, Michelle gave up a prestigious high paying job as a lawyer to find work that was meaningful to her.  We can all appreciate what it means to do work that speaks to our soul and leaves us satisfied at the end of the day.

All in all, Becoming was just way too long.  Becoming Me gets a solid two stars.  This first section could have done with some heavy editing and extreme tightening.  Becoming Us and Becoming More could have and should have been the majority of the book, with a small section cherry picked from Becoming Me.  The latter sections were well written and incredibly interesting.  I learned a lot in these sections about political campaigns and how the first family operates within their roles and how they maintain a residence at the White House.  Four stars for these two sections.  Overall, 3 stars for Becoming.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

 

 

Books Read · New Year · thoughts

Wrapping up 2018

Hey y’all!

It’s already February and I’m just wrapping up 2018.  It feels like the new year should start in the spring, not in the dead of winter!  It’s hard to gather momentum for a new year when it feels like we should still be huddled in a warm blanket, reading and drinking hot chocolate while eating popcorn and thick creamy soups.

Unfortunately the calendar doesn’t agree and the new year is well under way.  2018 wrapped up with a total of 54 books.  This isn’t including all of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries read nightly to the munchkin!  Looking back on this list, it’s obvious that MAGIC was the 2018 reading theme.   I’m amazed by the overwhelming number of Jeff Wheeler books on this list and a little blown away by how much of my reading life was spent in Fairy Tales.

2018 felt hard in all dimensions.  It was simultaneously emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting professionally, personally and everywhere else too.  It makes sense that in a year geared towards destruction my outlet would be in magic and wonder.  If my 2019 book choices are any different, 2019 may be focused more on growth and hopefully a little less on destruction!

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

Book Review · India · tear jerker · thoughts

The Storyteller’s Secret: A Novel by Sejal Badani

Set in India during the reign of the British Raj, The Storyteller’s Secret weaves the lives of a long lost Indian grandmother and her American granddaughter together in an intricate pattern of love, duty, honor, tradition, and heartbreak.

Jaya, an Indian-American journalist, escapes the overwhelming grief of three miscarriages and an impeding divorce by following her Grandfather’s death bed summons, against her Mother’s wishes, to India.  Expecting to reunite with her estranged Indian family, Jaya instead finds herself in an empty house full of secrets and cared for by her Grandmother’s best friend, Ravi.  To ease her grief, Ravi gifts Jaya with the secret of her Grandmother Amisha’s story and the true history of her family.

The Storyteller’s Secret rotates through Amisha, Jaya and Ravi as narrators.  Badani does an excellent job of fleshing out each character and developing their story lines equally, which allows the story to flow and mesh seamlessly.  Badani does not gloss over India’s history of caste systems, the treatment of women or the living conditions in India.   Nor does she use these things for shock value.  These topics are presented very carefully and respectfully to the Indian culture while also very clearly showing how those practices and conditions affected the population.  This took a very fine balance and I appreciated the way Badani’s writing allowed the reader to empathize with the characters on a deeper level while also respecting Indian customs, history and culture.

I loved the smells, sights, tastes and physical aspects of Badani’s writing, as well as the emotional depth she gave each character.  While the majority of the story felt so very real and human, the ending took on a bit of a fairy-tale style wrap up.  The ending also felt rushed compared to the rest of the book, almost like Badani was limited in pages.  I would have loved a little bit more closure and a bit more of a messy ending.

All in all, the writing and the story were both beautifully done and with the last page, I was tempted to rush over to Amazon to buy a copy for one of my best friends.  Amazon readers seem to agree.  Despite being published a little less than five months ago, The Storyteller’s Secret already has over 5000 reviews.  It is also the number 1 Kindle Romance book and hits the top 10 in the Amazon charts for Cultural Heritage, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Contemporary Fiction.

If you’re looking for a historical fiction to take you out of your normal reading comfort zone, give The Storyteller’s Secret a read.

Until next time, Cheers!

-R

 

 

 

 

 

Biography · Book Review

The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines

Despite being published in 2016, The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines is hitting the Amazon charts at number 12 this week.  There has been a ton of momentum around this couple and their product partnership with Target has really taken them from the sphere of HGTV aficionados to main stream America.  Even my husband, who watches no TV and doesn’t participate in American pop culture, noticed he was seeing Joanna Gaines everywhere and wanted to know why.

While I love me some good HGTV, the Gaines weren’t really on my radar until a friend gifted me a subscription to The Magnolia Journal this fall.  It was such a cozy experience  curling up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of tea and flipping through the beautiful magazine pages.  I was hooked and needed to know more.  Enter The Magnolia Story.

The book reads like an extended interview  with the majority of the content coming from Joanna.  Chip chimes in every now and then to add extra details or his take on the story Joanna just told.  This adds a lot of fun and color to the story and makes it feel like you’re talking to the couple instead of just reading about them.  Different fonts are used to distinguish who is talking, which is helpful, but also confusing when Chip takes over for a few chapters and the fonts are flipped.

Their story is pretty basic (modern) American Dream.  Boy meets girl, girl isn’t sure, boy wins girls heart with totally unconventional means, they live happily paycheck to paycheck as blissful newlyweds, Chip’s insanely risky business ventures keep them one step ahead in the real estate game, they have a bunch of babies, make a name for themselves in small town Waco, Texas, land a super successful TV show, make millions of dollars, write a book, write a few more books, launch products at Target.

While the story had potential for high drama with all the risky business ventures and the tv show, things got a bit boring around the 75% mark.  At this point, there weren’t very many new stories to tell and they did not discuss their TV very much beyond how they got the show and the parameters set around the show to keep their home life as stable as possible.   Joanna’s slightly-complaining-but-really-in-love-with-Chip stories got a little old at this point and started to feel a little inauthentic, like she wanted us all to love Chip as much as she did.

All in all, The Magnolia Story was a super quick read and an enjoyable tale of a married couple supporting each other through their business ventures.  A little boring towards the end.  I prefer the magazine.  🙂

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

 

 

 

Book Review · Hot Tea Reads · Self Help · thoughts

The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

Happy New Year Everyone!

Just in time for all of our New Year Resolutions, I just finished the latest offering by Joshua Becker, the Minimalist guru from the blog Becoming Minimalist.  The Minimalist Home is Becker’s 4th book and continues his life’s work to inspire minimalism in the face of today’s rabid over-consumption.  This is by far Becker’s best writing. In the same way his blog posts have developed from personal musings to beautiful inspirations, The Minimalist Home is cleaner, stronger and more genuine than his previous works.  

Utilizing the floor plan of his flagship course, Uncluttered, Becker takes readers room-by-room in a whole house decluttering process.  Unlike other decluttering or minimalist books, Becker focuses on the WHY. Inspirational stories line each chapter, citing minimalism for positive changes in finances, mental well being, relationships and decreasing stress.  Becker also stresses against the idea that minimalists own absolutely nothing or live in snooty modern art-deco apartments full of white square furniture. His brand of minimalism feels authentic and attainable, a returning to our roots of sorts, rather than a total life overhaul.  

Readers who’ve taken Becker’s Uncluttered course may find the material rehashed in The Minimalist Home, albeit in a cleaner, stronger format.  Regardless, the material is a great refresher and this minimalist wannabe (and former Uncluttered participant) found great inspiration in The Minimalist Home.  My particular favorite and most needed chapters were those focused on the garage/yard and arts/crafts, categories not covered thoroughly in the Uncluttered Course.

One of the surprising take-aways in The Minimalist Home was the gentleness in which Becker approaches saying goodbye and letting go of our idealized selves.  Many of us purchase, keep or collect things because of who we want(ed) to be, rather than who we are. By letting go of these idealized self purchases, we can make room for our true selves to grow, bring light or happiness into other people’s lives or just make room to breathe without the imposed expectations (or perceived failures) looming over us in every nook and cranny.  

Becker also gently approaches the various stages in life that require different decluttering processes; new babies, multiple kids, empty nesting.  It’s this gentle approach of moderation and understanding as well as his standard “less doesn’t mean none” that I believe makes Becker’s message palatable to the masses.  He’s not asking you to give up everything and live uncomfortable and unhappily out of a backpack for the sake of minimalism. He’s asking you to take a look at your current self and who you’d like to be and then removing any physical barriers, literally, that impede you from being your best self.

All in all, this book is a quick and enjoyable read.  Ironically, the only part of The Minimalist Home that I did not enjoy was the “tweetable” boxed sections.  For an author and a book that focuses on developing an Iconic Style rather than falling prey to Fast Fashion, the tweet boxes feel a little out of place and will, in my opinion, date the book.  

I highly recommend The Minimalist Home, particularly for folks looking to create a calm peaceful home environment for themselves, their spouses, their children, their guests or even their pets.  I’ve followed the author’s blog for years now and have dutifully read each of his books and taken his course. His message resounds strongly in my soul and I have made many many big changes to my own consumption habits (including a mindful reduction in plastic consumption and mindful gift giving) because of his writing.

Happy New Year, Happy Reading and Cheers!

-R