Friday, January 29, 2021

Freeform Friday: Our Review of 4 Calligraphy and Hand-Lettering How-To-Guides

If there is an upside to the last year or so, it's that while I've been keeping my distance from the world at large I have also managed to pick up a few new (utterly random) skills.  I have ventured into the wild world of home-schooling (rather reluctantly), tackled the basics of watercolor, and even learned how to make the world's most coveted holiday treat -- the Oreo Truffle.  Recently, I decided to learn the basics of calligraphy and hand lettering.  Since I always turn to books to teach me how to do things, I set about rounding up a few in order to get started.  Today's Freeform Friday, will take a look at 4 of those books.  (Images are from amazon.com - Summaries from the books themselves - Some books, as noted, are given for free exchange for an honest review.)
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The Ultimate Guide to Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering for Beginners - Kristin Bowman

A letter from Kristin Bowman of June & Lucy:

Hello there crafty friends of mine!...My goal with this book is to help you avoid the countless months of research, trial and error, and mistakes that I made along the way, by giving you a straight forward, easy to understand explanation of the process behind hand lettering so that you can start your lettering journey with a strong foundation.

Length: 107 pages

My Review: The Ultimate Guide to Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering for Beginners. What a mouthful!  From here on out I'm just going to call it Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering or MCAHL.

Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering begins with a brief rundown of important aspects of calligraphy and hand lettering, including posture, pen positioning, the basics of typography, essential tools, and the names of basic strokes. In terms of specific fonts, MCAHL focuses on three(ish) -- the Basic Brush Alphabet and Basic Monoline (in both upper and lower cases), as well as how to turn the latter into Faux calligraphy.  With each font, there are 3 opportunities to trace each letter on handwriting paper (the one with a top, bottom, and dashed mid-line) followed by space for roughly 9 more practice letters.  Of course, forming a letter twelve times isn't sufficient, but obviously the calligrapher can and should practice the letters on their own for full mastery.  

Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering also shows how to connect separate letters in a way that appears both attractive and natural, with practice space, and then moves quickly into forming words in both basic brush and basic monoline fonts (48 words total).  After that, several pages are dedicated to the more decorative aspects of lettering -- flourishes and swashes, botanical drawings, wreathes, ribbons, banners, doodles, and illustrations.  These pages serve more as inspirational examples with little, if any, practice room given in the book. The final section of MCAHL is devoted to composing hand-lettered designs in 5 easy steps.  The author supplies 8 different designs that are traceable, providing space to copy the design without guides and room to letter the phrase in a different style.    

From an amateur perspective, I feel that Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering is a nice introduction to the subject.  Is it the be-all-end-all "Ultimate" guide?  Not really, but it's a good start.  The books is pretty darn adorable as far as aesthetics are concerned, well-organized, however I was hoping for significantly more font examples and much more room practice.  To get the most out of this book, be sure to pick up a few packs of handwriting paper and a binder to keep your work together and track your progress.  This book is would be best for beginners who are interested in the art form but aren't quite sure if they want to dive into the deep end of lettering and calligraphy.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars
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Lettering and Modern Calligraphy: A Beginner's Guide - Paper Peony Press

Summary: Learn to letter and create beautiful designs with this beginner's guide and workbook! Every page is filled with tips, tricks, encouragement, and practice space to kickstart your lettering journey! Learn 5 different alphabet styles, upper and lower case letters, practice connections, and dive into design and composition with this beautiful lettering book. At the end of this book there are also 15 beautiful lettering projects to help you bring together your knowledge and skill and help you begin to create beautiful works of art! You can do this!! Let us teach you how to upgrade your handwriting and learn this amazing and fun form of art!

Length: 112 pages

My Review:  First, can we talk about how many times the word beautiful was just used to describe this book? FOUR times in SIX sentences.  I mean, it is beautiful, but seriously?!  It's called a thesaurus, people.  Okay, moving on.

Lettering and Modern Calligraphy (LAMC) begins with the 4 T's -- terminology, techniques, tools, and tips -- all presented in a simple, easy-to-follow format.  The book is similar in structure to the book reviewed directly above this one, but with a few key differences.  Both books cover the basics of lettering in their own way, but LAMC teaches five different font letter guides (brush script, hand lettering, serif, sans serif, and fun sans serif) rather than three and leaves a bit more room to practice the copying the letters.  However, LAMC does not have a separate section to practice individual letter connections.  It discusses them briefly, but jumps straight into using those connections by writing practice words, and then only in brush script.  

Finally, LAMC offers 15 lettering projects, 4 basic steps to accomplish them, and a place for the calligrapher to copy them out on their own.  As with the previous book, it's going to take more than the space provided to master the fonts and lettering projects, so I highly recommend having some extra handwriting paper nearby to get the most out of this book.  If hard-pressed to choose between them, I would grab Lettering and Modern Calligraphy before The Ultimate Guide to Modern Calligraphy & Hand Lettering, for the simple reason that it gives more font lettering guides and more practice space.  

My Rating: 3.75 Stars
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An Introduction to Calligraphy
 - Véronique Sabard, Vincent Geneslay, & Laurent Rébéna (This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

Summary: Clear instructions and 129 photos welcome you to the world of calligraphy.  Starting with pens, inks, and writing surfaces you'll need, the book explains the basics, from filling the pen to holding the nib at the right angle.  Practice exercises help you understand upstrokes, downstrokes, the optical center, and more.  Then travel through time with a chronological introduction to five major styles of Western script, beginning with the Roman Uncial script of around 600 BCE and covering several important scripts that developed in the following centuries.  For each style, the book explains its historical use and its characteristics, teaches the correct formation of each letter, and offers suggestions and tips.  Then a practice exercise helps you master the style.  Learn the all-capital Uncial script, and create a beautiful wine list with it; try Gothic Textura for a calendar, or Chancery for a letterhead design.  A gallery of 24 masterworks by experts offers even more inspiration.  (Summary from book - Image from ebay.com - This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review)

Length: 79 pages

My Review:  An Introduction to Calligraphy may be the smallest of today's books, but it is quite informative for its size and reflects the authors' love of calligraphy as a significant form of art and expression.  For those interested in the historical aspects of calligraphy, this book is the best of the bunch. It details the formal evolution of western script, focusing on changes in writing styles over time and including the different types of paper and implements used.  I especially enjoyed the small section that showed what each style would look like written with the historically accurate tool.  

As someone who doesn't like to devote a large chunk of change to any endeavor, the photographs in the materials section, which showcased a plethora of calligraphy supplies and assorted pen tips, were straight-up overwhelming.  However, the following pages delivered a smaller, more essential list of supplies, which talked me off the proverbial ledge.  The pages also detailed exactly how to prepare, hold, and move the pen, angle the lines, and space the letters to achieve the desire result, as well as a offering a few beginning exercises to loosen up the wrist and hand. 

Thoroughly warmed up, the reader is then prepared to practice any one of five traditional, time-honored scripts:  Uncial, Carolingian, Textura, Chancery, or English script. Each chapter focuses on one of these styles, including some basic history, tips for forming the letters, a selected text for the reader to practice (alas, I believe they are in the book's original French) and several projects, including a wine list, envelope, calendar, letterhead, and greeting card.  The final 10 pages of the book include a gallery of contemporary calligraphy from all over the world and a helpful glossary of calligraphy terms.  

Unlike the two previous book reviews, An Introduction to Calligraphy does not provide any space for the reader to practice, but it is significantly more technical in regards to detailed instructions.  For  example, it reports that English calligraphy slants at a 55 degree angle and that the body height of Textura is 4.5 to 5.5 nib widths.  That level of detail might appeal to one person and stress another out.  If you're curious, I fall into both categories.   Personally, I find that I prefer hand lettering cute projects to more formal calligraphy, but would recommend this book to those who are more interested in practicing traditional calligraphy and learning about it as a historical and modern art form.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars
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Lettering from A to Z: 12 Styles & Awesome Projects for a Creative Life
 
- Phawnda Moore  (This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review)

Summary: This book will encourage you to rediscover your creativity and find joy in making letters and projects that will bring new meaning to your life.  Lettering artist Phawnda Moore has been teaching calligraphy and design for twenty-five years.  An award winning author, she steps into beginning students' shoes to select content, address anticipated questions, and offer solutions to the unexpected yet inevitable problems that are encountered in hand lettering.  With twelve lettering sytles, as well as cards, gifts, and journaling ideas, Lettering from A to Z is more than a practical book for your library.  Written for all levels of experience and blending traditional design principles and modern tools, this book is a companion to growing, creating, and sharing.  Phawnda's practical personable instructions includes: 
  • Twelve styles (including faux calligraphy, rainbow lettering, Uncials, brush, and script)
  • Customized practice sheet masters 
  • Layout, color, and design basics
  • Tips for illustrating calligraphy tools
  • Step-by-step instructions for beautiful cards and envelopes and other projects
  • And more!
Length: 224 pages

My Review:  Lettering from A to Z is more than double the length of any of the other books in this post, and for good reason.  It is significantly more comprehensive with a large variety of lettering styles, including basic handwriting, faux calligraphy, rainbow lettering, two varieties of monoline, uncial, italic, pointed pen script, lively versals, nature walk letteringbrush lettering in two mediums, several variations of drawn lettering, and the author's own original font.  The book dedicates an entire chapter to each of the font styles, with tips for success, recommended material lists, decorative examples, lettering guides, and blank practice papers (for photocopying).  The latter part of the book is comprised of a few chapters regarding other significant design elements and the alphabetical catalog that gives the book it's A-Z name, which briefly discusses different aspects of lettering and potential projects.  

As for my personal experience with Lettering from A to Z, I enjoyed the opportunity to dip my toe in the waters of lettering and look forward to learning more. I was delighted by how simple and straightforward some styles were and a little intimidated by the intricacy and detail of others.  While I don't currently have the right supplies to properly execute every font style, I was able to try quite a few with a respectable amount of success.  I'm not perfect at any of them, but I have hope that, with practice, I will steadily improve.  

I loved what the author had to say about the importance of fostering creativity in one's own life and the vital nature of handwriting in the learning process. I also appreciated her tips, supply recommendations, and project inspiration.  When all is said and done, Lettering from A to Z is not a book that you use up and cast away; it is an invaluable guide and a reference manual for anyone interested in starting their lettering journey.

My Rating:  4.25 Stars
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That's it for our take on Lettering and Calligraphy Guides.  
We hope you have found a book to suit your needs!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Snowflake Science Activity Book - Michael Peres & Patricia Cost

Okay, so I know it's a Thursday and we don't normally post on Thursdays, but I just had to sneak in here and tell you about SNOWFLAKE SCIENCE, in case you have snow where you live and would like to try it out!

Summary: 
 Explore the extraordinary beauty of ice crystals, and how, what, when, and why these formations occur.  Budding meteorologists will be pulling on their mittens to go out and explore science, discover the natural beauty of ice crystals, and follow the complex process of how they form.  Loaded with activities, including:

*Making static electricity
*Building snowflake models
*Removable coloring pages
*Snowflake crossword puzzle
*Weather history journal
*And more!

This book makes learning fun and helps cure the winter blues with "Go Deeper" activities for advanced learning!  So get out there with the BONUS removable snowflake collector pages and get started catching and documenting your own snowflakes!

(Summary from back of book - Image from schifferbooks.com - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review) 

My Review:   We are homeschooling my two youngest, ages 10 and 8, during the pandemic and, since they aren't in public school, they have been mourning the loss of all their potential 'Snow Days.'  Tuesday night, the news was predicting the first big snowfall of the season overnight and I wanted to do something special.  After the kids went to bed, I set up a little surprise (see picture).  It took me all of two minutes to gather supplies and then I cracked open a book.  When they woke up in the morning to a pristine snow-covered yard and dramatically altered lesson plan, they were thrilled.  

We started the day with a ton of outdoor play followed by cocoa and then sat down to learn a little bit about the science of snowflakes.  I had fun talking with the kids about how snowflakes are formed, looking at magnified examples of different kinds of snowflakes, and discussing static electricity, how water molecules are formed, and the different phases of water.  We used the book's guided activities to make salt crystals, cut out snowflakes, and even prepped the book's snowflake collector pages, which can be torn out, chilled, and used to catch and examine snowflakes.  Unfortunately, the days projected snowfall turned slushy, but when the flakes start to fly later tonight -- we are ready!

I loved how clearly the authors explained each topic and appreciated the sections that encouraged readers to take a deeper dive into the science. The book also has several more guided activities, as well as some drawing and coloring pages, a word search, and a crossword for less outdoorsy kiddos to enjoy. I honestly felt like my kids had fun while learning and, I'm not gonna lie, the best part is that it all took very little effort for me to pull together.  It was like someone else planned my homeschool day and I just needed to show up.  If you're looking for a way to put some fun back into your kids' school day, I highly recommend getting your hands on Snowflake Science.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: All clear.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, Book 1) - Neal Shusterman

 

Summary:  Thou Shalt Kill.  

A world with no hunger. No disease. No war. No misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death.  Now scythes are the only ones who can end life -- and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe -- a role that neither wants.  These teens must mater the "art" of taking life, knowing that the consequences of failure could mean losing their own. They learn living in a perfect world only comes with a heavy price. 

A Prince Honor Book, Scythe is the debut of a thrilling new series by National Book Award-winning author Neal Shusterman.  (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Dystopian fiction is my jam.  I love reading about messed-up societies parading around as utopia and the perspectives of ordinary people who fight against the imposed social construct.  Scythe is most definitely dystopian fiction, but it takes a different tack.  Citra and Rowan live in a world where natural death has been virtually eliminated and sanctioned killers called scythes operate outside the standard laws to manage the population. Messed up? Certainly.  However, Citra and Rowan aren't part of the noble resistance; they are scythes-in-training, would-be professional assassins destined to wield instruments of death on an unsuspecting population.  In a sense, they are the bad guys...or are they?

Scythe creates an emotional conflict within the reader, which I love/hated.  Our society at large seems to have revised the rulebook in recent years, especially in regards to when it is acceptable to end a human life, but in general we still frown on out-right murder, which is what makes the story so unsettling. Obviously in a futuristic society where death is infrequent, population control would be a natural concern.  It makes a kind of sense that there would need to be a way to end life to prevent overcrowding.  Enter the Scythes, seen by some as a holy order, chosen to perform a sacred sacrament -- the ending of a life.   And yet, within the Scythedom there are those who have distorted the calling, and become greedy, sadistic, and corrupt, showing favoritism and killing for their own nefarious purposes.  So, in Scythe there are bad guys and then there are bad guys.  When faced with a greater threat, it becomes a lot easier to root for the lesser of the two.   

It was interesting to read Citra and Rowan's perspectives, each reluctant to be part of a world that centers around death, but pulled in different directions and yet toward a common goal.  Their stories mirror one another for part of the book but eventually they separate and have unique experiences.  Both characters are likeable in their own ways, which made it incredibly difficult pick a 'right' side when they were thrown into competition.  In a lot of ways, I was never able to choose.   

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the included 'excerpts' from the journals of more seasoned scythes.   Most of the regular text follows Citra or Rowan, but the journal entries, offered an invaluable glimpse into the beliefs and motivations of other characters and helped establish a sense of who they were.  They provided additional context and evocative ideas that enhanced the story, but occasionally felt like a commentary on our own society, as well. 

For most of this book, I wasn't sure if I was going to continue reading the series.  I liked the basic premise and characters, but felt torn by the obviously controversial subject matter.  The ending solidified things in my mind and I put the next two books in the series (Thunderhead and Toll) on hold at the library.  Without spoiling things, that says something.  However, you'll notice that I didn't buy them outright, which says something as well.  In short, I am hopeful but not yet sold.  Time will tell.

My Rating:  3.75 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  This book is about a society where certain people have been selected to kill other people in any way they see fit.  So, there's that.  Some methods of execution are bloodless, while others are not.  The more violent deaths are not overly graphic or gory (no descriptions of brain matter, viscera, spurting blood, or excessive sensory details, etc.) but people die throughout the book.  There is no sex in the book nor are there any sexual themes, other than some mild attraction between characters.  There are 2-3 instances of profanity (of the A and G-d variety).

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns - Mitzi Szereto

 

Summary: Small Town Charm With Deadly Consequences

A collection of non-fiction accounts by international writers and experts on small town true crime shows readers that the real monsters aren’t hiding in the woods, they’re inside our towns.

Small towns aren’t always what they seem. We’ve been told nothing bad happens in small towns. You can leave your doors unlocked, and your windows wide open. We picture peaceful hamlets with a strong sense of community, and everyone knows each other. But what if this wholesome idyllic image doesn’t always square with reality? Small towns might look and feel safe, but statistics show this isn’t really true.

Tiny town, big crime. Whether in Truman Capote’s detailed murder of the Clutter family or Ted Bundy’s small-town charm, criminals have always roamed rural America and towns worldwide. Featuring murder stories, criminal case studies, and more, The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns contains all-new accounts from writers of true crime, crime journalism, and crime fiction. And these entries are not based on a true story―they are true stories. Edited by acclaimed author and anthologist Mitzi Szereto, the stories in this volume span the globe. Discover how unsolved murders, kidnapping, shooting sprees, violent robbery, and other bad things can and do happen in small towns all over the world.

If you enjoyed Mitzi's last book in the series, The Best New True Crime Stories: Serial Killers, and true crime books like In Cold Blood, Murder in the Bayou, and The Innocent Man, then you’ll love The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns.

My Review: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I have to admit that although I’ve always been a big reader and have always loved books, one of my favorite things in high school was reading those huge compilation textbooks of short stories. I read so many good ones and really wish I could get my hands on one of those textbooks again and look at all those beloved stories. As I type this I’m just now realizing that I could probably ask my English teacher brother-in-law if he had any suggestions…but I digress.

One thing I really loved about the short story compilations was that they were all by different authors. I’ve read short story compilations by one author, of course (one of my first memorable ones being from Jumpa Lahiri, so obviously that was awesome) , but there is something fun about reading a compilation of short stories by lots of different people. It’s discombobulating in a way because the writing styles changes and the story matter changes, but it’s also an exercise in training your brain to think fast and be adaptable.

As much as I love those kinds of compilations, one thing they usually lack is some kind of common theme. There’s something fun about picking up a book and reading all kinds of stories with a connecting theme. It allows you to immerse yourself in the topic in a multi-dimensional sort of way, and in the case of Best New True Crime: Small Towns, exposes you to lots of fun cases.

 I have to say that I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s the kind of book where you can pick it up and read for awhile, covering many stories and therefore many cases, but it’s also the kind of book where you can “one and done” it and just read one story and be satisfied as well. Each author brings something different to the table. Not only are they good authors whose writing is great to read and definitely a good experience, but some of the chapters are more classic crime-type reports: they introduce the characters, what happened, the investigation, the ending, whereas others vary. Sometimes the case is solved, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the author is just musing on crime and how it has affected their life or the small town they’re from or connected to. It really was a varied group of stories and storytelling styles that made for interesting reading. I found it to be a good “palate cleanser” book, where if one of the other books I was reading got to be too much, or I just needed a break from what I was reading, or if I just needed a break from what I was doing, Best New True Crime was easy to pick up, read, and put down and continue on my way.

 I have kept no secret on this blog in saying that I’m in to crime—I like reading about it, I like watching it, I don’t like committing it. J That being said, these stories were all new to me, and yet they were just as creepy and shocking as the ones I’ve already watched or read about. They’re definitely read-worthy. I especially liked the topic of small towns, as that made it seem even more ominous.

 If you are a true crime person, or even if you’re just looking for a book of interesting short stories about crime, this is a good one to check out. My mom and sister, both avid readers of true crime, are excited to get their hands on my copy of this one.

 My Rating: 4 Stars

 For the sensitive reader: This is a true crime book, so there is the expected violence, gore, and shocking human behavior that is to be expected with such a book.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Freeform Friday: A Review of The Girl and the Ghost - Hanna Alkaf

 

Summary: I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive . . . before they are both lost to the darkness. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I have to admit that I’m a sucker for learning about new cultures, especially cultural stories/myths/legends. This book gave me an opportunity to learn about all of those! First off, I loved that it was a modern setting. Interweaving modern settings with cultural traditions and beliefs is really interesting, and I love reading about cultures and how they utilize the myths and legends even in the modern world. I’ve said this before in other reviews, but I really love a good dose of magical realism, and if that takes form in the way of cultural traditions, it’s even better. Who doesn’t want live in a world that’s a little unexplained? A little mysterious? Maybe we haven’t figured everything out and there is something more going on here. That is one of the reasons I read, actually, because I like to have a tangible grasp on both reality but also that just beyond the normal realm.

As with much of middle grade fic, this book was able to take on a lot of complicated issues and deal with them in a straightforward and accessible manner. There were very complicated and deep-seated issues such as class differences, race issues, single parenthood struggles, and then there were issues that are modern and not nearly as serious such as cell phone usage and such. I liked that this book was able to address the gamut of these issues in a gentle and yet forthright manner.

The writing in this book was great. I loved how accessible it was, and how it was able to convey serious messages but also allowed for laughter and silliness. There was sorrow, as well, and the depth of the main character, Suraya, was excellent.

Overall, I think this was a really excellent book. There are some parts that were legit scary and somewhat disturbing, but not beyond what I think a middle grade reader would be able to understand and enjoy. Alkaf does a masterful job of telling a great story with depth and characters that matter. If you are looking to introduce your middle grade reader (or yourself! Or your book club!) to a book with some great characters and great life lessons as well as a good dose of scariness and excitement, this is your book. This is one of those books that I fear might be overlooked but I am doing my part to spread the word because it is a seriously great read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some light language and some scary situations in this book, but I think today’s middle grade readers won’t even be fazed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Brave Enough - Cheryl Strayed

Summary: Countless readers around the world have found inspiration in the words of Cheryl Strayed.  In the wide range of her writings -- including her best-selling memoir, Wild, and her "Dear Sugar" columns collected in Tiny Beautiful Things -- her honest, outspoken humor, and ample supply of tough love has enabled many, even in the darkest hours, to put one foot in front of the other, and be brave enough.  

This spirited book gathers more than one hundred of Strayed's indelible quotes and thoughts, "mini-instruction manuals for the soul" that urge us toward the incredible capacity for love, compassion, forgiveness, and endurance that is within us all. (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Words have incredible power; when arranged a certain way, they have the ability to lift heavy hearts, motivate change, build confidence, and inspire us to forge our own path.  As the mother of four girls (two teens and two tweens), I am always on the lookout for little snippets of wisdom that I can share with them and, if they like them, hang on their walls.  When I saw Brave Enough, the title just leaped out at me, and I knew I wanted to take a closer look. I flipped through, saw a couple great quotes I liked and popped it in the shopping cart. 

Brave Enough is a collection of Strayed's best advice, presented in quote form and taken from a variety of sources.  It begins with a prologue that talks about her love of quotes, in particular those that have sustained her in pivotal moments.  Strayed says, "I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counternarrative to the voice of doubt many of us have murmuring in our heads -- the one that says You can't, you won't, you shouldn't have.  Quotes, at their core, almost always shout Yes!  This aims to be a book of yes."  And it is that -- if a bit saltier than I expected.   

I reviewed the author's best-selling memoir, Wild, back in 2012 and had I thought to consult my review before purchasing the book, I would have realized that Strayed's quotes wouldn't be entirely appropriate for children's quote walls.  There were 6 variants of the F word in the prologue and quote a bit more throughout the book, in addition to other, equally bleep-able, words.  That is not to say that all her quotes merit an R-rating, many are quite G-rated, but if you're sensitive to language and hoping for a book full of glitter, sunshine, and unicorns, you can probably stop right here. Strayed is not that kind of inspirational.  In some cases, she's a drill sergeant, a helpful therapist, or a kind friend.  In all cases, her words are well-intentioned, but her method of delivery isn't for everyone.  

Brave Enough is a book that is meant to push the reader onward and upward.  It contains a great deal of common sense advice, simple wisdom, and indelible truths, as well as a few pages that felt like personal opinion.  Her advice is born out of her own experience and while it might not resonate with everyone, I do believe it will resonate with some.  Much of what she had to say felt like my own feelings made solid, echoed back at me more eloquently (or forcefully) than I could or would put into words.  While I didn't agree with a few things Strayed had to say, or particularly love how she said them, I did close this book with a few new quotes that really resonated.  When I typed them all out, I had 30 quotes, some of them shortened for space.  I narrowed it down by half; it was surprisingly painful:

  • Be brave enough to break your own heart.
  • My advice to my adolescent self?  You know who you are, so let yourself be her now.  It's okay to be smart and ambitious and curious and not terribly cool.  Don't waste all those years trying to get the boys to want you and the girls to like you.  Don't starve yourself skinny.  Don't be a pretty cheerleader.  Don't lose your virginity to the captain of the football team.  Don't lose anything to him.  Be the captain.  You are the captain.  Take the ball and run.
  • Nobody is going to do your life for you.  You have to do it yourself...And you have to do it no matter what is true.  Not matter what is hard.  No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you.  Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it.  It's up to you to decide to stay parked there or turn around and drive out.  
  • When it comes to our children, we do not have the luxury of despair.  If we rise, they will rise with us every time, no matter how many times we've fallen.  Remembering that is the most important work we can possibly do as parents.  
  • The people who don't give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity.  They've taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different people, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check.
  • Grief is tremendous, but love is bigger.  You are grieving because you loved truly.  The beauty in that is greater than the bitterness of death.  Allowing this into your consciousness will not keep you from your suffering, but it will help you survive the next day. 
  • You cannot convince people to love you.  This is an absolute rule.  No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it.  Real love moves freely in both directions.  Don't waste your time on anything else.
  • Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.  I decided I was safe.  I was strong.  I was brave.  That nothing could vanquish me. ...And it wasn't long before I actually wasn't afraid.  
  • ...Be brave.  Be authentic.  Practice saying the word love to the people you love, so when it matters the most to say it, you will.
  • ...Boundaries have nothing to do with whether you love someone or not.  They are not judgements, punishments, or betrayals.  They are a purely peaceably thing: the basic principles you identify for yourself that define the behaviors that you will tolerate from others, as well as the responses you will have to those behaviors.  Boundaries teach people how to treat you and they teach you how to respect yourself.
  • I'll never know and neither will you about the life you didn't choose.  We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours.  It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us.  There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore.  
  • If someone is being unkind or petty or jealous or distant or weird, you don't have to take it in.  You don't have to turn it into a big psychodrama about your worth.  That behavior so often is not even about you.  It's about the person who's being unkind or petty or jealous or distant or weird.  If this were summed up on a bumper sticker, it would say: Don't own other people's crap.  The world would be a better place if we all did that.
  • Bravery is acknowledging your fear and doing it anyway.
  • This is not how your story ends.  It's simply where it takes a turn you didn't expect.  
  • You don't have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt.  You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you're holding.  

As you can see, Brave Enough acknowledges the darkness that all people face -- fear, grief, loneliness jealousy, insecurity, loss, injustice, sadness, etc. -- and then nudges the reader closer to the light.  It might not be for everyone, but it could be exactly what you need.

My Rating: 3 Stars.  

For the Sensitive Reader:  If you are bothered by profanity, this book is probably not for you.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship - Robert Kurson

 

Summary: Finding and identifying a pirate ship is the hardest thing to do under the sea. But two men—John Chatterton and John Mattera—are willing to risk everything to find the Golden Fleece, the ship of the infamous pirate Joseph Bannister. At large during the Golden Age of Piracy in the seventeenth century, Bannister’s exploits would have been more notorious than Blackbeard’s, more daring than Kidd’s, but his story, and his ship, have been lost to time. If Chatterton and Mattera succeed, they will make history—it will be just the second time ever that a pirate ship has been discovered and positively identified. Soon, however, they realize that cutting-edge technology and a willingness to lose everything aren’t enough to track down Bannister’s ship. They must travel the globe in search of historic documents and accounts of the great pirate’s exploits, face down dangerous rivals, battle the tides of nations and governments and experts. But it’s only when they learn to think and act like pirates—like Bannister—that they become able to go where no pirate hunters have gone before.

Fast-paced and filled with suspense, fascinating characters, history, and adventure, Pirate Hunters is an unputdownable story that goes deep to discover truths and souls long believed lost. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I have read a spate of serious books lately, so as I was trying to decide what to read next and if there was something super fun that I could pick up, I remembered how much I loved Shadow Divers and how this book was by the same author about the same diver and another adventure he had. Except this one was about a pirate ship! What is it about pirates that catches the imagination? Idk, but I can tell you that when I remembered that this particular book was on my to-read shelf I immediately put it on hold at my library, and, get this, I even decided that I would do an audio book again! Shadow Divers was so fun as an audio book that I wanted to listen to this one as well. This book is shorter, and so it took me even less time to binge.

Straight up, I am totally into reading about John Chatterton and his interesting dives and finds. I wish I could watch his show, “Deep Sea Detectives,” that is on the History Channel, but it doesn’t appear that it is on one of my many streaming services, which is too bad.

This book is a classic adventure story—pirates, bad guys, good guys, competition, the elements conspiring against the characters, a country that is beautiful and yet difficult to work with, intelligent characters, people at the top of their treasure hunting field…seriously. It’s got it all! I think it is definitely a standalone book, and one that wouldn’t take long at all to read (or listen to, in my case), but I really enjoyed the technical aspects that I learned about in Shadow Divers, as well as the sheer danger that the divers faced. There wasn’t as much discussion about technical diving or anything death-defying, because this was a totally different dive at only 25-40 feet versus hundreds of feet. That changes the elements and danger of the dive. But it doesn’t make this story any less interesting.

One thing I really enjoyed about both books is the back story of the divers and the characters we meet. We’re given enough information that we understand the people, and really care about them and understand where they come from. Kurson does an excellent job of honing in on what is important in someone’s life, and telling a very compelling story of the characters, making them an important part in their own treasure hunt. This seems like something every book tries for, but many don’t succeed.

There are a lot of things that make this book awesome—it tells a captivating story about a super interesting topic (pirate shipwreck!), brings to life a part of history that one probably hadn’t heard about, introduces the reader to interesting people at the top of their field—ones we never would have had access to—and wraps it all in a well-written and exciting package that keeps you page turning until the end!

 If you’re looking for a great distraction that leaves you smarter instead of just a toothache from too much sweetness, this is your book! 

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and the discussion of pirate amputations is not for the faint of heart!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Freeform Friday: 10 Books in my To-Be-Read Stack

Are you looking for something to read?  Here are a few of the books on my TBR Stack.  Maybe you'll find something too!

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted by Elizabeth Berg - Every now and then, right in the middle of an ordinary day, a woman kicks up her heels and commits a small act of liberation.  What would you do if you could shed the "shoulds" and do, say -- and eat -- whatever you really desire? Go AWOL from Weight Watchers and spend an entire day eating every single thing you want?  Start a dating service for people over fifty to reclaim the razzle-dazzle in your life --- or your marriage?  Seek comfort in the face of aging, look for love in the midst of loss, find friendship in the most surprising of places?  In these beautiful, funny stories, Elizabeth Berg takes us into the heart of the lives of women who do all these things and more -- confronting their true feelings, desires, and joys along the way.



Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount - This volume brims with bookish treasures, all delightfully illustrated by avowed bibliophile Jane Mount.  Find your next great read in lovingly curated stacks of books!  Test your knowledge of the written word with quizzes!  Sample the most famous fictional meals! Peek inside the workspaces of your favorite authors!  Tour the world's most beautiful bookstores! And meet an adorable array of bookstore cats!  Dive into this enchanting collection to fall in love with books over and over again.





The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old translated by Hester Velmans - Technically speaking, Hendrik Groen is...elderly.  But at the age 83 1/4, this feisty, indomitable curmudgeon has no plans to go out quietly.  With an eccentric group of friends he founds the wickedly anarchic Old-But-Not-Dead Club -- "Rule #3: No Whining Allowed" -- turning himself into an unlikely hero.  And when a sweet and sassy widow moves in next door, he polishes his shoes, grooms what's left of his hair, and determines to savor every ounce of joy in the time he has left, with hilarious and tender consequences.






Scythe by Neal Shusterman - A world with no hunger. No disease. No war. No misery.  Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death.  Now scythes are the only ones who can end life -- and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe -- a role that neither wants.  These teens must master the "art" of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own. They learn living in a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.






Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison - Featuring forty trailblazing black women in American history, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of breaking boundaries and achieving beyond expectations.  Irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of black history, such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, chemist Alice Ball, pilot Bessie Coleman, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, mathematician Katherine Johnson, activist Angel Davis, and filmmaker Julie Dash.  Among these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things -- bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come.  Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air, or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiles in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn't always accept them.  

Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival by Jen Marlowe with Aisha Bain and Adam Shapiro - After years of oppression the Sudan Liberation Army in Darfur took up arms against the Sudanese government in February 2003.  The government and its allied militias answered the rebellion with mass murder, rape, and the wholesale destruction of villages and livelihood.  Millions of people were displaced, and hundreds of thousands killed.  In November 2004, three independent filmmakers traveled to eastern Chad and crept across the border into Darfur.  Improvising as they went, they spoke with dozens of Darfurians, learning about their history, hopes, fears, and the resilience and tragedy of their everyday lives.





How to Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway - When Shoko decided to marry an American GI and leave Japan, she had her parents' blessing, her brother's scorn, and a gift from her betrothed -- a book titled How to Be an American Housewife. As she crossed the ocean to America, Shoko also carried a secret she wanted to keep her entire life...Half a century later, Shoko's plans to finally return to Japan and reconcile with her her brother are derailed by illness.  Instead, she sends her grown American daughter, Sue, a divorced single mother with a teenage daughter of her own.  As Sue and Helena take in Japan, with all its beauty and contradictions, they also discover another side to Shoko, and return to America irrevocably touched, irrevocably changed.  At heart a mother-daughter story, How to Be an American Housewife explores the intricacies of assimilation, the price of secrets, and the enduring, healing power of familial love.


The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure by Caroline Paul - From a real-life woman of derring-do -- exhilarating stories, activities, and tips to inspire girls to pursue a life of adventure.  Once a young scaredy-cat, Caroline Paul grew up to fly planes, raft rivers, climb mountains, and fight fires.  In The Gutsy Girl, she shares her greatest escapades -- as well as those of other girls and women from throughout history.  Chock-full of activities and Wendy MacNaughton's lively illustrations throughout, The Gutsy Girl encourages a new generation to conquer fears, face challenges, and pursue the lives they want -- lives of confidence, self-reliance, a friendship, and fun.





The Sky Beyond the Storm
 (Ember in the Ashes, #4) by Sabaa Tahir
  - The long-imprisoned jinn are on the attack, wreaking bloody havoc in villages and cities alike.  But for the Nightbringer, vengeance on his human foes is just the beginning.  By his side, Commandant Keris Veturia declares herself Empress and calls for the heads of any and all who defy her rule,  At the top of the list?  The Blood Shrike and her remaining family.  Laia of Serra now allied with the Blood Shrike, struggles to recover from the loss of the two people most important to her.  Determined to stop the approaching apocalypse, she throws herself into the destruction of the Nightbringer.  In the process, she awakens an ancient power that could lead her to victory -- or to an unimaginable doom.  And deep in the Waiting Place, the Soul Catcher seeks only to forget the life -- and love -- he left behind.  Yet doing so means ignoring the trail of murder left by the Nightbringer and his jinn.  To uphold his oath and protect the human world from the super-natural, the Soul Catcher must look beyond the borders of his own land.  He must take on a mission that could save -- or destroy -- all that he knows.

Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner - On May 4, 1961, thirteen activists -- black and white, young and old, male and female -- board two buses in Washington, D.C., for New Orleans, Louisiana.  Their Freedom Ride will last just twelve days.  But their mission is clear.  The laws prohibiting segregation on buses crossing state lines and at bus stations are being violated.  These Freedom Riders are determined to draw attention to the laws' lack of enforcement.  But what starts as a peaceful protest turns violent as they travel deeper into the South.  This is their story.






Anything catch your eye?!  I hope so!  Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Humans - Brandon Stanton

Summary: Brandon Stanton created Humans of New York in 2010.  What began as a photographic census of life in New York City soon evolved into a storytelling phenomenon.  A global audience of millions began following HONY daily.  Over the next several years, Stanton broadened his lens to include people from across the world.  

Traveling to more than forty countries, Stanton conducted interviews across continents, borders, and language barriers.  Humans is the definitive catalog of these travels.  The faces and locations will vary from page to page, but the stories will feel deeply familiar.  Told with candor and intimacy.  Humans will resonate with readers across the globe -- providing a portrait of our shared experience.  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com - This book was given to me for free by an awesome lady...Just because!)

NOTE:  Many Black, Indigenous, and people of color, as well as Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islanders are photographed in this book and their stories, while collected by a white author, are all told in their own words.  Since the author made a conscious decision to use direct quotes, thereby elevating BIPOC and AAPI voices over his own, I have given the book the BIPOC Perspectives and AAPI Perspectives labels.

My Review:  What started out as one man's goal to photograph 10,000 people in New York City has evolved into a global phenomenon.  As Brandon Stanton began to photograph random people on the street, he also started to collect their stories and share them on social media.  The response was overwhelming.  Soon, Stanton hit the road, traveling internationally, taking photographs, and listening to what his subjects had to say.  The end result is an indescribably riveting collection of photographs and stories from people around the world -- Humans.  

In Humans, Stanton has compiled a bittersweet gallery of the human experience, covering almost every region and culture, as well as a wide swath of ages, ethnicities, income levels, personal beliefs, and walks of life. The photographs themselves are taken from a variety of angles and distances, and only occasionally taken in a way to preserve the subject's anonymity. Although the book isn't organized into labeled chapters, there are several groupings of photographs that seem to follow a common theme, like family relationships, personal struggles, religion, education, and employment, etc.  It actually reminds me of another photography book that I reviewed recently.  Where that book featured photos and locations exclusively, Humans provides deeper context, with personal quotes that offer a look into the lives of each subject.  I loved what Stanton had to say about what to expect:

"...much of the world is only seen through the lens of conflict .  And when these are the only stories we hear, the world seems like a pretty dark place.  But even in the world's most dangerous places, 95 percent of the life being lived has nothing to do with violence.  It's much less exciting than that.  It's about falling in love.  And raising a family.  And making friends,.   And struggling to provide.  And battling addictions. And fighting cancer.  These are the stories that are really happening all over the world.  They're the stories that you'll hear when you aren't searching for violent conflict.  These are the stories you'll here if you stop random people on the street and invite them to share a bit about their lives....Some of the stories are violent, because those stories exist.  But the important distinction is that the stories were not selected for this reason.  They were selected at random."  

Humans is brimming with beautiful pictures and accounts of the every day, heroic, tragic, and tender moments in life.  It's strange how a book can be full of words and yet words don't really do it justice. Evocative, doesn't seem to cover it. Compelling doesn't really come close.  Heartbreaking.  Inspiring.  Frustrating.  Honest.  Dark.  Funny. Chilling.  It was an honor to read each of these stories and be 'present' as human beings from around the world lowered their guard and shared a little piece of their souls, their passions, and troubles.  It really put me through the emotional wringer; I was feeling all the feels in rapid succession, flat-out horrified by the challenges many face and amazed at the strength and resilience of humanity. 

This book was incredibly difficult to put down.  While the photographs were fascinating in their own way, I was catapulted headlong into the stories that accompany them.  I sat down with Humans after the kids went to bed and before I knew it, 1:40 AM had rolled around and I was still wide-awake and reading.  I went to bed without finishing, but kept reading it on and off throughout the next day.  Whenever I was called away from it to, well, parent my children, I kept feeling pulled back to the beating hearts contained on each page.  

Humans offered a very different perspective of the world than I am used to seeing out my kitchen window.  While I didn't agree with every view that was expressed, or love all the words that were used, I appreciated the opportunity to listen and strive for understanding.  It also gave me a sense of connection with the world around me in a time of increased isolation.  I could see that despite the innumerable differences that exist between us as individuals, deep down we all have the same basic fears and aspirations.  At our very core, we are connected by a universal desire for love, belonging, happiness, health, safety, and the ability to provide for our families.  Stanton really explains it best:

"...our struggles connect us.  We relate to the challenge of other people much more than we relate to their victories.  We empathize with pain much more than joy.  The moment we truly see ourselves in another person is when we realize we've felt the exact same pain. I'm not sure why this happens, but it happens.  Maybe pain is the most universal feeling.  Maybe there is an invisible, connective thread that runs between the loneliness of an old man and the hunger of an impoverished child.  Maybe pain isn't divisible. It's singular and searing.  Maybe it sinks deeper into the psyche.  Whatever the reason, when another person feels it, we feel it ourselves."

I only have one complaint about this book and that is the black matte cover.  It is virtually impossible to touch this book without leaving fingerprints. all. over. it.  I was careful with my copy and it still looks like it was handled by a toddler who'd recently been dipped in butter.  So, if you buy this book (and I sincerely recommend that you do), you're gonna want to take that cover off ASAP.  Like, before you get home.

I would love to share the stories in this book with my children, within reason and where age-appropriate.  There are many accounts that would broaden their understanding of the world and help them gain perspective and empathy.  However, given some of the more harsh and/or explicit accounts, I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving this book down for my Littles to freely flip through. Take that into account when you consider the placement of this book in your home library.  Overall, I feel that Humans has immense value and, if you shelve it high enough, a place on every bookshelf.  

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some of the 'stories' contain profanity (most often the F word), a few racist words in quotation, and brief accounts of rape, abuse, and even murder.  Only one account was particularly graphic in both language and description. There is discussion of many different lifestyles, personal struggles, and belief systems.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Perfectly Impossible - Elizabeth Topp

 

Summary: Elizabeth Topp's PERFECTLY IMPOSSIBLE, about a 30-something personal assistant who manages the life of an over-the-top Upper East Side matriarch, and the unlikely partnership that emerges, to Carmen Johnson at Little A. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I have to admit that I don’t read a ton of women’s lit, and I haven’t indulged in the reality TV/movies/books that have dealt with topics of women—really, really wealthy women—and their various shenanigans and hijinks. And also—the level of pampering is just something I am completely unfamiliar with in this upper echelon of the elite. I mean, I had heard of the treatments that were happening (botox/peels/facials/etc) but I have certainly never met anyone who has them all in one week (if at all). Apparently I need to watch a little more Kardashians? Or not…

Anyway, so this book was all about that. Wealthy, wealthy women (the much-maligned one percenters) who spend their time perfecting their beauty and then spend their time helping out causes they may or may not actually care about for real or even really understand, and then a not insubstantial time hating their peers and such. I mean, what’s not to love about that life?

Ha.

Reading this book was a journey into that world, one in which there were so many problems that were so unrelatable to me that it was almost refreshing. I could leave my peasant life behind and snark on those who have more money than basically anything else. The whole thing is told tongue-in-cheek, and basically none of the characters are relatable in any way whatsoever. Even Anna, the assistant, whose viewpoint guides the story, leads such a foreign life that any sense of connecting to her is lost in the ridiculousness of things she has to do for her employer. I found it fascinating and a look into a world that I have no connection to, will never have a connection to, and don’t want a connection to. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the escape! I mean, I know that I should be eating salads and lean meats and watching out for high sodium, but really, sometimes I just want a big fat ice cream with all the toppings and a waffle cone. This was that big fat ice cream. And when Covid’s got ya down, and the world is crazy and politics are unfathomable, sometimes a little indulgence is not a bad thing, IMHO.

Will you be swept up in the epic literacy of it all in this book? Will you be forever changed on how you want to live your life and benefit humanity as a whole? Prolly not. However, will you be thrust diamond (CZ)-earrings deep into a hilarious escape from All the Things? You bet.

If you’re into watching any kind of reality TV or movies about uber rich women or love to read about all the one percenter lives you’ll never live, this is totally your jam.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and mild discussion of sex. It’s all pretty tame.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Freeform Friday: A Review of Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land - Toni Jensen

 

Summary: A powerful, poetic memoir about what it means to exist as an indigenous woman in America, told in snapshots of the author’s encounters with gun violence.

Toni Jensen grew up around guns: As a girl, she learned to shoot birds in rural Iowa with her father, a card-carrying member of the NRA. As an adult, she’s had guns waved in her face near Standing Rock, and felt their silent threat on the concealed-carry campus where she teaches. And she has always known that in this she is not alone. As a Métis woman, she is no stranger to the violence enacted on the bodies of indigenous women, on indigenous land, and the ways it is hidden, ignored, forgotten.

In Carry, Jensen maps her personal experience onto the historical, exploring how history is lived in the body and redefining the language we use to speak about violence in America. In the title chapter, Jensen connects the trauma of school shootings with her own experiences of racism and sexual assault on college campuses. "The Worry Line" explores the gun and gang violence in her neighborhood the year her daughter was born. "At the Workshop" focuses on her graduate school years, during which a workshop classmate repeatedly killed off thinly veiled versions of her in his stories. In "Women in the Fracklands", Jensen takes the listener inside Standing Rock during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and bears witness to the peril faced by women in regions overcome by the fracking boom.

In prose at once forensic and deeply emotional, Toni Jensen shows herself to be a brave new voice and a fearless witness to her own difficult history - as well as to the violent cultural landscape in which she finds her coordinates. With each chapter, Carry reminds us that surviving in one’s country is not the same as surviving one’s country.
 

My Review:  I was texting with a friend last night about book clubs. She was wanting to start a family book club, and was asking about it and how to do it etc., and said that her sons didn’t want her daughters to only pick The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m also not into uber chick lit, and I’ve gotten less tolerant the older (and crabbier I get). However, I told her (and hopefully you agree) that one of the things that is awesome about a book club is that you get exposed to literature you might not have chosen yourself, whether it’s not a genre you would typically go for, or a book that’s just off of your radar. Hopefully if you’re in a book club, you’ve been exposed to some books that you might not have chosen on your own. I think it’s important to read literature that isn’t your normal genre. I’m not suggesting that you read things that are personally offensive to you or that you feel like compromises your morals, but I do think it’s important that you stretch yourself and your reading by choosing books that are diverse and give you a wide perspective on the world and our experiences as humans, and that expose you to situations that you wouldn’t normally be able to experience. As a reader of a book blog I’m sure you agree that the best things reading can give you can’t be attained by doing anything else. Perspective, empathy, understanding, insight, learning, and so many things come from reading and the literature of the world.

So after that long diatribe, I think this is a book that might not normally be on your radar, but one that you should consider. As a white woman in America, I have a certain view of land and place. I have a certain view of my relationship to my country, and because I am white, I understand that land and place and the country have a certain relationship to me as well. I think that in the climate of Black Lives Matter, we’ve all had our eyes opened to what things are like for other people in the country, and are starting to understand that not everything is the same and that there are some discrepancies. We’ve heard the stories, we’ve read about tragic situations, and yet we all know that we’re just learning about how things are not the same for all races and cultures in America.

One thing this book has taught me is that there is a complexity with being an Indigenous woman that is nuanced and complex. Jensen is Métis, and this presents her with opportunities where she is considered “just white enough” and also situations where she is not. She is faced with violence both as a woman and as a Métis woman, and sometimes those aren’t the same thing nor are they treated the same way by people who do not understand the complexities of being Indigenous and also trying to live in a “white world.”

This book was difficult to read in that it’s always hard to read about someone’s struggles, especially ones that seem to happen under the radar in a place where all of us are taking our freedoms and accessibility to safety for granted. I’m giving it four stars instead of five because it wasn’t until the summary that I realized what Jensen was trying to do with gun violence and tying everything together. The writing is beautiful, but it wasn’t always clear how things were connected or why chapters started when they did and where they did and why some situations were super long and detailed and others didn’t take up as much space. It was written in what felt like spurts, and didn’t flow as smoothly and wasn’t as connected as I think it could have been. That being said, I think this is a great book to read to give you exposure about an Indigenous woman/Métis woman’s life and the complexities and struggles that she faces from many facets of that life.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, violence, and some discussion of sex, and suggestion of sexual abuse. I would give it a PG-13.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Affirm Your Life: Your Affirmations Journal for Purpose and Personal Effectiveness - Becca Anderson

Well, it's 2021.  I know we had all hoped that a certain pandemic would be in our rearview mirror by now, but unfortunately it's still front and center in many parts of the world. Sometimes it can be hard to find and/or maintain motivation in the middle of such turmoil.  I thought this book might be a nice way to jump start the year, and perhaps throw a little hope and purpose your way, if you are struggling.

Summary:  IGNITE YOUR PURPOSE.  Do you feel detached from your greater purpose in life?  When times get hectic, it's normal to start feeling unmotivated and to forget to prioritize what's important to you.  Take a breath.  It's time to realign yourself with what truly matters.

Affirm Your Life is filled with confidence-boosting affirmations, thought-provoking writing prompts, and inspirational quotes that will assist you on your journey to peace and purpose. With the help of this guided journal, you will be reminded of the things that bring you inspiration and fulfillment. Dig deep and find the answers -- and corresponding actions -- you are searching for.  

This empowering journal includes:

  • Lessons inspired by one of Becca's favorite books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Prompts for rediscovering your "why" and nurturing your dreams
  • Exercises on thinking abundantly and living in gratitude
  • Activities to identify your strengths and use them for self-betterment
(Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com - Book given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  Affirm Your Life by Becca Anderson encourages readers to embrace positive affirmation and self-reflection by responding to specific journaling prompts.  Anderson has been profoundly influenced by the work and wisdom of Stephen R. Covey.  Each chapter of this book is rooted in one of Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, however it's important to note that the author is not trying to duplicate the 7 Habits, but rather uses them as a springboard for deeper introspection.  Bear with me, while I give you a chapter-by-chapter breakdown:

  1.  Choose Your Power: You are a being of infinite protentional. Do what you can.
  2.  Create Your Future: You get out what you put in.  Aim for where you want to end up.
  3.  Make "It" Happen: Put first things first.  Stay focused and keep going
  4.  Think: Abundance:  There is enough to go around.  Avoid comparison thinking.
  5.  Learn Soul Language: Listen deeply and seek to understand.
  6.  No Root Grows Alone: Embrace unity and cooperation. 
  7.  Make Renewal a Habit: Make time to take care of yourself. 

Each section distills a different 'habit' into a few short paragraphs, complete with a personal story to help bring it all home. It also includes a list of relevant, uplifting affirmations, empowering quotes and thoughtful journaling prompts that invite the reader to explore their goals, relationships, emotions, doubts, fears, etc.  

From a structural standpoint, Affirm Your Life is well-organized, aesthetically pleasing, and small enough to fit in your purse or bag. The journaling portion has a design around the edges, with slightly irregular lines for writing that serve as a subtle visual reminder that responses don't have to be perfect. I also appreciated the wonderful collection of quotes designed to help the reader "sow" wisdom in their own life.  Anderson pulled from people like Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Toni Morrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Thatcher, Anais Nin, Nelson Mandela, Isabelle Allende, Amelia Earhart, Jane Goodall, Willa Cather, Malcolm X, and others.  That many fabulous minds crammed into one book and it's bound to be impressive.

Affirmations are kind of a new thing for me.  Positive ones, anyway.  I have about two decades worth of experience with the negative ones.   I know how devastating negative thoughts can be to my emotional well-being, so it stands to reason that positive ones would work inversely.  As such, one of my favorite parts of this entire book is the affirmation lists, which come with the directions to read them aloud and select one to keep in your mind the whole day.  Taken altogether, the book offers roughly 70 inspiring affirmations to choose from. I had to work very hard to narrow it down, but here are my top 10 favorites:

  • Today, I abandon my old habits and take up new, more positive ones.
  • I live a principle-centered life and things and opinions cannot deter me.
  • I am not a victim of the past.
  • I am mindful of where I spend my time. 
  • Boundaries are healthy -- I respect my boundaries and make them clear to others.
  • As I lift others up, I rise with them. We all rise together.
  • I learn so much when I listen without interrupting, and ask questions instead of offering advice.
  • Asking for help is a rally cry for growth.
  • My body is an incredible machine and I treat it with respect.
  • I am worthy of love and joy.

Additionally, one of the exercises at the end of the book is the charge to write your own affirmations.  Many of my responses are too personal to share here, but I will share two of my own:

  • I am enough.  
  • I will engage fully in my own life.

Journaling is something I sort of suck at, but I am trying to be better at doing it, and I feel like the journaling prompts in this book can be approached one of two ways -- as homework to steamroll through or as a form of mental and emotional self-care to be experienced at your own pace -- and how you approach them will determine your experience.  Some of the prompts are serious, others a little off beat, but are enough of them that you can choose the ones that appeal.  It was interesting, if a little discomfiting, to take that deep dive into my life, relationship, and feelings, but ultimately, it was one I enjoyed.  Overall, I think that Affirm Your Life offers an invaluable opportunity to those who are willing to put in the work. 

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: All clear.

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