EpicFehlReader
Review
4 Stars
Maude March on the Run (Maude March #2) by Audrey Couloumbis
Maude March on the Run! - Audrey Couloumbis

The papers call Maude notorious. But 12-year-old Sallie knows her big sister didn't do the things the stories say . . . not on purpose anyway. In fact, she and Maude have made a fresh start and are trying to live on the up-and-up. But just when the girls are settling into their new life, Maude is arrested—and before you can say "jailbreak," the orphaned sisters are back on the run! In the sequel to the critically acclaimed The Misadventures of Maude March, Newbery Honor winner Audrey Couloumbis once again takes on a dizzingly fast, delightfully rowdy, and altogether heartwarming ride through the old west—proving that half the fun of any journey is the getting there.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

The saga of the March girls continues! Maude is now sixteen while little sister Sallie is twelve. They're still technically in hiding, and keeping their true identities on the DL proves to be a continuous struggle. Maude started insisting on taking back her womanly way of dressing while tomboy Sallie prefers to keep on with the menswear look they've been rocking. Maude potentially blowing their cover stresses Sallie out but she tries to keep her calm by keeping her nose buried in her beloved dime store novels (though now she reads them from a different perspective, having now lived the "novel" life herself).

 

My heart went out to him. I'd learned there was more to being a hero than the glory parts. The glory parts wore a little tarnish if you looked real close. It didn't make the hero any less of one.

 

To make matters even more complicated, local outlaw the Black Hankie Bandit has recently been apprehended and brought to trial in the girls' new town of residence. All the lawmen suddenly in the area has the March girls sweating a bit! At one point, Maude IS recognized at the diner where she works. She's arrested but Sallie and friends bust her out, forcing the sisters back on the run yet again. 

 

 

Speaking of these adventures, this book includes a much more detailed map of the March sisters' travels than the last book offered. While I found the first book's actual adventure elements more entertaining than in this sequel, I feel this sequel offers more humor and as readers we get deeper into the emotional bond between Maude and Sallie. But seriously though, there are some really great one liners in this one:

 

Re: a gunfight: "The earlobe is a surprisingly messy place to get shot."

 

"Reputations are easier to pick up than put down."

 

"Things happen in this world that cannot be properly understood unless you were there in the midst of them."

 

"If the story won't make you cry, the spelling will."(Maude)

 

 

The feminist undertones are slightly stronger in Maude March on the Run than its predecessor. The novel as a whole spotlights Maude wanting to be her own boss while Sallie pushes to get the same level of respect as the boys around her. She points out how people only use the term "you girls" when someone wants to silence the girls' opinions or objections. Certainly important themes young female readers will benefit from experiencing! Hopefully these stories, historical fiction though they may be, will serve as a source of empowerment for the young female audience they draw in. 

 

Plus, super cute telegram style dedication at the start of the book -- I've never seen anyone else do this before!

 

 

 

My review for Bk 1: Misadventures of Maude March

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
5 Stars
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
The Rules of Magic: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

Find your magic.

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse. The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

A prequel novel, The Rules of Magic explores the early years of Francis (redheaded "Franny") and Bridget (nicknamed "Jet" for her long black hair) Owens, eccentric aunts to Sally and Gillian whom we first met in Practical Magic. Here we read of Franny and Jet's experiences growing up in the 1950s - 60s. Along with their brother Vincent -- the youngest of the family -- the sisters are raised in New York by their mother, Susanna Owens (who tries her hardest to closet her magic roots) and psychiatrist father, Dr. Burke-Owens. You read that right, he took his wife's name! 

 

Having suffered a tragic loss thanks to the Owens curse, Susanna, the second time around, chooses a relationship of comfort and stability rather than love. She does her best to keep her children sheltered from their magical heritage, setting up a laundry list of rules and restrictions regarding their powers, but it's of no use. Curiosity gets the best of them, particularly in the case of Jet and Vincent once their powers begin to surface: Jet learns she can read minds while Vincent begins to get prophetic, though sometimes confusing or murky flashes of the future. Franny is gifted as well, but being the most logical, scientifically minded of the siblings, she is also the most hesitant to acknowledge the truth, instead focusing on trying to figure out how to rationally explain the magic out of her reality.

 

 

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The year Franny turns seventeen, the siblings are invited for a summer stay at the Owens ancestral home in Massachusetts with Susanna's aunt Isabelle. This summer proves to be a monumental one for the Owens kids, as they learn lessons about life that will affect, maybe even alter, their personalities and life paths forever after. Themes / messages Hoffman weaves into these lessons include: embracing who you are at your core, pushing through fear and going for a chance at real love (regardless of consequences), finding yourself strongly nostalgic for home after a time of wanting so badly to leave it, dauntlessly pursuing what you truly want in life, and learning not to waste the finite time of your lifespan being petty or fearful. Instead, live in a space of love, joy and kindness.

 

 

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It is also during this important summer that the Owens siblings meet April. Not only do they later learn that she is a distant cousin, but it is during this summer that April conceives a child. That child is Regina Owens, the mother of Sally and Gillian, the stars of Practical Magic. If you remember from Practical Magic, it was also mentioned that in the story of Maria Owens, the originator of the curse, the father of her child was left unknown. Hoffman names the father in The Rules of Magic, and I gotta say, I was surprised to read that she chose a real life historical figure! Thinking about it though, WHO she chooses DOES play in well to the whole witch theme threaded throughout the two books. 

 

"Maria Owens did what she did for a reason. She was young and she thought damning anyone who loved us would protect us. But what she had with that terrible man wasn't love. She didn't understand that when you truly love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together. That is not a curse, it's what life is, my girl. We all come to ruin, we turn to dust, but whom we love is the thing that lasts."

 

 

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Wow, did I like this installment of the Owens Ladies ever so much more than Practical Magic! Just all around, the plot is richer, the characters more entertaining and more developed, secrets or elements from the other book revealed, better explained, or just tied together in an impressive way.... Loved it all! Honestly maybe even one of my favorite reads of the year!

 

Anyone else get at least a tinge of Branwell Bronte vibes from Vincent? At least in the early portions of the story? I just couldn't shake that image ... what with Vincent's moodiness, mysterious outings all night, the heavy drinking. Even something about Vincent's early interest in the occult and the Magus book gave me that imagery of what I've read of Branwell (he always struck me as the most emo of the Bronte siblings lol).

 

The girl was carrying a backpack. A blue journal peeking out caught Franny's attention. It was one of the notebooks she {Franny} had left in the library. "Are you writing?" she asked. 

 

"Trying to," the girl said. 

 

"Don't try, do." She realized she sounded exactly like Aunt Isabelle when she was irritated. She hadn't meant to be a wet blanket and had no wish to discourage this clever little girl, so she changed her tone. "But trying is a start. What is your story?"

 

"My life."

 

"Ah."

 

"If you write it down, it doesn't hurt as much."

 

"Yes, I can imagine."

 

The girl scampered onto the rocks to join her friends. She waved and Franny waved back.

 

As she walked home, Franny thought that the girl at the lake had been perfectly right. It helped to write things down. It ordered your thoughts and if you were lucky revealed feelings you didn't know you had. That same afternoon Franny wrote a long letter to Haylin. She had never told anyone what her aunt had whispered with her last breath. But now she wrote it down, and when she did she realized it was what she believed, despite the curse.

 

Love more, her aunt had said. Not less.

 

If you, like me, struggled with Practical Magic, I urge you to give this one a go. Maybe the time gap is just what Hoffman needed to get this family's story just right, considering Practical Magic came out in the mid 90s, while The Rules of Magic was released just last year. 

 

 

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!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

For over two hundred years, the Owens ladies have been one cursed family! Orphaned sisters Gillian and Sally Owens are brought to live with their eccentric aunts, Francis and Bridget. Introducing the girls to their magical roots, the aunts quickly see Sally as the more natural witch, while younger Gillian is more taken with her inner bohemian spirit consumed with falling in love... repeatedly. 

 

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Because the town has never let up on its gossiping and trading witch stories regarding the Owens women, young Gillian and Sally grow up fielding a mountain of ridicule. By the time they are grown and ready to start their own lives, the sisters are ready to do just about anything to escape the Owens curse --- the one that kills any man who falls for them --- Sally marries for comfort rather than love while Gillian literally runs away from her East Coast upbringing, escaping into the western regions of the US.

 

If you're coming to this book because you love the movie (as I did), let me warn you now, the similarities between the two are few and FAR between... for real! Plus, the first chapter is going to be a tough one to get through for animal lovers. 

 

Alice Hoffman has become one of my very favorite authors in recent years and I'm only now just getting to this one, perhaps her most famous book because of the movie. The movie being a favorite of mine for years already, I figured this one would be a sure favorite as well.... but honestly, I struggled with it. I still liked it, but it was a struggle. There's a certain magic to Hoffman's writing that, despite this novel's title, was seriously lacking. Sure, magic was mentioned, and there were moments here and there where I felt Hoffman's classic writing style coming through, but it wasn't start to finish lovely whimsy as some of her other books have been for me. Maybe because the movie was just so cozy and amazing, I set the bar too high going in?

 

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Case in point: (movie vs book)

 

* Movie Sally owns a natural beauty care store where it's rumored witchery goes into her recipes... while book Sally works as... a high school administrator?! Not saying the job isn't important but hard to work magic into such a comparatively dull environment! 

   

     -- Also different: 1) The way she meets husband Michael is portrayed a little differently in the book. Again, the aunts have no magic involved in the union like they did in the movie... it just comes about by "right place and time" kind of thing, like anyone. 2) We get to know Sally's girls as teens -- Antonia a stunning redhead, little sister Kylie a 5'11 "awkward giantess" --  rather than just small children where the movie stops. Sally and her girls also spend much of the book living in NYC, which I found confusing during this book, but it's actually explained nicely in the prequel, The Rules of Magic.  3) Book Sally actually DOES get to the top of the phone tree... without Gillian's help! In fact, she's a regular there. 3) The whole relationship with Officer Gary Hallet -- memorably portrayed by Aidan Quinn in the film -- is way more lowkey (almost boring) in the book. It's actually Gillian that has the way more interesting romance (and I'm not talking about Jimmy)... but more on that later. 

 

* Movie Gillian and her relationship with Jimmy: There's one section of the novel where Gillian is thinking back on the time she spent with him (this is after it comes to an end) and within her thoughts are NSFW kind of descriptions of Jimmy being rough during sex, getting off on the violence, and how she would let it go on because the violence during sex was less painful than the beatings he would give her if he didn't get his way. Yeah, this was lightly glossed over in the film but the book gets heavy with this reality at times. Between book and movie there's also a bit of a switch with Jimmy's final resting place: instead of under roses in Massachusetts, his spot is under lilacs in NYC. But what remains in both book and movie is the presence of toads (even the one who spits the ring!).

 

    ---- Gillian takes up with Sally's co-worker Ben, who proves to be a solidly decent guy. Aptly, he's also a neat mix of scientist and part-time magician.

 

 

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The aunts were looking out the window, watching what avarice and stupidity could do to a person. They shook their heads sadly.... Some people cannot be warned away from disaster. You can try, you can put up every alert, but they'll still go their own way.

 

 

Another area where there are some differences is with the legend of Maria Owens, the originator of the curse. Some of the details there were altered a bit by film's development. Just in general, the "magic" element felt pretty underdeveloped until Part 3, "Clairvoyance", where the story gets into the battle between Jimmy and the Owens sisters. Prior to that, it felt more like a general domestic drama regarding family tensions, sisterly bond, etc. The book really didn't come alive for me until the relationship between Gillian and Ben was introduced. Really wish this element HAD been incorporated into the film, and I'd certain be happy to read a spin-off book focusing on these two and where they ended up. 

 

It doesn't matter what people tell you. It doesn't matter what they might say. Sometimes you have to leave home. Sometimes, running away means you're headed in the exact right direction.

 

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While it was cool to see the origin of characters I came to love on screen, the novel needs better transitions. There are people regularly introduced or scenes changed mid-paragraph, which made for a choppy "quick, backtrack!" kind of reading experience. Still, I do love that the heartwarming closing words of the book were incorporated into the film. 

 

 

Review
2 Stars
Sound of Distant Thunder (Amish of Weaver's Creek #1) by Jan Drexler
The Sound of Distant Thunder - Jan Drexler

Katie Stuckey and Jonas Weaver are both romantics. Seventeen-year-old Katie is starry-eyed, in love with the idea of being in love, and does not want to wait to marry Jonas until she is eighteen, despite her parents' insistence. So much can happen in a year. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother's name comes up in the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother's place. But can the commitment Katie and Jonas have made to each other survive the separation?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Seventeen year old Katie Stuckey cannot wait to marry her twenty year old boyfriend Jonas Weaver. The feeling is mutual for Jonas, but while he looks forward to a future with Katie and enthusiastically jumps into building their home from scratch, his mind is also quite consumed with thoughts of the approaching Civil War, conscription and the abolitionist fight. Jonas battles conflicting feelings: technically, the concept of war goes against his Amish faith, yet he's not comfortable sitting idly by while others put their lives on the line to end slavery. He does have a little wiggle room in his favor in that he has yet to be officially baptized within the Amish faith, so if he chose to serve in the war, there would likely be less harsh consequence with the church elders. 

 

Fate seems to make the choice for Jonas. When his married brother is drafted but unwilling to leave the family, Jonas volunteers to take his place. There is a historical mention within this story that explains that at the time of conscription, those with religious conflict (something similar to the more modern idea of "conscientious objector", I imagine) could opt to have another man go in his place or pay a $200 fine. Jonas asks his good friend Levi to look after Katie while he's away, not knowing that Levi secretly carries a strong flame for Katie himself.

 

Jonas goes off to the battlefield, doing his best to balance his duty as a soldier with continuing to honor his Amish beliefs (mainly, to do as little harm as possible). While Jonas is away, Levi finds the temptation to woo his buddy's girl almost unbearable. 

 

I think this might be the first Amish themed novel I've come across that is set in Civil War years. The idea definitely pulled at my curiosity, but the execution did not quite hit the mark for me. Technically, the writing is fine, just DULL. The romance portions don't tug at the heartstrings and the plot lacks any sort of real tension to keep things lively. Everything is moving along just sort of there... baseline existing, but never quite giving me something to truly root for. 

 

Also, there was a pretty underdeveloped element to Katie's background story that suggested she might be struggling with some PTSD-like behaviors following a sexual assault or attempted assault. It's hard to say though because it felt only vaguely woven into the story (as far as the details of WHAT actually happened), yet Drexler also tried to make it seem like it was a pivotal part Katie's emotional make up, hinting at how it might affect her future marriage. The whole thing just felt sort of sloppily interjected into the rest of the book. It would've been nice to see this fleshed out more. 

 

The back cover features a blurb from Suzanne Woods Fisher hailing this book as "compelling and memorable". While I do enjoy Fisher's writing and would like to trust her vote of praise, on this one I will have to respectfully disagree. It's doubtful that I will have much interest in carrying on with this series. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Revell Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3.5 Stars
The Library at the Edge of the World (Finfarran Peninsula #1) by Felicity Hayes-McCoy
The Library at the Edge of the World - Felicity Hayes-McCoy

As she drives her mobile library van between villages of Ireland’s West Coast, Hanna Casey tries not to think about a lot of things. Like the sophisticated lifestyle she abandoned after finding her English barrister husband in bed with another woman. Or that she’s back in Lissbeg, the rural Irish town she walked away from in her teens, living in the back bedroom of her overbearing mother’s retirement bungalow. Or, worse yet, her nagging fear that, as the local librarian and a prominent figure in the community, her failed marriage and ignominious return have made her a focus of gossip. With her teenage daughter, Jazz, off traveling the world and her relationship with her own mother growing increasingly tense, Hanna is determined to reclaim her independence by restoring a derelict cottage left to her by her great-aunt. But when the threatened closure of the Lissbeg Library puts her personal plans in jeopardy, Hanna finds herself leading a battle to restore the heart and soul of the Finfarran Peninsula’s fragmented community. And she’s about to discover that the neighbors she’d always kept at a distance have come to mean more to her than she ever could have imagined. 

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Twenty years into marriage to a London barrister, Irish native Hana Casey gets hit head on with the news that he's been unfaithful to her pretty much from the beginning. She decides to pack up their daughter and move back to her hometown to try to start her life over. Now three years later, Hana is still living with her mother while daughter Jazz is traveling around the world as a flight attendant. Feeling stifled, with her mother driving her mad, Hana decides it's time to be on her own -- fully on her own -- once more. 

 

At the start of divorce proceedings, Hana had told her ex (in anger) that she didn't want a cent of his money. Now those words are coming back to bite her as she struggles to find housing on her paltry income as the town's librarian. Hana contacts her ex, presenting her case as to why he should help her all these years later. Her plea is not well received, in fact he quickly shuts her down with an ol' "you made your bed." That's right, this is coming from the unfaithful one himself... Malcolm is a true piece of work in this story. He somehow manages to shirk much of his responsibility in their breakup, instead accusing Hana of being a terrible mother for ruining their daughter's life with the sudden move back to Ireland. This guy! Divorcees, brace yourselves! 

 

"A little discretion. A sense of responsibility. A willingness to look beyond your personal agenda. That's not a lot to ask, Hanna. Not of someone who claims to be a loving mother."

 

~ Malcolm, Hanna's ex-husband

 

(Can you imagine hearing this out of a man you'd just discovered had been having an affair for pretty much the entirety of your marriage?!)

 

Just as she's nearly at wit's end, a solution comes to our main lady. She remembers she was left an old derelict cottage by the sea by her great aunt Maggie. How one forgets that they own a piece of property on prime picturesque real estate in Ireland stumps me a bit, but there are parts of this novel that ask the reader to suspend disbelief a bit. Taking on the renovation of the place proves to not only solve the housing issue for Hana, but also provides her with an outlet for the depression she continues to battle, the hurt of having been a faithful wife left to feel "not good enough" by a greedy, emotionally immature husband. 

 

The project brings out numerous interesting characters in Hana's town, as they all come forward at different points to help her reach her goals. While overseeing the renovation of this small cottage, Hana also juggles trying to improve the relationship with her mother, Mary, (who comes off as harsh initially, but the reader comes to see it's more of a tough love thing... she might lack tact now and then, but the intent is generally coming from a caring place), continuing with the book mobile service throughout Ireland's West Coast counties, and taking on the town council as they threaten to possibly shut down her library in favor of more profitable real estate developments in the area. 

 

 

Glancing in the rearview mirror, Hanna saw her walking back to the house with a spring in her step. It had only been a few minutes spent with an acquaintance but the human contact and the prospect of a couple of books to read and chat about had obviously made her day. No matter how isolated the scattered farms and villages on the peninsula might seem, there was a web of personal and communal relationships that linked people together, offering mutual support. 

 

 

Library at the Edge of the World will appeal to many booknerds in general, but especially those who have worked as librarians or booksellers themselves. There are references to some of the crazier, more laughable customer service-type aspects to the industry, such as the shocking condition books are sometimes returned in or the aggravating, information deficit type of book inquires some readers bring to the help desk: "I'm looking for a book with a dog on the cover." (This particular patron of Hanna's is an entertaining recurring character as his diligent search -- on nearly zero information -- progresses).

 

What Hanna now desperately needed was to think. But inevitably, two women turned up in the last ten minutes of opening time and stood in a corner discussing the relative merits of Barbara Cartland and Barbara Pym. Hanna covered the computers, pulled down the blind on the door and announced that the library was closing. But the women took no notice. Eventually she had to chivvy them over the threshold, receiving the same outraged clucks and beady-eyed looks that she'd got as a child from the intrusive hens in Maggie Casey's kitchen. As soon as they were gone, she set the security alarm, locked up, and crossed the courtyard, wondering where to go to find peace and quiet. 

 

I was thoroughly engaged in the plot for the majority of this book but I struggled with the later chapters a bit. The plot started to feel a tad flimsy and dragged out. All in all, it was great fun getting to know this little community... but there was something about Hanna... I realized as I finished the book that there was just something about her that didn't sit quite right with me... something I wasn't noticing too much until I got to the end. It was almost but not quite a feeling of not entirely liking her. But why? She doesn't immediately come off as an immediately terrible person. But on further thought, I think I might have pinned what was bugging me. 

 

While most of the people Hanna interacts with in this story act civil enough toward her, very few seemed to honestly LIKE her. Her own behavior around town gave the impression that the feeling was mutual.... but suddenly she wants everyone to band together to save the community when HER job is at risk? She spends much of the story either trying to keep to herself or keeping social interactions to a minimum, yet for some reason the town as a whole later feels compelled to help her furnish her cottage? It was so subtle a thing, like I said, I didn't quite realize all the scenes that played out that way ... til I had finished the story. And now I struggle to be entirely comfortable with that....to the point where I'm now on the fence whether I want to continue this series. This book is the first in what's set to be a trilogy. I had fun visiting the town, and I may pop back in down the road for the later books, but I don't know that I'm in any major rush for it. 

Review
3.5 Stars
Once Upon A Farm (memoir) by Rory Feek
Once Upon A Farm - Rory Feek

Raising their four-year-old daughter, Indiana, alone, after Joey’s passing, Rory Feek digs deeper into the soil of his life and the unusual choices he and his wife, Joey, made together and the ones he’s making now to lead his family into the future. Now two years after Joey’s passing, as Rory takes their four-year-old daughter Indiana’s hand and walks forward into an unknown future, he takes readers on his incredible journey from heartbreak to hope and, ultimately, the kind of healing that comes only through faith. A raw and vulnerable look deeper into Rory’s heart, Once Upon a Farm is filled with powerful stories of love, life, and hope and the insights that one extraordinary, ordinary man in bib overalls has gleamed along the way. As opposed to homesteading, this is instead a book on "lifesteading" as Rory learns to cultivate faith, love, and fatherhood on a small farm while doing everything, at times, but farming. With frequent stories of his and Joey’s years together, and how those guide his life today, Rory unpacks just what it means to be open to new experiences.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Two years after the death of his wife and the close of his first memoir, This Life I Live, songwriter and "gentleman farmer" Rory Feek gives readers an update on where his life is today as a single father raising daughter Indiana, now four years old. 

 

The format here is a little different to his first book, much more loosely structured. Still, it works. Feek shares even more details of his life with Joey as well as pivotal moments in his life before and after her. Some of the big ones being around daily lessons he's taking in raising a daughter with Down Syndrome, and the moment his middle daughter came out as a lesbian and the less than admirable initial reaction he had to the news. 

 

Rory explains that while Joey was a master at traditional homesteading, his life experiences lead him to believe his personal strengths lie more in the idea of something he terms "lifesteading", or "growing love and life and hope in the place where you are planted." This struck me as simply implementing the French proverb "Bloom where you are planted" as a way of life... nonetheless, a cool way to go about living!

 

Image result for bloom where you are planted

 

Lifesteading is about planting yourself in the soil where you live and growing a life you can be proud of. A love that will last. And a hope that even death cannot shake. Like tending a garden filled with vegetables, it too requires preparing the heart's soil and planting the right seeds at the right time and watering them and keeping the weeds of this life and the bombardment of the culture from choking out what you're trying to grow. For us, the harvest has been plentiful. Beyond our wildest imaginations. Dreams that seemed impossible in years past materialized right before our eyes. That doesn't mean there hasn't been disappointments and surprises. Some a lot of people already know about, and some I share in the pages that fill this book. But just because something different than you had imagined has grown doesn't mean that it isn't beautiful. It is. 

 

Through this process, Feek chronicles his experiences and shares them with readers as a way to show others how to maybe find the extraordinary magic woven within moments and places of seemingly ordinary days. Once Upon A Farm also provides Feek a platform where he can give thanks to friends and family (by sharing their heartwarming stories) who have been so instrumental in his various joys and successes. 

 

We also get to see a little more into Feek's creative side, such as the time he enlisted a friend to help turn a former Girls Gone Wild bus into Rory's new touring bus. The story Rory is inspired to write, from the POV of the bus, is weirdly simultaneously hilarious and melancholy. 

 

 

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*In this book, Rory mentions that the dog featured in 

Our Very Own (and on the poster) was actually

Joey's dog, Rufus. There's a whole story behind how Joey

trained him to ride on the roof like that.

 

 

 

The format of the book features short chapters, so the book as a whole has potential to be a good supplemental piece for daily devotionals. Feek's stories here are all about embracing the now, including who you are in the moment. His own examples: how he is unapologetic about his favorite color being white (*Yes, he points out, the trouble with this has been explained to him. Repeatedly. He doesn't care.) and his favorite day of the week being Monday. 

 

While the first memoir was more about just getting the framework of his life story out there, this one had a much more inspirational vibe to it. Feek's stories here do push for the idea of embracing the now, but he also encourages readers to make peace with their past as well, even our less rosy moments. Lessons we take from mistakes or even all out failures can show us how to move forward and teach us how to best love future loves. 

 

my favorite chapter header in the book

 

 

 

A new addition here that wasn't offered in the first book: an eight page insert on gloss paper of full color photographs. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

Review
3.5 Stars
This Life I Live (memoir) by Rory Feek
This Life I Live: One Man's Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever - Rory Feek

By inviting so many into the final months of Joey’s life as she battled cancer, Joey and Rory Feek captured hearts around the world with how they handled the diagnosis; the inspiring, simple way they chose to live; and how they loved each other every step of the way. But there is far more to the story. This is the story of a man searching for meaning and security in a world that offered neither. And it’s the story of a man who finally gives it all to a power higher than himself and soon meets a young woman who will change his heart forever.

In This Life I Live, Rory Feek helps us not only to connect more fully to his and Joey’s story but also to our own journeys. He shows what can happen when we are fully open in life’s key moments, whether when meeting our life companion or tackling an unexpected tragedy. He also gives never-before-revealed details on their life together and what he calls “the long goodbye,” the blessing of being able to know that life is going to end and taking advantage of it. Rory shows how we are all actually there already and how we can learn to live that way every day. A gifted man from nowhere and everywhere in search of something to believe in. A young woman from the Midwest with an angelic voice and deep roots that just needed a place to be planted. This is their story. Two hearts that found each other and touched millions of other hearts along the way.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

I remember following the Feeks musical story years ago on the competition show Can You Duet. More recently, I read Rory's blog posts detailing his wife's battle with cervical cancer, a battle she ultimately sadly lost. Not too long ago, I was sent Rory's most recent book for review, but hadn't read this first one yet. In the spirit of honest reviewing, I figured it was only right to backtrack a bit and take the story from the very beginning. 

 

I am famous for loving my wife....All my life I have been anonymous. A nobody. Now I'm not just somebody. I'm somebody's. I am Joey's husband. Rory. And I am honored. So very honored to have been her husband. To have stood beside her at the altar and be standing beside her still when 'til-death-do-us-part became something much more than a phrase in our wedding vows.

 

This Life I Live does offer a behind the scenes look into the marriage of the Feeks, but it also offers readers a look at Rory before Joey. His hard-knock childhood being raised by financially struggling, emotionally immature parents; his stint in the Marines (enlisting for 4 years, getting out, then deciding to re-enlist to get money to buy a PA system); his battle with being painfully shy and how that affected his ability to be in healthy relationships as an adult; last name struggles; his failures and successes as a songwriter in Nashville. There's even portions on random topics he's got thoughts on, such as the concept of tithing... how his views on it changed and the benefits of incorporating it into one's life (even in ways outside of a church setting). Heck, there's a whole chapter here JUST on how he became such a devout wearer of bib overalls!

 

Medicine can't fix being rejected by a father. Only a time machine can unlock that door. Or an apology. And my father selfishly took that key with him to his grave. 

 

Rory lays it all out... maybe to the detriment of his public image. I know I certainly had a different idea of him by the time this book ended! Some of the stuff he fesses up to fall under my personal "hard to forgive" category: hitting rock bottom emotionally and financially leading him to nearly abandon his then very small daughters, sleeping with a close friend's wife, being unfaithful to his first wife (Joey was his 2nd), leaning on Joey to teach him about responsible money management and save his backside from irresponsible money choices over and over again, even with him being a good decade older than her AND with two kids from the first marriage. Also, him writing of his Native heritage then shortly after going into an "Indian Giver" reference was an automatic star deduction from me. Over and over again I found myself reading these stories thinking, "Dude, you should known better... c'mon!" Highly disappointing and honestly, it dampened my enthusiasm for the rest of the book... but I did carry on. And it did get better. 

 

I've said many times that I think I've spent too much of my life trying to write great songs and not enough time trying to be a great man. It's true. I thought success would bring happiness, but it's the other way around. True joy and happiness have a way of attracting good things into your life. And if you aren't already happy when you find success, it will make you more unhappy. It will amplify what's already there. It did for me, anyway...

 

I did the best I could... I did the best I could with what I had. That's not really true, though, for me... I could've done better. Made better choices. But I didn't. Something inside me kept me from making great decisions with my time, energy, and love, and something was a part of me. So, in a way, the old me couldn't have done any better. He wasn't strong enough. I forgive him. Me. I am disappointed in who I was. And I think about it and remember the mistakes I made and what they cost. Who they hurt. And I try, too, not to be like him. I am me because of me. No one else. My decisions brought me here, good or bad....

 

One problematic aspect of the writing though --- at times it feels like relevant details are skipped over / left out... details that would offer more chronological cohesiveness for readers. For example, there's a casual two page mention of him making a movie at one point ... but it was written in a sort of just-in-passing kind of tone ... where he describes a window of time spent writing & directing a Civil War era film... but nothing really about the inspiration of this film, what compelled him to start this project, nothing. Just mostly a "oh, we moved to Virginia for awhile.." Umm, seems like relocating the family for awhile to create a motion picture is kind of a major story... bigger than why one wants to wear overalls every day (like I said, THAT got a full chapter)!

 

Maybe that's how God's logic works. You have to be okay with not having something to be given it.. Give it away if you want to keep it... It doesn't really make sense on paper, but it works. And that's all that matters....

 

There were things I went through with other people... hard things... that were all for Joey. They were opportunities for me to learn something, so I could be ready when she came along. I didn't understand it then, but in time I would. 

 

Rory's story, in the end, DOES offer an important lesson. His journey encourages readers to become the kind of spouse they wish to have in life. From the start, this man is upfront that he did get a lot wrong and will probably continue to have major fails, but when Joey came on the scene, he did his best to learn how to become the husband she deserved, and now the father their daughter deserves. Whether or not I agree with his choices (and let's be real, it honestly doesn't matter if I do or don't), I can respect this side of him. But I still have to say, without Joey... he might have been much less likeable. 

Review
4 Stars
Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen
Cambridge - Susanna Kaysen

London, Florence, Athens: Susanna, a precocious young girl growing up in 1950s Cambridge, would rather be home than in any of these places. Uprooted from the streets around Harvard Square, she feels lost and excluded in all the far-flung cities to which her father’s career takes the family. She always comes home with relief—but soon enough wonders if outsiderness may be her permanent condition. Written with a sharp eye for the pretensions—and charms—of the intellectual classes, Cambridge captures the mores of an era now past, the ordinary lives of extraordinary people in a singular part of America, and the ways we can—and cannot—go home.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Kaysen takes the confusing route and writes a novel featuring a protagonist with the author's name, so keep in mind when reading this -- the Susanna of this story is fictional (but kind of not...wow, I'm not helping here, am I? LOL)

 

At the novel's start, 1950s era fictional Susanna is the precocious, book loving daughter of an economics professor and a former professional pianist. The family relocates often, but wherever they set up home base always seems to be a house full of music, learning, and comedic matchmaking attempts among the house staff. Even young Susanna comments that home life is such a warm and fun environment, she dreads time spent having to attend school. Kaysen offers so many heartwarming interactions within this family, the reader almost begins to feel cheated they're not a member themselves!

 

Even though the child version of our protagonist clearly displays a dreamer's soul early on, full of curiosity about the world, part of her also longs for a stable, established place to call home once and for all. This yearning becomes the basis for her attachment to the college town of Cambridge, Massachusetts. But as she moves beyond childhood into adulthood, she comes to find that even such a town as this with, its picturesque exterior, is not guaranteed to have all the answers her soul craves. 

 

There's no clear-cut, linear progression, per say, to this novel's plot, more like  strung-together episodes of the character's remembrances over a lifetime. What this book does really well is illustrate that sense of nostalgia that people tend to develop when they become increasingly distanced from their memories over the years. Hard disappointments, given enough time, tend to morph into these glowing vignettes that have the older you smirking, "Those were the days."

 

There is something in Susanna (the character) that rings very relatable to many: boredom with school, struggles with math, a love of books. Readers even get a bit of a crash course in Ancient Greek history! There's one section I found especially charming, where little Susanna offers her nine year old perspective on things after her first experiences with reading Greek mythology. 

 

Where the story gets a bit bogged down is in the background minutiae ... great at first, but in some portions of the story the richness turns to overindulgence and ultimately "reader bellyache". Examples: Susanna's teen years -- the description of her first period went on for several pages. Then the environmental details. At first, it's lovely. Especially for any readers enamored with all the best of Massachusetts life: walks around Cambridge parks, vacations on Cape Cod, etc. But after so many pages of it with not much else going on, it can border on tedious. Though this could be argued as a case of reader preferences and what you're in the mood for when you dive into this book. 

 

Cambridge is not the easiest book to explain or class, and it might not be for everyone, but I'd argue there is a definite audience for it. There are for sure some great take away lines I was noting, such as a pessimist being "a disappointed optimist" or the Daria-esque "my long, agonizing apprenticeship in failure had begun." LOL  

 

University town setting, bookish references... a bluestocking's dream! The opening sequence alone -- that first whole page of an artistic deconstruction of the novel's first line -- just screams " word nerds unite!"

 

 

Review
3 Stars
Eve & Adam by Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant
Eve and Adam - Michael Grant, Katherine Applegate

In the beginning, there was an apple –

And then there was a car crash, a horrible injury, and a hospital. But before Evening Spiker's head clears a strange boy named Solo is rushing her to her mother's research facility. There, under the best care available, Eve is left alone to heal.

Just when Eve thinks she will die – not from her injuries, but from boredom―her mother gives her a special project: Create the perfect boy.

Using an amazingly detailed simulation, Eve starts building a boy from the ground up. Eve is creating Adam. And he will be just perfect . . . won't he?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Husband and wife Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate team up to write this YA sci-fi tech-y novel combining computer programming with DNA experiments gone rogue. 

 

Evening "Eve" Spiker survives a San Francisco streetcar crash... just barely. Eve is pulled from the crash site and is whisked away to Spiker Pharmaceuticals, her mother's research facility. Though Eve lives, she suffers a ruptured spleen, a severed leg and the necessary removal of a rib. She eventually heals physically but emotionally struggles to cope with her altered body. Eve's mother gives her project: using a DNA simulation program designed by Spiker Pharm, Eve is asked to create the perfect guy, literally. Part of what makes this ultimately largely bland sci-fi story worth reading is the characterization of Eve's ice queen mother. She comes off cold a lot of the time, but there's enough here to have the reader wondering sometimes, DOES she actually have good intentions toward her daughter? Or is Eve simply another worker bee to her? There are elements here that are similar to J.A. Souders' Elysium Chronicles series (but IMO Souders is the stronger writer).

 

So Eve jumps into developing this mythical perfect guy from the ground up. Once she has a prototype together she gives him the name Adam. In the background is Solo, mostly an office go-fer, dishing out coffee / donuts / bagels to the Spiker scientists, but he also finds opportunities to move under the radar and hack into computer files to see what secret projects Spiker Pharm has going on. What he discovers conjurs up some Dr. Moreau style freakishness. Solo's voice gets a bit over the top skater boi at times (I kept picturing the kid from A Goofy Movie lol).

 

"There is no always," I (Adam) say. "Nothing persists forever."

 "Nothingness persists," she says. She is testing me.

"No. So long as anything exists, nothingness is impossible. In fact, it's nothingness that cannot persist. Nothingness gives way to somethingness. The nothingness that preceded the Big Bang Theory was obliterated. Nothing became something."

 The woman nods. "Good. You've absorbed data well. Your intelligence is obviously fully functional. You sound like a college freshman taking his first philosophy course too seriously, but that's good. Eve will like that."

"I would still like to know how I came to be," I say. 

 "Consider it a mystery," Terra Spiker says. "Like the Big Bang Theory. One second there is nothing, and the next there is a universe."

 

It seems like the intent here was to go for a YA sci-fi thriller of sorts, but really it just ends up being kind of silly, especially in the beginning. The characters struggle to have a believeable voice --- they're meant to be teens (if I'm not mistaken) yet the "voice" of these characters runs the range from middle grade to teen up to late 20s. It's weird. Also, if this is meant to be YA, there are a number of references here that I doubt many teen readers here will identify with, such as Solo using the screen name Snake Plissken. And that conversation when the mother has the line, "Mixing home and work is like mixing single malt and sprite." I mean, as an adult liquor aficionado, I can appreciate that line, but how many teens are going to get the joke there, honestly? Again, it's just another layer of odd in a book that's marketed toward a teen crowd. But then again, maybe it's like when you watch Disney or Pixar movies as an adult and catch jokes you know there's no way the little ones in the crowd are going to understand. Maybe Applegate and Grant are playing the other side of the coin as well, knowing that a large percentage of readers in the YA market are actually full blown adults. Either way, doesn't change the fact that the writing as a whole was pretty muddled and weak... but still entertaining at points.

 

 

Yeah, it does get pretty good, comparatively, about 3/4 of the way through. Fun reading in parts, but largely forgettable after awhile... but I did find the closing moment a cute, comical one. 

 

 

---------

 

EXTRAS

 

Check out the book trailer for Eve and Adam that kinda looks like a Navy Recruitment ad ... or maybe an Olay Regenesist commercial LOL 

Review
3 Stars
Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue by Eric Felten
Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue - Eric Felten

When looking for love and friendship—the things that make life worthwhile—we are looking for loyalty. Who can we count on? And who can count on us? These are the essential (and uncomfortable) questions loyalty poses. Loyalty and betrayal are the stuff of the great stories that move us: Agamemnon, Huck Finn, Brutus, Antigone, Judas. When is loyalty right, and when does the virtue become a vice? As Felten writes in his thoughtful and entertaining book, loyalty is vexing. It forces us to choose who and what counts most in our lives—from siding with one friend over another to favoring our own children over others. It forces us to confront the conflicting claims of fidelity to country, community, company, church, and even ourselves. Loyalty demands we make decisions that define who we are.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Eric Felten, a prize winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal, explores the subject of loyalty throughout the world, using as a basis various areas where this virtue is most strongly valued or illustrated:

 

* Examples throughout world history -- Felten puts a focus on the topic of loyalty as displayed in Greek history (Spartacus, Marcus Pacuvius) and mythology. WARNING: This book contains spoilers for the story of Pyramus & Thisbe from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Eurpides' Orestes, Sophocles' Antigone, and Aeschylus' Agamemnon.

 

* World Literature -- Felten pulls examples of the theme of loyalty from works of Mark Twain, George Orwell, William Shakespeare and 1001 Arabian Nights. WARNING: There are spoilers for Orwell's Animal Farm, Twain's Huck Finn, 1001 Arabian Nights, Shakespeare's King Henry V, The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, and O. Henry's short story, "After 20 Years". Felten also gets into the sad story of Graham Green's youth. Now known for such classics as The Quiet American and The End of the Affair, Green's younger days were marked with heavy stress building from divided loyalties between his family (particularly his father, the headmaster of his school) and Green's school friends. The pressure got to be so much that at one point Green became convinced suicide was the only remaining answer. But as we now know, Green later overcame this dark period but actually went on to denounce the idea of loyalty altogether, at least outwardly. Elements of his work suggest that even in his later years he still saw value in the concept.

 

* Business --  Felten explores the psychology behind brand loyalty people develop for certain products and loyalty programs businesses implement to snag and keep customers

 

* Military / Law Enforcement -- how loyalty / codes of conduct in these environments are developed, in what ways it is important in these groups; when discussing law enforcement and more specifically prisons, gets into "prisoner dilema" and Reid Technique

 

 

Felten even looks at loyalty in regards to the entertainment industry, citing as one example the demise of the marriage between actress Sandra Bullock and motorcycle  manufacturing specialist Jesse James, after Bullock weathered a very public airing of James' adultery. 

 

What makes it one of the most highly regarded virtues and what dangers does one face when loyalty is misplaced? Loyalty in a person is undeniably admirable, particularly when it stems from an honest place without ill intent or ulterior motive. Having people in your life who truly have your back allows one to be more brave, pursue more dreams, attempt more daring feats and ultimately develop a more fulfilling life all around. But what to do, when society places a burden on a person to be loyal to someone who does NOT seem to have the other person's interests at heart? Some will follow orders and remain loyal to the figure anyway, even when the figure's actions move beyond being merely selfish into flat out immoral or illegal. Even so, their followers can STILL get caught up in that sense of loyalty, making it difficult to convince a person to separate themselves from the unhealthy person in their life. It's just one of those things that rarely catches on, at least right away. Here enters Felten's point on how loyalty can become "the vexing virtue... creating moral conflicts".

 

Felten's book pleads the case as to why loyalty is still an important virtue worthy of lifelong pursuit. He writes with an enjoyable humorous tone but the text itself does not remain riveting throughout. This little book only lightly delves into the topic and even there, Felten's points sometimes become repetitive, his main stance being (as you can guess from the title) on the vexing quality of loyalty... but he hits upon the "vexing" idea A LOT.

 

 

___________

 

EXTRAS:

 

* Here Eric Felten himself talk on the topic of loyalty in this short clip (book trailer of sorts?)

Review
3 Stars
Zoom: Surprising Ways To Supercharge Your Career by Daniel Roberts
Fortune Zoom: Surprising Ways to Supercharge Your Career - Daniel Roberts, Editors of Fortune Magazine, Marc Andreessen, Leigh Gallagher

With Zoom, Fortune magazine extends one of its most successful franchises, 40 Under 40, to bring you original insight on the best-kept secrets of top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and rising tech stars. Discover how Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh built a uniquely attractive corporate culture, how Under Armour founder Kevin Plank took on Nike, and what Marissa Mayer told herself before leaping from a safe post at Google to the high-risk top job at Yahoo. Zoom features the fascinating profiles of these and other young innovators and provides readers with tips to fast-track their own career success. Additional contributors include: Omar Akhtar; Katie Benner; Ryan Bradley; Erika Fry; Miguel Helft; Michal Lev-Ram; Pattie Sellers; Anne VanderMey; and Kurt Wagner. 

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Zoom offers an extended look at Fortune Magazine's "40 under 40" feature series. The book opens with a foreword by Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Netscape who now sits on the boards of several major companies such as Facebook, Ebay. He is also an investor behind Twitter and Airbnb.

 

Daniel Roberts compiles success stories of some of the biggest names from business and entertainment industries, and incorporates pointers readers can use themselves. Some stories highlighted:

 

* Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour athletic gear, is friends with Pete Wentz, frontman for the band Fall Out Boy. When UA was still a smaller company, Wentz would often blog about his love of the clothing, which got word out on the street and helped grow his friend's business. Later on, Jaime Foxx was seen wearing a UA jockstrap for some of his scenes in the football film Any Given Sunday. In another story, John Janick developed a friendship with Wentz, went on to become president of Interscope Records and signed Fall Out Boy. Once again, Wentz fell into blogging about the two of them and it helped grow not only the band's popularity but also the label's.

 

Robert's lesson here: Don't be afraid to network! Build street teams, encourage word of mouth endorsements, look for ways to get free advertising when you're just starting out. This is actually kind of ironic, because nearly everyone that Roberts interviewed for this book actually recommended to STOP networking, instead citing education as most important to their success. Several also named "mom" as their mentor. :-) But then that actually ties back to another of Roberts' key points -- don't assume everything's already been done. Research! 

 

That is one issue I had with this book though, Roberts' tips, the way he words them, can come off confusing, almost contradictory, at times. For instance, he encourages readers to always stay humble, patient, and resilient, but also says that it's important to have a confidence almost to the point of cockiness about your product. 

 

* When Target was developing their in-store cleaning product line, Method, the company prided themselves on keeping things weird and fun. Method headquarters offers a game room with ping pong and bean bag toss tournaments, the opportunity for employees to make up their own fun job title (ie. admin asst. changed to "Zookeeper", consumer response manager now "Chatty Cathy"), and spin the wheel door prizes as work incentives. Method put time and energy into developing eco-friendly products in cute packaging and went on to break $100 million in sales in 2012. 

 

Robert's lesson here: Keep your sense of humor about you and your business. Yes, take your work seriously but not TOO seriously. He points back the story of Under Armour and notes that Nike jokingly is not spoken of in UA headquarters, but when interviewed, Kevin Plank admits their competition is needed to keep things interesting. As Plank put it, "Luke Skywalker was a lot cooler because of Darth Vader."

 

Other stories covered: how Kevin Systrom developed Instagram and how some of the technology was later bought up by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg; the professional path of Evan "Ev" Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Blogger; how Dolf Van Den Brink rose from a management trainee at Heineken to becoming their US CEO within 11 years. Roberts also looks at the saying "no such thing as bad publicity", using the story of Lebron James and his move from Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat as an example. In the summer of 2010, ESPN aired a special on his team move titled "The Decision" following him as he decided whether to stay with Cleveland or move to Miami. After it aired, GQ Magazine deemed the show an "accidental mockumentary", Cleveland Cavalier fans burned jerseys in the streets and a flood of Lebron James hate Youtube videos quickly followed. But that fall, James still went on to make Fortune's 40 under 40 list. 

 

My favorite section was the bit featuring the rise of South African multimillionaire Elon Musk and how he wants his space exploration company, SpaceX, to be the first to colonize Mars within the next 20 years. Many have dismissed his goals and ideas as absurd, but isn't that how so many eventually successful invention stories tend to go? I like where Roberts ends this portion of the book: "Will his ideas save the world? Maybe not, but the real risk might be not trying at all."

 

"I'm not satisfied unless I'm doing a little bit more than I actually have time for." 

~ Seth McFarlane, creator of animated series Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show and the sci-fi series The Orville

 

 

 

At the very end of the book, there is a supplemental section where readers can look through the questionnaire Roberts posed to the book's contributors, in their own words revealing who their personal mentors are as well as hobbies, pet peeves (Instagram founder Kevin Systrom cites "lattes served in bowls" as his biggest peeve ... more irony! lol), time management tips and causes close to their hearts. 

 

Brian Deese's responses were my favorite. 

 

 

There's also a "Where Are They Now?" kind of follow up to 2012 (this book was published in 2013). 

 

All in all, a surprisingly FUN read with a largely light-hearted tone to the topic of working toward success. The backstories of the big names and how they got where they are now are cool and inspiring. You'll be surprised how quick you  "zoom" through this one.

 

Alright, I'll just see myself out now. 

 

 

 

Review
2 Stars
The Five Essentials: Using Your Inborn Resources to Create a Fulfilling Life by Bob Deutsch
The 5 Essentials: Using Your Inborn Resources to Create a Fulfilling Life - Bob Deutsch, Lou Aronica

As a cognitive neuroscientist, anthropologist, and entrepreneur, Bob Deutsch has spent a lifetime studying people. What he has found is that most of us set the bar too low in our lives, both personally and professionally. We choose not to pursue our greatest ambitions because we feel we are incapable of reaching them. But he has also found that we are each born with the fundamental abilities to live the full, creative, dynamic life we dream about. Filled with great stories and interviews with inspiring people, including Wynton Marsalis, Richard Feynman, and Anna Quindlen, The 5 Essentials opens the door to a way of being more alive than you have ever been.  In this compelling book, Deutsch shows us how to access and use our five inner resources -- Curiosity, Openness, Sensuality, Paradox, and Self-Story -- to open our lives to unimagined possibilities.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Deutsch has a background in cognitive neuroscience and anthropology and believes that everyone has 5 basic innate gifts that, when tapped into and nurtured, can help develop a truly fulfilled life:

 

* Curiosity --- That knowledge-craving bit of you that is always driven to ask "What's that over there?" 

 

* Openness --- How well you allow yourself to be surprised... do you HAVE to know the details of everything beforehand, or are you okay with surprises once in awhile? How well do you adapt to life's curveballs? Sometimes allowing for surprises leads to a better outcome to a situation than you might have imagined. Deutsch refers to this as "directed serendipity".

 

* Sensuality --- Not talking about sex here, or at least not solely... but more about how actively you engage your senses in general as you move through experiences. Do you note how the air smells in a moment? The particular nuances of flavor in the food you eat?

 

* Paradox --  basically how well you embrace the unexpected... somewhat along the lines of Openness, but also incorporating the idea of comfortably living in life's gray areas, being okay with some of life's questions being a mystery with no clear cut answer, rather than requiring everything to have a black and white explanation.

 

* Self-Story --- Deutsch calls this area "the driving force of your authentic self", the yin-yang compartment of your soul where light and dark, beauty and warts, all sides of your core self find balance. Deutsch explains that when one explores their self story, it "illustrates something fundamental about you."

 

Knowing what you are about helps you to be at the same time very clear about what you are not about. This allows for the possibility of extraordinary growth, because when a new opportunity comes along, maybe even something you've never considered before, your self-story gives you a way to judge if that opportunity makes sense in your very specific case.

 

Self-story also makes you resilient in ways you can't possibly be otherwise. When you truly know what you are about, you know it in an unassailable way. Having a vivid sense of your self-story protects you from being completely thrown off your game in the face of hardship. This doesn't mean that the hardships themselves will be less difficult to endure, but it does mean that you're likely to bounce back from them faster. Those who thrive tend to understand their self stories... at a cellular level, and because they understand what they are genuinely about, they can get back on their feet more quickly when things trip them up.

 

 

Deutsch also describes research he garnered from hours-long focus groups he put together where he challenged people to "go beyond stereotypical or cliched talk" and really delve into who they were as individuals, instructing them to "stop and focus", "own your narrative" (Why yes, there is a healthy dose of self help buzz language in here! What'd ya expect? :-P ). 

 

The idea of these focus groups and of this book, is to get people to work toward a more honest, real, stripped down version of themselves so that they can finally sift through the muck and excuses of daily life and get to a clear vision of the life they TRULY want to live. Deutsch describes this part of the process as "Always Be On Your Way Home".

 

I've developed a strong thesis about popularity.... I call this concept FAP (Familiarity, Appeasement, Power).

{Sorry, it just gave me a giggle that this guy attributes popularity to fapping.... }

 

Through this book, Deutsch gets into the idea of "decentration" (rather than concentration), the idea of forcing yourself to pause, step back, and take yourself out of an equation to properly evaluate it. Step away from the external noise so that you may listen to clues from your internal self / internal monologue. It's a concept whose origin is attributed to Jean Piaget, a 20th century developmental psychologist. 

 

At its heart, this book basically just urges readers to live a life beyond a mere surface-level existence. It's not a bad book necessarily, but it doesn't really cover much new ground or offer any real earth-shattering revelations. For the author being someone who studies the field of neuroscience for a living, I was hoping for something a little deeper but the bulk of what he offers most will have come across before in dozens of other books. Additionally, there was something about the overall "voice" of the book in general I found irritating. 

 

Review
2 Stars
The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts
The Solace of Water - Elizabeth Byler Younts

After leaving her son’s grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband’s hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start. Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways. Delilah’s eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother’s pain, never allowed for a moment to forget she is responsible for her brother’s death. When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma’s house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted. Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation. But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions. Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness. Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, and custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topic of self harm.

 

 

After the death of their young son, Carver, African American couple Delilah Evans and her preacher husband, Malachi, decide to move the family from Montgomery, Alabama back to the small town community of Sinking Creek, PA near where Malachi grew up. Malachi gets to work settling in as the new preacher of a local church in the area, but he finds resistance in his congregation. When he sits down with a family member for perspective on the problem, it's explained to him that he's simply been gone from the community too long and people need their trust with him restored. 

 

Delilah blames Carver's death on her daughter, Sparrow, who was supposed to be watching Carver when tragedy struck. Right from the beginning of the story, it's obvious that Delilah takes out her grieving on Sparrow in cruel ways. Struggling with feelings of guilt and abandonment by her mother, Sparrow, over the course of the novel, turns to self harm to alleviate her inner pain, turning to things such as stinging nettles, glass, even a clothes wringer to leave marks on her physical body as a way to let off steam from inner turmoil. Sparrow comes to find comfort in the presence of Emma, a local Amish woman who knows a thing or two about loss herself.

 

She had this warm milk sort of way about her. A body just couldn't walk away from somebody like that. You just want to drink it in 'cause you don't know if you ever gonna meet anyone like that again.

>> Sparrow, on getting to know Emma

 

 

But once the interactions come to the attention of Delilah, both she and Malachi warn Sparrow that she should probably keep her distance. This novel is set in the racially tense times of the 1950s and interracial friendships (and relationships otherwise) play a big part in the novel's dramatic moments. Emma hears similar warnings from her Amish neighbors and even her husband, a head deacon within the Amish community. It doesn't concern them so much that their new neighbors are black, but simply that they are "Englishers", or non-Amish. In their own ways, both the African-American and Amish communities push on these characters the damaging idea that "we'll all do a lot better if we just stick to our own kind." But as we the readers know, the world doesn't really work like that. We either cultivate love, kindness and appreciation for a multi-cultural world, or our lives face potential implosion, just as the characters in The Solace of Water learn for themselves.

 

"Since when do you know them?" John asked (after he discovers Emma knows the Evans family)

 

"I met them when they moved in. They're a nice family."

 

"The bishop said to leave them all alone because there always seems to be trouble between them and the white Englishers. We aren't like either of them and need to keep to ourselves."

 

Within Emma, we see a vessel for change. She has a poet's soul, full of curiosity in the stories of others, a love of words and a desire for knowledge. But she struggles against the darker corners of her life that threaten to tamp out her light. Her husband's secret struggle with alcoholism, his dislike of her "fancy lines" (her habit of crafting her own bits of poetry) that he sees as a form of vanity, quite the sin in Amish culture. Emma is weighted down with heavy guilt from being an enabler for her husband's drinking. She knows it's not only wrong but dangerous as well. It's not addressed directly, but parts of Emma's story suggest that perhaps John turned to drinking as a way to cope with crippling social anxiety, but over the years his bouts of aggression seem to have escalated along with the amount of alcohol he needs to consume to feel able to function. 

 

Emma's teenage son, Johnny, has had years of spoiling from his father and is progressively drawing more and more toward English ways -- drinking, late night carousing, sneaking pornographic magazines, even befriending an out-and-out racist! What changes Johnny is the first sight of Sparrow, whom he describes as the prettiest, most interesting and different girl he's ever met. You can imagine the firestorm that develops for a man who simultaneously maintains a friendship with a racist AND secretly tries to court a black teenage girl!

 

**Sidenote: I wasn't all that impressed with Johnny as a character. I couldn't help but feel that he saw Sparrow as something exotic and interesting in his Amish life rather than someone he honestly wanted to have a deep loving friendship with... even if he does talk about running away together (I think that was more about "young man caught up in the moment" than anything) and tells his mother that "Sparrow taught me things I never knew before"... What? WHEN? Their interaction throughout the whole book added up to only a handful of rushed conversations in secret! I just didn't buy that his feelings ran as deep as he claimed.**

 

The novel is presented in alternating POVs, rotating between Delilah, daughter Sparrow, and Amish neighbor Emma. To date, the novel seems to have gotten solid 4-5 star ratings across the board but I just did not have the same reaction as so many others. To be honest, I actually struggled to get to the end of this book. I DID finish it but for a book this size (under 400 pages), it took me WEEKS to get there. Highly unusual for me, especially for a historical fiction novel -- one of my favorite genres! The pace felt molasses-slow... which is sometimes nice in a novel if the writer brings the right tone... but when you combine slow with a deeply depressing plot for most of the novel... that alone left me exhausted enough.

 

But then add in Delilah as a character. That woman had a personality that just came off as almost straight vinegar. Yes, it is explained later (through her conversations with Malachi and later, Emma) that much of her acidic demeanor is driven by a combination of fear and grieving, even fear that letting go of the grieving will somehow dishonor the memory of Carver. Full disclosure: I do not have children, have never personally experienced the loss of my own child. BUT, in my own circle of family and friends, there are a number of women who have had that experience in one form or another, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, or tragedy. With that, I can say that none of the women in my circle have ever come anywhere near the unpleasantness of Delilah. They've known the sadness for sure, but they went on to live the best lives they could, full of love and appreciation for the people they still had around them. Delilah was just EXHAUSTING in the way she never gave anyone or anything a chance, she just assumed everything was more misery in disguise ... at least for a large part of the story.

 

So what kept me reading? Well, this is one of those stories that does have its important, moving moments, even if they are few and far between for some readers. But as I said, I stuck with it, and the plot's pace FINALLY picked up for me around the 250 page mark. But remember, the entire book is less than 400 pages. That's a long wait to a payoff. But readers who choose to stay with it do witness revelatory conversations, where women ask the important questions such as "Is that what you want --- to be separate?" and we come to realize that though the details and the POVs may differ, one commonality bonds these women together: they are all desperate for unconditional love and affectionate touch, something to remind them they are still important to others... yet their actions show just how scared all of them are to voice that need.

 

Aaron believed his arrival was a surprise, but I knew better. John's forgetfulness was getting worse the more he drank. His gentleness toward me was diminishing like dampness whisked away in a May breeze. And anytime he was gentle, I was filled with my own regrets and in my guilt I pushed him away. 

>> Emma

 

Good concepts for a novel, the problem for me mainly fell on the characters not having enough dimension for me to have much emotional investment in them.

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

Review
3 Stars
Forever With Jesus (Sea Kids #7) by Lee Ann Mancini
Forever With Jesus - Lee Ann Mancini

In Forever With Jesus, the sea kids learn that Jesus died for their sins, and that by believing in Him they will live in heaven forever. The cousins visit their grandparents for Grandma Pinky's 80th birthday. During their visit, their grandparents' neighbor, Mr. Higgins, passes away. Grandma reads the Bible and tells her grandchildren how wonderful heaven is and how there will be no more tears, pain, or suffering. The children understand that they do not have to fear death because their belief in Jesus guarantees they will live forever with Him in heaven.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

The Sea Kids gang returns with another important life lesson to share with all young readers following their underwater adventures! Fish siblings Guy and Lena meet up with their cousins Luke, Zachary, Christopher and Isabella at their grandparents' house to celebrate Grandma Pinky's 80th birthday.

 

 

 

The day of the party is naturally a celebratory one, full of reunions, cake, playtime and sleepover fun. The next morning however, the kids wake to the sad news that their grandparents' neighbor, Mr. Higgins, has passed away.

 

Grandma Pinky uses the news as an opportunity to sit with her little blessings and discuss the topic of death and heavenly afterlife. She wants to assure the young ones that death is not something to fear, because Heaven is a place free of any kind of pain, suffering, or sadness. It's a place full of only love and light. 

 

 

The story here is a good one, approaching a tough topic in an age-appropriate way that will be easy for little ones to digest. As far as general excitement though... I mean, it's a story about death, so clearly it won't be quite as light in tone as the previous books... but just in general, the writing and engagement factor here fell a tad flatter than earlier installments of this series. Though it's always great to have books like this available to help open conversation for the sadder subjects of life, the execution here was just slightly repetitive. 

 

This series continues to be enhanced with the wonderfully colorful, movement-filled illustrations of Dan Sharp. There's not quite as much little detail worked into the scenes here as in some of the previous books, but Sharp is a master at delightful facial expressions for these characters (I love how the grandfather here has an almost Buddy Hackett look!).

 

 

As in all the other books, the spot-the-cross game is incorporated throughout all the illustrations and characters from previous Sea Kids books can be spotted in background artwork in the grandparents' home. Some also make an appearance as attendees of Mr. Higgins' funeral.

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookCrash.com and GLM Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

------------------------------

 

My reviews for the previous books in this series:

 

#1 Fast Freddy

 

#2 What A Bragger

 

#3 I'm Not Afraid! 

 

#4 A Servant Like Jesus

 

#5 God's Gift

 

#6 God's Easter Miracles

Review
4 Stars
A Love Made New (Amish of Birch Creek #3) by Kathleen Fuller
A Love Made New (An Amish of Birch Creek Novel) - Kathleen Fuller

It seems as if everyone is falling in love in Birch Creek, including Abigail Schrock. But when heartbreak descends on her already fragile world, she can’t help but feel that if she’d only been a little prettier, she could be on her way down the aisle. To make matters worse, Abigail’s two sisters have found love, and all Abigail can seem to find is the chocolate she has stashed away in the pantry. Asa Bontrager has never had trouble with the ladies in his Amish community—his good looks have always gotten him far. Which is why he’s baffled by the call he’s received from God to pursue Abigail, a woman who seems determined to turn him away. Can Abigail find the peace and joy she so desperately desires? Will she allow herself to stop running and melt into the embrace of unforeseen comfort? If she does, she may discover a love powerful enough to restore her hope in a promising future.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

This series has been following the emotional growth of three Amish sisters -- the Schrock ladies; Sadie, Joanna and Abigail -- after a personal tragedy. Abigail, the 22 year old less pretty middle sister is trying to heal from her own recent run-in with heartbreak. Though she gave her heart to Joel, he turned around and promptly dumped her for perky, petite Rebecca. 

 

Then in walks Asa Bontrager. Previously known as a bit of a ladies man (by Amish standards), the handsome charmer believes he is given a divine message one day to pursue lonely, hurting Abigail. But Miss Abigail is a little self-conscious about her recent weight gain from secret food binges and is not altogether certain she wants a new romance right now. Or so she says. But Asa has big plans on how to bring down her defenses and heal her wounded heart. His speech to help ease her fears about her weight gain were a good start, I have to admit:

 

"You need to stop cutting yerself down...I'm not going to judge you if you want donuts or a hamburger or a candy bar. It doesn't matter to me what you eat. It shouldn't matter to anyone else, either...You deserve someone who will treat you well and put you first in his life. Someone who will love you the way you are, for the rest of his life, who thinks you're perfect the way you look right now."

 

*Though part of me also thinks, it's sweet, but some of what he says to her toes the line between being supportive in a healthy way versus being an enabler to bad choices. 

 

Readers also get an update on Sol, who shows a noticeable temperament shift in this book.. is he becoming... likeable?! Thanks to a meddling mother with an itch for matchmaking, Irene Bailer is wrangled into working as Sol's assistant, painting his birdhouses. Irene proves to be a sweet influence on Sol, teaching him how to forgive himself for past indiscretions and struggles with alcoholism, loosen up and find his inner child again. 

 

As the reader, I sometimes struggled with how believable the romance between Asa and Abigail was --- nothing between them, I actually grew to like them together, but in the beginning it seemed like Asa's intensely deep feelings for Abigail came out of nowhere. I get that he got the idea to court her because he felt he was divinely inspired but guy had no chill at the start! Ease into things, son! Wouldn't a guy want to make sure he ACTUALLY had feelings for a woman and wasn't just doing something because God said so?! But as I said, he and Abigail do end up as a good match, IMO. I had a good laugh at Asa's utter SHOCK at Abigail's dislike for anything pickled. 

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

___________

 

My reviews for the previous books in this series:

 

#1 A Reluctant Bride

#2 An Unbroken Heart

 

*Note: a fourth installment, The Teacher's Bride, is due to be released this December.

Review
3.5 Stars
Ghosting by David Poyer
Ghosting: A Novel - David Poyer

Dr. Jack Scales, a prominent neurosurgeon, is at the peak of his career. To celebrate, he decides to make up for lost time and buys a sailing yacht christened Slow Dance, for a family cruise to Bermuda. But the family is strained: Jack’s wife Arlen is secretly considering leaving the marriage; Rick, their bipolar twenty-year-old son, may need to be committed to a group home; Haley, a rebellious teenager, would rather be anywhere but trapped on a boat with her family; and Jack himself is not prepared for the challenge of the open sea. Day by day, the Scales face mounting dangers. A lightning storm nearly destroys the boat, Rick’s unstable condition worsens, and both Arlen and Haley realize that Jack is in over his head. Still, emerging from the storm, they find a fragile unity…until a man adrift on a raft leads them into danger against a terrifying gang of smugglers, who will stop at nothing to gain control of Slow Dance.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel includes scenes of gang rape. Also within this book are intense, emotionally raw scenes with a character who is struggling with schizophrenia and suicidal thoughts. 

 

Neurosurgeon Jack Scales may be riding a high professionally but over the years his personal life with the wife and kids has suffered. Now near the breaking point, with Jack's wife, Arlen, having an affair with a younger man, and his schizophrenic (or at least schizo-affective) son, Ric, hearing voices urging him to commit murder and self-mutilation, Jack thinks a family trip is long overdue. Also along for the journey is daughter Hailey, a dedicated swimmer who generally does what she can to avoid the whole family. Jack plans a family trip to Bermuda on the new sailboat he bought but has yet to actually sail. What could go wrong?  Oooh, just wait, readers. 

 

In the course of this short novel that clocks at just under 300 pages, we the readers witness: a stowaway that nearly dies, a lightning strike that damn near sinks the boat, Hailey walking in on brother Ric trying to shove a kitchen knife down his throat, a gang rape, AND the boat taken hostage by smugglers! Phew! At times it almost felt like some macabre, darkly comedic take on National Lampoon's Family Vacation, minus the scenes where I came to really feel for Ric with his dark episodes and internal struggles. Ric reminded me a bit of the character Andy Hoffstadt (the brother of Hank Azaria's character) on the short-lived tv drama, Huff. 

 

No surprise, there is a healthy dose of medical and boating jargon scattered throughout the story (author David Poyer himself is a sailor with 30+ years experience). But I got a chuckle at one point when Jack insists to his family that any complaining is to be done using correct boating terminology. The sex scenes though... I'm talking about the consensual ones here --- not so sexy. Maybe it's just a matter of personal preference, but having a guy bust out one or more "kiddo" during bed dancing just weirds me out. 

 

The plot, post-smugglers taking over the boat, gets incredibly intense. As noted in the trigger warning at the beginning of this review, this novel does include scenes of gang rape. Though painful to read, their existence within the story plays a powerful role in illustrating just how far a parent will go to protect their child, sacrificing themselves at all costs if it will me the offspring will stay safe. 

 

Recommended for: Fans of Corban Addison's The Tears of Dark Water.

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