Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Fault in our Stars

Let me start by recommending that you just go read this book IMMEDIATELY. I opened it on Friday evening a couple weekends ago and finished it on that Sunday morning. I couldn’t put it down. I inhaled this book and it was so.damn.good. Unlike my previous book reviews (examples here, here, and here) this is not a part of any online book club. I just read it on my own and simply HAD to write about it.

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Quick Synopsis: Fundamentally this book is about a teenage girl, Hazel, who is living with terminal thyroid cancer. She begrudgingly attends a support group of young people who are either living with, in remission from, or dying of cancer. Here she meets Augustus, a teenage boy who lost a leg to osteosarcoma but is currently NEC (No Evidence of Cancer). To boil the story down to it’s complete bare bones… they fall in love and experience a life of love, loss, death, heartbreak and disappointment together. I won’t spoil any of the plot for you since I sincerely encourage you to read the book yourself, but get ready to laugh and cry all within the same chapter because this book is an emotional roller coaster.

How did it make me feel? Well, let me start with a little peek into my history. There isn’t a person out there who hasn’t been touched by cancer, so I won’t insult anyone by saying that I “felt this book” more personally than anyone else. But it struck pretty close to home in probably more ways than I would’ve liked. When I was 14, my older brother (then 17) was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. Unlike Augutus’s osteosarcoma, which typically presents in large bones (like the femur – hence why many children with this cancer are amputees), my brother’s Ewing’s Sarcoma fell into the soft tissue of his spinal cord. There was a time when we weren’t sure he would walk again. Although his prognosis was always good, I don’t think anyone in my family would describe the year that followed as anything less than complete hell. Obviously, I wasn’t the one who was sick so I won’t even begin to equate my feelings on the situation to how my brother felt during that time. But cancer struck all of us in some way that year.

Personally, I hated talking about it. I wanted to compartmentalize it, but it felt like cancer invaded every aspect of my life. While I imagine some might find Hazel’s sarcastic and course attitude towards her illness, her family, and everyone around her off putting, I completely related to it. I think her portrayal was just so… honest. I couldn’t help but smile when they would sarcastically refer to things as “Cancer Perks” because even I got them! I was excused from being late to school, an older boy who previously bullied me suddenly stopped, and everyone was feeding us lasagna (To be clear, I am grateful to everyone who brought food to our home because that is thoughtful and caring. But my dad and I ate lasagna every night for a week early on in treatment. To this day, I have a slight aversion to lasagna).

I feel like this is the book that everyone was afraid to write about kids with cancer. They’re not always strong and sometimes people praising their strength only makes expectations even harder to meet. Augustus and Hazel were so unabashedly unapologetic in the book, it was so refreshing. The scene where Isaac is smashing the trophies on the ground was just… perfect. Cancer blows and it’s freaking unfair. And that’s just the honest truth. This book was nothing short of cathartic.

Note: To end things on a more positive note, I wanted to be clear that after spinal surgery, one year of chemotherapy, a course of radiation my brother has been cancer free for almost 10 years (it’ll be 10 years this June if I’m not mistaken… what what!). I also wanted to thank my fiance’s super awesome brother, Dave, for giving me this book for Christmas this year. It was an awesome gift 🙂

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Book Review: Blackberry Winter

The February Peanut Butter Fingers Book Club selection was Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio. I literally tore through this book with astounding speed. I would pick up my Kindle to read before going to bed and read a quarter of the book. One of the issues with reading on Kindle is, I have no idea how big this book is in real life (according to Amazon its 320 pages… I’m shocked it felt so much shorter). I’m super excited to finally be getting a post up BEFORE the PBF deadline. Hopefully I can figure out how to link up with her before Tuesday… wish me luck!

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First a brief synopsis: “Blackberry winter” is actually a meteorological term for a late season cold snap or storm – I’ve learned something new already! The book starts in Depression Era Seattle in May 1933. A single mother, Vera Ray, is forced to leave her son, Daniel, at home while she goes to work the night shift as a maid at a fancy hotel. A freak snow storm hits and when she returns home, her son has vanished. Jump ahead to Seattle in May 2011 and behold another freak snow storm hits on the exact same day. A reporter, Claire, is assigned to write a story about these two snow storms for her newspaper, when she discovers the unsolved abduction of Daniel Ray. Claire and her husband have recently suffered their own loss after an accident caused her to lose a baby. The two storys continue to unfold as you race to solve the mystery of Daniel Ray. I won’t give you any spoilers… but wow, it’s a pretty awesome ending.

My general reaction: I really enjoyed this book. It was a fast, easy read and I definitely felt myself emotionally connecting with the characters. It made me want to read more books set during the Depression. Not that I expect those to be exciting “light” reading, but I definitely don’t read much about that time period so I thought it might be time to expand my horizons. I was a little disappointed that it was another “mystery” type book, considering last month’s book, The Secret Keeper, was a similar idea of jumping between past and present to solve a mystery. Makes for a VERY entertaining read, but I’m hoping next month’s book has a little more variety.

How did this book make me feel? Hmm, well that is an interesting question. I guess it made me think a lot about love, relationships, and marriage (marriage is a pretty central theme in my life right now). Clearly Claire and Ethan are having major marital issues because they can’t seem to see the other person’s perspective. But it’s the Charles and Vera story line that intrigued me the most. I just felt like Vera was so hasty to run away, thinking she would ruin Charles’ life if she stayed. She gave him no credit, no chance to do the right thing, which is all he had ever done by her. I know she was supposedly doing the “selfless thing” but did she do the right thing by him?? It didn’t seem like it in the end. Did she really love him? That kind of suggested to me that, deep down, she didn’t actually trust him. She didn’t trust in their love and their ability to withstand obstacles.

It makes me think about my own relationship and my own impending marriage. I remember having a momentary doubt that perhaps we hadn’t been together long enough to know that we were right for marriage. But then I realized that I trusted Mike and our relationship so completely, that I had no doubt we could handle whatever life had to throw at us. Love isn’t always about knowing or being certain. Sometimes, it’s about having faith and jumping in with both feet.

On a slightly different note, I will start with a confession. The thought of having children terrifies me. I know that I want them, but I kind of want to have a panic attack when I think about actually having one. The Claire story line with her running while pregnant, getting hit by a car, and losing the baby hit WAY too close to home for me. I don’t have a lot of concrete feelings to articulate, but it just heightened my worry that if and when I ever am pregnant I will be so terrified I won’t be able to live my normal life. Any other lady runners out there have this same reaction??

So here are some questions for you:

– If you read Blackberry Winter, what did you think? How did this book make you feel?

– If you haven’t read Blackberry Winter, what are you reading right now?? I’m always interested in good book recs 🙂

Book Review: The Secret Keeper

Let me start by saying… HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY to all the lovers out there. Life is a funny thing. I had my first proper “valentine” when I was 17 and then not again until I was 24. Talk about a dry spell right? Before Mike, love was a cruel game of disappointment and heartbreak. I prided myself on never wearing black on Valentine’s day or spending the day hating love and couples. I, somehow, remained relatively optimistic. But then I met Mike and he changed my world. He gave me my first valentine’s day in seven years and this year he gave me my first engaged Valentine’s day 🙂 So I wanted to share a song that is really ringing true for me this year (It’s from the Nashville soundtrack which I have been shamelessly listening to on repeat all week):

So I once again missed the deadline to link up with the PB Fingers book club. But for the fourth month in a row, I actually did read the book in time! Whatever, I got engaged… I was busy! But I did want to still do a book review because this book REALLY made me think.

So January’s book club selection was “The Secret Keeper” by Sarah Morton. I actually listened to this book on audio through Audible.com. I totally loved it! I listening on my commute and when I was running. I wasn’t sure how I would like running to an audio book but it totally rocked! I got a new book this month called “Going Clear:  Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” which is really interesting (I have such a thing for non-fiction books). But I digress. The Secret Keeper is basically the story of a girl named who at 16 years old witnesses her mother, Dorothy, stab a man to death in the garden of their idyllic farmhouse in England. The family dismisses the incident as a matter of self-defense, but Laurel clearly knows there is more to the story. The rest of the book switches between present day where Laurel is desperately searching for answers about her mother’s mysterious past, and WWII London where Dorothy’s story is playing out. Let me just say that, despite a pretty slow start, this book keeps you on the edge of your seat. I was desperately trying to work out the mystery in my head. And the twists just kept on coming, right up to the final chapter. I literally gasped out loud when I realized the final twist (I was running on the Mt. Vernon Trail at the time so I’m sure I looked pretty ridiculous).

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But for our purposes, this book made me think a lot about my own life. I found myself wondering, what secrets have I buried in my past? I really do believe in leaving the past in the past. I don’t regret any part of it, because that is a worthless emotion. It has made me who I am now, so for that I am grateful. I am equally as grateful to have moved on from it. On most days, I really don’t think about it. But while reading this book, I found my thoughts occasionally wandering back.

More importantly though, this book really demonstrated to me how critical it is to be satisfied with the good things in your life. I’m not different than most 25 year olds out there. I spend way too much energy asking questions like, “Am I where I should be at 25?” “Where is my career going?” “What if I never get all the things I thought I should get?” “Am I a failure?” Sometimes I find myself forgetting to count my blessings, forgetting to be grateful for the health, stability, happy family, loving relationship, and super cool cat I do have. I felt like Dorothy’s downfall was a direct result of her thinking she was “meant for something better.” She had this amazing man who loved her and she sabotaged it with delusions of grandeur.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, and trying to practice gratitude daily. How do you practice gratitude?

Book Review: What Alice Forgot

Apparently I’m just not understanding the PB Fingers Book Club thing but I swear I’m going to figure it out! I was finished with this book WELL before the deadline, but I didn’t realize you were supposed to write it up on your blog FIRST, and then she would link to your blog when she reviewed it. Lesson learned. That’ll be my goal for next month. I did want to talk about the December selection though because it was a really interesting book!

I’ve defined POTR in my mind as a “wellness blog”. I wouldn’t consider it a food blog or even healthy living blog, since those seem to require me posting all my meals in a given day and a daily workout report. Instead, I think I’m aiming to address all areas of wellness in a place that is both personal and informational. When I decided I wanted to add books to the blog, I had to ask myself why? I think the Happiness Project was more obvious because it did SO MUCH for my general happiness and disposition, which is a crucial part of wellness. However, I think books in general (for me) play a huge role in my wellness. In my definition, wellness is more than eating right and exercising (which I write a lot about on here). There’s also a mental / emotional component to it that, for me at least, is probably the most critical. Therefore, I’d like to spend one post per week talking about some aspect of wellness OTHER than diet and exercise. Book reviews fall in this category for me because I’m not really interested in discussing the plot. I’m interested in discussing my reaction to the book, the way it made me feel, and the questions it raised in my mind. So without further ado… a book review for you!

So the December PB Fingers book club pick was… What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. To give you a very very very bare bones plot summary… basically the last thing Alice remembers is being 29, happily married, and expecting her first child. Suddenly she wakes up from an apparent fall at the gym to find that she is actually 39, has three children, and is in the middle of a bitter divorce from her husband. The remainder of the book follows her as she struggles to remember what happened over the last 10 years that has changed her life so drastically.

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I, for whatever reason, am pretty hit or miss when it comes to novels. I LOVE non fiction books and read a ton of memoirs (usually of the dark and gritty variety… call me weird, that’s ok with me) The novels I do enjoy tend to be more historical fiction, dystopian, etc. Something besides “regular every day life”. But for some reason, this book really captivated me. I was reading it on my Kindle and would open it up whenever I had a minute… on the metro, in the elevator. I also stayed up WAY too late reading on numerous occasions. I almost felt like I was scrambling and rushing through the first part of the book, because I was so desperate to find out more of Alice’s memories! The author did a great job simulating that desire for more information. She really put you in Alice’s place almost. There were places I felt like things were kind of dragging but it wasn’t a deal breaker.

Mike wasn’t a huge fan of me reading this book. Which is a weird thing to say and makes him sound weird and controlling, which he is definitely not. But the way Alice’s marriage to Nick completely disintegrates over the course of 10 years, from honestly nothing more than stress, work pressure, and lack of communication, really upset me. We would be sitting together reading and I would look up very concerned and ask Mike if he really thought that he and I could make it forever or if he thought that we were supportive enough of each other. He said he preferred when I was reading The Happiness Project because I was… well… happier! But this book really made me think. Not that I didn’t already know it, but relationships are HARD. Not only with your significant other but also friends and family members. You have to work at those relationships all the time or they can slip away before you realize. Interestingly enough, I found that Alice’s relationships with Nick and her sister Elizabeth were most damaged by the things they DIDN’T say to each other, or felt like they couldn’t say.

I also found myself for most of the book being like “Wow, Alice sucks.” The way information was unfolding and being relayed it made her sound well… terrible! And Gina too for that matter. There was even a little part of me that was like “No wonder your marriage fell apart… look how horrible you were!” I also got the feeling that Alice kind of felt that way about herself too. But then when her memories all come flooding back to her on Mother’s Day, I realized she wasn’t horrible at all. She was just a normal person, experiencing every day stresses, and trying to find her own path. It showed me again how important it is not to judge someone’s actions or behaviors. 99% of the time there’s a back story there that you have NO idea about.

While I definitely found myself sad at many points in the book, I’m really glad I read it. It really inspired me to put in the effort in all of my relationships. Making sure I say what I’m feeling and make time to show affection even when I’m tired, overworked, or grumpy. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested!

Here’s a link to Julie’s write up for the book club (I also used her picture since I didn’t have the book in hardcopy). The January book club pick is “The Secret Keeper” by Kate Morton. It looks pretty interesting to me… somewhat similar to “Atonement” it appears, which is an all time favorite of mine (I actually love basically everything Ian McEwan has ever written and was gifted his most recent book “Sweet Tooth” for Christmas!) I was hoping everyone would pick “The Fault in Our Stars” because Mike’s brother gave that to me as a Christmas gift and I’ve been wanting to get into it. I think I will keep up with the group though and try and squeeze in some others this month 🙂 I actually just subscribed to Audible.com and might give it a try with this one!

Book Review: The Happiness Project

So I just finished The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and I simply had to write a blog post about it. I’m considering doing this more frequently so please feel free to chime in and tell me if you love it or hate it. Also, my friend Sarah is considering starting a blog about movie / tv / book reviews and I’m really encouraging her to start. She’s offered to help me on my To Do list item of “Watch 5 Classic Movies I’ve Never Seen.” She’s got a biiiiiigggg crush of Steve McQueen, but first up I want us to have a movie day of Audrey Hepburn movies. I’m getting off topic though (side note: the ability to get off topic is literally one of my favorite things about writing this blog. I’m allowed to get off topic! It’s my blog and I’m not getting graded by a professor or critiqued by my boss… MINE ALL MINE!) I digress.

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The Happiness Project started as an idea, became a blog, then a book, and now it’s KIND OF a big deal. She also wrote a follow up book called “Happier at Home,” which I am considering reading in the future as well. I read the book because it was the Peanut Butter Fingers November Book Club selection. I obviously missed the write up by a couple days, but that’s ok. (I started the December Book “What Alice Forgot” on the metro this morning so I am determined to link up for that one!) Here’s a link to her write up / link up.

Basically the idea of the book is a woman spends one year of her life trying various tactics to being happier. Each month is dedicated to one specific area of her life. She has one overarching goal and several specific sub-goals. I could literally spend probably the next month writing about everything I loved about this book… but I won’t because Mike has already been subject to it. I just want to say that I honestly think that this book has changed my life. That is such a lame hyperbolic statement, but it’s true. I am fundamentally a happy and optimistic person, but recently I’ve found myself getting very negative. I saw myself turning into someone that I had no interest in becoming. I knew I wanted to turn it around but I had no idea how. Enter The Happiness Project. It’s not at all meant to be a self-help book, but I could feel myself resonating with so many pieces. Here are some specific thoughts:

  • I love the way this book is written. Prior to writing this memoir, Gretchen Rubin wrote NYT Bestselling biographies and she is an amazing researcher. I loved how she included so much research and quotes in her book. As a science lover, this totally sold the book for me 🙂
  • Rubin is so accessible and easy to relate to. I fundamentally don’t connect with her on so many levels (she’s married, has two children, and has had two very successful careers already), but I felt like she was talking about me the whole time. 
  • Probably the number one thing that stuck with me about the book was when she was discussing the nature of happiness and unhappiness. She argued that happiness and unhappiness were not two sides of one emotion, they were separate and independent ideas. That… blew my mind. Whenever I’m feel unhappy about some aspect of my life, people always say “But think about X, Y, Z, those are such good parts of your life!” And while I appreciate the sentiment of focusing on the positive, all those comment did were make me feel guilty and ungrateful. Rubin argues that happiness is not just doing things that make you feel good, but also reducing things that make you feel bad. That was a huge revelation for me and made me feel so much less guilt!
  • One of my favorite sayings that she quoted throughout the book (originally by  G. K. Chesterton) was “It’s easy to be heavy, hard to be light.” I realized that the reason I tend towards getting sad or negative is because it’s EASY. It’s really hard to be happy, jolly and careful because life is hard. It’s not going to happen unless I work at it every day.
  • The first chapter (January) focused on the idea of energy, and I took a ton of really useful tips from this chapter. While I already exercise and eat well, I was particularly interested in her ideas about little, nagging tasks. She employed the “one minute rule” (I referenced this earlier in the blog!), where she would never put off a task that takes less than a minute to complete. Now I’m totally doing that. When I come home from work, I empty my bag, put my lunch containers in the dishwasher, and hang up my coat. Done deal. She also employed the “evening tidy up” which has been clutch. I wake up every morning to order and cleanliness… I love it. She also talked about the satisfaction of completing a “nagging tasks”. I am so guilty of this it’s not even funny. This week I registered my car in VA after putting it off and whining about it for 2 whole months. I have never felt such relief. It inspired me too! I cleaned out my sock drawer (only matched pairs with functioning elastic now!) and completed a bunch of long term projects at work.
  • Another take away that I loved was one of her “Secrets of Adulthood”… Don’t like Perfect be the Enemy of Good. Woah… I mean that is me right there. I am unfortunately a really “all or nothing” person, and I’ve been trying so hard to moderate myself in so many ways. This saying is the perfect mantra to repeat to myself when considering a task. I have 20 minutes to squeeze in a strength training workout and I think “that’s not enough time to get a good enough workout”… Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. I haven’t talked to a friend in a while and I want to catch up with them, but don’t have the time to compose a long email or spend an hour on the phone. I think about gchatting them or dropping them a quick note but am afraid that’s not enough… don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Love it.
  • She wrote a whole chapter (July) on Money, which basically could’ve been written for this blog. The biggest take away for me though was the idea of spending wisely. And not spending wisely like not buying crap you don’t need or can’t afford. Spending wisely like setting yourself up for happiness and success by spending money on the things you need or are important to you. I tend to put off buying things, even when I know that I need them, because I don’t want to spend the money. But in the long run that really adds annoyance to my day. For example, I only put $20 on my SmarTrip card (it’s DC metro / bus fare card in case you didn’t know) at a time, even though I take the metro every day and run out of money all the time. I invariably am out of money on a morning when I am running late and need to catch a train immediately. Why wouldn’t I just put the total amount I need for the month on at once?? That would save me so much hassle. I took a good hard look at how I think about money too, and I had a lot of really positive revelations. Hooray.

I could go on and on and on for days, but I’ll just say that I really encourage you to think about reading it! My best friend put it on her Christmas List and I think Mike might even want to read it! My mom is always a big proponent of thinking about “joy” as opposed to “happiness” because happiness can be situational  And I really do agree with that. But what I really enjoyed about this book was the argument that situational, every day happiness can be just as important. The things that bring me joy in my life are my family, Mike, my friends, the cats, etc. Those things make my life. But I also get really happy by the sight of a clean bathtub or a sweaty yoga practice. I realized that by focusing on the little things, it helped me see and enjoy the big things more.

Also, more than one person in my life has told me they’ve noticed a real change in my mood. They said that I just generally seem happier… and that can’t be a bad thing 🙂 D0n’t I look HAPPY??? Also… Happy Friday!!

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