Tag Archives: Reading

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 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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