Category Archives: Book Review

Recent Book Reads, Shows, and Podcast Love!

Happy Weekend! Looking for some good reads? Here’s what I’ve been up to since March…

Reading:

I adore Alice Munro. Such an excellent short story writer.

I’m a Michael Connelly fan. Great structure, kept me reading.

I love love Elizabeth Strout. Her sentences are so gorgeous. This is sad but good.

Watching:

PBS masterpiece, John Adams, Chicago PD, Hart of Dixie (only because of Lemon Breeland!), and currently it’s Amazon’s Vikings.¬†The battle scenes are so violent that I have to constantly close my eyes, but I’m drawn to the culture and the curiosity and clash between paganism and christianity. Also: Lagertha.

Podcast Love:

New York Times, Modern Love, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and KM Weiland’s How to Help Writers Become Authors.

And…that’s all folks! What are you reading, watching, and listening to?

Have a great weekend!

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Children’s Author, Jessica Lawson & a Book Giveaway!

Make sure to scroll to the bottom for a book giveaway!

One of my favorite children’s author’s, Jessica Lawson, is visiting Maisymak today with the September 5th release of her fourth book, UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE, ¬†by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. You can add it to your Goodreads account¬†HERE, and see it up on Amazon¬†here.

Isn’t this gorgeous cover art by illustrator,¬†Sonia Kretschmar?

If you haven’t read Jessica’s other books, I highly recommend them! (I especially loved WAITING FOR AUGUSTA, so apropo for the times we live in.) Jessica has an incredible grasp of language and uses such clever turns of phrases – I’ve learned a lot from this girl (she’s also the gal I credit for helping me land my own literary agent, woo hoo!)

Here’s Jess:

SEASONS OF CHANGE

by Jessica Lawson

Thank you, Amy, for having me on your blog! UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE will be released on September 5. For anyone wanting an early peek, I’m giving away one advanced reader copy. I’ll choose a winner from any comments on this post (winner will be chosen on August 28).

Autumn has always been my favorite season‚ÄĒit‚Äôs a time of such visible and internal changes as nature glides toward its annual sunset. Leaves burst into brilliant colors, then fade, then fall off. It‚Äôs metaphor-city for an author (and a welcome way to work cloves, cinnamon, and pumpkin-flavored anything into a story).

In UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE, my main character Minna Treat is not ready to become a teenager. She’s been raised by her uncle, who has a huge collection of parenting books. Minna’s read all of them, and she’s learned enough about the teen years to be nervous for what’s ahead. Here’s an excerpt from the book as an example:

According to the award-winning book Natural Disasters: Emergency Parenting for the Teen Years, youth and innocence were basically over once age thirteen hit, and I needed to be as self-grounded as possible to anchor myself for the ‚Äúdeluge of tumultuous, volatile changes ahead.‚ÄĚ If I didn‚Äôt have complete faith and confidence in myself as a person before the clock struck TEENAGER, I‚Äôd get swept away by some kind of giant invisible flood.

Between that kind of doomsday talk and the fact that my thirteenth birthday was three months away, I felt like I was on my own personal deadline for finding out exactly who ‚ÄúMinna‚ÄĚ was before the very last autumn of my childhood was over.

While I wasn’t as apprehensive about the big 1-3 as Minna is, I definitely had reservations about growing up.

At the beginning of sixth grade, I had just moved to a new state. I knew nobody and was starting middle school. I adored elementary school and mourned its ending. Kindergarten to 5th grade was a 6-year-long season in my life that was golden. Everyone started changing a bit after 5th grade. They started growing up and having new concerns that I didn’t share, and it all sort of broke my heart. I was not ready.

I resisted mainly by being myself. I did not wear trendy clothes. I wore things like solid color sweatpants with different-solid-color sweatshirts. I did not wear makeup. There was no ‚Äúgoing with‚ÄĚ boys for me like there was for the other girls, nor did I want that. I did not get asked to any dances and was relieved, because dancing in public seemed like something I‚Äôd rather not do.

I was incredibly shy. But while I struggled a bit socially, other areas were smooth sailing. I was good at school and good at sports and I liked to read. Those things made all the difference.

I liked my teachers and classes. My report cards were thumbs-up. Though I went on to be a Varsity soccer team starter for all four years of high school, in seventh grade, there was no girls team at my middle school. So I tried out for the boys‚Äô team. I made it. Boys did not like being slide-tackled by a girl. Grades and sports did not win me friends. But they gave me the confidence to continue resisting the pressure to ‚Äúgrow up‚ÄĚ in ways that I wasn‚Äôt ready to. Plus I was a very Late Bloomer, which gave me a natural resistance. The P-word, Puberty, did not pay me a visit until my senior year of high school. I sometimes wonder if my body was simply waiting until my heart was ready for a change in seasons.

In a way, Minna finds refuge in the advice that parenting books give her‚ÄĒshe figures that if she knows what‚Äôs ahead, there can‚Äôt be any hurt or pain. Not to spoil things, but the parenting books do not prepare Minna for what happens in this book. Like autumn leaves shifting colors from green to red and orange and yellow and brown, change sometimes happens whether we want it to or not. Writing this book was a catharsis for me in that way. You can‚Äôt always know what lies ahead, but you can choose who is in the boat with you while you weather any storms and celebrate any sunny skies.

And now that I’ve changed from autumn metaphors to sea travel metaphors, I believe that’s my cue to end this post. Readers, do you have a favorite season of the calendar year, or a favorite season in your life?

In the weeks leading up to Gilbreth, New York’s annual AutumnFest, twelve-year-old woodcraft legacy Minna Treat is struggling with looming deadlines, an uncle trying to hide Very Bad News, and a secret personal quest. When she discovers mysterious bottle messages under one of the village’s 300-year-old bridges, she can’t help but wonder who’s leaving them, what they mean, and, most importantly…could the messages be for her?

Along with best friend Crash and a mystery-loving newcomer full of suspicious theories, Minna is determined to discover whether the bottles are miraculously leading her toward long-lost answers she’s been looking for, or drawing her into a disaster of historic proportions.

Thank you, Jess! I can’t wait to read this.

Dear readers, please leave a comment – do you have a favorite season of the calendar year, or a favorite season in your life?

Could you help an author out? Please help me share this upcoming release by hitting the share buttons on the bottom of this post – Facebook, Twitter, Email, or any other social media button you’d like.

We love supporting local and indie bookstores! (tells you your local independent bookstore based on zip code), Barnes & Noble, Amazon, 

Connect with Jessica on Facebook, Twitter, her website, and blog!

THANK YOU so much. And congratulations, Jessica!

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Recent Book Reads, Favorite Shows, and Music Recommendations!

Good books, a fantastic medical drama, and a singer who has me swooning Рread on for inspiration!

Since we are¬†still in the thick of winter here in New Hampshire, I like to think it gives me more of an excuse to read. Which I don’t. Which I should. An hour every afternoon sounds dreamy, no?

Here are my recent reads¬†(all of which I liked…I toss books aside when I don’t feel like reading them. Who has time for meh?)

What I Read: 

  1. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. Oh my, what a delightful classic. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is now¬†my standard for all things parenting. Funny and delightful, I’ll be reading more!

2. Pax by Sara Pennypacker.¬†Middle grade, especially recommended for the kids (and adults) who love anthropomorphic animal stories¬†(which I don’t normally gravitate towards.)

3. Eloise Wilkin Stories.¬†Oh, the hand-drawn and painted¬†baby faces, the chubby hands, cheeks, and legs. Simply¬†exquisite. I snatched this at a children’s book exchange…for myself. My admiration for Wilkin was cemented after reading her children’s tribute to their mother. Their love is palpable as they wrote of their enormously talented and creative mother.

4. On Living, by Kerry Egan. Nonfiction. Really, really good. As a hospice chaplain, Egan writes of the “spiritual work of dying.” Sound depressing? It’s not at all! So much wisdom here.

5. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. Nonfiction. That Capote character is an intriguing chap. Capote¬†was Harper Lee’s childhood friend (he was who “Dill” was based off of). Jealous of Lee’s success and her “little bird book,” he was a great writer in his own right. And so very very odd. Here’s a look at his rural Alabama upbringing. It’s good!¬†

6. Still Life by Louise Penny. An adult mystery.¬†I realized about 3/4 of the way through I’d already read it. The writing is good, but was easy for me to put down.

7. The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon. The Professor¬†looooved this. I liked it. The year is 1968. Lynnie is developmentally slow and therefore deemed “undesirable.” Locked away in an institution, she falls in love with Homan, an African American deaf man. This is their love story. Some of our American history is¬†so appalling.

8. Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. I LOVED this book. Favorite middle grade read in a long time. I’ve enjoyed¬†all of Jessica’s books, but this one especially. The voice is pitch perfect, making¬†me laugh out loud, and also want to cry (my perfect combo.) I envy her¬†use of language and found myself dog-earring pages to study a turn of phrase. It begins: “Eleven-year-old Benjamin Putter has a lump in his throat, and he‚Äôs certain it‚Äôs a golf ball…?” With a subplot of race relations, it’s tells the story of one boy’s journey to find his father’s love.

9. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. As a lover of all thing Jodi Picoult, this ranks as a favorite. It hurt my heart, made me cry, feel ashamed, offended, offensive, uncomfortable, happy, and sad. A page-turner of a book about race in America. Destined to become a book club favorite. Read it. And may we all do better.

10. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, M.D.¬† A spiritual and medical memoir, Alexander, a neurosurgeon, writes of his near death experience after an ecoli bacteria strains attacks his brain and leaves him for dead. His recovery was miraculous and baffling to an entire medical team. Fascinating from a scientific point of view, Alexander makes the case for heaven.

Are you¬†participating in the Goodreads Challenge? It’s fun! My goal is 50 books this year and I’m on track, baby!

What I’m Watching:

1. Mercy Street. LOVE it. This series is so well-made and written, it’s got me reading about typhoid in the civil war¬†HERE, and a Behind the Lens HERE. Mercy Street is a¬†civil war medical drama, and it’s got it all – love, loss, betrayal, redemption, jealousy, historical complexities, race, war, amputations (we’ve come so far in the medical field). There’s¬†blood and some seriously realistic surgeries, but¬†it’s so clean and SO GOOD. PBS, can you do no wrong? I think not. (Free on Amazon Prime.)

2. Other shows¬†that got me through the winter: Poldark, Turn: Washington’s Spies (though unnecessarily racy), Scandal (I had to stop¬†but Olivia Pope is on point), Victoria, The Crown,¬†This is Us.

What I’m Listening to:

1. Ed Sheerhan’s new album, Divide.¬†What a great¬†album! My favorites¬†(on repeat and downloaded for my recent running race): Perfect, Galway Girl, Dive, Happier, Supermarket Flowers (sob!), Nancy Mulligan.

And now, do tell – what are you reading, watching, and listening to these days?

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Summer Reads {including my current obsession with Lin-Manuel}

What¬†I love about summer? More reading time. One day I told Paige we were having a reading hour right in the middle of the morning. We laid on my bed for a whole hour and read. It was quite blissful and I vowed to make a daily habit. It wasn’t, but I encourage you to¬†lay aside tasks and chores and television for more words and books.

Paige finished the 7th Harry Potter book – a huge feat for a 9-year-old, but especially gratifying as this was my child who did not care much for reading; it was too hard!¬†But then she discovered Harry. She was in mourning for days with a beloved Harry book to read, but I pushed Laura Ingalls and she’s enamored with a whole other world once again.

I just love good books. Here are my summer reads: what I loved and what I didn’t.

  1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Covers WWII in France and serves as a warning of how insidious Hitler’s type of evil can spread. Hard to read at times as it deals with the choices mothers and fathers are¬†forced to make during wartime. Really well written and definitely worth the read! And it will make you cry and pray for peace.

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2. The Book of Mormon: I read this often, almost everyday, and always learn new life insights. It’s changed my life. And it’s free ūüôā

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3. Food Matters by Mark Bittman: Terrific, easy, unprocessed food and recipes.

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4. God Wants a Powerful People by Sheri Dew: Another life-changing book. Empowering.

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5. The Self-Care Solution by Julie Burton: Julie reached out to me and asked if I would read and review her new book. It was terrific, a read mothers should read, study, and heed. I’ve got a copy to give away to the first person who asks! I’d love to send it your way. Congrats, Julie!

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6. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: I resisted for months – who dares to complicate or cast a shadow on my favorite of books, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? Alas, I opened the book and was quite delighted¬†with Scout, all grown up. There’s so much controversy over the discovery of this manuscript (Google it – fascinating!), but I’m most intrigued by the fact it was the first draft of what would become her great classic. It shows the great power of an editor!

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7. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo: I just love that DiCamillo, whatever she writes!

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8. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: I loved this.¬†The movie is coming out in September and Cope and I will be first in line! A great love story. How far would you go for the one you loved? Would you let your wife keep a baby that wasn’t really hers – even under serendipitous circumstances? What would you do if someone tried to take away your only child?¬†The writing is tremendous – and you will cry! My favorite type of book ūüôā

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9. Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty: My BFF librarian, Gail, ordered Moriarty’s new book and personally handed it over as soon as it came in. What a gal, right!? As always, Moriarty nails character. She always makes me laugh and think. I didn’t love the plot as much as her other books, but I still enjoyed the read.

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10. Hamilton, The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter: This book is¬†the score, with footnotes on how each original Broadway cast member was cast, and the long road of writing such a brilliant work of art. Hamilton, the Musical is now an¬†11-times Tony-award winning hip-hop musical on broadway. Don’t like musicals? Put that aside. This is unlike anything you’ve ever heard or listened to.

Have you ever wondered how a tiny band of scholars and mercenaries defeated the greatest superpower in the world? And then went on to write a Bill of Rights and Constitution, something never before seen or heard in the world?

Do you know anything about Alexander Hamilton? “Every other founding father’s story gets told. Every other founding father gets to grow old.” Lin-Manuel has put Hamilton’s extraordinary life to music in the form of a rap: “How does a rag tag volunteer army in need of a shower, somehow defeat a global superpower?”

I’m OBSESSED with the genius of it all. Back story: Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation reading ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Rob Chernow. He was struck by the brilliant, young, ambitious founding father and told his wife, “I think this could be a hip-hop musical.” She didn’t laugh. Instead: “That would be cool.” And so it began. Chernow’s book is on my list. The girls and I don’t drive anywhere without blasting and rapping Hamilton lyrics (to Nelson’s great embarrassment). There are a few expletives…beware. It will make you grateful for America, it will make you want to “rise up!”, and it will make you cry. It’s SO GOOD!

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Bestsellers¬†I read and didn’t like:

The Swans of 5th Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (was there even one redeeming character? Maybe one.), and Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah.

What I didn’t like and didn’t bother finishing:

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

It’s been a whirlwind of a summer, but reading was a priority…and now we are plunging into the¬†fall. But wait, what did you read and love? Do tell!

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Recent Book Reads and Recommendations!

Book recommendations are some of my favorite posts to write!

If you read my last book post, you know of my utter obsession with Liane Moriarty (Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon will soon star on-screen in Big, Little Lies.) I gobbled up three of her books late in 2015 and spent January and February running back and forth to the library to check out her earlier books. Have I mentioned? My librarians are my BFFs.

Here’s what I’ve been reading the last few months…

1.¬†The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty: Ellen is a hypnotherapist and finally falling in love. But new love, Patrick, has a stalker ex-girlfriend. Ellen is intrigued and thinks it would be fun to meet stalker…she doesn’t know she already has…

2.¬†The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriary:¬†Sophie has unexpectedly inherited her ex-boyfriend’s¬†Aunt Connie’s house on Scribbly Gum Island‚ÄĒhome of the famously unsolved Munro Baby mystery. A cute read about finding your own happiness. And I love the name “Scribbly Gum Island.” I want to move there.

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3.¬†Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. Moriarty’s debut¬†novel about 3 beautiful triplets – they are so dramatic! As a reader who loves character-driven novels, Moriarty nails it every time.¬†I’ve asked Moriarty to tone down the swearing but she says her characters have a mind of their own…

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You can tell how much better Moriarty has gotten as her subsequent books are released Рa very fun author observation! This is also great news for all of us: WRITING IS A CRAFT we can all learn.

And now I’ve read all her books and am in a deep, dark slump…but don’t fret, Ms. Moriarty has a new book coming out this July! And my¬†BFF (dear librarian, Gail) has already ordered it for me. I tell you, there are benefits living in the sticks!

Coming in July…¬†(I mean, shouldn’t they hire me to be her publicist or something?)

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4. Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole: So, so, good. A former literary agent, Kole knows the business. Want to write for kids of any age? READ THIS NOW. I’ve underlined and ear-marked¬†every page.

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5. The War That Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: “Mom, you HAVE to read this book!” my 11-year-old Brynne insisted. It was a very good, award-winning middle grade read set in WWII.

6. Finding Audrey by Sophia Kinsella: My first Kinsella book, I had to read this young adult novel after my oldest couldn’t stop laughing and saying, “The mom in this book is SO YOU!” Which, after reading, was totally unflattering. Kinsella does a great job using humor to write about a serious, psychological issue.

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7. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meisner: An adult historical fiction novel set in WWII that features two young sisters separated during the Blitz in England. Heart wrenching for me to read about a missing child.

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8. Medium Hero by Korby Lenker: A collection of short stories, Korby Lenker CAN WRITE! I loved this collection so much. Lender will make you laugh and cry and think about your faith as he searches for his own.

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9. The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker: THIS BOOK is going to be big and deserves its own post. Joshua, of the hugely popular blog, Becoming Minimalist sent me an Advanced Reading Copy as he is about to release this gem of a book. Pre-order before May 3rd and you’ll have free access to the Minimalist class. I’m not joking: this book is a life-changer. It’s fantastic. You’ll be hearing more…

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10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: I weep. What happens when a brilliant neuroscientist gets cancer just as he is finally embarking on his calling in life? A #1 New York Times Bestseller, “For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question¬†What makes a life worth living?” I was trying to drift into¬†a restful Sunday nap while reading but couldn’t stop crying and sniffling. The Professor puts up with a lot, I tell you. Worthy read.

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And now on to the next batch of books. Tell me, dear friends, have any book recommendations for us?

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Recent Reads: Books I Loved {and some I didn’t…}

A good book is an event in my life. -Stendhal

1.¬†The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It won the Pulitzer for heavens sake, aren’t I supposed to love it? My overall feeling: meh. If I’m going to take two months to read a 772-page book that weighs ten pounds I’d like to feel a few things: enlightened, empowered, inspired. Sadly, I felt none of those things. There is no doubt that Tartt has an immense capacity to string words into beautiful sentences. She’s very very good. I just wish I hadn’t been left feeling so…meh.

2.¬†In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. Based on a true story, I read this as Cope embarked on ocean classroom. The beginning hooked me right away, though I had trouble wading through the middle. I was left feeling thankful I’ve never had to send a loved one off to sea for two-three years. Also, thankful I’ve never had to contemplate whether or not to eat a human or starve. Wonderfully researched.

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3. Missing You by Harlan Coben. I needed something light and quick after cannibalism. Coben knows how to create a page-turner.¬†Didn’t hate it. Didn’t love it. Feels a bit formulaic. ho-hum.

4. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Nonfiction. I adore Gilbert’s writing. And if she’s going to write about writing? I snatched this one up quick! I underlined many many passages. A great read for anyone who wants to write. Big takeaway? You have a work to do. Only you can do it. So get it done and let the haters be darned! Oh, and¬†Gilbert¬†has this most remarkable theory¬†regarding a big story idea, Ann Patchett, and a kiss…fascinating.

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5. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty.¬†I have a new favorite author. I was hunting¬†for some exciting, adrenaline-pumping fiction and found my match! Moriarty is so good – she nails the dialogue, the pacing, the inner thoughts we think and can’t articulate. There are a few “parts” but not too racy. I RAN to the library after I read this to get her next book, crossing my fingers I would like her as much the next time around.

6. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.¬†Oh, I was not disappointed! This was fantastic. It made me think about how we grow older with our spouse. Remember when it was all rose pedals and butterflies? Alice, our heroine, bumps her head and when she wakes up, she discovers she’s getting a divorce!¬†She can’t remember the last ten years or that she has THREE CHILDREN. She only knows she adores her newlywed husband – what could possibly have driven them apart? IT’S SO GOOD. January, (okay, life in general!) feels so good knowing I have more Liane Moriarty books to read ūüôā

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7. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. This was a big winner in the middle grade world. I liked it okay.

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8. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.¬†Yep, I went back for more. Here she¬†dives into serious issues like domestic abuse with couples who live seemingly “perfect lives.” She also makes you laugh at all the right moments. OMGoodness, I love this author.

9. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sender. A beautifully written book about a great love story…you may weep. Reminded me of Pearl Buck and¬†The Good Earth.

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10. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.¬†Okay, friendlies. If there is one book you need to read this year – THIS IS IT. It has changed my life because it has changed the way I think. It is SO incredibly powerful for me as a parent, teacher, and writer. It’s readable, filled with practical examples, and has the potential to open up worlds of opportunity. I love this book. It was our faculty’s summer reading – what a gem! READ THIS. Or you can start with Dweck’s TED talk: The Power in Believing You Can Improve.

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And that’s all for the latest edition of Recent Reads. What am I reading now? Another Liane Moriarty book…:)

What are you reading? As always, I love to hear!

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I Loved These Books…and You Might, Too

There are few things I love more than discovering a great book Рand then recommending it. With Labor Day upon us, I suppose this means summer is truly coming to an end. Take heart! Perhaps you can squeeze one more book in. This summer I was determined to read more, and though I still have a stack and a wish list, here are my summer reads and recommendations:

51EvfaFpHOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Storied Life of A.J. Fiery by Gabrielle Zevin. I loved this book. It’s subtle, and a page-turner. A.J. Fikery is sad. He lives alone, runs a bookstore experiencing its worst sales in history, and¬†his prized and rare collection of Poe poems is stolen! But when someone wrapped in a very small package arrives on his doorstep, A.J. has a chance to start a new life. A love story that may make you cry. A.J. also makes me laugh. I recommend this book!

510bcEfPizL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I absolutely do not read books about dogs and pets; I’m just not that person. But then I began writing a story about a dog (go figure). To get me in the mood I opened this book. Oh, why did I resist so long? You’ll definitely cry. You’ll laugh, too. You won’t be able to put it down even whilst touring the great sites of Europe (true story.) This book was passed, grabbed, and fought over among many members of the family this summer (a few racy parts had to be skipped¬†for children’s sake)!

UnknownWhen Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson. Wow. What a voice, what a way with words. I’m not sure I even liked this book, but I must sing this author’s praises. This book is so English and not exactly an uplifting read. But Atkinson can write! The horrible first scene hooks you and you must know what happens to little Joanna…and Reggie…and Detective Brodie who is down on his luck and hoping to find the one who got away (both love and murder.) In my opinion, Atkinson, is one of the great writers of our time.

Unknown-1¬†The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.¬†I finally read it. I know, it took me awhile. This is the story of the ability of books to feed the soul. It’s 1939, Nazi Germany. Books are being burned. Jews are being rounded up. Death has never been busier. An orphan, Liesel, steals something she can’t resist: a book. Zusak has a writing style that I had to adjust to – I’m glad I did. Worth the read.

51YUtiQEGDL._SX281_BO1,204,203,200_Suspect, by Robert Crais is the type of fast-paced thriller my husband likes to read at night. I read it because it features a main character named Maggie who is…a dog! Maggie is a bomb sniffer. She teams up with¬†LAPD cop Scott James. Both of them are not doing well. They’ve suffered heavy losses. This is the story of a man and a dog who need each other. I’m now an expert on sniffing and the incredible olfactory bulbs of canines (and you can be too)!

511Y1shNp+L._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by e.l. konigsburg. A middle grade book I loved as a kid and rediscovered on my mother’s bookshelf this summer. It was good (though not quite as good as I remembered) and fun to revisit. It’s a classic, but also startling: children’s literature has evolved!

51CWAtRJpGL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen.¬†I wanted to love this book. The premise was fantastic: a young woman and her privileged husband embark on an adventure to prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster. It’s a love story. It’s a historical period. Cope loved this book and read it twice. I wanted to love this book…but it fell a little short for me. I felt the author was holding back.

41qODNLMRnL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.¬†I took a break from fiction and picked up this collection of Patchett’s¬†nonfiction essays, only one of them being on marriage. I WAS BLOWN AWAY by Patchett’s writing skills. I adore her. I long to write like her. Also, I’m fascinated by Ann’s personal life. In addition to being a best selling author, she owns a bookstore in Tennessee (road trip, anyone???). She doesn’t have children. She has a dog. I dog-eared a million pages and underlined hundreds of sentences. I will share this book with you if you want to read it next!

Unknown-2Paper Towns by John Green. Meh. It’s hard for an author, don’t you think, to have a hit like The Fault in Our Stars, and then be measured by it forever? On the other hand, young adult writer Green has gotten better over time and practice – a great take away for any writer. This book is a love story about a good boy,¬†Quentin,¬†worshipping¬†Margo Roth Spiegelman who is not at all the girl he thinks she is. I’ve got this book, and I can loan it!

41nHbHx4BYL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall is the third in a series of children’s literature. I read this book to Paige; we love The Penderwicks! It’s the story of four sisters, Hound the dog, and their summer time adventures. Very fun. Very sweet, with nothing deep dark and dangerous. Refreshing.

What am I reading now? Daunted by the weight of the book, I finally broke down and began reading the pulitzer prize winning The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.¬†It’s GOOD. So far, there is no dog.

And that’s all folks, Maisymak’s summertime reads and recommendations! I’m always looking for recommendations, so pass them along. What did you read this summer and love?

 

 

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The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

Perhaps your first reaction is like Brynne’s: “A New York Times Best Seller? It’s a book about cleaning!”

Ah yes, my young padawans, we are not yet Jedis. There is much to learn…

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Marie Kondo is a tidy-Jedi. I love this book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Now quite famous in Japan, this method is called the “Kon-Mari method.” Very Jedi-like.

The word “tidying” does not refer to organizing. Rather, this book is about ridding our life of everything unnecessary. In the process, we find joy.

It’s not really about¬†organizing and cleaning. It does not speak of¬†The Container Store, buying more¬†bins, or storage units. In fact, Kondo has something to say about that:

Storage Experts Are Hoarders.

Woah! Hold on to your boot straps, missy, we are going for a ride!

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Kon-Mari is both funny and serious about her quest to organize. She was born wanting to organize. Even in kindergarten, she didn’t like to play. She liked to put things away. In middle school she rushed home so she could¬†organize the house.¬†This girl is now using her innate organizing super powers to change the world!

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What prompted me to pick up this book? I am on a serious quest to feel less¬†crazy,¬†less busy, less frazzled. I’m craving simplicity. So often, I just feel like I’m moving stuff around the house. This book was quite a serendipitous find.unnamed-4

Section One. I ask you, WHY CANT I KEEP MY HOUSE IN ORDER?

I¬†have kids! I swear that’s the reason. I’m pretty sure our Jedi master, Kon-Mari,¬†doesn’t have kids. Just saying. That’s my only criticism. I could be wrong. Maybe she has 12. But she lives in Japan, so probably not.

Excuses. Once I got past “it’s all the kid’s fault,” I dug deep, read, and examined my habits and flaws.

There are five basic sections of the book:

1. Why Can’t I Keep My House in Order?

2. Finish Discarding First

3. Tidying by Category Works Like Magic

4. Storing Your Things to Make  Your Life Shine

5. The Magic of Tidying Dramatically Transforms Your Life

Kondo takes you by the hand and gently says, “Its not your fault you’re a slob. You just haven’t been taught how.” For instance, her clients are most often women in their 50s.

Some Highlights: Did you know you’ve been insulting your socks?unnamed-3

“Never ball up socks…look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. They’ve worked hard for you. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?”

Ha! This is for real! I love it.

Did you know your real life begins when home gets put in order?

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“Tidy a little everyday and you’ll be tidying forever.”unnamed-5

“If you’re mad at your family, your room may be the cause.” unnamed-8

Outer order contributes to inner calm!unnamed-9

As you can see, I did  A LOT of folding down of pages:unnamed-10

If books have voices, this one spoke to me.

Kondo states that storing stuff just hides the problems, conceals things we don’t need under a lid. Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved.

This is why tidying must start with discarding.

In the last month I have gotten rid of at least ten bags of stuff. It feels so good.

Kondo says to work in categories, not by room: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous (CDs, skincare products, makeup, household equipment….), sentimental.

For clothes, hold it up each item and ask, “Does this spark joy?” If not, give it away.

It’s all about¬†feeling.¬†It’s our rational brain that gets in the way.¬†I might use it. I might need it. It was expensive. It was a gift.

How do you get rid of something that doesn’t spark joy? “Express your appreciation for their contribution to your life. Tell them, ‘Thank you for the boost you gave me when I bought you,’ or ‘Thank you for getting me a little more fit.'” and then say good-bye.”

I laughed out loud several times, but then I actually tried it. It really works!

“Say good-bye joyfully with words, like ‘Thank your for finding me’ or ‘Have a good journey. See you again soon!'”

I tried this out on The Professor.

Me: “Okay, honey, does this bring you joy?” (old t-shirt)

“I guess not.”

Me: “Okay, thank it¬†for its service in your life and then say good-bye.”

“No, I’m not doing that.”

Obviously, some of us have a hard time getting in touch with our feelings.

What about the rebound effect? “Rebound occurs because people mistakenly believe they have tidied thoroughly, which in fact they have only sorted and stored things halfway. If you put your house in order properly, you’ll be able to keep your room tidy, even if you are lazy or sloppy by nature” (which she says she is).

People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.

There’s so much wisdom in this book I want to¬†reread it all over again.

I highly recommend it!

You want the space you live in to be graced only with those things that speak to your heart and bring joy. 

“Tidying is our opportunity to express our appreciation to our home for all it does for us.”

Amen to that. And now, back to tidying.

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Book Recommendations (and more!)

Here we go with some book recommendations that will surely thrill your heart and stir the soul. I tell you what, a good book is what gets me through February and March in New Hampshire.

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. ¬†Young Adult. Tragic, page-turner, very tight writing. John Green says,”Thrilling, beautiful, and blisteringly smart,¬†We Were Liars¬†is utterly unforgettable.” I liked this, didn’t love it, but it’s a great book to study for sparse but powerful language, the ending is what Cope calls, “cray-cray.” Interpretation: crazy. I didn’t see it coming!

Fan Girl by Rainbow Rowell.¬†Young Adult. I thought this could have been 100 pages shorter ūüôā but it was really funny, the dialogue was fabulous, and I thought Rainbow (great name!) did freshman sexuality well.¬†A few too many swears for my taste, but Ms. Rowell (Eleanor and Park) is a superb storyteller.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.¬†Loved this! Baker tells a forgotten chapter of American history, (at least I didn’t know about it) the part where hundreds of thousands of orphans would get on a train and travel across the country, hoping a family would adopt them. Babies, toddlers, teens. Love the structure of this novel, how it switches back and forth between present and past. Big take away: the human spirit is incredibly resilient. I shall never complain again.

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Arming Your Children With the Gospel by R. Wayne and Leslee S. Boss: I try to always be reading something enlightening and spiritually beneficial for my family. This is great. Told with real life stories and great quotes, this book is very applicable to modern culture. I dog-eared many many pages. Chapters I particularly liked: Why Teach the Gospel in the home (no one can do it better than you), The Good Neighbor Policy (sometimes we treat neighbors better than our family), Teaching Children Obedience (obedience is the first principle of family life; all interactions and behavior flow from it), and Developing a Love for the Scriptures (it’s not a burden, rather a marvelous opportunity.)

Helen Keller, a Photographic Story of a Life by Leslie Garrett I love autobiographies. Helen Keller is astoundingly smart, but who I admire even more is Anne Sullivan. She had a very difficult life; was exhausted, nearly-blind herself, and orphaned. This teacher is my hero.

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Einstein’s Beach House by Jacob M Appel¬†I’ve long-admired Mr. Appel’s ability to have a full-time career as a doctor AND write hundreds of short stories. He’s won the Writer’s Digest Competition a few times. I received this for free (by emailing him after a webinar!). I have to say, this collection is¬†brilliant story-telling. Didn’t love all the swears in a few stories, but wow, this guy can write!

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly Saw the movie many years ago, but never read the book. Love lawyer conundrums with page-turning story telling. And all I could see was Matthew McConaughey on every page. Need I say more?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Just finished this yesterday! This is my kind of book. Told from the perspective of a brilliant Harvard professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s¬†(she’s only 50), this is a book everyone should read. Loved all the medical jargon, human interactions, and the thoughts of a mother who knows she will forget her children. Heartbreakingly good. Now I need to see the movie…Julianne Moore won the Oscar! Also, if you’re a writer, Ms. Genova has some fantastic advice. For instance, this was originally a self-published book. Her advice: don’t get stuck in that holding pattern of not writing and waiting for the literary agent to pick you. Act! Pick yourself.¬†Um, hello Amy.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. Middle grade read my 5th-grader loved. Mia Winchell has synesthesia, the mingling of perceptions whereby a person can see sounds, smell colors, or taste shapes. A coming-of-age book. I thought it just okay.

What I’ve started: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. So good, so much information.

Other Entertainment News in Television:

1. We did it. In one year, averaging one show a night, we finished all eight seasons of 24. (I’m so proud). Jack Bauer, we love you. No, really. LOVE.

2. We did it. In 6-7 years, we watched the last episode of Parenthood. Best series of real life on t.v. Loved this show. I cried during the season finale…dare you not to.

3. Downton Abbey! The girls and I looked forward to this bonding Downton night every week. The season finale? Carson and Mrs. Hughes! So amazing. And who is this dashing man with a too-fast car? I have high hopes for Mary. Oh, and Edith and her baby! There’s never enough!

4. Chicago PD. A little obsessed with Sophia Bush. I want to be her. Love this show.

The two movies we saw in the last year were recent:

1. McFarland. This is a post by itself so I’ll just say: FANTASTIC! I LOVED it. A must-see for more reasons than running shoes, a coach seeking redemption, and rooting for the under-dog.

2. Cinderella. This movie sparked quite the debate in the house. I loved it. Not everyone did ūüôā Casting was terrific. Cate Blanchett as wicked stepmother? Perfect. And Lily James from Downton? Maybe I was just obsessed with her hair. Her hair. Did you see her hair?

Well, that’s how I got through winter. How did you do it? Did it involve books or shows? I’d love to hear.

xoxo!

 

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Book Recommendations

Oh, I do love posting book recommendation. It’s like telling you a big secret and in return, you tell me something juicy too.

January was a good reading month. I took Word Nerd’s¬†advice and made it¬†part of my to-do list.

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How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen with James Allworth and Karen Dillon.¬† *national best seller.¬†Ya’ll, you have to read this. Every single page in my copy is dog-eared and underlined. Christensen is a brilliant Harvard business school professor…booorrrring? Oh contraire! Diagnosed with cancer, he taught what he thought might be his last class: how would he measure his life? Why, he wondered, were so many of his brilliant classmates, who had every advantage and capability so very unhappy 20 years later? He tells us why and then teaches us¬†how¬†to make our life more happy. Five Stars.

Fight club by Chuck Palahniuk. *lots of indie book awards.¬†Okay, I admit it, the biggest draw was a certain P-I-T-T in the movie. I never actually saw the movie, but I did see¬†A River Runs Through It.¬†We clear? I also read this because I’ve heard many people say it’s “the best book, HANDS DOWN, I’ve ever read.” It just goes to show¬†how vastly book taste varies. I would have quit reading before chapter 1 ended. I pretty much despised¬†this book. There, I’ve said it. I skimmed to the end¬†because I thought perhaps I was going to miss the great literary merit. There’s a great twist at the end and the writing is very good.¬†That will give it Two Stars*.

*I feel mean writing that about another author's work but it's just my little opinion!

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DeCamillo.¬†Whatever DeCamillo touches is gold. How about that name? Leroy Ninker. This was a Paige book. She’s 7. We both loved it. It’s short and funny and full of big dreams. “Leroy Ninker has a hat, a lasso, and boots. What he doesn‚Äôt have is a horse ‚ÄĒ until he meets Maybelline, that is, and then it‚Äôs love at first sight.” Giddyap! Four Stars.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich.¬†*national book award.Brynne, my 10-year-old came into my room and said, “Mom, you HAVE to read this. It is so good!” It reminded me of Little House on the Prairie, but from a little Indian girl’s point of view. I was hooked by the first line: “The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl.” Brynne keeps reading¬†the last line in this fabulously dreamy voice: “Omakaya tucked her hands behind her head, lay back, closed her eyes, and smiled as the song of the white-throated sparrow sank again and again through the air like a shining needle, and sewed up her broken heart.”¬†Five Stars.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.¬†*national book award.This book has a lot of buzz. I begged the librarian to order it. It’s good. The writing is exceptional. It’s deep and literary. Historical fiction. I wanted to like it more; I felt like I should. I just wasn’t moved the way I was hoping. Hmmm. Literary merit alone is¬†Five¬†Stars but my personal “liking” is¬†Three Stars.¬†p.s. Mr. Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho. I’m so happily surprised when greatness lives¬†in seemingly ordinary places. I wonder if he has a pet cow.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.¬†Another book with¬†a lot of buzz. I begged my librarian for this one too; Priscilla is so good to me! This book has a more unreliable narrator than Gone Girl¬†and¬†I¬†COULD¬†NOT PUT IT DOWN. Luckily we had a major snowstorm and I could not leave the house and had to ignore the darlings¬†(just one second honey, go forage for breakfast downstairs…and hush)¬†so I could¬†finish the book in two long sittings. Written by a female¬†journalist, you’ll know she’s English with¬†the word “rubbish” in the first paragraph. Also, unfortunately, English authors are a little more “free” with language. Now listen,¬†bad things happen when you drink¬†too much¬†and have affairs. Just don’t do it! It NEVER ends well. EVER. You like thrillers? You’ll love this. For unputdownable factor:¬†Four 1/2 Stars

For Christmas Nelson gave me a beautiful leather journal. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it: A book journal. I’ve tried Goodreads and old notebooks, but this is just what I needed. I’m keeping track of it all with a pink uniball pen. It’s dreamy fun.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what to read next. Actually I have a stack. Tell me anyway – and happy reading!

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