Tag Archives: reading list

A Year of Reading: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”

— Max de Pree

I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.

February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance

March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy

Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.

What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.

A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.

Overview from Goodreads:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. 


IMG_2217I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies. 

Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).

This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:

A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.
― Joy HarjoCrazy Brave

I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.

It really should be read aloud.

Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre? 

What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend? 





What I’m Reading for #BlackHistoryMonth


Here’s the deal, folks. It’s hard to be excited about being an American right now. Our country is in turmoil. Step into the world of Facebook for a minute and you’ll feel it. Our people are torn. We’re hungry for change, but it’s clear that these changes aren’t in the best interest of us all. Instead of breaking barriers, we’re building walls, literally and figuratively.

It’s heartbreaking.

But you know what does make me feel good about being an American? (Besides our freedom of speech, right to protest, freedom of press, local and national chapters of SURJ, the ACLU, and feminists everywhere…)


I’m serious. It is a gift to live in a country where access to books from places like libraries, schools, independent book stores, chain bookstores with coffeeshops inside them, second hand stores, little free libraries, and websites with 2 day shipping are all willing to put BOOKS in your HANDS!

Have I mentioned I love reading? Because I DO.

It is a gift to have a book in your hand. Books make us think. Books make us learn. Books teach us empathy. Books allow us to walk in the shoes of a character who is different than us. Stories – whether told in person, on paper, with numbers, on TV, over the radio, by a child, or by an adult – help us make sense of our world. It is how we learn to care about one another. How we relate to the people around us.

Here is something I learned and can’t remember where. I probably read it somewhere. 😉

It takes several generations of a family to unlearn a prejudice.

Think about that. That’s multiple LIFETIMES to actively unlearn bias.

So if we don’t have a lot of interaction with folks who are different than us, we maintain the same biased views about them – their race, their culture, their religion, their way of dress, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, etc.

If we want to, we can change that. And one easy way is to pick up a book.

READ about characters who are different than you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book and had it CHANGE MY MIND about a topic.

The Cider House Rules changed my mind about abortion.

Bamboo Among the Oaks made me cry learning about Hmoob history.

The Mayflower taught me about my own ancestors’ struggles and prejudices coming to a new world while trying to pave THEIR OWN WAY.

Perhaps I’m rambling. My point is, books have power. Books teach us. And February is Black History Month, so it’s a great time to read books about Black people and by Black people. And you know, learn a thing or two.

Here’s What I’ve Been Reading: 

51avppq060lCurrently, I’m working on this audiobook I picked up from my local library. It’s called The Firebrand and the First Lady by Patricia Bell-Scott. It’s a new in-depth look at the relationship between writer, activist, and priest, Pauli Murray, and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. The author, Bell-Scott, diligently researched archives of Murray’s and Roosevelt’s, including letters they sent back and forth for years. She studies how this unique friendship shaped many of the political projects the First Lady advocated for.

You might recall the name Pauli Murray on this blog before when I featured her in 9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About.


a_lesson_before_dying_novelI recently finished reading A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines as part of a Big City Read initiative my town hosted (and still is) after a City Hall presentation regarding La Crosse, WI’s history as a “Sundown Town.”

A Lesson Before Dying is the fictional story of a 1940s court case where a Black man is convicted of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to death by an all white jury. While on death row, he is visited by a Black school teacher who has been asked by the man’s family to educate him so he can “die like a man.”

There are still several community book discussions on this title for my local friends, as well as several guest speakers talking about racism, the justice system, and inequality. View all the events at La Crosse Reads.


luvvie-ajayi-book-1-copy-768x975A book I read in 2 days time last year was I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi. A “Do Better Manual” for the masses, phenomenal blogger, Awesomely Luvvie, shared stories on everything from feminism, racism, social media etiquette, dating, and more. It’s your all in one, be a better person guide, as told to you by a sassy, pop culture loving, side-eye queen.

This book is a compilation of essays, making it easy for anyone to pick it up and read a few pages at a time. You don’t have to read it chronologically if you don’t want to. Every chapter has a healthy dose of love and petty judgment.

If you want a teaser, I shared an excerpt from a hilarious chapter called When Baehood Goes Bad in a challenge Luvvie gave to bloggers to share their favorite parts.

just_mercy_stevenson_bryan_002What’s next on my to read list? Part of my 2017 Reading Challenge is one book per month from A Year of Reading and March’s pick (the theme is justice) is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. “Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.”

I’m a fan of nonfiction books, so my recommendations tend to lean that way. But there are plenty of other great book lists for Black History Month. Just google suggestions. Or see what’s shelved on Goodreads.

I hope you pick up one of these titles. Or find another interesting book about Black America that catches your eye. Maybe you already have a few you love. Tell me what they are in the comments! I’m always looking for new books to read.

Happy reading everyone!



Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books I’m Excited to Read This Summer

17171077834_09debe83c4_zI’ve been a total bibliophile lately, or what some might call a bibliomaniac. Thanks to The Amusing Muse for crowning me with that literary title! Ever since, I’ve been singing “I’m a maniac, maaaaniac on the floor! And I’m reading books like never before!” 

Today is another round of Top Ten Tuesday, the weekly themed book list hosted by the peeps over at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s theme is a freebie, so I’m creating my list of must reads for the summer.

I’ve read 7 out of 10 books on my spring ‘to be read’ list which isn’t bad in less than 3 months time. My favorite thus far has to be Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova. Fans of magical realism and mythology will love this one. I’m also super excited to let you all know that Krassi will be joining us on The Happiness Project in the near future, so stay tuned! She’s amazing! And I saw her doppelganger the other day outside a coffee shop and almost chased her down. (I didn’t. But only because a friend stopped me.) I’m very pleased to welcome the real Krassi Zourkova here soon.

I’m halfway through my To Be Read Pile Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. I need to write two updates yet though. Oops. How are you all doing on your must read lists?

Time to get reading!

Top 10 Books I’m Excited to Read This Summer

1. Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless by Susan Jane Gilman

I’m back on my humorous memoir kick. I’m devouring any women writers I can find and I picked this one up recently at an indie bookstore. Can’t beat “a funny and poignant collection of true stories about women coming of age that for once isn’t about finding a date.”

2. Dietland by Sarai Walker

The feminist in me can’t wait to pick up a copy of Dietland. The premise is a young woman dealing with body shame who gets entwined with a radical female group called the “Jennifers” that terrorizes mainstream society and its social constructs for women. Yes please, I need to know more.

3. Listen to Your Mother by Ann Imig

A collection of essays based off the critically acclaimed stage performances, Listen to Your Mother encompasses tales of all aspects of motherhood. I can’t wait to read the ups and downs and learning lessons inside as well as support several friends who have participated on stage!

4. I Don’t Care About Your Band: Lessons Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I’ve Dated by Julie Klausner

I can’t help it. I married a musician. This title makes me laugh.

(Note* I DO in fact care about my husband’s band, but I don’t get to as many shows as he’d like, so no doubt he thinks this is true.) 

5. Looking for Alaska by John Green

I’ve started reading this one and fans of Catcher in the Rye and Rule of the Bone will like it. Miles “Pudge” Halter is off to boarding school. He meets the illusive and mesmerizing Alaska Young and becomes entranced. His life is about to change.

6. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This title is on everyone’s ‘to read’ list, and I’m joining the bandwagon. Set in the Great Lakes region, Station Eleven is the tale of a misfit troupe of actors traveling the countryside and performing in ramshackle towns. Disease has wiped out much of the population, and many are living a nomadic life. How does art survive here?

7. Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of) by Elaine Lui

You gotta love a mother who starts the conversation with “Where’s my money?” Based on parts of her blog, Elaine Lui elaborates on her mother-daughter relationship with her mom, known as “The Squawking Chicken.”

8. Don’t Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Kids by Leanne Shirtliffe

Author and blogger of Ironic Mom, I’ve had Leanne’s book on my to read pile for awhile. I also purchased her children’s book, The Change Your Name Store, for my niece this year. It is delightful and I can’t wait to dive into her memoir about her time raising twins as an expat and more!

9. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

As a fan of Bossypants by Tina Fey, I needed to pick up her partner in crime’s equally hilarious book. From her early school days of playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to how she upped her improv game, Amy dishes it out and talks about her new motto, “Yes, please!”

10. Is My Crazy Showing? by Leigh Baker

Surviving a mental breakdown and stint in a hospital, Leigh Baker shares the tumultuous journey of finding one’s way and creating your own family. Shout out to Beth Teliho for recommending this one to me!

What’s on your summer must read list? I’m always willing to make it a Top Twenty! 😉

Top Ten Tuesday – 10 Books I’d Love to Read With My Book Club

BibliophileIt’s no secret. I’m a bibliophile. I really love books. I also really love my book club.

So when I spotted The Broke and the Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday theme of ten books I’d love to read with my book club, I had to share my suggestions. Be sure to swing by their post and check out other book club suggestions too!

In my group, we have 11 members and meet once a month, with December being a holiday party in which we each wrap a book we read in the past year to giveaway. It works out nicely that each member gets to pick the book for the month they host book club. This year we also each picked a genre so we’d end up with a wide variety of kinds of books. Should be a fun year!

Since book recommendations are always something I love, in addition to my dream list, I’m sharing the titles my book club has selected for this year so far.

Historical Fiction: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Mystery: Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James
Autobiography/Memoir: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life by Sophia Loren
Nonfiction: The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Sci-fi: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (my pick)
Classic: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

But if they ever let me choose ALL the books we read in a year…

Top 10 Books I’d Love to Read in My Book Club

1. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

The story of two women – Nao, a teenage girl who feels she has nothing to live for and Ruth, a novelist living across the ocean who finds a lunchbox with a secret history inside. Now, these women’s stories are about to entwine.

2. Child Star by Shirley Temple Black

I grew up watching Shirley Temple films, so I’ve always wanted to read this book. Sadly, it’s out of print, but you can get used copies on Amazon. This is her story about becoming a rising star during the depression era.

3. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

We’ve already read quite a few war books in my club, but none that focus so much on the women’s perspective. Almost 75,000 women were recruited to work in Manhattan Project’s secret cities on a variety of tasks that aided WWII.

4. The Never List by Koethi Zan

Sarah and Jennifer are two friends who make one bad judgement call and spend the next three years held captive by sadist men. Ten years later, when Sarah’s abductor is up for parole, she decides to confront her phobias, and faces fears she didn’t know existed beneath the surface.

5. Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Phones no longer ring. The internet stops working. News reports have ended. People live indoors and stay there. One look at what’s outside and they will never be the same again.

6. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Jenna Metcalf is searching for her mom. Her mom that has been gone for over a decade. She scours what little information is left behind and partners up with both a medium and a private investigator.

7. The Wild Truth: The Untold Story of Sibling Survival by Carine McCandless

Most are familiar with the story of Chris McCandless, the boy who left home to live off the land. His story of the nomadic life was made famous as the subject of Jon Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild. Now, twenty years later, Chris’s sister, Carine, shares intimate details about her brother’s journey and their family.

8. Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim

Author Suki Kim shares her experiences of teaching English in North Korea. It’s a mysterious world where her letters are censored, yet she adores the enthusiasm of her students. A unique glimpse at a culture we rarely get to peek into.

9. See How Small by Scott Blackwood

A brutal murder leaves three girls dead in an ice cream shop. The remainder of the story follows the townspeople as they try to make sense and move on from the travesty. But it also follows the three girls, whose spirits also check in on the townspeople.

10. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

The hottest new title in Young Adult novels. A chance encounter on the school roof throws Theodore – who thinks only of death – into Violet’s world, where she lives in the future – planning for life after graduation. How will these polar opposites shape one another?


Have you read any of these titles? What did you think?

What books would you pick for your book club to read?





What I’ve Been Reading About – Sex, Lies, and Murder

Hey Dudes and Dudettes,

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about my progress with the To Be Read Pile Challenge, so I thought I’d better “update my status.” You see I’ve been reading a lot about relationships lately, so I have three titles of love advice for anyone to enjoy.

And as a refresher, if you’re unfamiliar with the TBR Pile Challenge, it’s a reading contest hosted by Adam over at Roof Beam Reader. The goal is to complete in 12 months time 12 books that have been sitting on your bookshelf for a year or more. You know the ones, they linger in the ever-looming “to be read” pile. At nine months in, I’m just two books away from completing the challenge this year. Holla!

What have I recently crossed off my list?

TBR book collageBonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Roach - BonkLittle known fact about me, or maybe it’s no secret, I love learning about sex and sexuality. I minored – and only because it wasn’t offered as a major at the time – in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I’m passionate about women’s issues and rights, and I’m thrilled to be working at a reproductive health clinic in my town. Reading about the history and science of sex research was right up my alley.

The author, Mary Roach, is quite possibly the queen of nonfiction exposition on risque topics. Her other books dive into the worlds of human cadavers, the digestive track, and what happens when we die. For Bonk, the woman volunteered herself and her husband to be lab rats for sex research on orgasms. That’s dedication.

In Bonk, not only will you learn about the doctors and scientists behind the “G-spot,” the infamous Kinsey “attic sessions,” or just how artificial insemination happens in a pig, but so much more!

The American Heiress

american heiressAlright, let’s tame things down a bit. For all you Downton Abbey diehards and regency era wannabees, I suggest you give Daisy Goodwin’s The American Heiress a try. My book club read this one and it was well enjoyed.

Cora Cash is an American debutante. She is wealthy, beautiful, and definitely high society. Her mother, opinionated at her core, has high plans of wedding her daughter to an English Duke, which would grant Cora the one thing she doesn’t have…a title.

It won’t surprise readers to learn that Cora is soon wed in the novel, however can Cora’s marriage last when she comes from a different world than her husband? So many unknowns!

Escape on a whirlwind love affair in Europe, walk the halls of the great English mansions, and go galloping with the finest – or are they – members of society.


rebeccaBy and far one of my favorite reads this year! I can’t believe I didn’t read it sooner! After all, the film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock is tied for first place (with North by Northwest) as my favorite film of his.

Be very aware, young lovers, when falling head over heels into this tale. A young woman of unfortunate circumstance believes her luck has turned around when she meets and marries millionaire, Maxim De Winter, owner of the luscious estate, Manderley. But all is not well inside these walls. The great rooms of the house, the garden with its roses, and the forgotten cottage down by the beach – they are all haunted by Rebecca – the first Mrs. De Winter.

A shocking truth brings the honeymoon to a miserable end in this chilling story by Daphne Du Maurier. I can’t tell you what happens, just read it for yourself!


What have you been reading? Are you participating in the TBR Pile Challenge? How’s it going? Got any recommendations for me?




ROWdate: Writing, Reading, and the Redhots – Oh My!

It’s officially September, which in my line of work, means it’s Christmas.  I’ve been feeling all nostalgic already for summer.  I know I did accomplish a lot, but I still didn’t get to the full list.  Every summer, I make a commitment to get to the beach and read at least three times.  You know why?  It never happens.  How many times did I get to the beach this summer?  Once.  And I left after only an hour because there were a lot of bees around and the sand was piping hot.

Maybe the beach is overrated.  I like the idea of the beach.  But there’s probably a reason why all of the vacations that Joe and I take are to cities.  We’ve gone to Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Boston, MA, Toronto, Ontario, and this year our road trip.  You don’t see us planning vacations to resorts or taking scuba lessons.  While those sound found, I’m not sure I could handle a whole week of beach life.  I just don’t operate that slow.  You know, island time.

I blame my family.  Look at them.

Ok, I probably coordinated that…  We were in the Tetons, I was feeling epic.

Ok, so ROW80, I’m off of work today and it’s time to Fast Draft!  Since I also have to take my car into the shop, I’m hitting another summer to do and biking to the coffee shop to get my writing done.  See you tweeps at #teamsprinty and #FastDraft today!

Other news, The Redhots kicked off this past friday to a huge success!  Did you miss out?  I won’t hold it against you, just go rectify the situation right now!  It’s not too late to get the cutest redheaded version of Siskel and Ebert tear down and pump back up again the sexy series that’s sweeping the nation:  Fifty Shades of Grey.  So visit Marcia and I and tell us what you think:  50 Shades of Hot?  or 50 Shades of Not?

If you’re up for a readathon, there are several great ones going on.  Great New Books just announced the September book review of Hemingway’s Girl and will be voting soon for the next several months.  We’d love your input on what the hottest books this season include – what do you want to read with us?

Then Jenna at Lost Generation Reader is hosting a Harry Potter Readathon from Sept. 1st – December 15th.  I’ve actually never read any Harry Potter books, so I’m signing up for the first book, just to say that yes I have read Harry Potter.

I finished reading A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain this week and LOVED it!  Never would I have thought that foods like haggis and cobra heart and sheep’s balls would sound delicious.  But reading this book confirmed, once again, that my dream job would be traveling around as Tony’s quirky redheaded counterpart – no real experience, but an eager and gullible partnership could work well.  I also have the travel bug again.  Vietnam and Portugal are placing high at the moment.  Next year…

How is your summer winding down?  Are you looking forward to fall and getting more writing done?  What’s on your autumn reading list?

The To Be Read Pile Challenge

It never stops! (photo from endlessbookshelf.net)

I know you all have one, that looming pile next to your nightstand, the sinking bookshelf that can’t hold anymore, the stacks creeping up on your desk, and the ones you borrowed or were given months ago and haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

It’s the dreaded To Be Read Pile!

*Cue the high-pitched horror flick scream!*
Fear not, dear Readers!  Adam, from Roof Beam Reader, has made a fun and cost effective contest for all of you looking to hit that stack of TBR’s!
The 2012 To Be Read Pile Challenge is your quest to complete 12 books that have been looming on your list for at least 1 year.  That means the book does need to have been published in 2010 or before.  You are also allowed to list 2 alternative books to your 12 in case you have one that is simply unfinishable.  And yes, unfinishable is a word now.  Every writer fears it.  That, and clowns.  Nobody writes about clowns.  They’re plain creepy.
Anyone is welcome to join the challenge and make their TBR list!  If you care to officially join, and enter for the chance to win a $50 Gift Card to either Amazon.com or The Book Depository, then sign up at Adam’s blog!  He’s also listed for you all the participants’ links to their TBR lists, so it’s an amazing place to browse new titles and connect with those reading the same ones as you!

Here is my 2012 TBR List:

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  3. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
  4. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  5. Blessings by Anna Quindlen
  6. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  8. The Lace Reader by Bromonia Barry
  9. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
  10. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  11. The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund
  12. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters, Jane Austen


  1. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  2. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Part of the challenge is to also write up a short review of the books you’ve read, and so I’m going to share with you a few titles I’ve recently finished both on the list and off!

(photo from starvingwritersbooks.com)

Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag:  I picked this one up for my library’s book club and sadly only 5 of us showed up for the discussion that night.  Even more sad was the fact that I was the only one who liked the book.  For those of you who religiously read murder mysteries, I guess Deeper Than the Dead might not mesmerize, but I hadn’t read a creeper book in sometime.

The premise for DTTD begins when three school children discover a dead body in the park one day.  Their teacher, Anne Navarre is struggling to both interrogate and comfort her class about the serial murders that are happening.  The chapters move from the point of view of Anne, the lead detective following the case, the mind of the next victim, and also the killer.

Tami Hoag, a 15 consecutive time New York Times Bestselling author, set the book in the 1980’s.  At first, she thought how fun it would be to reminisce about leg warmers and big earrings, but as she got into the book’s research, she realized how little we had in DNA testing, even in 1985.  The book took a whole new interest as she discovered what detectives had to deal with in order to solve a crime then.

I for one, give this book a thumb’s up!  It was interesting to think about in terms of the advanced technology and testing we have now, and it was a super creepy read!  Don’t read this book before bed!  Or listen to it in the car!  I mean it, it was eerie!

(photo from barnesandnoble.com)

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee:   I just couldn’t get into this one.  I read this title with my other book club group and I think all of us would vote it our least favorite read so far.  It does have some interesting historical value, but the pace was slower and I didn’t like many of the characters.

The Piano Teacher is set in the 1940’s and 50’s, and webs together multiple stories from both during the war and after it.  At that time period, the British who lived in Hong Kong were somewhat of an elite society, and we are thus introduced to Claire Pendleton, bored housewife who begins an affair with the driver of the family she teaches piano for.

Though I didn’t care for this particular novel, that isn’t to say I don’t admire Ms. Lee.  Janice Y. K. Lee is an incredibly accomplished and intelligent woman.  Born in Hong Kong to Korean parents, she attended college at Harvard University.  Her first writing job was as beauty editor for Elle Magazine.  While there, she sought out her true passion, the features section.  She later wrote for Mirabella Magazine, and completed the Hunter College MFA program.  I appreciate her dedication to her work immensely.  Lee spent 5 years working on this book, setting it down here and there to raise a family of 4 (including twins).

The Piano Teacher is another New York Times Bestseller and Lee’s only book so far.  I have no doubt we’ll see her name in print again.

(photo from wikimedia.org)

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer:  I LOVED THIS BOOK!  I couldn’t stop reading this book!  It’s quite possibly one of THE best written books I’ve ever read!

Into Thin Air recounts the firsthand telling of the Mount Everest Disaster of 1995 by Jon Krakauer, who was solicited to go along and write an article for Outdoors Magazine.  While Krakauer’s book is illuminated with terminology definitions and historical background of the world’s highest peak, I do recommend making yourself a cheat sheet of names and what team they belong to as there are many tourists and sherpas traveling at the same time.

Into Thin Air will excite the adventurer in you; you’ll want to climb Everest.  However, as you read further into his journey, it becomes all too clear how little we are in control with the force of nature.  It is extremely tragic what happened on this expedition and my heart and condolences go out to the victims’ families.  But there were many heroes on that mountain too, who risked their lives to ensure the safety of others.

As for Krakauer, he is a well known name for writing stories of great adventure and adversarial topic.  Checking out his wikipedia page, you’ll see lots of retorts toward every one of his works.  I’m definitely interested in reading more of his works.

(photo from goodreads.com)

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson:  Chris is a woman who wakes up every day believing herself to be 20 years younger, single, and certainly not a mother.  The reality is far different.  Suffering serious damage from an accident, Chris has severe amnesia.  Every night when she sleeps, she forgets all that happened the day before and can’t remember much past her childhood.  Except, each morning a doctor calls her and reminds her where to look for her diary, the only place where Chris can piece together her life and know who she can and can’t trust.

The beginning of this book is a slower start, which is to be expected because as you read and learn clues with Chris, much of the information is repetitive.  This would be the case for you if you had to start over from scratch each day.  As the book progresses though, you become more and more on edge wondering who’s telling Chris the truth about her life.

I’d give this book a sideways thumb, if that makes sense, because it has a lot of potential and is thought provoking.  It is the first book published by S. J. Watson, an English writer and now international bestseller.  He wrote the book while taking a writing course at Faber University, and based it upon several accounts of amnesiac patients and their families.

There you have it folks!  Adding these in, I’ve completed 7 out of my 12 TBR books so far!  How far are you on the reading challenges you’ve set for yourself?  What is your reading goal?  I’m shooting for at least 2 books a month.  You can check out what I read here.  What titles are you reading right now?

And don’t forget!  We’re trying to help Jillian Dodd convince author CJ West to participate in her MANday blog.  Find out how you can help here!

We’re Taking Over WordPress: Life List Club – New Blog, New Prizes!

Big news!  Huge!  Spectacular!  Extra, Extra! 

The Life List Club Launches Own Blog!

That’s right guys and gals!  The Life List Club has decided to launch their own blog site and make things easier ON YOU!  Instead of trying to bounce around between 8 or more blogs on one day, we’ll be able to space out our plethora of viewpoints and encouraging ideas over the course of a month at our site.  We’re posting on Wednesdays and Fridays all about achieving goals, and using Mondays for any announcements or guest posts that may occur (hint, hint – Who’s interested?)  Please give a round of applause to my co-founder, Marcia Richards who worked doggedly on setting up our site.  You can visit us at our new blog, and we’ll officially transfer there the first wednesday of April!  Don’t forget, we hang out at the hashtag #LifeListClub too, so you can always give a shout out there!

And Now a Word from our Sponsors:

Ok well not sponsors, I don’t currently have any of those, but if companies like Bath and Body Works, Lush, Target, Barnes and Noble would care to make a contribution, I’m sure it would only do wonders for the ol’ Witkins’ Happiness Project.  😉

It’s time for our Milestone Party!

You can’t have a party without dancing!  Previously you’ve raved to Ce Ce Penniston’s Finally, you’ve jammed to Ke$ha’s Tik Tok and here to teach you how to boogie is the Bingo Boys featuring Princessa singing ‘How to Dance!’

The point of a Milestone party is to celebrate the strides you’ve made on your life list.  A few months ago I condensed my list to the core necessities, and here’s where I’m at with my progress:

1.  Write Everyday – My minimum goal was to write at least 5 things in my gratitude journal each day, with a long term goal of scheduling time each week to get writing done on my book.  However, in the last month, I changed projects.  Instead of the paranormal young adult novel I was working on, I switched to memoir.  Pretty drastic switch there!  I got some good tips from my Warrior Writers Boot Camp gang and will be starting to piece together this project in the next weeks.  I’m also attending the DFW Writers Conference in May, featuring guest author James Rollins.

(My favorite items to have made the Gratitude Journal lately)

  •  Writing a letter home
  • Crossing paths with 7 young deer while hiking in Hixon Forest
  • Reading the fun comments on my Musicalpalooza blog
  • Watching the finale of Season 2 The Walking DeadOMG! What is about to happen??!
  • Feeding the ducks down at Riverside Park
  • Discovering Joe Lando (Yes!  As in Joe Lando who played Sully on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) is playing Cassie’s father on The Secret Circle

2.  Read Two Books a Month – I’ve excelled at this goal!  In February I read four books, and hope to complete that same number by the end of March.  My upscale in reading led to two author interviews for Shifting by Bethany Wiggins and The Doctor’s Lady by Jody Hedlund!  It was an absolute treat to get to chat with these phenomenal women!  I also felt a big push to get to that “To Be Read” Pile and cut out costs of buying more and more books before getting to the ones on my shelf, so I joined the 2012 TBR Pile Challenge.  I’ve completed 5 out of my 12 books so far, two more in progress, so I just need to finish writing the reviews.

3.  Save Money – I was amazed at how much money I could add to my savings after using my ridiculous star stickered chart to track when I didn’t spend money frivolously!  I was able to save up funds to ensure my trip to South Korea is a go!  (I leave in a week and a half!)  I have yet to meet with a personal banker to find a better savings account and finish Suze Orman’s book, Women and Money. 

4.  Work out at least once a week – I’m probably most behind in this goal, but I have stepped it up nutritionally.  I started keeping a food journal along with my gratitude journal so everything’s in one place.  I track what I eat each day, and just writing it down keeps me accountable enough to make sure more fruits and veggies find their way onto the plate.  I’ve made some new recipes including CM Stewart’s Green Smoothie!  And I’ve definitely been buying more produce instead of junk snacks at the grocery store.  On days off, I’ve been good about doing some hiking or walks because I read an article about how even 10 minutes/day  in nature can do wonders for anxiety and fatigue  issues (which I’ve been battling as of late).  The next step is to go full swing with some consistent workouts!

That’s what I’m up to!  How ’bout you?  Do the Bingo Boys inspire you to take dance lessons?  How’s your writing going?  Your workouts?  What dream vacations are coming up?

AND…any time the Life List Club has a Milestone Party we give away prizes!  Drop me a comment below sharing your goals and you’re entered to win a blog swap and I-Tunes Gift Card!

More fabulous prizes to be had!  Visit each contributing writer of the LLC for a chance to win:

Marcia Richards Guest post swap and Amazon gift card

Sonia Medeiros A guest post from Sonia or the winner’s work featured on Sonia’s blog

Jenny Hansen A Margie Lawson lecture packet and a $10 Starbuck’s gift card

David Walker A free download of his “Web Wisdom: Inspiration from the Inbox”

Gary Gauthier A choice of 3 eBooks

Lara Schiffbauer A $25 Gift card

Happy Friday Everyone!

Loving Frank: A Book Review

Published in 2007, this recount of a seven year love affair between Mamah Borthwick Cheney and architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, seems to be getting a second wave of publicity.  I can recall the cover being all over bookstore tables 2 years ago with posters all around.  Now that I picked this up from my “To Be Read Pile,” it would seem I’m not the only one circling back around.  Members of my book club brought the title up for a future read this year, and I’ve seen the historical romance appear in several magazines and book club lists as well.

Before I can tell you about the novel, I have to share with you what I learned about the author.  Nancy Horan was first introduced to Frank Lloyd Wright’s work while living in Oak Park, Illinois for 24 years.  Horan even lived on the same street as Mamah Borthwick Cheney, who in 1907 commissioned Wright to build a home for her and her family.  On the local tours of Wright’s houses and in a few biographies she read, Horan began to wonder who this “Mamah” woman was.  (Mamah is pronounced May-muh.  A derivative of Margaret, though Mamah was always named just Mamah; her grandmother liked the sound of it.)  Little is told of the affair between Mrs. Edwin Cheney and the architect, most scholars stick to his work and pay little attention to the innovator’s personal life.  But Horan knew there was more to the story.  Coincidentally, the affair lasted seven years, and it took Ms. Horan that long to write the book.

Author Nancy Horan (source: globegazette.com)

Those of you who’ve read my book reviews before know I LOVE digging into how the author did their research and what drew them to the story.  The why’s behind why this particular author was the one to write the tale!  Having lived down the street from a Wright created home for so many years, that was the least bit of research Horan did.  The author amazes me immensely with the amount of research she did.  She read all about Wright’s architecture, the movement of modernism, Wright’s autobiography (in which he never outrightly names Mamah), his son, John Lloyd Wright’s biography, the translated works that Mamah did for Swiss philosopher Ellen Key, copies of the only surviving letters by Mamah, reminiscing books by the neighbors of the Cheney’s, and she traveled to places that Mamah lived in order to get to know her.  When first beginning the project, she was writing in several different points of view, but a few years later changed the whole thing to be from Mamah’s perspective.  You can hear more about Horan’s own love affair with the research for Loving Frank in her interview with BookBrowse.com.

Horan’s background is in journalism, and she has covered a range of topics in her years from politics to fashion.  After taking a creative fiction class at the University of Chicago, she discovered she rather liked it.  Loving Frank is her first novel, and she’s been praised for how confident her writing is as a debut author.  I couldn’t agree more!  The language of Horan’s book is beautiful and enthralling.  The story of this couple is tumultuous, as is usually the case when families become separated and new relationships are formed.  Despite the ups and downs of the characters, Horan’s writing maintains an intensity that I think Ms. Borthwick Cheney would be proud of.

Mamah Borthwick Cheney (source: google images)

Living during the turn of the century, Mamah was a woman who would latch on to change.  While the Woman Movement happened all around her, the Suffragists marching, Mamah’s ideals followed more so of expanding one’s own mind.  It wasn’t enough to have equal rights, one had to allow for constant transformation of person and ideas.  If Frank Lloyd Wright is one of America’s most profound natural architects, than Mamah Borthwick Cheney is arguably one of the least known, though best examples of transcendentalism and free thought.

One of the things Horan accomplishes in this book so well are the dichotomies Mamah faced in life.  In fact, that’s how Horan plotted the novel.  She took the major decision moments of Mamah’s life and plotted them down, then looked to define and develop how Mamah came to those decisions.  One of the biggest battles Mamah faced was her role as a mother.  She deeply cared for her children and there are many who would criticize her for the years she spent apart from them.  I think Horan was able to give the reader some perspective, selfish as it may seem in parts, of the whole picture and the grave seriousness of what was at stake for each person.

Frank Lloyd Wright (source: google images)

And then we have Frank.  The subject of so much devotion, Frank Lloyd Wright changed the life of Mamah, and she for him, forever.  While the fame of Wright today is vastly known and celebrated, that was not always so.  He was always awarded, his talent was undeniable.  But the architect needed constant beautiful things around him.  These shopping sprees and grandiose plans resulted in financial debt on more than one occasion.  He dreamed of a perfect world where students could learn from him and create their own projects, yet he was quick to judge and not forthcoming with praise, though he always wanted it for himself.

Frank had a family of his own too when he began the affair.  Six kids in fact.  But Frank’s version of time and Mamah’s were entirely different interpretations.  His work and celebrity afforded him more luxury than Mamah in the 1900’s and he was able to go anywhere he pleased.

The biggest dream of his was to build a home for he and Mamah in Spring Green, Wisconsin on the property near where he grew up.  Even while traveling in Italy and studying the architecture there, he couldn’t get the rolling hills of the midwest out of his mind.  That dream came true when he built Taliesin.

Taliesin (source: google images)

Loving Frank isn’t a book I would’ve thought to be spectacular.  It isn’t a story I would’ve sought out.  But I am wholeheartedly thrilled I took this book off the shelf and listened to its tale.  It didn’t matter to me that at times I agreed and disagreed with the decisions Mamah made in life.  I wanted to be her friend and talk feminism and philosophy with her over dinner at Taliesin.  I wanted her to share her thoughts with me even more on what it was like to be her.

So go ahead, walk over to that “to be read pile” or bookshelf, and pick a title.  You may just surprise yourself.  And if you’re not sure what to read next, might I recommend Loving Frank?  You won’t regret it. 

For more on:

Frank’s Architecture

Mamah and Feminism

Frank and Mamah’s Relationship

Moloka’i: A Book Review

(source: alanbrennert.com)

I admit I picked up Moloka’i based on the cover.  The lure of a Polynesian island, the bright colored hibiscus flowers, the young girl with a no doubt unique story.  When I saw it on the list of my local library’s book discussion list, I thought, ok, good read for January, if I have to live in Wisconsin, I’ll at least escape to Hawai’i.  I had no idea what I was in for. 

Alan Brennert (source: goodreads.com)

The story of Moloka’i is a love story, that is if you’re looking from the author’s point of view.  Alan Brennert fills the pages with historically accurate information about Native Hawai’ians and the early stigmas of leprosy.  Brennert was working in the television world, writing for L.A. Law, which won him an Emmy, and also wrote and worked on productions of China Beach, Simon and Simon, and the 80’s revival of The Twilight Zone.  When a production project he was working on with Kevin Costner’s Tig Productions never made it to air, he started a completely new project:  the result, Moloka’i

Goodreads synopsis: 

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.
With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka’i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that “few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel’s story”

I’m going to warn you, readers, cause like all of you, I’ve got a big pile of ‘to-read’ books, so I’m going to say that I LIKED this book, but I didn’t love it.  Mainly, because it’s sad.  You shouldn’t read Moloka’i if you’re looking for a feel-good, girl meets boy, normal growing pains kind of book.  But I’d like to tell you why I think YOU SHOULD read Moloka’i. 

I believe any book that opens our eyes to a different culture, especially when it’s done with such clear reverence for those individuals, is a worthy read.  Like many who attended the book discussion that night, we knew there were leper colonies, but we couldn’t tell you where they were.  The island of Moloka’i was one of them.  The stereotypes and fears of leprosy then are similar to what many of us saw when AIDS first appeared in the media.  People fear what they don’t understand.  The nation didn’t know what caused the disease, how it was spread, or how to treat it.  So they simply said, here’s paradise, but you can never leave it. Anyone who showed signs of the disease was taken from their family and sent to Kalaupapa.  In Rachel’s case, she was so young, she lived with the nun’s at the school on Moloka’i. 

The Shores of Moloka'i (source: google images)

Imagine living your whole life on one island.  Living the same routine, eating the same foods, watching your friends die from disease.  Part of that is Rachel’s story.  But part of her story is about finding strength in yourself and making families wherever they come to you.  A fascinating element to the book is the dichotomy of religion in Rachel’s life.  Her mother was a vigorously converted Christian woman who sought to teach her children manners and respect.  When Rachel is moved to Kalaupapa, she meets Haleola, a Hawai’ian medicine woman who teaches Rachel about the Hawai’ian gods and goddesses. 

And there are others who become part of Rachel’s family.  Sister Katherine is her caretaker, Nahoa teaches her to surf, and she meets Kenji, a man who comes to Moloka’i also afflicted with the disease and ostracized for his Japanese heritage.  All of these individuals will teach Rachel a new form of freedom: what it means to be daring, to have fun, to love.  Each person plays a role in her life and she as much in theirs.

It is rare to find a story that recounts a person’s life from the age of early childhood to maturity.  How can one person’s story be so engrossing?  To answer that, you’d simply have to read the book and get to know Rachel yourself. 

What do you think?  Had you known of these leper colonies before? Have you been to Kalaupapa? What other books have you read that have transpired one person’s life tale well? 

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