The October Book Series Continues!

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I introduced the October Book Series just a few weeks after launching this blog in 2015 (read the introduction to the series here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-p ) and I have continued the tradition of reading and writing about spooky, seasonal, scary books all October long ever since. All of my picks — a collection of thrillers, mysteries, and horror novels — can be found by following the tag “October Series” on the right side of the main page of my website.

My husband and sons all have their own version of the October Book Series as well. For some of my recommendations for the little ones, you can read more here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-N Additionally, my teenage son reviewed some of scary reads — circa 2015 — and those mini-reviews can be found here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-18

I hope you enjoy the series! Happy haunting!

“October is a fine and dangerous season in America. It is dry and cool and the land is wild with red and gold and crimson, and all the lassitudes of August have seeped out of your blood, and you are full of ambition. It is a wonderful time to begin anything at all.”

 Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

 

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I’ve Just Finished Reading Turns 2!

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Today marks my second anniversary blogging about books and reading! Looking back at the past two years, I have reviewed a total of two-hundred and fifteen books and those reviews have been read by more than four-thousand people.

This blog has been a huge source of happiness for me; helping me share my thoughts about great (and not so great) books with fellow book-lovers across the country and keeping me in the habit of thinking thoughtfully about what I read and analyzing what I enjoy (or don’t) about those stories. And if I have connected just one reader with a great book, then I feel that I’ve accomplished something meaningful.

Thank you to everyone who reads, likes, comments, and follows I’ve Just Finished Reading! Happy Reading!

Younger by Sara Gottfried, M.D. (2017)

Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years

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For the record, I rarely read self-help health books. While I am happy to consider all other aspects of self-improvement, I find books that tout one specific approach to “healthy” living to be gimmicky and overly specific. However, after hearing Dr. Gottfried’s interview on a podcast (http://happierinhollywood.com/episode19/ ) I was sufficiently intrigued by her promises for easing the downsides of aging and — lets be real — her ideas for how to look better with little effort.

The reality of the book is, of course, far less simple than its author (or book jacket) profess. Grounded in very specific information about genetics, medical jargon, and peppered with studies that support her claims, Gottfried lays out what she calls her “protocol” to slow aging and restore a more youthful appearance. At its core, the book encourages readers to adopt the mainstays of improved health: more sleep, less stress, healthy eating, more exercise, and basic self-care. Those recommendations are presented in a clear and straight-forward ways: with plenty of research for those (do you exist?) who still need to be convinced that these changes are vital to good health.

When the book begins to divert from that core message, things get complicated…and expensive. To support your good health efforts, Gottfried offers a long, long, long list of practices to adopt to “turn back the clock.” During your waking hours (which in this protocol is specified as approximately 6AM to 10PM), readers are asked to spend almost every single moment taking action to slow the aging process. Among these activities that the doctor recommendations: swallowing dozens upon dozens of supplements; drinking collagen smoothies; fasting; drinking low-mold coffee or “chain amino-acid” teas; meditating, eating two or more pounds of vegetables a day; eliminating gluten, dairy, and sugar; and — all the while — increasing the amount time you exercise, meditate, and sleep.

In addition to those activities, which I agree all seem largely beneficial, there are even more things readers are encouraged to adopt — although when they are to find time for even more activities than the core “protocol” encourages, I’m not sure — a list that grows each and every chapter. A few samples of extra ideas to work into your “restore youth” regimen: sesame oil tooth-pulling, making bone broth, wearing “amber tinted glasses” after dark, sitting in from of a light therapy box, taking yoga several times a week, spending 20-40 minutes a day in a sauna, and many more.

Even more unsettling this (mind-boggling) long list, it the cost of this “protocol” is bordering on outrageous. Hundreds of dollars of supplements, powders, genetic testing, organic foods and cosmetics, special light-bulbs, light boxes, toxin-removal treatments, electric toothbrushes, bio-dynamic wine, home mold-removal/water filtration systems, and installing a sauna! And that is the short list! To incorporate even some of her suggestions would be a huge financial commitment and at times it seems that this book is for wealthy women, since there are very few inexpensive options (other than sleeping more and walking) offered in lieu of the more costly ones. I would love to see her write a companion book for Younger that is aimed at low or fixed-income women living in rentals that they cannot modify; women who cannot afford gym memberships or Whole Foods groceries, not to mention $200+ per month supplement fees or sauna installations.

Gottfried is no-doubt passionate about promoting good health, but her rules are many, complex, and costly (and, to be real, a bit ridiculous at times). I am sure that should you adopt her protocol, the reader would see improved health and younger looks but I fear for the woman who tried to undertake all of her suggestions…it would be a full-time job!

On a side note, I found myself intrigued by her brief mention of the company Hairprint: an all-natural, food-grade hair treatment system that uses break-through science to naturally reprogram gray hair to its original color. Check it out at: https://www.myhairprint.com/products/true-color-restorer-for-women

The Far Side Gallery by Gary Larson

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One of our many, many books in the The Far Side Collection.

Around our house, in nearly every room and next to every comfy reading spot, you are very likely to find one of the many books that make up the collected works of the 1980’s and 1990’s cartoonist, Gary Larson. The one-panel strip is pure, comic genius: conveying in a few short words — often no words at all — an enormous amount about the hilarious absurdities of life or revealing the less desirable parts of ourselves that — when portrayed by Larson — are horrible and hilarious all at once. Despite the fact that the comics in the books are forty years old, the humor remains umdiminished. My family loves the books, we read them on-and-off, all year long. A rainy day, or a stressful week, might find any one of us flipping through one of the books and laughing out loud. Before long, the rest of us are drawn over to see what’s so funny and soon are all laughing.

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The Far Side comic strip had a strong presence in my childhood as well, my family owned the entire The Far Side Gallery books and we were often saying to each other, “wait, wait, read this one!” When my teenage son became obsessed with following funny memes that pop up on social media, it occurred to me that he might enjoy our old copies of The Far Side books. I way, way underestimated how much he — and his brothers — would love discovering Larson’s work. The books now live permanently off the book shelves and on tables and bedsides around the house.

Since the work of Larson speaks for itself, I thought I would post of few panels that I personally love … and let them speak for themselves. Enjoy!

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The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin (2017)

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)

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As frequent readers of this blog are well-aware, I am an enormous fan of Gretchen Rubin’s work — not only her books, but her blog and podcast as well. In fact, you can follow the tag “Gretchen Rubin,” on this website for reviews of several of her books.

The Four Tendencies serves as a follow-up to Rubin’s 2015 Better Than Before, where she delves further into her signature personality framework to offer advice to readers on how to create accountability structures that best help you shape your habits to meet your goals…what ever those goals may be. (You can read a review of Better Than Before here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1Ds )

At the heart of the book is the Four Tendencies framework a tool that tries to identify “how a person’s responds to outer and inner expectations.” Based on those responses, Rubin groups us into one of four categories (from page 6):

  • Upholder — Responds readily to outer expectations and inner expectations
  • Questioners — questions all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations
  • Obligers — respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations
  • Rebels –resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

You can take the quiz here https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3706759/Gretchen-Rubin-s-Quiz-The-Four-Tendencies

Dividing the book into four distinct sections, Rubin tries to distill the best practices, unique tips, advice, and strategies that allow you to exploit your natural inclinations to make setting goals and keeping habits as easy as possible. Not easy, but easier. Rubin argues that fighting against our core personality traits make reaching goals an uphill battle, but making subtle adjustments that take our tendencies into account can smooth the way by working with our strengths rather than against them.

In addition to advice aimed directly at readers — great advice, I might add, which is concrete and immediately applicable — there is a wealth of information about how we can work with and best encourage those of other tendencies. There are scores of examples about how one might support a spouse, child, co-worker, client or patient of another tendency. After all, an argument that most motivates an Upholder will send a Rebel running in the other direction.

As an Upholder, it is easy for me to stick to routines; meet commitments to myself and others; and to say “no” to things I do not want to do or I think are unnecessary. These are all traits that are hugely beneficial to me…but can seem rigid to others. Furthermore, because it is easy to create and stick to habits, I am often unsympathetic to people who struggle to do things for themselves. Reading Rubin’s work has made a huge difference in the way that I view the decisions of others and infinitely more accepting of the fact that other people need more support to meet their goals than Upholders like me.

As the wife and mother of two Obligers (so far…my younger sons are still too little for me to guess their Tendency), I used to resist and (honestly) resent how much they needed me to prod them to act and monitor them as they tried to form new habits. After discovering Rubin’s framework, I realized that by taking a few extra moments to remind them of workouts or appointments can make it enormously easier for them to complete them…if they think I am watching and keeping track of them, they can see things through with less effort. (On a side note, a Questioner friend who I used to butt heads will all the time about her constant changing of plans — would this restaurant be better? should we do x instead of y? why not meet later? — and her endless questioning of my decisions. I now get along with her much better now that I know this is just a quirk of her personality; not a comment on how little she trusts my judgement.)

The Four Tendencies is self-help at its best: non-judgemental, direct, and easy to incorporate ideas for “knowing yourself better” so that you can live your best life. And so that you can encourage your friends and family life their best lives, as well.

 

 

 

The Private Patient by PD James (2008)

Part of the Adam Dalgliesh series, Book #14

I love P. D. James’ murder mysteries, due in large part to how much they demand of the reader. Incredibly dense and complex, her books cannot be rushed and often present multiple possible suspects who have complex relationships to the victims. The sheer amount of detail that goes into each of her books makes them very easy to re-read, as I did this weekend with The Private Patient. Not only had I had I forgot whodunnit, there were many, many tiny clues and nuances that I missed the first time around.

Rhoda Gradwyn is a wealthy and powerful investigative journalist who has lived most of her life with a large scar on her face — courtesy of a drunken, abusive father — but has finally decided to have plastic surgery to remove it, for no other reason than she “no longer has need of it.” Rhoda chooses to one of the most respected, and most expensive, surgeons in London to remove the scar and, to protect her privacy, opts to have the surgery not in London but at a private clinic Dr. George Chandler-Powell operates for his wealthiest patients, in a restored manor house in Dorset called Cheverell Manor.

Rhoda arrives in Dorset for her operation to find lush, opulent accommodations and world-class service from the staff. What she does not realize, is that she — or at least her work — is known to many of the staff working at Cheverell, and some consider her “brand” of journalism  to be exploitative and cruel to the subjects of her pieces.

When the morning following her surgery the kitchen maid finds Rhoda strangled in her bed, the small staff at the manor are shocked and terrified, as they assume it was an outsider who breached security and killed her. However, her death catches the attention of the Prime Minister and an elite squad of detectives from London are brought in to investigate.

Leading the squad is, of course, James’ brilliant police investigator Commander Adam Dalgliesh and two younger detectives, Kate Miskin and Francis Benton-Smith. Together the three of them move into houses on the grounds of the manor and begin the painstakingly slow process of solving the murder.

One thing that becomes clear almost immediately that it is someone living at Cheverell Manor who was responsible. As the detectives work, they have to uncover the complicated ties that bind all of the residents of the Manor to one another and to Rhoda and try to determine who had a grudge against the journalist that was contentious enough to lead them to murder her.

Just like all of PD James’ Dalgliesh books, this one is a intelligent and compelling murder mystery, that allows readers to follow along as the detectives piece the story together and zero in on the murderer.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (2017)

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This is Ruth Ware’s third psychological thriller, the first two have both been reviewed on this blog: In the Dark, Dark Wood http://wp.me/p6N6mT-y and The Girl in Cabin 10 http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1uT

Like those earlier two novels, The Lying Game unfolds in a haunting and memorable setting: The Reach, a small coastal town whose locals are at odds with the girls who attend the local boarding school; more specifically a sinking, crumbling Mill that has been the home to a moderately famous artist, Ambrose Atagon, and his family. An artist who considered himself a part of the town, but one who upset the locals by working at and sending his daughter, Kate, to the boarding school.

Entering this remote and wild locale, are the story’s main characters: Thea, Isa, Fatima, and Ambrose’s daughter, Kate. The girls are sent by their families to attend Salten, “a last chance” all-girls boarding school where they meet and form a immediate bond, all four outsiders and longing to belong. Their solution? To form a club, exclusive to these four girls, where they constantly play what they call The Lying Game.

Rule #1 Tell A Lie

Rule #2 Stick to Your Story

Rule #3 Don’t Get Caught

Rule #4 Never Lie to Each Other

Rule #5 Know When to Stop Lying

Aiming to see who can tell the most outlandish story and ensnare the most people in it, the consequences of The Lying Game be damned. The girls soon develop a reputation, both at school and in town, for their outrageous lies. The damage these lies cause is not always immediately clear to the girls, and often when they are confronted by people hurt by their lies, they are unrepentant.

As the year passes, the girls grow wilder and more out of control, and soon take to using Kate and Ambrose’s house — a sinking mill that stands out over the water of the Reach — for nights and weekends of drinking, smoking, and parties. On one spring night, Kate sneaks out to the Mill house and finds something there that has her begging the others to sneak out of Salten to come to her aide. The sneaking out, added to a long list of transgressions relating to The Lying Game, leads to all four girls being expelled from Salten. They leave the school and each other, swearing to keep each other’s secrets forever.

Fast-forward seventeen years, and the story finds all four women living rather ordinary lives: Isa, Fatima, and Thea in London and Kate still living in the Mill despite it’s slow sinking into the water of the Reach. When Kate texts the others that she needs them to come to the Mill House immediately, the other women drop everything and rush out to help their seldom-seen but not forgotten friend.

Isa finds that the text from Kate sets off an avalanche of lies to her boyfriend, from whom she hides the real reason for her trip and the truth of the life she led at Salten, but she feels she has no choice. The Lying Game ties the four women together in ways that she cannot unravel herself from. So, terrified, Isa travels with her infant daughter, Freya, back out to the Reach, the Mill House, and to her former best friends and the keeper’s of her darkest secrets.

A good thriller, with (as I stated early) an excellent sense of place in the Mill, the Reach, the creepy boarding house, and the suspicious small town that surrounds them all. However, Ware’s timing and pacing falter throughout and her characters — as is true in all of her books — seem at times unfinished and lacking in any self-preservation. That criticism aside, it stands as Ware’s best book so far.