Quote by Donalyn Miller

“Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters – the saints and the sinners, real or imagined – reading shows you how to be a better human being.”  – Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.

I truly feel that reading makes me a better person. It helps me to see perspective of others, and shows me when mine is flawed. It forces me to stop and think about opinions other than my own. It opens my eyes beyond a picture that I had already painted in my head.

I travel back in time as well as to places I will probably never see in my lifetime. Whether I’m reading about history or fantasy, I am learning. Learing about life, learning about myself.

I hope that my children enjoy reading as much as I do. While they learn so much in school, reading takes it to a whole new level. I get such joy when I see my son engrossed in a book. He used to let me read to him all the time when he was little. My youngest doesn’t share that same ritual; he wants to look at the book himself. So, I try to sneak in a little reading over his shoulder and name the pictures when he’ll let me…it’s exposure and I’ll keep at it.

Whereas I also love movie date night with my husband and would never turn down the experience of traveling to the places I read about, reading is an old friend. A friend who has no problem telling me when I have a thing or two to learn.

Quote found at www.goodreads.com

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Jenn’s review of When You Went Away by Michael Baron

When You Went Away by Michael Baron is a story of Gerry, a man who loses the love of his life (his wife and soul-mate for 20 years) unexpectedly to a blood clot. This tragedy happens closely on the heels of his teenaged daughter running off with an older man and his wife giving birth to their “oops” baby. His daughter is nowhere to be found and only communicates via untraceable emails, so she has no idea that her mother has passed.

Gerry slowly returns to work and life as he faces the struggle of being a newly single dad. Leaving his infant son with a stranger so soon after his mother is taken away from him, dealing with curious co-workers and bosses who prefer that he leave his issues at the door, stretch his resilience very thin.

He does develop close relationships with two women in his life; one who is his former sister-in-law and the other a new coworker. The author does a good job of cultivating those relationships and describing the guilt and turmoil that this causes him. As he finds himself falling in love, he questions the love and devotion he had for his wife if he can “replace” her so easily.

The author also does a nice job of focusing on the strained relationship that Gerry had with his daughter before she ran away and his futile attempts to track her down. Since he can’t reach out to her physically, he starts writing to her in a journal which he hopes she will read one day. He dissects their relationship and acknowledges where he may have faltered. As a parent, it really makes you look at your own relationship with your children.

While the storyline is relatively predictable and there aren’t many major events, it’s tender and honest. You don’t get caught up in the grief. Using flashbacks, journal entries and emails – the author gives the reader more insight into Gerry’s relationships with his wife and his daughter. At one point when his daughter sent an email and asked him to be happy for her, he wrote: What was the downside? Was it the concern that seeing this from her perspective might make it more acceptable to me that she was gone? Was it the fear that my being happy for her even for a second would somehow authorize her to stay away forever?

Gerry does find comfort bonding with his infant and re-learning how to be a good father, or so he feels. He writes that it’s so easy for tragedy to defeat you. It’s seductive in the way that I heard freezing to death is. Being consumed by grief is in many ways much more comfortable than battling your way out of it – especially when you realize that no matter how hard you fight you can’t reverse the situation you’re grieving over. But it’s so important to engage in the battle anyway. It’s really the only way to stay alive.

While story ends rather abruptly, and misses what I feel is closure for all of the main characters, it was an enjoyable read. There were some sections that I could have done without and I found myself skipping through, but overall the story was captivating. It tugged at the heart-strings just enough to keep me interested in the story. I would be curious to see what else this author as to offer.

Also available at Barnes & Noble/Nook

Quote by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin, American author

Ursula K. Le Guin, American author (Photo credit: Brian Scott Designs)

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Quote found at www.goodreads.com

Jennifer M (Founder of BBB) reviews The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Ever wonder why you automatically seemed to check Facebook these days without making a conscious decision to do so? Or eat off your child’s food plate despite the fact you’re not hungry? Or ever desire to change a lifestyle: develop an excessive habit or lose the bad habit of being chronically late?

This book addresses all that and more. I bought this originally to help myself understand why someone I am very close to is struggling  so much with change– despite their best intentions it just seemed like they couldn’t get out of some patterns and I wanted to explore why that may be.

What ended up happening is I found this amazing book– highly reviewed and just out this year– that has now helped me sort through some of my own routines and gave me a better understanding of myself and my friend.

It takes you through in plain mans English and stories, the neuro-science behind habit formation, how marketing people use it on you, how those techniques can be used at home or in business, and how to empower yourself to mold your habits into what you want them to be.

I highly recommend this in paper form— as it’s the type of thing you may highlight and make notes on that you may go back as reference later… And kindle and book have those features but they are cumbersome.

A must read non-fiction (and I do not say that often)

Enjoy and please comment your feedback post read!

Also available at Barnes & Noble/Nook

Jenn’s review of Everything I Never Wanted to Be by Dina Kucera

Everything I Never Wanted to Be by Dina Kucera is a true story of a family’s battle with alcoholism and drug addiction. The author came from a family of alcoholics. Dina herself is an admitted alcoholic and pill addict. All 3 of her daughters have struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, the youngest starting at 14 years old.

Not only is Dina trying to care for her daughters, she is the caregiver for her mother who has Parkinson’s disease and her grandson who has cerebral palsy. Their house is also an open door for other family members and friends who are in and out of work and rehab centers. Dina struggles to hold it all together while working at a job that she HATES and as a stand up comic, which she receives payment ranging from a small amount of money to a very, very small amount of money.

Intertwined are stories of parental neglect, rape, abuse, drug overdoses and numerous stints in rehab. She is constantly fighting for her daughters. She never gives up, even when pitted against the insurance companies who refuse to cover the cost of rehabilitation. It’s an exhausting battle that leads to a short stay in a mental ward when she can no longer handle the stress, guilt or enormous weight on her soul.

This book brings light to the frustrating lack of services that are available for addicts. She makes a valid point with here statement that our country is stuck in the 1980’s, when teenagers were sneaking behind the bleachers at football games, drinking cheap beer and smoking pot. No one wants to know that we have fourteen and fifteen year old IV heroin addicts. Crystal meth is completely taking over our communities. Drug dealers are now dealing more prescription medications than illegal drugs. These prescription drugs are resulting in fifteen year olds overdosing and dying all across our county…Teenage addicts have no place to go unless they come from some sort of money or their families have access to money.

She also brings more understanding to the chemistry behind addiction. I have read about this before but I really appreciated how she described it…how it sometimes starts. She talks about the child/teenager who doesn’t feel like they fit in. It feels like you are under water – that little bit of panic right before your head surfaces. You feel different, and not in a good way. You can feel the pressure on your skin. And you have to get out. Because you’re suffocating and no one has a clue. Then one day, you’re hanging out with friends and someone has something to drink or a drug. So you give it a try. Immediately you can feel your body coming up out of the water and you take a huge breath of air. You can feel the rush of relief. You can feel the warm sun on your face…For the first time in your life, you can breathe, and it’s (expletive) amazing…You don’t feel high – you feel like everyone else…And you never want to go back to the way you were…The brain chemistry of an addict or alcoholic is completely different. A drug or a drink is a life changer. It’s an awakening from a life spent in loneliness and fear. You have saved your own life. And once you’re awake, your brain will never let you forget it. From that moment on your brain says, “Get it, get it, get it, get more, get more,” and it never quiets. It is relentless. It is bigger than you. It’s so loud it’s deafening. To tell an addict or alcoholic to stop is the equivalent to saying, “Go back under the water.” But that’s impossible. An addict will do the most horrifying, demoralizing, immoral acts to avoid going back under the water where they will no doubt die.

So what do you do? You have to learn to live above the water without the drugs and booze – to feel the sun, and stretch your arms out and embrace and love life. You don’t have to go back under the water, but you must find that tiny flame that burns in each of us and help it grow so that the fire is so big, the stalking “get more” voice in your head shuts the (expletive) up. Until then, you must protect that tiny flame because at the end of the day, it will be the only thing to build a new life on.  

She deals with all the turmoil in her life with humor and rediscovered faith. She speaks a lot about your Divine Order. I believe God has a plan of each one of us. I say “Always try to move toward your Divine Order”. Move toward the things in life that are good and kind and loving. And that may be the best we can do. 

I found this writer to be so honest and brave. Her heartache is palpable. In spite of all the horrific events that happen to her and her family, she never gives up. It’s inspiring in many ways and I really enjoyed her use of humor to add levity to her story. It takes a special person to put her family’s issues in front of the world to see. It brings light to so many of our society’s issues and the need to address the epidemic of addiction in our nation. I am so glad that I read this book.

Quote by Mary Ann Shaffer

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”  Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Quote found at www.goodreads.com

Jenn’s review of Flowertown by S.G. Redling

I just finished reading Flowertown, a conspiracy thriller by S.G. Redling. The story is about a small town in Iowa that is quarantined after a chemical company (Feno) spills their experimental pesticide near the town. The inhabitants are held captive to a restrictive infrastructure, countless med checks and less than ideal living arrangements. They are isolated from the outside world to prevent the spread of the contamination. The side effect of the drugs they are forced to take is that their bodies give off a sickly flower like smell; hence the designation of “Flowertown”.

The main character (Ellie) was in the town by chance at the time of the spill. Those closest to her were either killed instantaneously by the spill or shortly thereafter from the medications given to rid their bodies of the poison.

Ellie, after a two-year stint in a mental institution, slips into an existence of apathy, laziness….oh, and marijuana. She is a complicated, hot mess. She is sarcastic and sassy and even though she appears to be clueless, she is actually quite smart. She has a budding “romance” with an Army sergeant-turned Feno employee that is plagued with mistrust and betrayal. Her fight for survival lies dormant until she starts to see things crumbling around her as the conspiracy unfolds.

The company that is to blame for the spill collaborates with a big pharmaceutical company to manage the treatment of the town members. It’s obvious as the story develops that there are motivating factors at play. Whereas you would think that with the advent of pharmaceutical advances, after 7 years the town’s inhabitants would be cleansed by the contaminant. Instead, many of them have been told that their livers are failing and they are just being treated with “comfort meds”. While most would resign to their fate, Ellie’s rage unleashes her sass and defiance in the face of authority. You see her true colors when she is backed into a corner. Most animals when caged and abused are eventually going to fight back.

I found that I enjoyed the twisted plot and the storyline kept my attention for the majority of the story. I actually acquired Flowertown on a free Prime membership loan. About 60% into the story, I turned on my Wi-Fi to update my Kindle and it disappeared!! When my free month of prime membership expired, so did my book. Needless to say, I purchased it right away. Those that know me and know that I hate spending money on something that I already had for free can appreciate how much I was enjoying this book.

I felt the big twist coming, but I was pretty surprised anyway which is refreshing. Even though I was pretty close to piecing it together it still had the shock factor.  The author develops the supporting characters just enough for you to be pulled into their stories. She makes you wonder if something like this can really happen, and how the government would handle it if it did. Would you stand by and watch as everything unfolded around you or would you rise up and fight?

The story did leave some unanswered questions, which I would imagine could lead to a second book but I’m not sure where they would take the storyline. I felt it wrapped up too quickly and lacked closure for many of the characters we met.

Overall though, I enjoyed it. It was a pretty easy read and I was intrigued by the suspense and paranoia. I found myself pulling for Ellie and hoping that everyone would escape from the greed and abuse of power of those capitalizing on the misfortune of others.

Also available at Barnes & Noble/Nook