The School of Greatness

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The School of Greatness

by Lewis Howes

January 2017

I picked up The School of Greatness because in between my novels I enjoy reading a good self-help book. This one was good overall. I did a fair amount of skimming because I felt a bunch of the content was redundant. However, I got a lot out of it and thought there was so much good content.

This book is essentially how to achieve greatness in what’s important to you and who you are. It details what to do in order to become great and includes a “workbook” section at the end of each chapter. It’s also filled with inspiring stories of different “great” individuals, all of whom conquered some kind of adversity.

One such inspiring person, Kyle Maynard, points out about adversity that ” . . .when we go and focus on these things we have no control over, it brings us nothing but unhappiness.” He goes on to say, “Our perspective is always our choice.” Howes elaborates, “he is echoing what the philosophers have always claimed –that there is no good or bad but only our perceptions.”

Another point Howes makes focuses on not giving up on your goals and dreams, no matter what. He says, “it is the idea and intention behind not giving up or dropping out on giving your best effort at all times.” He elaborates that it’s important to hustle and not get swayed or delayed. He says, “There is a popular saying in entrepreneurial circle that goes something like this: ‘Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.'”

I loved those quotes and the whole feel of the book. Anything is possible. It’s important to find your dream and fight for it no matter what. Adversity can be your fuel. You’re dreams are attainable. And greatness is possible.

Summing it up: this is an inspiring book and is very good. I definitely recommend it!

All the best, Abbey

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Maybe Someday

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Maybe Someday

by Colleen Hoover

January 2017

Well, I’m back to another Colleen Hoover and to staying up until 3 am to finish reading. I really loved Maybe Someday. Hoover’s writing sweeps me away every time and I fell for her characters before the end of the first chapter. It’s so enjoyable to dive into one of Hoover’s books and be unable to leave until the story is over. There’s something wonderful about books like that.

On Sydney’s 22nd birthday she finds out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with her roommate. She’s devastated and leaves her apartment having nowhere to go. Across the common, Ridge feels guilty because he was the one to tell Sydney her boyfriend was cheating on her, so he puts her up for the night. They have just started getting to know each other over the previous two weeks. Ridge is a musician who has writer’s block. He’s plays the guitar brilliantly and Sydney is drawn to his music; listening to him play every evening as they each sit on their patios. She begins to make up lyrics and Ridge can tell. He reaches out to her in order to hear her lyrics, hoping it will help his writer’s block. He’s right and after taking her in, he proposes free housing in exchange for her lyrics. Sydney reluctantly agrees, even though she doesn’t believe she’s any good. Spoilers: Ridge and Sydney start working together and falling for each other. The problem is that Ridge already has a girlfriend and he is fiercely loyal to her. Attraction is hard to battle, though they do their best. Ridge is deaf, which makes things more complicated. He often wants to hear the vibrations of Sydney’s voice, which requires a lot of intimacy. One day they can’t fight their feelings and kiss. After that, they commit to resisting even harder, especially for Ridge’s girlfriend, Maggie. Ridge is crazy in love with her and loyal to a fault. Maggie has a terminal illness and Ridge will never leave her. After several months of this struggle Maggie has a set back and goes to the hospital, putting things into perspective for Ridge. He decides to end the relationship with Sydney, but while he’s gone, Maggie finds all his messages to Sydney and realizes what’s going on. She refuses to talk to Ridge for a few days and Sydney moves out not telling him where she’s going. Ridge is distraught until Maggie finally talks to him. When she does, she ends things, and not because she hates him. She’s been struggling to live what’s left of her life adventurously and with abandon, but Ridge is holding her back because he wants to protect her. Maggie realizes that she will be better off without Ridge and he without her, even though it’s hard, so she ends it. Meanwhile, Sydney is heartbroken, but wants to have her own life, even if Maggie and Ridge don’t stay together, so she cuts off all contact not knowing where things are at. Ridge’s other roommate, Warren, has become friends with Sydney and stays in contact with her, eventually telling her that Ridge is single, but respecting her need to stay cut off from him. This lasts for a few months, during which time, Ridge writes Sydney a few songs and plans a concert for her. On the night of the concert, Warren gets her to the venue and Ridge sings his heart out (a big deal because he’s been nonverbal since he was a kid), begging Sydney to give him a chance. Of course she agrees and they are finally able to be together! Such a beautiful ending.

Summing it up: this is another great one from Hoover. I love her love stories.

All the best, Abbey

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

January 2017

My mom recommended The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I actually started it maybe a year or two ago and didn’t love it. It’s one of her favorite series though, and I’ve been reading more mysteries, so I decided to give it another try. This time I liked it! I loved the main character, Flavia, and her love of chemistry and poisons. My only critique was that it took me forever to read. As much as I enjoyed the story and characters, I found myself reading a bit and then putting it down to read something else. It wasn’t until I got to the last handful of chapters that I picked up my pace.

Flavia is a ten year old girl living with her dad and two older sisters in England. Her mother died when Flavia was born and she’s never gotten along with her sisters. Flavia’s love is chemistry. She has an entire room devoted to her laboratory, filled with chemicals, tubes and books. She is also particularly intrigued by poisons and their antidotes. One day, Flavia comes across a dead man in their garden and launched an investigation. Spoilers: the story follows Flavia all around town as she integrates neighbors and works on unraveling the mystery. She is under pressure because her father is arrested as he is accused of the murder and the inspector on the case doesn’t trust Flavia. In the end, she figures out that the murderer is an old school mate of her father’s, who was trying to blackmail her father with the man who died. The blackmail revolved around an extremely rare stamp. Flavia gets in trouble with the murderer, almost getting killed herself, but is saved by their loyal family friend, Dodger, who also helps capture the murderer. Then life returns mostly to normal.

Summing it up: this book was cute, sweet, and very interesting. It would have nicer if it read quicker, but ultimately I enjoyed it a lot and I’d recommend it!

All the best, Abbey

All The Missing Girls

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All The Missing Girls

by Megan Miranda

January 2017

Getting All The Missing Girls was a splurge. I have a bit of a problem when it comes to books. I have multiple huge piles of library books and books from friends, and then I add to it. Recently, I’ve been trying to stop getting new books in order to work through the ones I already have. Well, it’s hard to resist the urge to bring new books home, and when I went to pick up a hold book at the library, I “happened” to see All The Missing Girls on the new shelf and decided to splurge by bringing it home and reading it right away. It was the best indulgence!! I blew through this book and loved every second. It was intense, creative, and so different as the story was told backwards. I am in awe of Miranda’s work and I can not say enough good things about her psychological thriller.

Ten years ago a girl goes missing. Ten years ago lies are told and the truth is hidden. Ten years ago, Nic’s best friend Corinne disappears and Nic leaves to start a new life in Philadelphia. Ten years later, she has a career and is engaged to a successful lawyer, Everett. Her father’s health is failing, so Nic decides to return to North Carolina in order to help her brother Dan sell the family home and take care of their father. The brunt of the story takes place over two weeks and is told in reverse (day 15, back to day 1 when Nic first arrives in NC). Lots of Spoilers: at 18, Nic is dating Tyler, Corinne is with Jackson, and Dan is dating Bailey. Bailey, Corinne, and Nic are best friends and very close. Corinne is the center, drawing everyone in, but has her dark moments. One night, everyone is at the town Fair, Nic found out a few days earlier that she’s pregnant and Corinne and Tyler are the only ones who know. The girls are riding a Ferris Wheel and Corinne who loves playing truth or dare, dares Nic to ride outside their box and jump. Nic does, but instead of jumping from the top, slips off at the bottom. Her brother comes up and hits her, making her fall to the ground. Tyler runs over, punches Dan and whispers that Nic is pregnant and then he leaves with her. All of this is witnessed by Annaleise, a quite teenager who ends up being the alibi for everyone after Corinne disappears. Tyler and Nic drive away and Tyler proposes. Then, as they’re driving home, Corinne appears, thumb out to hitch hike. Nic is driving and is flooded with thoughts of how Corinne is always daring her and how she dared her to jump earlier and end her life. Instead of stopping, Nic accelerates to pass Corinne by, but then Corinne jumps in front of the car and dies. Nic runs home, where she has a miscarriage, and Tyler leaves to take care of the car. Meanwhile, Nic’s dad is driving to find Nic and hears the accident. He takes Corinne and buries her in his garage, which is in the process of being finished. When everything comes crashing down around Nic she decides to leave town for good, thinking that she just can’t come back after all that’s happened. Fast forward ten years and Nic is returning home to take care of her dad, who is becoming senile, and that’s when things begin to fall apart. Out of the blue, Annaleise approaches her with pictures of Corinne’s body wrapped up on her dad’s porch, and blackmails Nic. In a panic, Nic calls Dan and Tyler after Annaleise leaves. Tyler is dating Annaleise, so he calls her to come over and the three of them corner her to try and get her to stop blackmailing, but she runs. Dan runs after her and loses her. They all expect her to turn up, but she doesn’t. Later, Nic figures out that Laura (Dan’s wife) took their dad’s gun and killed her. The police come on board, find Annaleise’s body, and begin questioning. By this time, Nic, Tyler, and Dan have dug up Corinne’s body and disposed of it, gotten rid of any other evidence, and come up with a solid story to keep them all safe. In the end, the town clams up and there’s nothing more the police can do. Nic realizes that she’s still in love with Tyler and that Everett is not a good fit for her. She decides that she actually belongs in NC and moves back, marrying Tyler and renovating the garage for her dad to live in. Honestly, I loved the ending and how it was a “happy ending.” This story was complicated and the characters’ lives were intricately intertwined. I liked how they all protected each other, even though it wasn’t honest.

Summing it up: This book kept me in suspense until the very end, but in such a delightfully good way. I just loved this book and I especially loved the way it was written backwards. I highly recommend it!

All the best, Abbey

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

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The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

by Jan-Philipp Sendker

January 2017

This is another Book Club book that I read even though I knew nothing about it. Even after reading it, I’m not sure how to describe it. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was unlike anything else I’ve read. It was beautiful and moving, but you didn’t get the full picture until the very last page. That being said, the book swept me along and even though I wasn’t sure where I was going, I couldn’t wait to get there. I definitely enjoyed this book, probably in part because it was so different.

Julia is a young law school graduate. The day after her graduation her father disappears without trace. Four years later her mother has found a letter addressed to someone named Mi Mi in Burma and Julia decides to track her down. She flies all the way to Burma where she meets a man named U Ba who knows the story of her father’s childhood and what has happened to him. Spoilers: ever so slowly U Ba relates the story of Julia’s father, Tin Win. He grew up in a small Burmese town and soon became an orphan, left to be raised by a kindly neighbor. Around 8 years old, he mysteriously looses his eyesight and becomes completely blind. While he is engrossed in his own loneliness, he also is coaxed to learn from the monks in town. He soon becomes the top of his class, learning how to read braille and excelling in his studies. Tin Win learns to navigate his world, even in his loneliness. One day he meets a girl named Mi Mi, who has her own handicap. At birth, her feet were misshapen and she has never been able to walk. Mi Mi and Tin Win form a fast friendship, soon becoming inseparable: Tin Win carrying Mi Mi and Mi Mi being Tin Win’s eyes. Tin Win’s hearing expands at this time, allowing him to hear even the heartbeat of the tiniest insect. His hearing is so vivid, it’s how he identifies people, including Mi Mi and how he knows she’s near. Their friendship is steadily moving towards romance and the two of them have never been happier. One day, Tin Win’s uncle sends for him, and Tin Win cannot refuse. He says goodbye to Mi Mi and they sleep together for the first time before he leaves. Once with his uncle, Tin Win is effectively trapped. Hi uncle wants to help him, and he must do what his uncle requests. So, Tin Win has eye surgery and gets his eyesight back, he also attends a prestigious school and rises to the top. Before long he is on his way to New York for a career in law. All this time he and Mi Mi have been writing, but his uncle has confiscated every letter. Tin Win must honor his uncle, so is forced to stay in America, rather than return home to be married off. In America, he marries and has Julia and her brother. He is able to love Mi Mi and stay faithful to her, while faithfully loving his American family. He leaves only when he senses that Mi Mi is dying. He returns to her on her death bed. They have one night together, full of love, and are found dead the next morning. Julia is learning all of this years later and struggles to reconcile her father’s past with everything she new about him, and also struggles to accept that he is actually dead. She is able to come to terms with it and finally puts two and two together and figures out that U Ba is Mi Mi’s son, from the one time she and Tin Win made love. Julia is able to accept everything, and even finds peace in learning her father’s full story. It is a beautiful and moving ending, even though it’s difficult.

There were two paragraphs that moved me. They are a little long, but I’d like to quote them to share and to keep from forgetting. 🙂

Tin Win’s teacher talks to him about fear when he is first at school. “‘Every one of us knows fear,’ he said. ‘So well! It encircles us like flies around ox dung. It puts animals to flight. They bolt and run or fly or swim until they believe themselves safe or until they keel over dead from exhaustion. Humans are no wiser. We see that there is no place on earth where we can hide from fear, yet still be attempt to find one. We strive for wealth and power. We abandon ourselves to the illusion that we are stronger than fear. We try to rule–over our children and our wives, over our neighbors and our friends. Ambition and fear have something in common: neither knows any limits. But with power and wealth it is just as with the opium I sampled more than once in my youth–neither keeps its promises. Opium never brought me eternal happiness. It only demanded more and more of me. Money and power do not vanquish fear. There is only one force more powerful than fear.'”

Later, U Ba talks to Julia about death. She asks him how long it took him to get over his parent’s death. He says, “‘Over it? I’m not sure I would put it that way. When we get over something, we move on, we put it behind us. Do we leave the dead behind or do we take them with us? I think we take them with us. They accompany us. They remain with us, if in another form. We have to learn to live with them and their deaths. In my case that process took a couple of days . . . .Once I understood that I had not lost them I recovered quickly. I think of them every day. I wonder what they would say at a given moment. I ask them for advice, even today, at my age, when it will soon be time to be thinking of my own death.'”

Summing it up: I loved how contemplative this novel was. It was beautiful and thought-provoking. I really enjoyed it and I definitely recommend it.

All the best, Abbey

Rainy Day Sisters

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Rainy Day Sisters

by Kate Hewitt

January 2017

I spotted Rainy Day Sisters on my library’s new shelf and it looked like the perfect quick, happy read. And it was! I absolutely loved this book. I read it in two sittings and thoroughly enjoyed every second. The writing was so good, the characters unique yet real, and the plot sweet and endearing. I can’t say enough good things about this perfect little book.

Lucy has just lost it all: her job, her boyfriend, and her reputation. She wants to escape Boston and her old life. Her half-sister Juliet offers a solution. Juliet lives in Hartley-by-the-Sea, a snug little coastal town in northern England and invites Lucy to live with her for four months to get back on her feet. There’s even a receptionist position open at the local elementary school as the previous receptionist is away on maternity leave. Lucy, the eternal optimist, anticipates a warm welcome and a fresh new start from day one. However, her sister greats her with coolness and her job gets off to a rocky start: it’s overwhelming and her boss is stern (though also, unfairly young and hot). Lucy’s tempted to go home, but her determination wins out and she decides to stay and do her best to get her new start. Spoilers: Before Lucy came to England, she worked as a barista at an art gallery and as an artist. Her gallery agrees to show her work, but before the opening, Lucy’s mother (who is an established, popular artist herself) writes a scathing article saying how awful Lucy’s art is and how she won’t help her make her way just because she is her daughter. Lucy is crushed, she had wanted her mom there as her mom, not as the famous artist, and didn’t want her name to help her. The gallery refuses to open her display and her boyfriend breaks up with her because he has two sons and the “bad press” will hurt them. It’s is a horrible blow which sends Lucy away. However, being in Hartley-by-the-Sea is good medicine and Lucy falls in love with the town, and ever so slowly the town falls in love with her. The children at the school adore her, the tattooed postman starts warming up to her, and she begins to make friends with her co-workers. Her boss, Alex has a 12 year old (Bella) and a 7 year old (Poppy), and is a widower of almost 2 years. Bella keeps getting into trouble at school and finally gets suspended. Lucy keeps and eye on her and figures out that she’s getting bullied because she doesn’t have bras (her dad is clueless). Lucy steps in and helps Bella buy bras and broach the subject with Alex. She starts to have feelings towards the whole family and they her, but it’s complicated since she’s leaving soon. Her relationship is complicated with Juliet too. Juliet’s 11 years older than Lucy and their mother chose to have Lucy through a sperm donor (Juliet’s father was never in the picture). Juliet was never loved by her mother and always got the short end of the stick, so she’s resented Lucy for all of Lucy’s life and can’t seem to get past the resentment and bitterness. Slowly, as Lucy refuses to run away from the obvious problem between them, Juliet begins to break down and explain her feelings. Finally things start falling into place. Juliet and Lucy have a breakthrough and Juliet tells Lucy she doesn’t want her to leave. Lucy realizes that Hartley-by-the-Sea is her home. She has friends, love, and hope for a future. Lucy decides to stay and she and Alex get together, much to the delight of Bella and Poppy. She starts teaching an art class at the school, and her relationship really blossoms with Juliet. Then, Lucy’s mother calls and says she has cancer and needs Lucy to come home. Even though her mother is awful, Lucy feels she doesn’t have a choice. Promising to return to Hartley-by-the-Sea at some point, Lucy leaves only a week before Christmas. Everyone is glum and not convinced Lucy will come back, Alex even asks to put their relationship on hold. Lucy’s return to her mother puts everything in perspective. She realizes her mother is selfish and has no love for Juliet, she realizes that she misses Hartley-by-the-Sea and her life with Juliet, and she realizes that she’s meant to be with Alex and a hiatus is not ok. She’s stays with her mother through her surgery and then surprises everyone by flying home for Christmas where she declares her love for Alex, and tells Juliet she wants to stay with her. Everyone is thrilled and it’s such a happy ending. The final lose end that gets tied up is between Juliet and her mother. She finally gets answers that she’s wanted for years. Her mother doesn’t know Juliet’s father because one night she got drunk and raped, but she has no idea who did it. She tried to love Juliet, but found she couldn’t no matter how hard she tried. Juliet is angry and crushed, but is relieved for the closure. Through Lucy, she has also warmed enough to find love. She and her neighbor have been friends, but she’s been to icy to allow for anything to happen. Now that her guard is down, they are able to connect and fall in love. It was such a beautiful story filled with complications and pain, that broke through to love and hope. The characters grew and changed and that’s my favorite kind of story!

Summing it up: I highly recommend this perfect, sweet little read!

All the best, Abbey

The Dressmaker’s War

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The Dressmaker’s War

by Mary Chamberlain

December 2016

I came across The Dressmaker’s War a while ago when I was looking for one of my book club books, The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott. It looked interesting, so I put a request in. I was way down the line, so literally six months later, I got it. Honestly, while this book was phenomenally well written, the main character, Ada, drove me nuts the entire book! She was selfish, stupid, and never ever learned. So, lots of mixed feelings, but because of the character, I really have to say I didn’t like this book.

Ada is a young, naive mannequin and seamstress at a local dress shop in England right before WWII begins. She is very skilled and reliable until she meets a young man named Stanislaus. He is handsome, gentlemanly, and mysterious. Ada doesn’t tell her parents much about him because she’s afraid they’d judge him because of his accent. She also lies to him about her parents because she doesn’t want him coming over (says they’re unwell). One day he convinces her to skip work to spend the day with him and she almost gets fired. Another time, he asks her to spend some time in Paris with him. She convinces her employer to allow her to shop for samples and doesn’t tell her parents anything. This is right before war comes to France and England, so she and Stanislaus get trapped. Spoilers: they manage ok, traveling a bit when it gets dangerous, but they don’t return to England. Ada believes he contacted her parents and she happily lives as his wife and works so they can survive. Stanislaus never tells her about his work because it “doesn’t concern Ada” and she never pushes it. They live like this for a while until the war gets worse. Stanislaus takes her to Belgium where he soon abandons her without a word. The Germans are coming, so she manages to gain refuge at a monastery. When the Germans arrive to capture anyone whose British, the nuns lie and say she’s one of them (for her protection). All of the nuns are forced to go to Munich to care for elderly Germans. Ada goes with them and after a while discovers she’s pregnant with Stanislaus’ baby. She’s able to hide it and deliver undetected. Sadly, The baby is stillborn (but Ada refuses for years to believe/accept it). She carries on with her work and one older man seeks her out for his own pleasure, getting Ada alone and forcing her to help him masturbate. Finally, he offers her a job as a dressmaker if she’ll have sex with him and she agrees because it is her greatest dream to be a dressmaker – and someday to own her own shop in Paris. Soon after she is sent to a private house and begins years of captivity, forced into hard labor while being starved and beaten. She is also given the job of dressmaker and mender, and that’s what keeps her alive – designing new gowns, making the wearer shine, etc. Even though it’s for Germans, she finds satisfaction in her work, and is truly forced into it whether she liked it or not. Finally, the Americans come and rescue her, but for a while she is tortured by memories and is very ill. She is returned to the nuns who nurse her and soon she’s ready to return to England and her family. She is also determined to make her way as a dressmaker, bringing with her the sewing machine she used during all her years in captivity. When she finally returns to England she finds her old employer’s shop bombed and her father dead (because he thought she was dead). She finds her mother, but her mother is furious that she never told her her plan and never contacted her (Stanislaus never did). Ada tries to explain, but her mother won’t hear a word and will not let her in the house or speak to her again. Ever the optimist, Ada finds a job and apartment, hoping to save money to find her son (she’s still delusional) and build up her own shop. One night she goes out for a drink and gets propositioned. She goes with it, thinking it’s a date, but later realizes she was taken as a prostitute, and that she can make good money: she goes out for drinks and goes home with someone who pays. One day she meets a man who wants her for more than one night. They hit it off and he becomes more and more involved in her life. His keeps his work quiet too, but Ada shrugs it off. He has connections and can get things like nylons that she sells to her friends. They have a nice little business and she considers him her boyfriend, letting him come home with her, etc. One of her friends warns her that he might be a pimp, but Ada ignores her. One night her boyfriend introduces her to his friend (whom she believes is a backer for her dressmaking business dream), who turns out to be Stanislaus. He doesn’t recognize her and neither man is interested in Ada’s business. Her boyfriend is indeed a pimp and has contracted her out to Stanislaus. She has no choice but to bring him home with her. She confronts him about the past, but he is drunk and makes it clear he never cared for her. After he passes out, Ada is furious and decides to kill him. She binds him to the bed, blocks any openings and turns on the gas before leaving for the bar. She gets hopelessly drunk and comes home to the police who arrest her after she confesses to murder. She goes on trial and her lawyer tries to make a case for “manslaughter under the duress of provocation,” but ultimately, the cards are stacked against her and she comes off looking like a pathological liar (which is kind of true). She gets convicted and sentenced to hang, which she does after writing her whole story down of what “really happened.” She writes about her war. I had such a hard time emphasizing with such a stupid, selfish character. I didn’t want her to die, but I wasn’t surprised in a way. It was just an awful storyline from start to finish, even if the writing was amazing.

Summing it up: I did not love this book, though I did enjoy the writing. I would not recommend it, unfortunately.

All the best, Abbey