Book Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

IMG_4984I have been slightly behind my blog postings as well as my reading. The book club read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate for the month of May.

Though the characters in the book are mostly fictional, Georgia Tann and her horrendous practice carried out at her Tennessee Children’s Home Society did really exist from the 1920s-1950. So the scenarios descried in the book were not atypical, including kidnapping or stealing children from poor families to sell off to wealthy ones. If that wasn’t horrible enough, many of these children were malnourished and mistreated, often molested or died before they ever got adopted.

The book alternates between past and present in each chapter. The past is narrated by Rill who was kidnapped and taken to The Tennessee Children’s Home Society with her younger siblings, while the present is narrated by Avery who tries to figure out her grandmother Judy’s secret past.

Needless to say, Grandmother Judy’s past is being revealed by the story unfolding via Rill’s narration, although they are not the same person. In fact, it is a bit complex since the children who are taken to the Children’s Home are forced to have their names changed in order to make it difficult for their real families to trace them and vise versa. So throughout the novel, you do have to figure out who is who not only in the past and future but keep track of who they used to be before the name changes.

I did like the novel and would give it a A-. The one issue I had with the copy I got was that there were 31 extra pages in mine since page 184 was followed by a repeat of pages from page 153 to page 184 again until it finally continues back into page 185. So hopefully there aren’t too many copies out there that have this printing error….

I think the other book club ladies also liked the book and we all agreed that it was one of those books where you wanted to keep reading it because you wanted to know what happens next.

Some of the book club ladies didn’t seem to care much for the narration of Avery and said that her story was dull in comparison, which I think is partially because Avery was born into a privileged family and didn’t have to experience the kind of tragedies Rill had to go through. But I do think that having the constant presence of the present times allows the ending to make more sense and it actually makes it all more possible for the ending that occurred in the novel to occur.

And it also goes to show this stark contrast between the lack of choices women used to have back in the day vs the ones we are allowed to have now, which is why many of these elderly women kept secrets from their families all those years and some of them all the way into their graves.

While the story has heartbreaking moments, the ending is definitely a happier one that celebrates sisterhood.  It’s a nice theme to have for our book club since we are also a group of ladies.

So here’s to sisterhood,

-M

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Book Review: The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

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The things that have happened in Tiffany Haddish’s life as described in her book were jaw-dropping for me. I have come to appreciate her as a comedian and have watched many clips of her on youtube now because I enjoy watching her on interviews and talk shows. But as she forewarns her chapter on her ex-husband, some of it just isn’t funny. Ironically, the fact that she IS a funny, talented comedian but how some of the men in the industry treated her was also not funny. So while I have always appreciated Kevin Hart as a comedian I am even more glad to know that another woman who was disrespected so many times by other men was treated with kindness by Kevin Hart and that there are male comedians like him that respect women.

Haddish’s thoughts on why she was attracted to the types of men she was with was also very insightful. Not everyone is as reflective about why they do what they do. I am becoming more appreciative of the fact that many comedians like her openly admit to having gone through hardship and used humor to help cope or survive. One of my favorite books of 2017 from our book club picks was Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime, which is also written with humor while also covering serious/darker subjects. Originally, I suggested this book for this month’s selection for the book club because I saw Tiffany Haddish discuss her book with Trevor Noah on the Daily Show. The book wasn’t all well-received by the book club ladies in comparison to Born a Crime, but I liked the idea of reading something written from a female perspective as well since some of it I could relate to.

Being “smart” is often categorized into street smart vs book smart. I was impressed by how street smart Haddish was in using her likability to her advantage when she was disadvantaged with her illiteracy (which she obviously has since then overcome in being able to write this book). I am also grateful to know that there are teachers like hers that will notice these things about their students and will give them the help they need.

I do warn you that the language is not filtered in this book at all. It does make it all the more authentic (which I appreciate) but it might not be the best choice for night time reading out loud to children if you are particular about language and adult content. But the truth is, all those hardships Haddish went through, many of them were when she was a young child herself.  The incident that finally got her out of an abusive marriage was when she found out about her then-husband’s daughter who was not being given the love by her father because she couldn’t bear the thought of another little girl being put through what she had gone through with her own father.

If we could all see that little girl in ourselves and be kind to ourselves as well as others it would make this world a better place.

-M

Book Review: Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden

IMG_4567.jpgThis book was written to honor the memories of a son but it was obviously written by a man who was still doing his job as Vice President when the events in the book took place. So I will disclose that I am not trying to show support for any particular political party, as it was evident that some women in the book club didn’t or didn’t want to read this book because of their political affiliations or party they are in support of.

In fact, I admit that I feel like I’m supposed to be more knowledgable and passionate about politics but have never been one to really get into it as a lot of other people do.

Needless to say, I did find myself having to do some research to answer some questions that I came up with that the other ladies in the book club meeting were not able to answer either. For an example, I noticed that in the beginning of the book Vladimir Putin was referred to as Prime Minister whereas he was then referred to as the President of Russia. So for the first time I learned from my research that a lot of countries like Russia have both a Prime Minister and a President. And I also took time to research what the differences were between a President, a Prime Minister and a Chancellor.

As an American, I was born and raised in a country where we have a President so I have been even more ignorant when it came to how other countries’ governments are run. While I know I am not the only person in America or the world in this predicament, I do think it is important to find out what you don’t know so that you become less ignorant.

Likewise, I also learned more about cancer treatment from reading this book that I didn’t know about before. And I also didn’t know about the problems that patients encounter when different hospitals can’t communicate or share information with one another as effectively due to the different systems they have in place.

And like my lack of knowledge about politics in general, I also didn’t know much about Joe Biden either. So I learned for the first time about his personal life which had already been stricken by tragedy when he was widowed by his first wife and infant daughter who passed away in a car accident decades before his son Beau’s death. Having experienced the loss of loved ones, I could see why family continues to be very important to him and the traditions that they share together.

The ladies who attended the book club meeting agreed that we all cried [or wanted to] when we read about a particular encounter at Beau’s funeral that Joe Biden had. (I won’t go into in detail so that I don’t ruin it for those who haven’t read the book) And we also agreed that none of us were aware of the specifics of what a Vice President’s job entailed. So all in all, it was a book we felt like we all learned and gained perspective from.

This is for all those who continue to fight for their lives and those who fight with them or for them.

-M

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

IMG_4441This was a book that I had seen on a lot of must-read or will-read lists. So when the book club ladies chose this one for the month of February, I was pleased to know that I would get to find out what all the fuss was about.

I live in a region in California where it is densely populated by well-educated and financially well off people, a land of tech companies like Google and Apple. Ironically, like the up/coming cities in the midwest, there are a lot of transplants here in the Bay Area too. The difference is that many of those transplants are from other countries more or so than a few select domestic cities & states like the places Vance mentions. Vance explains that the “Hillbilly transplants” like that of his family in the south or the midwest shared the same culture of the same food, religion, etc.

The book and the author did admittedly remind me of someone and that person’s family that fit the description closely in some ways. And it made me rethink the difficulty of being a transplant as a fellow American rather than as a foreigner. I always thought that being from another country would be more difficult for obvious reasons. But in a place like the Bay Area where everyone seems to be from other countries too, being a so-called Hillbilly transplant makes you even more foreign in comparison.

I also think about the description of these hillbillies not being motivated to work and blaming the government or some outside circumstance of them not having work or how systems that allow people to take advantage of welfare to raise the ever-growing number of children people have that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. In a place like the Bay Area, people come from other countries are hungry to work and work harder in order to achieve the American Dream. Children here are encouraged (and often times forced) by their parents to take AP (advanced placement) classes in high school while also running for class president and training for the olympics in whatever sport they end up pursuing. The bar is set very high and when you’re going to school with other children who reach high, it’s hard to avoid not feeling the pressure to do the same.

The other thing about having a family from another country is that you tend to be raised bilingual (if not, trilingual or with even more languages). So even if you do decide to learn another language in high school (which, in my opinion, should start much sooner) I think it’s much easier to learn a third language. On top of that, children like me were sent to Japanese school on Saturdays. And attending school 6 days out of the week does accumulate over the period of twelve years.

In addition, we had a concentrated 2 week period of Japanese school everyday before being released for “summer break” during the time in which I was often sent to the country of Japan to attend school there until they finally went into summer break in August (schools in Japan usually have only the month of August off in the summer). Since the weekly Japanese school I attended here in the states followed the same curriculum as Japan, we would cover one week’s worth of curriculum done in Japan each Saturday. So whenever I was sent to go to school in the country of Japan, the pace actually felt very slow in comparison.

Needless to say, family background and upbringing can very much make a difference. It makes a difference between coming from a family where they expect you to do better than your previous generation vs a family where there is no expectation. And children watch what their parents (or older role model) do. I have never seen or heard of my parents becoming physically violent with each other and it’s always a bit of a shock for me whenever I go to another person’s family gathering where even a heated argument might arise here and there. So it makes sense that someone like Vance who has experienced the opposite in his family would find it just as shocking to experience a non-yelling, peaceful family gathering.

Even though those of us who live in a place like the Bay Area are exposed to so many different cultures from around the world, it is important to realize that it can be very easy to stay in that bubble very much like it is for so-called Hillbillies to never experience other cultures other than their own.

Here’s to keeping our eyes open,

M

 

Book Review: Endurance by Scott Kelly

I admittedly had never heard of Scott Kelly nor his twin brother Mark (who is also an astronaut) prior to reading this book. Though I do recall seeing and hearing in the news about Mark Kelly’s wife Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords being shot in 2011.

Personally, I have no interest in ever going to outer space myself but I did find reading about the experience(s) very interesting. It made me appreciate all that we take for granted for living on this Earth and not having to worry about things like having to strap ourselves from flying off a treadmill or having an ample supply of oxygen to breath. Scott Kelly also describes the craving for fresh produce during long periods of not having access to such supplies coming in and the very last “real meal” or “real shower” he got to enjoy prior to his departure.

As someone who goes to the farmers market religiously every weekend, I would definitely struggle with the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables… In fact, Scott Kelly’s list of things he requested for his fiancé to have ready for him to enjoy upon his return home after his year-long journey in space consisted of basically different varieties of beverages (ie. Gatorade, beer, etc.) and fresh fruits and vegetables (ie. strawberries, salad). And I loved that the first thing he did when he got home was jump into his swimming pool still wearing his flight suit, just like he said he would- And that he would never take water for granted again.

None of the book club ladies that were in attendance at the book club meeting to discuss this book were able to finish reading the book in time for the meeting (I had one more chapter left which I got to finish reading this afternoon after the book club meeting). We purposely chose this book to read for both the month of December and January since we usually don’t meet in December due to the holidays and saw how long this book was (369 pages without the Index). BUT we all agreed that it IS a very interesting read and that with more time we would have probably been able to finish reading it. So it is a highly recommended read.

I personally enjoyed the incredible photos that were in the book too and the diagrams of the International Space Station and such were very helpful to reference to. Since the book was also about his life leading up to the year-long space mission, there was a lot of going back and forth from chapter to chapter of different time periods. And I was impressed by his honesty of telling his life story the way he did. He was very candid about his marriage, divorce, family, his struggle with school, etc.

In the book Scott Kelly gives acknowledgement many times over to Tom Wolfe for changing his life forever by inspiring his pursuit to become a navy pilot and astronaut from the moment he picked up Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff at the age of 18. It made me want to pick up a copy myself so it is now on my list of books to read.

I continue to nourish my soul with great books to read and gorgeous roses. The white roses I purchased this morning coincided with the headlines I read online just minutes ago in regards to the statement celebrities were apparently making tonight at the Grammy Awards by wearing white roses for the #TIMESUP campaign. Whether it is honoring women or astronauts (or female astronauts), I felt like it was a reminder of how precious and beautiful life and life on Earth can be. So for this week’s documentation of my weekly roses, I present to you all this photo I decided to capture in honor of it all:

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M

Year of the Rose

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According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, 2018 is the Year of the Dog. However, I plan on having it be the Year of the Rose.

Perhaps this will also serve as a hint as to what my next book cover will look like since I am also working right now on my second AND third books as I type this.

Truth be told, I had a sunflower phase for a long time and actually was a bit anti-rose because I saw roses as the archenemy. I also have had a dahlia phase and actually do find all of these flowers still beautiful.

I think my newfound love for roses might have something to do with me embracing my inner Belle since last year when the film Beauty and the Beast came out. It’s evident by my many posts reviewing books, the one I did on my love for life-like inanimate objects, my fashion choices, and now my obsession with buying bouquets after bouquets of roses the last several weeks.

 

Also, being a Game of Thrones fan, I had a coincidental incident happen where a fellow GOT fan joked about my house doing well and I asked him what animal or creature my so-called house would be symbolized by. In my head, I thought to myself “House of Roses.” Out of curiosity I decided to look up “roses” on wikipedia when I got home and it led me to a historical reference to The War of Roses, the war within the English royal family between the House of Lancaster (symbolized by a red rose) and Yorks (represented likewise by a white rose). Being an American, I was not knowledgeable of much English history but these civil wars were fought between the two houses over which house were to gain control of the throne, serving as an inspiration for the author of the Game of Thrones books. Hence, the Lancasters would be the Lannisters and the Yorks would be the Starks.

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Like the English, I continue to enjoy my tea, sometimes in my rose tea cup topped with a silicone rose lid to keep it from cooling down as quickly. One of my friends who gifted me with tea was thoughtful enough to also gift me with a gorgeous rose tea comprised of whole minature roses to steep.

So as the saying goes, don’t forget to smell the roses in life.

-M

Book Review: Unshakeable by Tony Robbins

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I’ve been a fan of Tony Robbins since being introduced to his work several years ago. And I have had the honor of partaking in his Unleash the Power Within seminar too. I just finished reading his latest book Unshakeable so this is a review based on that experience.

Since I have been working for myself pretty much most of my adult life now, I have never worked at a company where opening a 401k account was offered. It really wasn’t until I got divorced in my late twenties that I actually bothered learning about opening up a retirement account. And even then, I made the very mistake Tony Robbins talks about in entrusting a friend who has the title of a financial advisor whose agenda was to sell me an expensive life insurance policy instead of helping me open a retirement account. Thankfully, I was able to get a second and third opinion and realized my mistake before it became a very expensive one long before I read the book.

However, in reading the book I was able to learn the different types of financial advisors and what to look for. Likewise, I had recently shopped around for a new tax accountant and have come to learn what to look for in that particular situation as well. There are certain things I believe in hiring professionals to get the job done correctly, especially when it comes to legal documents or anything that I am unfamiliar with that could get me in trouble if I do it myself incorrectly. So it’s that much more important to know that I’m hiring the right people in the first place!

It was also when I opened a retirement account that I started to invest in stocks. According to the book, low-cost index funds is the way to go and I was reminded of why I shouldn’t invest in mutual funds. I admittedly wasn’t aware of all the different asset classifications for low-cost index funds until I read the book (and I still need to refer to the post-it notes I stuck on the pages in the book to go over them as I type this).

I do consider myself a creative, artsy type. But I’ve also been running a business for over ten years now and have made a living from doing creative, artsy things. Reading a book on finances many not seem as entertaining as a pre-conceivably creative, artsy novel —- but pretty darn vital for a single, independent, modern vintage woman. And I would argue that it’s even more of a challenge to be creative in presenting information in a book about finances so that people can understand it and hence, enjoy reading it.

More surprisingly, I actually was moved to tears when I was reading one of the chapters in the book on emotional/psychological/spiritual wealth. It was a two-minute gratitude meditation that Tony Robbins takes people through at his seminars. He has an audio version of it available too but I decided to continue reading the words on the pages and went through it as I read along. Somewhere between steps 2 and 4, I lost it. He instructs you to breathe while becoming physically aware of your heart beating, reminding you to be grateful for it doing just that.

Here’s to learning to make better decisions, building & growing wealth, and being grateful for what we have.

-M