May 11, 2015

Women's Fiction Spotlight: The Far End of Happy

Over a year ago, I read Kathryn Craft's first book The Art of Falling. I adored it, felt that there were so many aspects of it that related to me as a person. When I saw Craft's second book was coming out, how different the cover was from the first, I was hesitant to believe it was possible for her to match what she accomplished in the first book.

I was wrong in the most fantastic way possible.

Blurb from Goodreads: After enduring years of a struggling marriage, Ronnie Farnham has decided to divorce her husband and is beginning to hope for a happy future--until the morning Jeff is supposed to move out, when he locks himself in their barn with a rifle.
When a massive police presence arrives to control the 12-hour stand off, the women in Jeff's life are pushed to their breaking points. Based on the author's harrowing personal story, The Far End of Happy is a powerful novel about the way one man's spiral towards life's violent conclusion tests the resolve, love, and hope of the women he will leave behind.

The book starts by getting the reader attached to Ronnie, feeling that she is gearing up for a hard day because her husband is moving out as one of the first steps toward divorce. Within pages, the stakes are raised to nearly breaking point. Truly, I couldn't read fast enough.

But as the description says, this is a 12 hour saga, and thanks to the three points of view we get to see, the tension ebbs and flows, good times and hard times blended together with pacing precision. And the voices of each character showed their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the issues with the other characters. We get to see backgrounds, experiences that made the characters who they are, all while police are negotiating a suicide standoff.

I completely adored the book - thought about it when I wasn't reading it which is an extraordinary compliment. It was stunning in so many ways.

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Apr 20, 2015

Living Deliberately

In part because of a new course I'm teaching next year, and in part because I'm in heavy pursuit of a dream, I've developed a renewed interest in people who discuss elements of deliberate living. I've always been a fan of Brain Pickings, but recently stumbled upon the great information shared by Gretchen Rubin in her various mediums. Both of them share ideas of great thinkers about the nature of living - how to be happy, content, creative, and the like. And each time I read something about this from them, I am reminded over and over again that the key to what we want from life is living deliberately. 

I think I've always known this. I'm fascinated by the way people construct their days, had a knock-off brand of Covey planner when I was in high school, and love structure and schedules. I'm drawn to articles about time management (like this one from the very impressive Therese Walsh at Writer Unboxed), follow the way business people structure their lives (like Carrie Green of the Female Entrepreneur Association) and still integrate planning systems (like Passion Planner or the organization tools provided by Jamie Raintree) to further maximize my daily efforts.

It seems a little strange, to fill time with these ideas and continually tweak, but there are still too many days when what I wanted to get done got interrupted by other things that "needed" to be done. I know I waste time when I could be maximizing it, and continually seeing these kinds of people share their successful techniques is a huge motivator for me. 

But more than anything, I want to end every day having accomplished tasks with deliberation. 

I have the great fortune of living in the town where I grew up. Seriously, I love it for so many reasons. But part of the downside of this is that I see generations of the same people from the same families living the way the previous one did. Some may say that is the dream, and if that is what they deliberately selected, I'm super happy for them. But there are many people who do what their parents did because it is what has always been done, who get up, go to work, come home, go to sleep and repeat because they aren't dead yet.

But we get one shot at this. One chance to develop ourselves into a person who can live life to our potential - in whatever arena that is supposed to be. I have several friends who parent with impressive deliberateness. Another manages to balance her work/writing/mom life with seamless transitions that leave me in awe. 

There is a tendency I think, and especially for women, to look at these people I've mentioned and feel dejected because we didn't get that much done, but that doesn't help anything. Instead, take a look at some of these people (or let me know your organizational/deliberately living heroes) and start finding ways to make small changes. Because if there is one thing I know, it is that every person deserves the right to feel satisfied at the way they are journeying through this life. 

Mar 27, 2015

Giving Advice with Love

I have been thinking about advice a lot lately. I wrote about how to consider this advice when in the role of writer earlier this week. Part of this subject being so prevalent is due to what is happening in my classroom - seniors have two months until they graduate, the juniors are realizing what one more year of high school means and each of these groups tell me all the advice they get - and often the lack of value they see.

"Go to this school..."
"Major in ..."
"By this age, you should..."

And after each statement, they offer the reason the advisor made the suggestion - it was what they had done.

I think we all have great intentions when we give our own advice - we see someone who wants help, who we think needs help, and we offer a variation of what worked for us. Often, though, we forget the people we are talking to aren't us. This occurs in marriage advice, parenting advice, cleaning advice, reading advice.

The important thing is to remember that the person offering advice is usually doing it out of love and concern, that they want to see us happy.

But more than that, we need to consider why we are giving advice as well. Are we doing it to show how smart we are, to prove that we can accomplish a thing, or is the intent to help someone? If we are trying to help, have we taken the time to truly listen first?

Helping others is noble, as long as we are doing it for the right reasons.

Mar 26, 2015

Women's Fiction Spotlight: The One That Got Away

I had the opportunity to read Bethany Chase's new book THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY and am thrilled to be part of her  share a review with you. 

Here's the synopsis from Goodreads: 
Sarina Mahler thinks she has her life all nailed down: a growing architecture practice in Austin, Texas, and an any-day-now proposal from her loving boyfriend, Noah. She’s well on her way to having the family she’s hoped for since her mother’s death ten years ago. But with Noah on a temporary assignment abroad and retired Olympic swimmer — and former flame — Eamon Roy back in town asking her to renovate his new fixer-upper, Sarina’s life takes an unexpected turn. 
Eamon proves to be Sarina’s dream client, someone who instinctively trusts every one of her choices — and Sarina is reminded of all the reasons she was first drawn to him back in the day. Suddenly her carefully planned future with Noah seems a little less than perfect. And when tragedy strikes, Sarina is left reeling. With her world completely upended, she is forced to question what she truly wants in life — and in love.
Now, I have to throw this out. I was a little thrown at first with the initial tone. I liked the characters, there is a hilarious banter as friends are preparing for a wedding, but based on the title and the description, I was expecting a tone that was a little more somber.

However, it didn't take me long to be pulled into the story, enjoying the way the relationship between Sarina and her roommate, old flame and boyfriend all unfolded. I groaned with her during the interactions she has with the couple who will be her in-laws, and appreciated her uncertainty when Eamon showed up.

But beyond that, I felt for Sarina. As the story progressed, I longed to sit beside her, listen to her think out loud. Chase did a superb job of making Sarina's decisions realistic because of their difficulty, and the pacing and tension were precise.

And honestly, I loved it.

Mar 18, 2015

Women's Fiction Wednesday: The Dress Shop of Dreams

Okay, first of all, I was totally drawn to The Dress Shop of Dreams by the cover. Seriously, this is stunning. 

Then I read the description (from Goodreads):

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.
Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.
But the real love started when I read it. There is intelligence, intrigue, characters with nuances they both love and don't, histories they both love and don't, and before long, I was hoping for outcomes, and sighing at my disappointments when things didn't work out, all the while trying to figure out the underlying mystery that launched so many interactions into play. I adored the descriptions, the writing is lush but still fanciful, and I will definitely read Menna Van Praag again and again.