The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown
Published by Hazeldon Publishing

I’d long heard Brene Brown’s name mentioned as a writer similar to Cheryl Strayed or Elizabeth Gilbert (two of my favorites), so I was excited to pick up my first book by Brown and experience her thoughts for myself. Unfortunately, this book wasn’t quite what I was hoping for and I’m sure that’s the fault of my own and not of the writer, for a few reasons.

It’s funny that at the end of the book Brown explains that this wasn’t meant to be a self-help book in the traditional sense, but for me I found that it was a bit too self-help-y, so I almost laughed out loud when I got to the end of the book and heard that part (I listened to the audio, so yes I actually did “hear” it). The basic idea of the book is to give the reader a set of guideposts to learn how to embrace the idea that perfection is not possible or even ideal, and that we should be looking to embrace our true selves instead of being ashamed of our mistakes and shortcomings. This is something I truly need in my life, as I am guilty of trying to please everyone and being extremely hard on myself in just about every scenario one can dream up. However, I just found the book relatively dry and it didn’t do much to enhance my life or my attitude about myself.

Part of the issue, I think, was that I listened to the audio, and it may have been a combination of not loving the narrator and needing to actually see the words on the page, but I don’t think I absorbed much of the guidance Brown was trying to provide here.

Ultimately I’m still interested in reading more from Brene Brown, as I think there were some nuggets of truth within the book, and a few things that I will take away, but unfortunately this one just didn’t work for me.

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

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

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, habits and happiness guru, is back with another book – this time focusing on the framework that she developed called The Four Tendencies. The basic idea is that these four types of people respond to expectations differently, and figuring out your tendency is a key piece in mastering your ability to create new habits and have a happy, productive life.

I’m not sure that writing a whole book about the four tendencies was Rubin’s best idea. I was interested in this subject when I first read about it in Better Than Before, and it certainly explains a lot about people’s behavior and how different people respond differently to expectations, but this book was a bit overkill for me. I’m just not sure that I need to know every single way each tendency can affect every single other tendency, how to “deal” with each tendency in every area of life, or which tendencies pair the best with others in romantic relationships, friendships, or as coworkers.

I listened to the audio of The Four Tendencies and it was pretty good. Rubin narrates it herself, and having listened to some of her podcast episodes I was familiar with her voice. She is a good speaker and I can see why she has been successful at speaking engagements all across the country.

The Four Tendencies would be a good choice for those who are huge fans of Gretchen Rubin’s work in happiness and habits, and I did find parts of it interesting. However, I felt it was a bit TOO much about these tendencies and I am not sure that writing an entire book about this subject was totally necessary. Recommended for fans of Gretchen Rubin; others, not so much.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Into the Darkest CornerInto the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
Published by Harper

When Catherine Bailey meets Lee Brightman, the two hit it off instantly and it seems to be a perfect match and the beginning of a great relationship. But soon their relationship turns volatile, with Lee acting jealous, telling Catherine what to do, calling her names, and downright terrifying her. Four years later, Catherine has moved, changed jobs, and is not in contact with Lee any longer. She finally begins opening herself up to the idea of a new relationship with her neighbor, Stuart, who encourages her to face her fears and move past the damage caused by her relationship with Lee. But one day she receives a phone call that threatens the peace she’s so carefully built for herself…

I didn’t read the publisher’s summary before picking up this book – simply chose to read it after hearing good things from other readers and knowing that it was, in general terms, a thriller. I had no idea it was about an abusive relationship – had I known, I may have passed on it because intimate partner violence is a subject that can be really difficult for me to read, having had personal experience with this type of relationship. That being said, this is an extremely well-written, well-plotted novel that I can sincerely recommend for those who can stomach its contents.

My personal experience aside, let’s talk about the book. So the beginning was difficult for me because the format goes back and forth in time between Catherine’s time being with Lee, four years ago, and Cathy in the present tense. At first I thought they were two separate people, but once I got that it was just two different time periods I was fine. Haynes’ decision to tell the story in this way was very smart; it kept me on my toes in both the past and present, and as the story went along and I got more of the Catherine/Lee dynamic, it heightened the tension for her situation in present tense, as it was clear that the abuse was likely to happen again if he were to find her.

The way that Haynes depicted the intimate partner violence that Catherine experienced was scarily true to life and written extremely well. The sense of isolation that Catherine felt, the constant need to explain herself to Lee, the constant name calling and physical abuse, the blaming of Catherine for when things didn’t go Lee’s way, these things were all within these pages and played out exactly how they do in real life abusive relationships. The saddest, most difficult part of the entire book for me was when Catherine did try to get help by reaching out to her friends and being honest with them about the relationship, and no one believed her. Lee was so manipulative that he had already convinced all of Catherine’s friends that any so-called problems in their relationship were her fault, not his. The way that this happened was depicted in such a true to life way that it was just heartbreaking to read as Catherine lost all hope for rescue or escape from the abuse Lee inflicted on her. It was really sad and honestly very scary that this happens to women in real life, all the time.

So would I recommend Into the Darkest Corner? Yes, but with reservations. Keep in mind that this is a book about an extremely abusive relationship, and is written extremely well – those who have experienced this type of situation themselves or have been close with someone who has could be triggered by the contents of the novel. If you are okay with that, however, I absolutely recommend the book – it is a tightly plotted, well-written and well characterized thriller, the perfect edge-of-your-seat novel.

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

The Opposite of EveryoneThe Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
Published by William Morrow

Paula Voss is in her early thirties, working as an attorney in Atlanta, when she receives a postcard from her long-estranged mother, letting her know that she won’t be needing the check Paula sends her every month because she has terminal cancer and she will be dead soon. When Paula was a girl, she and her mother lived a mostly nomadic existence until the day that Paula did something unforgivable at age eleven, landing her in foster care and her mother in prison. Upon receipt of this postcard, she is forced to attempt to find her mother and unbury the years of secrets and lies that lie between the two of them.

Jackson has such a talent for creating characters that feel in such a deep, true way like real people – flawed people, but real people nonetheless. That was completely the case here with Paula – within the first twenty or thirty pages, I felt like I knew her, I felt like she and I were friends and she was telling me the story of her life.

And what a story it was – Jackson goes back and forth in time in the book, between what’s happening to Paula today and then back to her childhood, right before and after she made the decision that caused the huge rift between her mother and herself. The way the story was told was so effective because it really kept me on the hook, waiting for more about what happened to Paula as a child and hoping desperately that it wasn’t as bad as I feared it was. Also, I was so hopeful that she would have some kind of resolution to the estrangement between herself and her mother. No spoilers, but the way that Jackson ties everything up is not perfect but certainly realistic and happy enough to satisfy just about any reader. It’s the perfect mix of “happy ending” while being realistic about what would make sense to happen to these characters.

I listened to the audio of this novel and I have to say that audio is the way to go for any Joshilyn Jackson book. She narrates them herself, and her flawed, funny, smart, Southern female characters just come to life with her voice.

Joshilyn Jackson has done it again – this is a wonderful story with a great character just trying to weather the storm that is life. I have enjoyed every single one of her books and The Opposite of Everyone is no different.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

The Girl with the Lower Back TattooThe Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Published by Gallery Books

I knew very little about Amy Schumer before listening to this audiobook – I knew she is a comedian, she stars in her own HBO show, and she wrote, produced and starred in the movie Trainwreck. However, I’d never seen her show nor have I watched Trainwreck. I heard she was smart and funny, and I like listening to smart and funny people, so I listened to her memoir. And it was FABULOUS.

Schumer is hilarious, sarcastic, in-your-face and doesn’t shy away from joking about just about anything. She is open and honest about her own personal life, most remarkably some of her sexual experiences and relationships. She is certainly the type of person who doesn’t take herself too seriously. But what I was surprised by was just how serious parts of this book were. Her father has multiple sclerosis, and she discusses what that diagnosis has been like for her father and her family (in some parts, in graphic detail). Her parents divorced when she was young because her mother fell in love with Schumer’s best friend’s father, and she talks the reader through how that entire situation shaped her as a kid. She discusses at length her relationship with her mother, which has changed drastically over the course of her life. And the most serious part of the entire book is when she begins discussing gun violence and how she got interested in the issue itself (a mass shooting at a showing of her movie). She spent a lot of time researching and she shares a lot of what she learned with the reader, including being very specific about her own beliefs around the causes of gun violence and what can be done to prevent it to the degree that we see it here in the US.

I read a few reviews where the reader was less than thrilled with Schumer’s level of seriousness throughout this book, and I have to say that I majorly disagree with that being an issue. To me, the book is such a perfect balance of funny, smart, and serious, and really shows what an interesting person Schumer is. I highly recommend this book and definitely suggest you listen to the audio, if you are so inclined. Schumer reads it herself and does a fantastic job. I always say how much I love memoirs read by the author and this was a perfect example of why I find them to be so successful in that format.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
Published by Hachette

I hadn’t even heard of Lindy West when her memoir came full-force into the book world, but many of the feminist authors and activists I’ve come to admire over the years were recommending it, so I read a few pieces she’d written online before downloading this audio. I liked the snippets of West’s that I read, so I settled in for what I anticipated to be a smart, funny listen that would hopefully make me think differently about some issues. And I got exactly what I was hoping for.

Lindy West is incredibly smart, darkly funny but also witty and can even be silly funny, and bares all for the reader in her book. She talks about the experience of having an abortion and how it affected her (and, more importantly, the ways in which it did NOT affect her). She talks about having a “debate” on national TV about why it is not okay for comedians to make fun of rape, or more specifically, of women who have been raped. She rails against a societal message that to be fat is to be less than, that we should make judgments about people based on what their bodies look like. There is a LOT packed within these pages and I could have had twice as much, that is how much I enjoyed it.

I listened to the audio of Shrill, which West narrates herself, and it was fantastic. There’s nothing like an intelligent, interesting human telling his/her own story in their own voice, right into your ears.

There’s a lot to discuss within the pages of Shrill, but I’ll leave it short and sweet here. This book is really great, full of anecdotes and opinions, yes, but so much food for thought about topics even I, a self-proclaimed feminist, hadn’t really considered before. Highly recommended.

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in BetweenTalking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
Published by Ballantine Books

I’m not sure what to say about Talking as Fast as I Can that hasn’t been said by other reviewers – if you like Lauren Graham, especially if you are/were a fan of Gilmore Girls, this is a must read. She has tons of funny stories and reflections and some more serious thoughts about the show itself, what happened leading up to and during the filming for the Netflix 10 years later series, and all kinds of other stuff about her life, fame, etc. Graham narrates the audio herself and it is a fantastic performance, so definitely consider that if you’re an audio fan. The book was exactly what I expected, but in the best possible way. As I said – a must read if you’re a fan of the author or of Gilmore Girls.