All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

All About Love: New VisionsAll About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
Published by William Morrow

There are a lot of beautiful passages and statements in these essays about love by bell hooks. She is known as a feminist writer, and I found this book really interesting in that yes it is written from a feminist perspective, but it definitely has a universal appeal that I’m not sure all books labeled as “feminist” really have.

hooks talks a lot about the ways in which love is modeled and taught in childhood; and how in most people’s upbringing, what is taught is damaging and hurtful and a poor example of what love truly should look like. I believe that a lot of people will find these chapters helpful and will likely have some “ah-ha” moments about their own childhoods and the examples they might have had growing up. I personally saw a lot in these sections that applied to me; however I had already done most of this emotional work to understand that what was displayed for me was not the love I should aspire to as an adult, so I can’t say that I had any earth-shattering revelations about my own life.

There are other sections that specify what exactly a person should look for that defines “love”, what should be deal breakers (the fact that love and abuse cannot coexist is one major thing that the reader is supposed to take from this book), and what it looks like when someone is showing love to a partner, parent, child, etc.

I did enjoy this book and I think it has universal appeal. One thing to note, however, is that it is very hetero-focused and a bit narrow in scope. That being said, I loved a lot of what I read here and hooks has a beautiful way with language that I absolutely adored. I will definitely pick up more of her books and was excited to see All About Love was the type of book that many people could pick up, enjoy, and feel that it offers valuable insights.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Press

This novel has been reviewed to death and almost universally adored. I have to add my voice to the chorus and say that I absolutely LOVED Little Fires Everywhere. I thought Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, was interesting and very good; this one was a major step up from that in my opinion.

The long and short of the story is this: the Richardson family consists of mom, dad, and four teenage children and they are the “perfect” family living in Shaker Heights, Ohio. They own a rental property and when Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl come to town and rent their apartment, Pearl becomes friends with the Richardson kids and Mia begins working for the family as a sort of housekeeper. Shit hits the fan when the youngest Richardson daughter becomes close to Mia, Pearl develops a crush on one of the Richardson sons and befriends the other daughter, and Mia gets tangled up in a scandal involving a couple friendly with the Richardsons.

What was so impressive about this story, for me, was the way that Ng crafted so many incredibly unique but important characters. Each person in the novel significantly contributed to the overall arc of the story; even the most minor of characters became a fixture of some aspect of the novel. By the end of the book I felt as though each character was a part of my life, of my own experiences, and I had gotten to know each one of them in an individual, and surprising, way.

The other incredible thing about this book is that there is absolutely no black and white in the entire thing. Each issue or situation is picked apart from multiple points of view, shown from all angles, and I truly empathized with every single character in every situation they encountered. There are no good guys or bad guys here, just ordinary people faced with ordinarily difficult situations and decisions and are trying to figure out the best way to navigate through these things. It’s so realistic yet taken to the next degree – it’s real life, but so much sharper, if that makes sense.

I could go on and on about Little Fires Everywhere but let me just end by saying that this novel is worth every bit of hype it has received. This novel is SO fantastic and I can’t more highly recommend it. It will definitely be one of my absolute favorites of the year.

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.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

It Ends with UsIt Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
Published by Atria Books

Lily is twenty-three and has worked really hard for where she is in life – after growing up in an abusive home, she graduated college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. She isn’t looking for love, but when she meets gorgeous neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid, the spark is undeniable, and they have an immediate connection. She begins a tentative relationship with Ryle, but as she does this she can’t help but think of the boy she loved as a teenager, Atlas, a guy who helped her through some really tough times in life and who disappeared years ago. When Atlas reappears in her life, and Ryle gets wind of the relationship the two of them had as kids, Lily has to figure out if she has a place for Atlas in her life – and if Ryle is the right person for her after all.

It Ends With Us sounds like a typical love story – girl meets boy, girl falls for boy, boy from girl’s past shows up and disrupts this new relationship – but it’s so much more than that. You see, in this novel Hoover is writing about domestic violence, and it is visceral and real and so very heartbreaking. Having grown up in an abusive home, Lily always swore to herself that she would never allow herself to experience that type of relationship in adulthood, so she’s shocked when Ryle starts displaying that kind of behavior towards her. She is overwhelmed with grief and sadness at the fact that this person who she is so deeply in love with has the capacity to hurt her in this way.

At the same time the reader is getting to know Lily and Ryle, Lily begins reading her journals from high school from when she was in love with Atlas. Atlas was homeless and she began a relationship with him at first out of pity, but gradually the two fell in love, and when he was able to move to another state and live with an uncle, Lily was devastated. The way that these journals were put into the story really built a background of Lily’s past and showed the reader how amazing her relationship with Atlas was – although they were young, they truly loved each other and were incredibly supportive of one another. The reader can’t help but think, when Lily runs into Atlas, that she should leave Ryle and head straight into Atlas’s arms.

This book was frustrating at times and there were moments that I felt Lily was just not making good choices, but overall I felt that Hoover did justice to the issue of domestic violence and truly showed compassion and empathy for those who find themselves in this situation. There is an end note where Hoover explains that her inspiration for this story came from her own life and the way she connects her own personal experience to Lily’s story is fascinating and really heartwarming. I felt even more connected to the story when I read about how personal it was for the author to write about this topic and how difficult it must have been for her to treat the situation with the respect and empathy that she gave it.

While I didn’t love the ending, and I thought parts of the book were a bit cheesy, overall I really enjoyed It Ends With Us. Colleen Hoover is a solid author of these types of contemporary romance novels for a “new adult” audience and I will continue to read her books when I’m looking for this type of novel.

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

A Fall of MarigoldsA Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
Published by NAL

It’s been ten years since Taryn Michaels’ husband perished in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City, and although she has attempted to put the pieces of her life back together, a photograph from that very day appears in a magazine and brings her right back to that moment. In the photograph, she’s wearing a scarf with a marigold pattern around her nose and mouth as she struggles to breathe through the smoke while running away from the collapsing towers. One hundred years prior to that, Clara Wood is a nurse on Ellis Island, repairing her heart from watching the love of her life perish in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire when she meets a young immigrant who has lost his wife on the ship over to America. All the man has left of his wife is a scarf with a beautiful marigold pattern, so Clara makes the choice to smuggle some of his belongings out of his late wife’s suitcase, a decision that will have lasting consequences for both of them.

A Fall of Marigolds is a story about two women, both struggling with a tremendous amount of grief and unsure of how to move past the losses they’ve had to face. Clara’s story takes up the majority of the novel, but Taryn’s is no less crucial to the story and just as heartbreaking. I really loved getting to know both women and loved how Meissner wrote both of their stories as separate but intertwined in a subtle way.

At first, Clara was a difficult character for me to like. She is very naïve and believes that she was in love with a man whom she barely knew, and believed with zero evidence to back up this belief, that he was in love with her as well. Watching people she worked with and was friends with literally die before her, either by being burned alive or jumping to their deaths, was incredibly traumatizing and she was deeply affected by that horrific experience. But still, it seemed as though she was unlikely to move on from that, and she almost clung to the immigrant she met who lost his wife, perhaps because they had a shared feeling of grief they were both dealing with. All that being said, I ended up REALLY liking Clara and rooting for her. I realized that she was simply the product of a sheltered home environment and almost no experience with men or dating, so she really couldn’t be held responsible for her naivety. She goes through some major emotional changes in the book and really grows as a person, not just with moving on past the death of the man she loved but also in her own ability to understand the world around her, I just loved her character development. By the end of the book I was pro-Clara all the way, and was so excited to see things start to come together in her life.

Taryn, on the other hand, I rooted for from the very beginning. Her experience was not only traumatic, but she carried a ton of guilt along with her pain, as she was supposed to meet her husband in the Twin Towers that day (that’s why he was in the building in the first place). She felt that she played a role in his death; and what’s worse, she was pregnant at the time and didn’t get a chance to tell her husband he was going to be a father. While her sections of the book were fewer and shorter than Clara’s, her story was extremely compelling and I hoped desperately for some resolution to the pain and grief that she still felt ten years after her husband’s death.

Ultimately the way that Meissner brings the stories of these two women together is beautiful and gave just the right resolution to both of them. I really enjoyed the flow of this novel and how Meissner blended historical fiction with a contemporary story. This was my first novel by Susan Meissner but it will definitely not be my last.

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.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Published by Harper

I’ve been hearing great things about this series since pre-publication, and I’m so thrilled that I finally picked up the first book because I absolutely loved it. The gist of the story is this – Kelsea was raised in isolation by foster parents after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa. Upon Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, she becomes Queen herself and has to make a perilous journey from her home to the castle where she is to rule and live for the rest of her life. There are many people who wish Kelsea dead, primarily her uncle, who is currently Regent and hopes to keep his hold on the throne, and secondarily the Red Queen, a sorceress and ruler of the kingdom Mortmesne, who years ago struck some kind of bargain with Kelsea’s mother, the horrors of which Kelsea only learns upon her entrance to the castle. Kelsea is the kind of queen this land has never seen before – intensely smart, bookish, kind, interested in taking care of her people rather than having them take care of her. She must figure out a way to navigate how she wants to rule while at the same time keeping the Red Queen and her uncle out of her kingdom and her people’s lives.

So this book is very plot-heavy and the beginning is VERY confusing. I almost gave up after fifty pages but I persevered because I liked Kelsea so much, and man am I glad I kept going. The thing that makes it confusing at first is that Kelsea was raised in isolation and therefore knows almost nothing about her world. As she gets information and history about the world in which she lives, so too does the reader, with things becoming more clear about a hundred pages in (out of six hundred). Even after finishing the first book, I’m still left with a ton of questions about this world, so hopefully even more information will be given to the reader in books two and three.

Anyway – this book was SO GOOD. I absolutely loved Kelsea; loved her bookishness, her seriousness, her kindness and willingness to do the right thing no matter what the cost might be. She did this whole fake it til you make it thing where she knew what she didn’t know (almost everything) and just made decisions based on her instincts and the advice of the very few people she was able to trust – and as each decision produced fruitful results, her confidence increased.

As I said, The Queen of the Tearling is extremely plot-heavy, with a LOT of events happening within its six hundred pages. It’s the type of read that never really slows down – just when you think one situation is resolved, something else presents itself. There are also a lot of characters to get to know, but what I loved was that Kelsea was getting to know everyone right along with the reader. There’s something uniquely special about the relationship between the reader and the protagonist here, as both are in the dark about pretty much everything until someone explains it – this element of the book brings the reader in even closer to Kelsea, as you genuinely feel for her, being so lost and unsure of herself in this whole new situation that she could have never imagined for herself.

I absolutely loved the adventure that was The Queen of the Tearling. I have to warn readers that this is NOT a young adult book – this is firmly in the adult category as there are many deeply disturbing things that happen throughout the book. The themes of the novel are also very mature and probably best for older teens as opposed to the younger set. I am so glad I finally picked up this book and really looking forward to reading the second book in this series.