The Moment of Lift (Book Review)

I recently finished reading The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates. Before choosing it as an audiobook, I had no real idea what it was about; I wanted to be able to join the bookish community in conversation about it.

Sometimes it’s a good thing to have zero expectations about a book. In this case, I was completely unprepared for the powerful, positive message that this book contains. Melinda alternated between writing about research and sharing stories of women around the world.

My eyes were opened to the gender bias and inequality that persists in the U.S. even in 2019. In first-world countries like the U.S., it has taken women millennia to get where we are today and we still have a way to go. Women in developing nations suffer much more extreme gender bias and inequality every day of their lives.

But this book is filled with stories of women who changed their circumstances by challenging those in authority and standing up for themselves and their children.

Melinda is clearly a woman in a position of wealth, privilege, and power, but she also possesses humility, a willingness to learn and change, and an awareness of the dangers associated with wealthy people trying to do good. I was surprised by her down-to-earth manner. I think listening to her narrate her own book made it much more personal. And she is a really good narrator; I am super picky about voices, but hers is just right for listening.

As a person of faith (she is Catholic), Melinda takes into account the Bible’s words about serving the poor and being a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves. She travels the world and spends time with the poorest, most marginalized people, which I was impressed by, and which is certainly Christ-like. But as much as her and Bill’s charitable foundation impacts the lives of others, she has been impacted and changed by them as well.

In case you were wondering, this isn’t a book that puts down men in any way, or that preaches that women should be above men. The book has a respectful tone toward everyone: man, woman, child, rich, and poor. Instead this book is about women taking their places alongside men in every area of life. And the message woven throughout the book is about love as the missing link, as the needed element that can heal social ills.

The Moment of Lift will challenge you, educate you, surprise you, break your heart for the suffering of others, and, yes, it will lift your spirit! I hope you put it on your TBR list and read this important book very soon. I’d love to hear what you think when you read it!

One Book I Didn’t Finish and Why I Don’t Always Finish Books

I’ve heard nothing but high praise for The Huntress by Kate Quinn. Since I didn’t read The Alice Network, I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about. I placed a hold at the library and as soon as I finished City of Girls (loved it!), I opened it up. Post-WW2, the Nuremberg Trials, two men on the trail of Nazi criminals, a woman fleeing from justice…It could be good, I thought. But six or seven chapters in, I still wasn’t feeling it, so I quit.

What I liked about The Huntress: the writing was solid and the story didn’t stagnate. From one chapter to the next, readers are introduced to the various main characters in turn, each round building on their backstories and moving the plot forward. There was danger, romance, and suspense: all the important elements in a novel.

What I didn’t like: Overall, none of the characters (except Nina) intrigued me or made me want to invest in the story. Also, the huntress is revealed right away, so there’s no mystery as to who she is. I guess the suspense is how she is going to be caught, but that took away a lot of excitement for me.

Also, this is dumb, but one of the characters is a young American woman named Jordan. The novel begins in 1946. Tell me who in white-bread America named their baby girl Jordan in 1928, which would’ve been the year she was born? I have a believability radar for films and novels and this was just off the charts unbelievable and silly. People were naming their girls Doris, Ruth, Mildred, and Betty in 1928–not Jordan.

I also didn’t care for the two men who are tracking down the huntress. Nothing particularly wrong with them, they just seemed run-of-the-mill stock military guys with no real personalities.

I may not have given this book enough time, it’s possible. If you liked it, please don’t be offended! We don’t all like the same things and that’s what makes reading and the reading community so much fun. I learn about books I’d never have dreamt of picking because other readers recommend them.

My reading philosophy is that life is short and there are too many books I want to read, so I better make sure they are books I actually want to read. Because my TBR is always growing, and I don’t read for a living (yet, anyway!), I want to read books that either captivate my attention with the characters or the plot. Recently I listened to the podcast episode of Getting Bookish With Shawna and Lizz where they talk about their DNF (Did Not Finish) books. You might enjoy this episode!

Are you a reader who has to finish whatever she starts? Or do you regularly say no to books that just aren’t for you? I find that the more I read, the more I discard. At least half, if not more, of the books I bring home from the library get sent back with only the first few chapters read.

I’d love to hear what you thought of The Huntress. If you read it, please comment below or tell me about whatever else you’ve picked up or discarded lately.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls (A Review)

Like many other Liz Gilbert readers, I couldn’t wait for the release of the novel City of Girls. Whenever Liz mentioned City of Girls on Instagram, she said it was going to be lighthearted and fun; she said it was going to involve theatre and showgirls; she said it would involve plenty of sex.

City of Girls has all of those elements and much more. The novel is written from the perspective of Vivian, a woman in her nineties, who looks back over her life from age nineteen and on. She writes about arriving in New York City in 1940 and experiencing a very different kind of life from the one she had previously known: sheltered, stuffy, unimaginative. She gets to know all sorts of colorful characters and lives wild and carefree for a time.

As the story unfolds, she makes and loses friends, survives scandal, lives through WW2, fashions a successful and creative career for herself, and, as she lives all these experiences, she learns to know who she is.

I loved the descriptions of old theaters and night clubs, the fashion of the various decades in which Vivian lives, the energy of New York City and how it changed over the years. Overall, the tone is positive, light, and joyful. But, if you’re worried, as I was, that the book is just fluff, think again. There is substance here. There are passages that I will read and reread. Oprah read one during her interview with Liz Gilbert on Super Soul Sunday. And here is words of wisdom from Vivian’s aunt, Peg, that resonated with me: (on page 327)

“You must learn in life to take things more lightly, my dear. The world is always changing. Learn how to allow for it. Someone makes a promise, and then they break it. A play gets good notices, and then it folds. A marriage looks strong, and then they divorce. For a while there’s no war, and then there’s another war. If you get too upset about it all, you become a stupid, unhappy person—and where’s the good in that?”

So, am I going to recommend this novel? Yes! If you’re a reader of fiction, add this to your TBR. Buy a copy or place a hold at your library, but definitely read it. Particularly, I think it’s an important read for women because it’s a story of strong women who lived unusual, successful, and satisfying lives.

And when you read it, comment here, send me an email or DM me on Instagram and let me know what you think!

Bird Therapy (Book Review)

Nearly every day I read articles about mental illness, burnout, and the stress of modern life. And do you know what almost always makes the list of ways to relieve or remedy the symptoms? Time spent in Nature! Time spent out-of-doors, away from screens surrounded by sky and trees, near bodies of water, in the company of birds and other wildlife will do much to calm the mind, relieve tension and stress, and leave one with an overall sense of wellbeing.

In Bird Therapy, Joe Harkness shares his personal story of living with OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression, and how he manages it with hours outside birdwatching. Let me just say that even though the book begins with his mental state in a dark and dangerous place, the book doesn’t stay there and doesn’t focus on his illness. It’s a positive read about how much his life has changed for the better because of what he calls “Bird Therapy”.

If you’re like I was before reading this book, you might tend to think birdwatching is for retired, elderly people or just for super nerdy types. But the author became a birdwatcher as a young man, so the book is written with a youthful voice full of energy and enthusiasm.

In each chapter, he shares a different glimpse of his birdwatching journey, from his very first attempts to connect with other birders, to setting up his first bird feeders in his back garden, to finding a patch to call his own. He describes experiences of rare bird sightings, interactions with other birders, regular visits to his patch, and what it is like to birdwatch in different seasons. At the end of each chapter, he shares a list of helpful tips for people who would like to begin the birdwatching adventure.

An interesting and positive aspect of this book is that it’s published by Unbound, a crowd-funded indie publisher.

If you or someone you know struggles with mental illness, you would benefit from reading this book. Also, if you’re curious about birdwatching, especially about how to get started, read this book. After reading Bird Therapy, I am paying closer attention to the birds all around me, and am spending more time outside every day. Published on June 13, this book is recommended reading! One last note: you might want to check out Joe’s blog, also named Bird Therapy, about his birdwatching experiences.

I received a free e-copy of this book from Net Galley, but all opinions are completely my own.

3 KidLit Favorites From Childhood

My mom has told me many times how I would wake up early at six months old or so, she would place me in my playpen with a pile of magazines and picture books, and then she would return to bed. When she came to check on me, I would be happily leafing through the pages–not eating them or tearing them up.

Perhaps you loved books at a young age too, and if you did, you probably have favorite stories that your parent or grandparent read to you over and over. My earliest book memory was of a hardcover edition of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I loved that book to pieces, literally.

Like countless other young children, I found the words comforting, and Clement Hurd’s illustrations of kittens, mittens, and a cow jumping over the moon fascinating. The quiet old lady whispering hush was a mysterious figure in my two-year-old mind. Saying goodnight to all the things in the nursery was a ritual that I looked forward to; each familiar phrase soothed and lulled me closer to sleep.

The second book that I loved as a kid was Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban. Have you read the Frances series? If not, go check them out at your library or purchase a few. Frances is an adorable, precocious young badger who, just like a young child, is learning to share, how to be a friend, that bedtime is non-negotiable, etc.

In Bread and Jam for Frances, she is being super picky and phobic about trying anything new. So her smart mother decides to give in to her and let her eat the only thing she wants–bread and jam. Morning, noon, and night. This works out well for a while, until Frances gets tired of the same thing and begins to hanker for what everyone else is eating. If you’ve never read these books, go get them. They’ll make you smile, and if you have small children around, they’ll love them too.

Another favorite book is part of a series: George and Martha One Fine Day written and illustrated by James Marshall. The George and Martha books are all HILARIOUS!!! George and Martha are hippo friends who get into awkward situations, play tricks on each other once in a while, learn about life and friendship, but are always there for one another. The illustrations will have you laughing just as much as the stories will. I read these books to my kids and they loved them too!

What are some of YOUR kidlit favorites?

Two British Mystery Series To Read This Summer

Last Friday, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs Darcy shared an article from The Guardian about thrillers by women. In it, I found a few new-to-me authors I wanted to check out. After doing some reading on Amazon and Goodreads, I selected the first in Ann CleevesVera Stanhope mysteries, called The Crow Trap, and the first in Elly GriffithsRuth Galloway mysteries, called The Crossing Places.

There are several similarities to both series that helped me choose them:

1. They are set in the North East of England–Vera in Northumberland and Ruth in Norfolk.

2. They both feature women as the main characters; Vera Stanhope is a detective inspector and Ruth Galloway is an archeologist who is often asked to help in murder investigations.

3. Both women are independent, strong, quirky, middle-aged, and not beautiful by traditional standards.

4. The settings, both in rather remote places, are dark and atmospheric, the murders well-planned and the mysteries will keep you guessing until the end.

5. Both authors weave writing about local natural history, birds, and other local wildlife into the books.

I had watched some of the Vera Stanhope series on PBS a while ago, but never thought to look into the books the series is based on. I listened to The Crow Trap on audiobook and loved the narrator, so I’ll definitely be continuing the series in that format.

Vera, in character and looks, is unusual for a DI (as I mentioned earlier), but her sad, lonely past and present, excess drinking, and tendency toward brooding thoughts are on par with plenty of male detectives in other series. Her way of catching possible suspects off guard by pretending to take them into her confidence with warm, friendly chat is unique among the British detectives I’ve read. She’s likable, with all her rough edges and insecurities about her size and appearance, and she’s wily and always gets her murderer in the end. The latest in the Vera Stanhope series was published in 2017: The Seagull. Have you read it yet?

Because I simply could not wait for the library system to bring The Crossing Places (the first in the Ruth Galloway series) to my local library, I bought it for Kindle and read it two sittings. Ruth lives in a cottage near the Norfolk coast with salt marshes nearby. The changing seascape, the wind, the darkness and the isolated quality of her home makes me jumpy just reading about it. She works at a local University and helps the police in their investigations; the fact that she digs up bones for a living does help with the dark, creepy feel.

As often happens to main characters in mysteries, Ruth had a few brushes with death in the first book because she got too close to the truth; those scenes had me on the edge of my seat! I bought the next two in the series for Kindle as well: The Janus Stone and The House at Sea’s End and look forward to gobbling them up. And, if you are lucky enough to have discovered this series years ago and are all caught up, the new release in the series is The Stone Circle.

(Like I mentioned earlier, I am thoroughly enjoying the Vera Stanhope audiobooks. If you’ve never given Audible a try, now is a really good time! You can get two free audiobooks just for trying Audible free for 30 days.) 

If you’ve read either series or have one to recommend, I’d love to hear about it in comments!

Girl, Stop Apologizing! (Book Review)

Have you read anything by Rachel Hollis yet? Have you listened to her Rise podcast? If you’re an entrepreneur–particularly a woman entrepreneur, you need to read this book. If you’re someone who dreams of something more, but is afraid to try, this book is for you. If you have goals, but are in “the dip”, as Seth Godin so aptly named the space and time in between starting and finishing, you need to grab a copy of Girl, Stop Apologizing.

What I love about Rachel Hollis is that she has been at the bottom, but she had dreams and goals like a lot of us do, but she didn’t quit. She didn’t give up. This woman has drive and she knows how to focus on what she wants and does not give up though all the disappointments, all the setbacks, all the negativity that would crush most people. She’s not superhuman, she’s just dedicated, and she shows us how to go after our goals.

There is practical, usable advice in every single chapter of this book, but not one word is dry or boring. You won’t find your mind wandering or read it just because you know you should. Rachel is a great writer! She is hilarious, outrageous, and unexpected.

Another thing I love about her is her honesty. She shares deeply personal, even humiliating stories from her life experience because she wants us to know who she is, where she’s come from, and how she got to where she is now. She does not hold back and because she’s so real, she builds trust with her audience, and makes us listen to what she has to say.

Rachel comes against the patriarchal ways of thinking that have held women back for thousands of years. She addresses downright lies about what women are for, how women should behave or what we should want out of life. It is very liberating, life-giving language that, even in 2019, women (and men!) need to hear.

Her chapter “Choose One Dream and Go All In” or “Ten Years, Ten Dreams, One Goal” is worth the price of the book alone. In this chapter, Rachel explains exactly how to go after your dreams. This is priceless information! Her chapter “Planning”, about reverse engineering your goal, or starting with the end in mind, was another chapter I found extremely practical and helpful.

So, yep, it’s another highly recommended, “You Need This Book in Your Life”, book review. Get it on Amazon or your local bookstore or public library, but definitely put this in your TBR pile for this year!