Climate Justice (Book Review)

I recently finished reading Climate Justice by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. This is the first of several books on sustainability I plan on reading for Earth Month.

The message of this book is clear: climate change is a human rights issue. It affects people on the margins more than anyone else. Indigenous groups, small farmers, the poor in any nation–these are the people who suffer the most from floods, fires, droughts, loss of habitat and livelihoods.

Each chapter was about a different part of the world and a different people group affected by climate change. I learned about the floods and droughts affecting small farmers in Malawai and Uganda and nomadic herdsman in Kenya. I learned about the suffering of those in East Biloxi, Mississippi in the years following Hurricane Katrina. I read about the Yupik people of Alaska who lost their fishing villages to the rising sea levels and the Saami people, reindeer herders in northern Scandinavia, who lose people and reindeer to thin ice.

I learned about Vietnam’s ravaged forests which are being replanted and the Pacific Island nation of Kirabati which will most likely be lost to rising sea levels. I learned about what is being done to transition fossil fuel workers into new jobs when mines close and how a woman in Australia is inspiring climate action.

These stories carry with them a certain sense of dismay at the damage done to our beautiful planet, but they weren’t hopeless. They were filled with urgency and purpose. We all need to act now. Every person’s choices matter. We don’t have to be perfect, but we all have work to do and much to learn. The people in these stories have much wisdom to share with those of us who don’t live as close to the land. They know what has changed and what has been lost. Thankfully, they have been given a place at the table in climate talks and some victories have been won.

If you want to become more aware of how climate change affects people all over the planet, read this book. I think it will spur you on to good work on behalf of Earth and the people who live here.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

With so much of everyday life feeling upside down right now, I am doing my best to keep my life as normal as possible. This includes getting up early for yoga and meditation, eating meals at nearly the same times each day, and reading as much as I did before. (Or maybe a little bit more!) Reading relaxes, comforts, takes me out of my own story, and connects me with people past and present whose stories and experiences are different than my own.

So what have I been reading?

The first is Kitchen Table Sustainability: Practical Recipes for Community Engagement with Sustainability by Wendy Sarkissian, Nancy Hofer, Yollana Shore, Steph Vajda and Cathy Wilkinson.

My lovely boss recommended I read this to better understand the way our local non-profit works and to help me see what can happen when local residents are engaged in projects that bring improvements to their community. (Thank you, Theresa!)

These pages contain stories of what worked and what didn’t. I learned that it is much better to go into a community that may have high poverty and crime rates, for example, and look for the assets already there, rather than simply focusing on the needs. What might those be, you ask?

Local people have untapped practical skills and know what they would like to change, but they have to be asked, to be consulted, rather than ignored in favor of bringing in “the experts”. They need encouragement in order to be confident enough to speak out, because they don’t want to appear foolish in front of others in their community. Engaging local residents requires patience and careful listening as people share their ideas. It requires connecting people to each other. It requires long-term thinking. If you’re involved with your community in any way, I highly recommend this book!

For a fast-paced thrilling read, here is Hide Away by Jason Pinter. Introducing Rachel Marin, a strong woman with a violent, tragic past that she is trying her best to forget. She is doing her best to care for and protect her two children and live as normal a life as possible. But she has this impulse to stop crime when she sees it. So she gets involved in helping the police with a murder investigation and things get a little scary.

I enjoyed the ease and pace of reading, Rachel’s strength of character, as well as the personalities and dialogue of the two police officers working on the case. This is going to be a series, apparently. It reminds me a bit of Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk series, so if you like those books, you will probably like this as well!

Did I tell you I’m reading through the Bronte sisters’ novels this year? So far I’ve listened to the audio versions of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Shirley. The first two were re-reads, but I’d never read Shirley before.

Set in Yorkshire, on the moors, during 1811-1812. There was a lot happening then: the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812, an industrial depression focused in the mills, and the Luddite uprisings. If you’re interested in history, this novel could be a springboard into all of these subjects. Against all of this political and economical upheaval is the story of two young women who are finding their place in the world, falling in love, dealing with family, suffering losses, and discovering their inner strength. I’m glad I read it and, if you’re a Bronte fan, put this novel in your TBR pile.

So that’s a little taste of what I’ve been reading lately. What have you been reading?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you.

You’re Not Listening (A Book Review)

If there was ever a book that was written for our time, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy is one. It brings to light the modern epidemic of short attention spans and our lack of listening skills, shares why we need to be listening, and offers ideas on how to listen better.

Truth: I am not as good a listener as I thought I was. Sometimes I think about my to-do list when I should be listening. I’ve occasionally texted while someone was talking to me–something I swore I’d never do. There are times I finish my husband’s sentence, thinking I’m helping. I’ve interrupted and talked over the top of him or my kids.

All of this bad behavior has come on gradually, and although I wouldn’t blame my smartphone, I have definitely gotten worse since I started using one.

But I don’t want to be this person and I’m sure you don’t either. I want to show people kindness and courtesy by giving them my undivided attention, not to check out mentally if they meander or take longer than expected to answer a question. The good news is that listening is an art that can be improved upon with practice, just like any other skill.

One of the first things I learned in this book is that when two people are engaged in healthy conversation their brain waves sync up. And that this requires empathy which you learn or don’t learn in the first year of your life, based on how well your caregivers paid attention to your needs. Even if you didn’t experience this kind of attention as a child and develop good listening skills, you can acquire the ability to listen through deliberate practice later in life.

Another thing I learned is that if someone is boring you in a conversation, it’s most likely your fault for acting disinterested, or for assuming you already know what they’re going to say. If you approach every interaction with another person with curiosity, as an opportunity to learn something new, you will be surprised by what people tell you, and how interesting they can be.

One subject that is especially relevant in today’s polarized political climate is in the chapter on “Listening to Opposing Views”. The author writes that when we hear someone talk about something which we disagree on, our natural response is to get defensive because our brains experience this as we would a physical threat. But by working through that instinct and actually listening to the person with another view, we will expand our understanding.

We may never agree, but we can “embrace the possibility that there might be multiple truths” (p. 88), and that another point of view is just as legitimate as our own. Don’t we all need to grow in this area?

I think the other chapter where my eyes were opened to my lack of listening skills was in the chapter entitled “Supporting, not Shifting, The Conversation”.

I learned that a support response is one “which encourages elaboration from the speaker to help the respondent gain greater understanding” (p. 137) which is pretty rare. Most of us take a shift response “which directs attention away from the speaker and toward the respondent” (p. 137).

So, for example, if your friend tells you about something that happened to him, you can either ask him another question about it to get him to elaborate further (support response) or you can say something like “Yeah, I had that happen to me…blah, blah, blah,” (shift response) and put all the attention on you.

One of my favorite lines is “Listening is about the experience of being experienced” (p.32). Listening is about connection, which, as humans, we all crave and need. Connection banishes loneliness and gives our lives a greater sense of purpose.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters will be published on January 7th. I could go on with all I’ve learned and how much I think we need this book now. Instead, pre-order your copy, and let’s have a conversation about it in January. I, for one, will be listening!

Saint X (Book Review)

<a href="http://<a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1250219590/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1250219590&linkCode=as2&tag=lifeofkim-20&linkId=7bf3e133a18b21e6e50a0488d9c45b87">Saint X</a>""Saint X is one of the very few books I’ve read this year that I could not put down! The bright, tropical cover disguises the depth of the subject matter. For although it is a clever, suspenseful thriller, this novel addresses the evolution of self, the parent-child relationship in its various stages, the advantages and guilt of white, wealthy people, and the disadvantages of poor people of color on Caribbean islands and the rest of the world.

It starts like a film, zooming in to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint X. It’s the mid-1990s. The reader is introduced to a well-to-do white family from New York vacationing at a luxurious resort for their New Year holiday.

Alison, the elder daughter, is eighteen, pretty, self-absorbed, bored, and typical of girls of that age. The unusual one and the heroine is the younger daughter, Claire, or Clairey, as the rest of the family affectionately calls her. She is seven years old, has an unusual appearance, is shy, socially awkward, and appears to display possible OCD tendencies. The parents remain on the periphery of the story, and what we know of them is seen through the eyes of Claire.

The other main character in the novel is Clive Richardson, a young man who was born and lives on Saint X, and who, along with his friend, Edwin, becomes a suspect in Alison’s death. In comparison to the comfortable lives led by Alison and Claire, Clive is without the advantages that wealth can provide. He grows up without many prospects for the future, so after high school, he and Edwin find employment serving the rich white people at the resort. Which is how they meet Alison and become involved with her on the night she goes missing.

As the novel unfolds, we glimpse some of what Alison gets up to and who she interacts with in the days and nights leading to her disappearance and death. After her body is discovered, Alison and Claire’s parents are frantic to find answers, to discover who is responsible for their daughter’s death. Although Clive and Edwin did spend some time with Alison on the night she disappears, not enough evidence is found to charge them with her supposed murder, so it goes unsolved.

The novel moves forward to when Claire is in her mid-twenties and living a fairly normal life in New York City complete with a good job and friends. She calls herself by her middle name–Emily–in an attempt to put the past behind her. Except she can’t. She still longs to learn more about Alison, and more about why and how she died.

We flash back in time to the months immediately following Alison’s death when Claire’s parents are wrapped up in their own grief and she feels forgotten. Then we see her as she grows up, through all the awkwardness of adolescence and into young adulthood, and how she must deal with the way people treat her when they discover who she is. And even though she wishes she could forget, Alison haunts her wherever she goes.

So Claire is in NYC, trying to live like other people do. As a way to assuage her guilt for her affluent background, she moves into an apartment in a part of Brooklyn that is mostly inhabited by economically disadvantaged people of color. She is still socially awkward, so she doesn’t interact much with the other tenants in her apartment building, but she wishes she could.

Then, out of the blue, while taking a taxi home one day, Claire looks in the rearview mirror and is shocked to find that her driver is Clive Richardson–the man that she has always believed was involved in Alison’s death! Everything she lived through as the sister of a murder victim comes flooding back in that instant. She becomes obsessed with getting Clive to confess. She relentlessly stalks him every night after work. She finds out everything she can about him. Then she pretends to befriend him.

What comes of this obsession with and connection to Clive? Will he eventually confess to his involvement in Alison’s murder? Will Claire ever be able to heal and let go of the past? Ah, but that would be telling! That is what you’ll find out when you read Saint X for yourself.

I was very fortunate to receive an Advanced Reading Copy of Saint X from Celadon Books; however, all opinions are entirely my own. Saint X, written by Alexis Schaitkin, will be published on February 18, 2020 and I absolutely recommend this novel to lovers of mysteries, crime thrillers, and really good fiction.

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!