february books πŸ“–✨

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Another month, another book wrap-up. In my very first installment of this ~ series ~ I’ve said I’d wanted to make these posts “brief”. Yeah, guess what they’re not. So, without further ado, here it is. (Like last time, please note: The order in which I’m talking about these books, isn’t a rating, but the order I’ve read them in. Otherwise the very first one wouldn’t make any sense already. 🀑)

#1 Karen M. McManus Two Can Keep A Secret (2019)

I have to start out with a bit of a bummer: Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus. I’d describe this as a YA crime novel that makes an effort to include diverse characters and relationships that are not the usual boy meets girl BS, but then again, they are?! But before I go on, here’s the blurb:

Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery's never been there, but she's heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.
The town is picture-perfect, but it's hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone has declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.
Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she's in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous--and most people aren't good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it's safest to keep your secrets to yourself. [Source]

The trouble I had with this story, is not that it was badly written, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters, let alone the challenges they faced. On top of which, and now I’m going to contradict myself I suppose, the story seemed just a bit far fetched and kind of constructed. There were a lot of “Oh, you don’t say. Geez, seriously?! Uh-huh, I don’t think so.” moments.
I don’t know. I’m literary shrugging my shoulders as I’m writing this. I just couldn’t bring myself to care. I sometimes gravitate towards novels like this because I need some kind of palate cleanser before I dive into something more engrossing. It’s a horrible thing to say about someone’s work, but it just wasn’t for me. Thank u, next.

#2 Suzy Reading The Self-Care Revolution (2017)

Apparently I had to do a detox and stay away from fiction after the aforementioned palate cleanser novel and opted for a non-fiction/self-development book next. I came across Suzy Reading’s The Self-Care Revolution thanks to a podcast episode of Practical Magic where Suzy was a guest. In her book, she’s offering a very down-to-earth, no-nonsense, and practical approach to self-care minus all the (in my opinion) sometimes very ~ trendy ~ “oh, we’re all so into self-care now” and lighting a candle is all it takes kind of BS. Suzy developed a simple method called “the vitality wheel” that consists of eight segments standing for different ways in which you can take good care of yourself. And ideally, of course, you incorporate all eight areas in some way or other into your daily life. There different areas are:

1. sleep, rest, relaxation & breathing
2. movement & nutrition
3. coping skills
4. physical environment
5. social connection
6. mood boosters
7. goal-setting & accomplishments
8. values & purpose

Suzy’s book is divided into eight chapters in which she talks about each of the above mentioned areas in depth. There were some areas I found especially helpful and others that I’m already working with a lot and therefore left aside for the moment.
My favourite chapter was the one on coping skills, in which Suzy shares a few tools to stay calm and on top of (for example) a specific task (no matter how big or small) that seems, in moments of stress and anxiety, to become overbearing and impossible to tackle. She also talks about boundaries in that chapter and how we can manage to identify what elements of a problem we are able to work on and change and which ones are out of our control and therefore not worth to worry or fret about. 
I sped through this book in two days and then went over the parts I had highlighted again to take some notes. I’ve also copied down a lot of quotes onto post-its, which I keep where I can see them like at my desk or dressing table. 
All in all I highly recommend this book. Self-care is something each and every one of us should practice and needs a little help with, I think, because it is oh so easy to be hard on ourselves.

#3 Michelle Obama Becoming (2018)

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. First I “saved” the book and didn’t touch it for some time after I had gotten it, and then I devoured it in four or five days.
With memoirs like this one, we can never be one hundred percent sure how honest they are, I’m aware of that. But at the same time, the person doesn’t owe us anything. We aren’t entitled to “the truth” about a person’s life even if they happen to be a “public figure” of some sort. With that being said: I found the book very honest. Of course I don’t know if it is, but it felt very honest to me. Especially the account of the time before Barack Obama’s presidency. When it comes to the presidency itself, I suppose there are things you can and cannot say, things you chose to avoid talking about and others you go on about for a while to maybe make them seem bigger and more meaningful than they actually are. That’s politics for you, I guess. But what I actually absolutely loved, is that the book isn’t at all about the Obama’s time in the White House and what the Obama administration did or did not achieve. In fact, it seemed like more of an epilog to the actual story – Michelle Robinson’s story and the “becoming” of this girl from the South Side. The book had me in tears many times. Michelle Obama is an incredible and hard-working person, who didn’t ask for life she later on had, as the First Lady. She makes it very clear, very often, that she isn’t really into politics – that she didn’t choose this path for herself, but decided to support Barack. But she doesn’t give herself up or forgets about her own dreams and goals in all of that either. She’s found and grown a purpose inside herself long before she met Barack and she keeps pursuing and working for what she thinks is important and worthwhile. The word is so overused that it’s almost lost its meaning, but I’m going to say it anyway: Michelle Robinson/Michelle Obama is incredibly inspiring and one of the best role models imaginable. I don’t have to add that I LOVED this book and highly recommend it, do I?

#4 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie We Should All Be Feminists (2014)

Okay, so this is not really a book book, but a short essay, or more specifically the transcript of a talk Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave in 2012 at TEDxEuston. Since it’s been written to be delivered as a talk, I found it very straightforward, easy to read etc. – it’s less than 50 pages long and you can read it in an hour or less. I’m stressing this because there is really no reason, none at all, why not every single human on this planet should read this. I’m honestly considering giving this to everyone I know with their next birthday/easter/christmas present. Like a little cake topper, you know.
AND IT’S NOT ONLY FOR WOMEN, GOSH NO! Feminism can do so much for men, too – WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS. 
There are so many important and powerful examples, thoughts and arguments in this little book. I can only speak for myself, but I found so many things in there I’ve endlessly mulled over in my head, without really getting anywhere – things that frustrated me, made me angry and furious—in discussions for example, but I couldn’t really put my finger on it, express myself, let alone respond and counter. You know, these things people say, oftentimes mindlessly I think, and don’t even realize what bullshit it is. Like … “she’s thirty-three, but single” … “why is she wearing that?“ … “she’s just a little too much for me“ … “she always seems so aggressive, it’s unpleasant” … “she’s quite bossy, don’t you think?“
And Chimamanda lays it all out for you very clearly. She brings up something like the above mentioned BS, takes it apart, explains the underlying BS causing all the other BS and explains why it is BS. Am I making myself clear? Just go read this essay and give it to everyone you know. Now.

#5 Sally Rooney Conversations with Friends (2017)

This novel has been hyped up quite a bit, I think. In my opinion that doesn’t always work in the book’s favour. My expectations were very high and I wasn’t really disappointed, but not overly excited either. Here’s the blurb:

Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed and observant. A student in Dublin and an aspiring writer, at night she performs spoken word with her best friend Bobbi, who used to be her girlfriend. When they are interviewed and then befriended by Melissa, a well-known journalist who is married to Nick, an actor, they enter a world of beautiful houses, raucous dinner parties and holidays in Provence, beginning a complex menage-a-quatre. But when Frances and Nick get unexpectedly closer, the sharply witty and emotion-averse Frances is forced to honestly confront her own vulnerabilities for the first time. [Source]

I want to start out by saying that there is not a single quotation mark in this book. Something you could find very odd, when the novel’s title is Conversations with Friends. There is A LOT of dialogue though, and conversations of all sorts (texts, emails etc.), but without the according punctuation, or clarifying bits like “she said”, “he mentioned”, “she replied”. I found this very irritating at first, but extremely interesting as soon as I got used to it. What a witty move. There are some dialogues where you’re not quite sure who’s speaking, so – in the matter of a millisecond, in which you’re thinking A said xyz (although really B did) –, your brain is connecting dots and putting together pieces in order to figure out the situation, the character or whatever, only to realise one or two lines later, that A didn’t speak at all. Am I making sense? It’s really hard to explain. So you have to go back and (mentally) bin something you prematurely assumed and start from scratch. It’s like being given the runaround as a reader, … it’s like subtly being told “Hey, you’re just the reader here and and you’re guesstimating – the truth is you’re clueless.” LOVE THAT. 
Anyway, apart from that: The characters weren’t very likable in my opinion, which I actually really enjoy in a novel. I couldn’t figure out until the very end (and I still haven’t figured it out) whom I liked (maybe a little) and who’s a straight up asshole. And again: How interesting. Are people ever only either “nice” and “likable” or an ”asshole”? Whenever I thought I had made up my mind, something else happened or someone did something and I, again, had to reconsider. Again, loved that. 
The language is very simple and straightforward, but at the same time there are some remarkable thoughts and observations in there.
Another book I’d have loved to read and discuss in a Uni course – analysing the characters and their relationships would be A FEAST!

#6 Gwenda Bond Suspicious Minds (2019)

Listen up, Stranger Things fans. This one’s for you. I didn’t know about this book until I unwrapped it on Valentine’s Day and I was a bit wary at first, I have to admit. I’m usually not a big fan of prequels that are being written (by third parties or not) after the actual thing has been published or is in itself completed. (Yes, looking at you, Fantastic Beasts and whatever is going on over there I don’t care.) 
In the case of Suspicious Minds I was particularly reluctant, because we already know what is going to happen … right? So, is it really important to know what happened before that? Or am I just ignorant and not a Super Fan? 
The blurb might be helpful at this point, so here it goes:

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be farther from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.
But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, code-named MKULTRA. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tight-lipped researchers . . . and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

Okay. So. When you’ve been paying attention during Season 2 of Stranger Things, you know that we learn quite a bit about Eleven’s mother and another “test subject” – called Eight. We already know that Dr. Brenner is an evil bastard and that Eleven is going to be taken away from her mother and that she’s going to grow up in the Lab and that there are going to be Demogorgons and so on. So … although Suspicious Minds is very well written and a compelling read … the outcome is not very surprising. 
Nevertheless, I found the book very enjoyable and finished it rather quickly. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s eagerly awaiting Season 3 and in need of a little something to tie them over.

#7 Sarah Knight Calm the Fuck Down (2018)

Wow. This is going to be very quick. Don’t buy this book. The end. I’m serious. 
I don’t want to spend too much time on this, so I won’t bore you with a detailed description of what the book is about. Here’s the book’s subtitle, which kind of explains it all: “Calm the F*ck Down: How to Control What You Can and Accept What You Can't So You Can Stop Freaking Out and Get On With Your Life”.
I’m not familiar with all of Sarah Knight’s other books, so maybe those do deserve the hype, but this one sure doesn’t. I only read You Do You, which I found pretty decent and in some ways even useful. But when it comes to anxiety and a potentially clinical condition, the (seemingly “funny”) fuck all get your shit together lol what is life method just doesn’t do it for me. Profanity isn’t a cure-all and it seems like that’s what Sarah Knight is doing with her writing. A minuscule grain of advice or wisdom, uttered in an insensitive and very long-winded way, sprinkled with a shit ton of “fuck”s. Done.
If you’re suffering from anxiety – either “just anxiety”, or capital A, clinically diagnosed Anxiety – seek help elsewhere and, for example, read The Anxiety Solution by Chloe Brotheridge, which I loved and highly recommend.

#8 Amy Liptrot The Outrun (2015)

I was very glad to be able to conclude the reading month of February with something astonishing like Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun. I have to admit that I totally judged this book by it’s cover and, without researching it more or reading reviews or the blurb, bought it and started reading. That’s why it escaped me at first, that I was reading a memoir. But at fifteen or twenty pages in, I was so enthralled by Amy’s story already that I thought to myself “wow, this feels so raw, and real, and honest, it reads like a memoir“ – well, duh.

At the age of thirty, Amy Liptrot finds herself washed up back home on Orkney. Standing unstable on the island, she tries to come to terms with the addiction that has swallowed the last decade of her life. As she spends her mornings swimming in the bracingly cold sea, her days tracking Orkney's wildlife, and her nights searching the sky for the Merry Dancers, Amy discovers how the wild can restore life and renew hope. [Source]

Orkney is a group of islands in the northern Isles of Scotland, situated off Scotland’s north coast and plays a huge role in Amy’s recovery and quite literally forms the path back to herself. Amy writes about her experiences, her addiction and everything that came from or got destroyed by it, in such a breathtaking way only somebody who actually lived through all of it ever could. I couldn’t put the book down although the emotional turmoil and pain Amy describes often felt overwhelming.

And still, the book is hopeful. Geography and nature play huge roles and are almost like the protagonists of Amy’s own story. Amy’s writing is very poetic, and at the same time real and accessible. It’s kind of heavy, but at the same time incredibly euphoric. Just like life, in a way. I absolutely loved it.

We’ve done it again. These were all the books I’ve read in February. Let me know if you read any of them and what you thought!
See you next month. πŸ“š

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