Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Review: How to Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick

First line: If you picked up this book, it's probably because you've had trouble narrowing down "what you want to be" to one thing.

I agreed to review this book purely on the title: I was unfamiliar with Wapnick and her TEDx talk on calling but have long struggled with what I "want to be when I grow up" (even now, in my mid-30s). While I love learning, I don't love it enough to want to attempt a Master's degree or expensive classes, and I've struggled with understanding if I'm happy or not in my vocation(s).

Still, I was apprehensive about this book when I started, fearing it'd be a long form essay on #YOLO (you only live once) or a passionate defense of the gig economy.

Instead, I found this a fascinating, empathetic, empowering read that acknowledges today's economic realities, the personal temperament of many people I know, and the ways current US culture is oriented toward a rigid, specialist-type career path (and how that need not be the way everyone works).

Wapnick argues that many folks are what she calls multipotentialites -- people for whom one settled career isn't right, for whom learning is a life long endeavor -- and that rather than walk around feeling crappy about their varied interests and meandering professional path(s), multipotentialites should embrace their personalities and skills and lean in.

From providing some great definitions of who a multipotentialite might be, Wapnick moves into the meat of the book -- how to find happiness as someone who enjoys variety and change. Whether one identifies as a multipotentialite or not, her advice is sound and was really thought-provoking. She argues for life design rather than career planning -- consider money, meaning, and variety and how much of each you need to be happy -- and provides exercises for discernment. Then she has rich chapters on ascertaining the kind of money/meaning/variety life design that might work for you (ie, are you a phoenix, someone who likes to do intense work for a brief chunk of time, then switch to something new?; or are you the type who likes having a "good enough" job that gives enough free time for more meaningful endeavors?, etc. etc.).

There are also wonderful tips on how to effectively market yourself if you're someone for whom professional work hasn't followed the "specialist"/one career trajectory; how to reframe what others might see as "flakiness"; and how to use an interest in a wide swathe of topics to find a professional field that fulfills and provides an income.

I'm sure I'm not breaking this down well. What I'll say is that I saw so many people I know in this book -- from my wife, who still suffers from crippling guilt that her childhood vocation didn't end up being her career, to many of my colleagues who find pleasure in a variety of part-time work that feeds their soul and checkbooks -- and Wapnick's compassion and understanding helped me "get" them and see how even I can tap into my desire to do everything while getting paid enough to support my family.

Obviously, this feels like a no-brainer gift for grads, but I think most folks would benefit from Wapnick's wisdom and reassurance. This is a book that encourages a kind of "follow your bliss" mentality with real world advice on how to do that (while making rent). I'm surprised -- but delighted -- at how much I got from it, and I think many others will as well.

Title: How to Be Everything: A guide for those who (still) don't know what they want to be when they grow up
Author: Emilie Wapnick

Genre: Non-Fiction (Self Help / Career Development / Personal Development / Learning)
Publisher/Publication Date: HarperOne (5/2/2017)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review: The White Road by Sarah Lotz

First line: I met the man who would save my life twice -- and ultimately destroy it -- on a potholed road in the arse-end of the Welsh countryside.

I grabbed this book off NetGalley because I like Mulholland Books offerings, even though adventure thrillers aren't normally my thing. But I'm glad I started this one, as it was a wonderfully diverting summer read, the kind of book that had me impatient for lunch and putting off dinner because I had to know how things would end.

Without (hopefully) giving away too much, the novel follows two mountain climbers, Simon and Juliet, who struggle with their demons as well as their aspirations. Juliet is a famed mountaineer hoping to establish herself with a historic climb, while Simon is employed by a shock journalism website that specializes in "dark" found footage.

Unsurprisingly, things unravel quickly for both Juliet and Simon, and I hung on every word. Lotz is new to me, but Stephen King is a fan of hers, among others, and this book made it clear why. She evokes character, place, and mood brilliantly, and she creates wonderfully complicated characters. Technically, Simon is supposed to be despicable, but I loved him, and I felt for him. Juliet is awesome, and I really wish this book had been double the length because I wanted MORE.

I'm really ambivalent about the ending (in the best way). Do I like it? Do I hate it? If you read this one, discuss it with me on GoodReads because I'm so torn!

Totally fun, gasp-out-loud summer style read (even though it mostly takes place in frigid, frigid cold). Get this one when you've got a three day weekend and nothing to do, because you'll want to just hustle to the end.

Title: The White Road
Author: Sarah Lotz

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Thriller / Psychological / Supernatural / Mountain Climbing / Everest / PTSD)
Publisher/Publication Date: Mulholland Books (5/30/2017)
Source: NetGalley

Friday, May 12, 2017

Weekend reads and nor'easter-y Mama's Day!

This morning started chilly and drizzly but there's some sun peeking out, although it seems like it's going to be a cold, wet weekend.

My mother is flying in today for the weekend, which is a great treat, although our one big plan -- to attend Lilac Sunday -- has fallen through because, apparently, there's going to be a nor'easter on Sunday! I'll say right now I only like nor'easters if it comes with a snow day on Monday; otherwise, I've got no use for 'em!

As we're a two mama house, we'll be juggling giving each other Mama's Day time, so there will a little reading, lots of noshing, some sight seeing, and plenty of Unabridged Toddler time.

For those of you who are mamas, happy mother's day to you! And for those of you for whom this weekend is less fun because of problematic or missing mothers, you've got my love. I hope it isn't too painful.

My weekend read is Jenni L. Walsh's Becoming Bonnie, a historical novel about one half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde. I've also started another half dozen books because why not?, including We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is my book club's pick for May.

What are you reading this weekend?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review: Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams

First line: No one knew what to make of the new galley stoves when they arrived.

I first read this book in 2015 and adored it, and I was delighted when my book club selected it to read last month. Rereading it reminded me of what is so fabulous about this book, and I think it might be edging into one of my top ten all time favorite books. (!)

As with all the books I adore, I feel like I can't adequately explain why I loved it so and what about it was so compelling. In this case, it's everything -- the premise, the characters, the narrative style -- and this reread had me once again breathless in awe.

Williams recounts the late 18th century voyage of the Astrolabe and Boussole, two French frigates tasked with further global exploration, scientific inquiry, and cartographic correction. Each chapter follows a different crew member, and details the dramatic and tragic journey of the two ships.

I hesitate to say too much about what happened (don't google before reading) because much of my pleasure derived from learning about the voyage as I read. Williams beautiful articulates each character and every chapter is infused with tragic humanity; we're given hints of the fate to come, and can only watch everything unfold.

Though focused on the French sailors, Williams still includes point of view from the indigenous communities the expedition met as well as women, which I greatly appreciated. While it's obvious she has keen sympathy for the French expedition, she doesn't make light of their hubris and colonialism, nor does she exoticize the indigenous populations the expedition meets (no cafe au lait skin comparisons!).

The narrative style changes depending on the character, but even though we shift points of view, there is still rich emotional resonance in every offering. I teared up more than once -- I actually miss some of these characters! -- and I still feel breathless awe at Williams' skill in evoking emotion, place, and era so efficiently.

I first read this book at the beach in 2015, cracking up my wife and mother because I kept gasping aloud every few pages; later that year, my brother -- who has pretty divergent reading tastes -- called me to recommend this book, having loved it himself. Regardless of whether you're a fan of historical fiction or not, if you enjoy books of very human foible and weakness, hope and aspiration, consider this novel -- I think you'll find it compelling.

Title: Landfalls
Author: Naomi J. Williams

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / Nautical / Exploration)
Publisher/Publication Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (8/4/2015)
Source: Library
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Book Release Spotlight: Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh

Becoming Bonnie is another novel I've been salivating over, ever since I caught wind of it last year. It's finally out, and I'm starting it in a few days. Really excited to share the squee about this one -- and even more exciting -- the sequel, Being Bonnie, has just sold, so more Bonnie to come! The Becoming Bonnie web page has pre-order links, an FAQ, and other fun extras (like which member of Bonnie & Clyde's gang are you?)!

Becoming Bonnie: A Novel
Jenni L. Walsh
Forge/Macmillan: May 9, 2017
Hardcover | 304 pages
Fiction / Historical

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh comes the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo.

​The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family's poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas's newest speakeasy, Doc's.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn't know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie's life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

About the Author

Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia's countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni's passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet. Becoming Bonnie is her first novel.

Please learn more about Jenni and her books at, or on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.


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Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Review: The Big Adventures of Tiny House by Susan Bernardo

First line: Once there was a farmhouse in a field of hay, but as it lay sleeping, the acres gave way to a bustling city whose bright, shiny towers edged out the farmhouse, the fields and flowers.

I love the idea of tiny houses although I could never, never, never live in one. The farm where my wife works, and where Unabridged Toddler spends most of his time, has a tiny house, and so when this book was offered for review, there was no way I could pass it up.

Both my toddler and I were completely charmed by this sweet read and gorgeous illustrations. An old farmhouse is transformed into a tiny house, and he and his friend, Big Truck, travel the country and make friends. A snobbish mansion makes Tiny nervous that he's not a real home, but he quickly discovers he's home no matter what.

The text is rhyming, but not irritatingly so, and the illustrations are wonderfully bold and bright. As Tiny and his friends travel the United States, there are visible notes of multiculturalism that are welcome and appreciated.

Additionally, while this is a tale of a tiny house, there isn't any sort of sense of judgment or preachiness to the story, so those of us who aren't tiny house adopters (or even that good at managing clutter) need not feel guilty. (Jealous, perhaps, but not guilty!)

For my vehicle obsessed toddler, this was a related but wonderfully novel read that gave me a break from the endless loop of construction trucks and tractors that make up our book haul. (He's obsessed now with the idea that there's a place where tiny houses gather (the real life Tiny House Jamboree is featured in this book!).)

A lovely, unique picture book, this is a refreshing read that could have been painful hipster or irritatingly out-of-touch, but is instead warm, grounded, and fun.

Title: The Big Adventures of Tiny House
Author: Susan Bernardo

Publisher: Inner Flower Child Books (4/25/2017)
Source: The authors

Friday, May 5, 2017

Book Review: The Fisherman's Bride by Catherine Magia

First line: You only know of me through the healing of my mother, a shadow of a woman blessed by the miracle in the Gospels of Luke, Mark, and Matthew.

This slender book explores the life of the Apostle Peter's unnamed wife, and I found it a compelling, complicated, and surprising read.

As the first line explains, the only reference to her comes from the gospels, when Jesus heals her mother; from this simple line, Magia imagines what life for this unknown woman must have been like.

I didn't know what to expect with this novel; I enjoy fiction inspired by the events and figures in the Bible, even though I'm not a fan of explicitly Christian fiction. To my great delight, Magia balances an evocative sense of place and era with a gentle reverence for Jesus as a spiritual leader.

The novel opens with our heroine facing an unwanted marriage to a much older man, but her father's apprentice Simon asks for her hand, which she accepts. But as with everything in her life, this choice comes at a terrible cost -- the loss of her family when her father disowns her -- and she and Simon eke out a rough existence as he tries to establish his own fishing business. Impatient with Roman rule, Simon hungers for identity beyond that of fisherman, and when he and his wife stumble upon the itinerant preacher Jesus, they're both moved by his message.

I was most taken with Magia's depiction of life for our heroine once her husband left to follow Jesus. As possibly the only married disciple, Jesus and his other followers had little to consider as they traveled the country on their mission. On an intellectual level, I understood that they were often roaming, camping outside rather than living in homes with families, but Magia made vibrantly real what it might have been like for someone married to one of Jesus' followers. Our heroine faced terrible backlash for being an abandoned wife, and I couldn't help but be furious at Simon Peter's selfish lack of concern for her.

My only complaint is that I wished this was longer; some moments, especially those where our heroine is moved by Jesus' teachings, felt rushed, and I would have liked to linger more there. But I so enjoyed the way Magia wove in some of Jesus' sayings into our heroine's story, as if her plight inspired them, and I was touched by the way she gave voice to this forgotten, unnamed woman.

There appears to be a second volume forthcoming, which I'm looking forward to; this book stops just as Jesus' ministry has grown and gathered dangerous attention, following his attack on the merchants at the Temple.

For fans of books like The Red Tent or The Dovekeepers, this is a lovely historical novel that reflects the author's faith without sacrificing compelling character or plot.

Title: The Fisherman's Bride
Author: Catherine Magia

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Biblically Based / Middle East / Marriage / New Testament)
Publisher/Publication Date: Amazon Digital Services LLC, CreateSpace (11/2/2016)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Book Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

First line: Melissa made fun of me at school today.

I wasn't falling over myself in love with the first book in this trilogy, Sleeping Giants, but without anticipating an oh-my-god read with this one, I enjoyed it more than the first book.

The mysteries from the first book are explored in this one -- the meaning of the alien technology and the purpose for the abandoned machine now named Themis.

Whereas the first book felt more intimate, in a way, being focused on the four or five characters involved in researching this alien technology and what that research does to them, this book pulls back and starts looking at the global implications.

There are still four main characters we see things through, who give the story some heart, but much of the story is focused externally -- and with good reason. An alien robot lands in London at the start of the novel, similar to Themis but not the same, and our heroes have to scramble to figure out what the meaning of this visit is -- and if they can use Themis to protect Earth.

Man, this is a lukewarm review and I really don't mean it to be! I just don't want to give away anything from the first book or this one, so I'm being super vague. Basically, it's more of what was great about the first book: the "epistolary" style of found documents through which the story unfolds, cinematic catastrophe, and a wonderfully provocative kind of "what if" sense woven throughout. I can't wait for the final book to see how things shake out.

Title: Waking Gods
Author: Sylvain Neuvel

Genre: Fiction (Science Fiction / Speculative / Alien Technology / Romantic Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Del Rey (4/4/2017)
Source: NetGalley

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Book Blast: Lilli de Jong

I think all of us passionate readers have a TBR in the thousands and we still can't help anticipating new releases. (My 2017 aspirational TBR has more books than I can read in a year, but does that stop me from adding more?! NOPE!)

I've been super curious about this historical novel, Lilli de Jong, since I caught sight of the cover and title earlier this year. Honestly, I wanted to read it based on just those two things but after reading the blurb, I'm pretty much guaranteed to pick this one up. (And, undoubtedly, do some ugly crying.)

It doesn't hurt that it's been blurbed by authors I love and admire, like Sarah McCoy, Valerie Martin, and Sandra Gulland.

You can read an excerpt at the author's website.

So, what do you think -- curious, too?

Lilli de Jong
by Janet Benton

Nan A. Talese, May 16, 2017
Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages
Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli can’t accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family's home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. "So little is permissible for a woman," writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”

Available for Pre-Order at
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iTunes | IndieBound | Kobo | Powell's

About the Author

Janet Benton’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television. She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Visit Janet Benton's website for more information and updates. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Praise for Lilli de Jong

"Lilli de Jong, discharged from her teaching job and banished from Quaker meetings because of her father's selfish choice, finds comfort in the affections of her father's apprentice, Johan. The night before he leaves to embark on a new life, she succumbs to his embrace with his promise that he will send for her. Soon thereafter, a pregnant Lilli finds herself shunned and alone, her only option a Philadelphia charity for wronged women. Knowing that she must relinquish her newborn, she is unprepared for the love that she feels for her daughter. Lilli quickly decides to fight to keep her, but in 1883 that means a life of hardship and deprivation. Telling Lilli's story in diary form, debut author Benton has written a captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother's love and the stark reality of the choices she must make. VERDICT A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks." - Library Journal, Starred Review

“A stunning ode to motherhood. Lilli de Jong reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time.” —Sarah McCoy, author of The Mapmaker’s Children

“Janet Benton’s remarkable novel Lilli de Jong is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli’s sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold—though reader, be warned: Lilli’s story may break your heart.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

“The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it's a testament to Benton's skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist's struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A heartrending debut . . . Benton’s exacting research fuels Lilli’s passionate, authentic voice that is ‘as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance’ . . . Lilli’s inspiring power and touching determination are timeless.” —Publishers Weekly

“A harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . [Lilli] is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a mother’s love.” —Booklist

“I loved this novel. Lilli de Jong is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life . . . It's not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it's also important . . . Lilli's life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today.” —Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy

“A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader.” —The Millions