But I Don’t Want to Pretend (This Never Happened) #BHBC

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of life for me, and truthfully, time snuck past me. I am sure the Jenny Lawson, better known to many as “The Bloggess”, would understand why it took me a bit longer than usual to read her memoir, “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened”.

Source: BlogHer.com

 

A girl from texas, Jenny takes readers on an (ever-questioning, “is this real?”) journey through her life. Her roots are in a small town named Wall (hello, I connect as I was a toddler living in “don’t sneeze or you’ll miss it” Wall, Pennsylvania). I’d say her dad and sister’s roles in her early years are more explored than the relationship she has with her mother, but you can tell that her family experiences shaped her life.

Anyone who runs into a deer carcass sure has a story to tell, and tell she does. I related to many of Jenny’s stories about growing up in a small town. Throughout the reading, I laughed and I also shook my head. Not every story was completely believable, but I hear that’s how she writes.

Jenny and I have a number of things in common. We could tell you funny HR stories. We both have a daughter. We both have mother-in-laws who have couches you “aren’t really supposed to sit on”. We both spent our early years in Wall (and we can’t make that up). We both (hopefully?) make people laugh. We both have felt like we never really fit in. We both have Twitter accounts (she is @TheBloggess, I am @mrsgregwillis). We both blog. (You can find her blog at TheBloggess.com.) And, we both have (probably?) never read each other’s blogs.

I know, I know. I am a blogger and have never read her work. But that is all about to change. Now that I can say I really enjoyed her stories, I am sure I’ll enjoy her blogs. She’ll just have to forgive me if I am a few weeks behind.

All in all, Jenny’s memoir was a good, light-hearted way to zone after some crazy days the past few weeks. And, she may have even inspired me to get working on my 30 by 30 goal to have 4 chapters of a book written. We’ll see. At least I won’t be a huge competition for her…because my parents made sure I had a fun childhood, but not the kind of childhood where you wake up to a dead squirrel. Bread bags boots, however? Check!

If you want to read more, head over to the BlogHer.com discussions we’ll be having on the book (and feel free to join in). Or, follow Jenny, or heck, pick up a copy of the book yourself!

Disclaimer: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

“A Good American” #BHBC Review

I’ll admit it, I am a huge nerd for historic fiction, especially the kind of fiction that takes me through the Midwest. You know I am not a Midwest girl, but I just love the allure of plains. Anyhow, as a good American myself, I connected well with “A Good American” (by Alex George), the latest book I got to review through BlogHer.

Source: Blogher

George presents quite the journey of a Germany immigrant family (the Meisenheimers) starting with Jette and Frederick’s “snap” decision to leave their home country and make America their own. You see, their son was conceived out of wedlock, and Frederick was not the man that Jette’s mother would have chosen for her to marry. They hid their pregnancy for about 7 months then upon being discovered, decided to flee to America for the freedoms we know (and love). Once arriving in America, Jette and Frederick have to make the new country their own, and just like their happenstance meeting in a garden, destiny and fate have complete control over the events that happen to them and their family in the free world.

The journalistic narration by grandson James travels with the family from “love at first sight” through generations of cultural change (tied mostly to the family’s bar turned burger joint, a town staple) and drama. Every chapter stirred my emotions—laughter, anger, sadness, laughter again—because I could relate to many of the trials and triumphs the family encounters in their years as Good Americans. There are secrets that you won’t even learn about until the very last pages, leaving you on the edge of your seat. Every family has their secrets, right?

Speaking of secrets…I know I am being super secretive with this review, but you have to trust me—you don’t want the surprises spoiled. I love, love, love stories like this. George was so descriptive and I could literally see the novel unfold as I read it (all in one day—I loved it so much). Add this book to your 2013 “Must Read” list, and you will not be disappointed. In the meantime, you can check out the conversation from myself and others over at BlogHer.

Disclaimer: I participated in this review for BlogHer. While it’s a paid review, all opinions, as always, are 100% my own.

Finding the Willpower

A new year brings new goals and resolutions.  For me, it has been a renewed energy to meet the goal I have been working on, losing weight. After a holiday plateau, I have admittedly struggled mentally.  Good thing BlogHer sent me The Willpower Instinct to review. Perfect timing.

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This book, written by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., takes readers on a journey of self-control…essentially how it works, why it is important, and ways to (kid you not!) get more of it. She teaches a Stanford University course titled “The Science of Willpower”, and this book uses many of the principles.

McGonigal asks readers to think about “the three powers”: I Will, I Won’t, and I Want and how these three will help or hurt your goals…whether it be weight loss, getting out of debt,  or starting a new career.

For the purpose of this review, I took an overall perusal of the lessons first (not the recommended path) and for the past two weeks dug deep into the first two chapters and engaged in the exercises (willpower experiments) suggested. The book, ideally, would take 10 weeks to read. As an avid reader, that takes willpower to take it slow! 😉 But, McGonigal does it for a reason. Once you get into the experiments and reflect on the microscope questions she presents, you will understand.

In Chapter 1, the hardest thing for me to add to my busy life was meditation. I tried to add five minutes at the end of my workout or before my shower,  but I love my sleep. This hasn’t been easy, but on days that I do it right, I definitely feel I have more willpower and self-control.

This past week, I have been working on analyzing my stress spikes and sleep (which has not been great this week, thanks crud). The lessons have been befitting, mainly because I often let my stress reactions protect me from what is best for me.

I know the lessons ahead of me will be beneficial too, such as investigating how social networks play on willpower (where are my living healthy buddies? Bueller?) and looking at giving in and failures. So far, I have liked what I have dived into and hope that (based on my quick read) I continue to devote the next 8 weeks to this journey.

I mean, c’mon. Look at what this next week holds for me. How perfect!

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Hopefully you will follow along the next few weeks as we discuss this book more over at BlogHer. I am excited to share my journey there and hope it will lead to added weight loss, too! You can follow Dr. McGonigal on Twitter (@kellymcgonigal) or pick up your own copy at your favorite book retailer (suggested retail is $26). I am sure all of you have a goal you’d like to reach this year…what a great way to work on it!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a paid review through BHBC, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Mapping My Future with “My Life Map” #BHBC #spon

If you asked me what I wanted to be when I was 5, I would have said a veterinarian. When I was 18, that changed to a teacher. Now at 29, I am happy in a job measuring technology issues. Just last night, however, I told Greg, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”. Throughout life, I’ve had a number of jobs, dreams, and life situations that got me to where I am today. Each experience led up to the present and the present will lead to the future. Kate and David Marshall have the perfect book for me (and others) trying to figure out the “what’s next” question in  My Life Map: A Journal to Help Shape Your Future.

 

Photo Courtesy of Penguin Books

This journal serves as a tool to look at where you’ve been and what you hope to do. It’s good for people at all life stages (because, obviously, life changes from day to day, year to year). There are prompts throughout the book that have you look (workbook-style) at experiences, patterns, and ambitions. It’s a great tool for doing some self-examination and finding a purpose in the next steps.

 “When should you start mapping your life? Start at any time, at any age, whether you’re in your twenties or in midlife contemplating the second half of life.” (page 8)

I appreciate the types of questions within the prompts about the past because they got me thinking about parts of my life I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to include in an exercise of thinking about my future. For example, the prompt “What was your favorite room in the home you grew up in? Why?” got me thinking about how this room made me want to be a teacher. (My favorite room was our attic play room, a space where I could “teach” my stuffed animals arts and crafts, songs, numbers, and letters.) I wouldn’t have thought about the connections unless I was asked, and I am glad I was asked! It also is serving as healing from some of the significant experiences in my life (losing my best friend to cancer, dealing with an abusive relationship) and helping me think about how those things will drive my next chapters.

(How much do I love this included quote? “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” – Oprah Winfrey, page 31)

This book will be a great guide for me as I figure out the next steps in my life—do I want to crunch numbers every day for the next 40 years, no, but do I know for sure what the next big thing is? No! My Life Map will hold the secrets of my hopes and dreams—including family, friends, learning, work, service, and playing. These things will eventually (throughout the years) come to fruition if I continue to aim for my ambitions.

What are you waiting for? Are you ready to take a stab at mapping your past, present, and future? My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future is available for $16 from Gotham Books (and will definitely be on my holiday gift idea list).

Disclaimer: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

“Reflected in You” #BHBC #spon

If you’re in the mood for a steamy romance, do I have a good book to share with you.

Reflected in You is the second book in the Crossfire trilogy by Sylvia Day. Eva leaves the West Coast for a posh life in New York and meets the stunning, seductive Gideon Cross. The two begin a sizzling relationship in the first book (Bared to You) and then begin to fight their inner demons of the past in Reflected in You.

The characters have broken pasts, ones that often get in the way of their intimacy and trust. Add two exes from out of the blue into the mix and things get a bit crazy. I found myself cheering for Gideon one moment then hating him the next, shaking my head at why Eva would even dare stick around.

Passion, desire, and a twist kept me on my toes throughout the book. Perhaps it was Gideon’s addictive personality or my wish to rescue Eva (I related to her on many levels), but I was able to read this book in one weekend.

Without wanting to give too many secrets away, this series definitely delivers on comedy, romance, and heartbreak. The third book (I hear) comes out in May 2013, so if you are like me and easily get addicted to books, you might want to wait another month or so before moving from Bared to You onto Reflected in You (just kidding, sort of, I have NO patience!).

Throughout the next few weeks, you can keep an eye and ear out on what other bloggers thought of this book over at the BlogHer Book Club site dedicated to Reflected in You. We’ll be talking about various topics as we discuss the book.

Trust me when I say (and many other readers agree–Reflected in You is a #1 on the NY Times Book List!) that this book is a good read for the ladies this winter.

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Disclaimer: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

On Confidence and Running with It (#BHBC #spon)

This past week, I read a book that made me a little uncomfortable in my own skin. “Sophie Morgan”, the pseudonym for a British journalist, wrote Diary of a Submissive, a real life romance about exactly what you think it’s about. Warning, I can’t imagine letting my daughter read this book, nor is it one that I would share with my mom or grandma, so feel free to stop reading here if “Shades of” stories make you squirm.

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Diary of a Submissive is Sophie’s journey into erotic relationships, and the book gets a bit deeper than your traditional softcover romance novel. She holds back no bars, and shares intimate details of her life (hence the pseudonym!). Her relationships with men evolve throughout the book, and she takes readers on a journey from where it all began (buying a racy novel at age 14) to her present day D/s experiences (which left me hanging–I’m not really sure who she ends up with!).

Parts of the book do make you wonder what makes Sophie stay in relationships like she does. Personally, the present me would never let a man treat me like that (due to things the past me has gone through). While the book made me a bit squirmy, I also have to say I couldn’t put it down. I prefer to keep the secrets of my bedroom right where they belong, but Sophie airs out all her dirty laundry. She has confidence in what she writes and runs with it. Although she is submitting to her lovers, Sophie is not uncomfortable with who she is. This memoir is a testimony to that.

If you are interested in reading a book that is honest and open, feel free to check out the BlogHer Book Club discussions on Diary of a Submissive to hear more!


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Disclaimer: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

Matched #Review #BHBC

While I haven’t jumped on every single hopeless romantic young adult novel/series, Ally Condie’s Matched was one I simply couldn’t put down. The first in her trilogy about love, rebellion, and (perhaps) the future, Matched is an excellent read.

Cassia is a 17-year-old who is “matched” with the person “The Society” has determined is her best fit. They’d know, of course, because they are monitoring her every move (and perhaps thought). But, it turns out, there is a twist of fate. The Society appears to have made a mistake in the matching and leads her to believe she has a chance at a match with someone Society has deemed un-matchable.

While I’d hope our world wouldn’t come to the rigid life that Cassia and her family must endure, I have to say it is entirely possible. We live in a world where technology is getting smarter and smarter, and perhaps, the need for people “built” to do certain things and do them well could one day be upon us. Frankly, I don’t want to live in that world, let me chose my own dinner and match, thank you very much! Yet, at the same time, the way Condie describes this world, it’s not too far out of reach.

Living in somewhat of a bubble growing up, I identified with Cassia. There are powers that be that watch your moves, and if they don’t like it, they are sure to call you out on it. In my story, I was a lot luckier than Cassia and was able to find the person for my forever on my own. I’ll be able to live past 80 (God willing) instead of having to pass when Society serves me my final meal. Sure, Cassia still has some choices (like what color dress to wear to her Match Banquet), but they are few and far between.

When her match is potentially jeopardized, Cassia must decide if she is falling for her real match, her best friend OR if she’ll let Society lead her to follow her heart and fall for the guy who never really crossed her mind?

Being the first book in a trilogy, Matched left me yearning for more. There are two more books in this series, Crossed and Reached, completing the story of a love triangle and rebellion against the norm. I’ll be sure to pick these up next!

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Want to hear more about Matched? Follow the conversations over at BlogHer or look for posts from Ally on Twitter (@allycondie) and Facebook.

Disclaimer:This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

#BHBC Review: “You Have No Idea” #spon

One of the things I often wonder is, “How would my life have been different if I would have just…” (listened to my mom?). Sure, some things would have been a lot different, but maybe some things turned out the way they did because I chose not to listen.

Helen and Vanessa Williams (from BlogHer)

One of my childhood idols, Vanessa Williams, and her mother, Helen Williams, teamed up to write “You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)”. The two tag-team Vanessa’ biography…Helen sprinkles in the advice that she gave Vanessa, and Vanessa gives her take on what the life moments around that advice. From as simple as not riding with someone else on the back of her bike to not posing nude, they tell it all.

While I am not normally one for biographies/memoirs, I have to tell you, “You Have No Idea” had me captivated from the beginning. As a child, I loved singing along to “Save the Best for Last” and “Colors of the Wind”, and we all know the story about the photos that ended her reign as Miss America. But, there are so many things I didn’t know about Vanessa, like that she has four children and was married twice (Rick Fox was one of her husbands). Oh, and Vanessa and I connect on a level–traveling with a breast pump and no baby. You’ll have to read the book to hear about the time she was in an airport and got called out by security…oh, do I know the feeling! Vanessa and Helen each gave their own side of the story (there’s always two sides, right?) and this makes the biography feel light–something I appreciate.

Helen and Vanessa write about the pageants, the music, the Broadway dream. Through it all, the theme of surviving what life hands you sticks out. While reading Vanessa’s story and hearing Helen’s advice, I laughed, I cried, and most of all, it made me connect with my past on another level. I can look back at things my mom has told me and say, “Oh! She was so right”…and it makes me think of things that I will have to tell my daughter.

This book was a fun read, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy of it. It is almost Mother’s Day, after all, so perhaps pick up a copy for your own mom and pen a note about some of the advice she gave you in life.

Want to join in on the fun that BlogHer is having around the release of “You Have No Idea”? Head over to their Book Club page. You’ll be able to hear more about the book, and join in the discussions, and even read an excerpt from Chapter One. There will be a new question each week, and I encourage you to share your thoughts. The first question will be, “Did you follow your mother’s rules? Did you listen to her advice?“. So what are you waiting for? Go share!

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Disclosure: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

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Want to hear more from Vanessa? Follow her on Twitter (@vwofficial) or like her on Facebook.