Category Archives: TWSM Book Review

‘Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature’ TWSM Book Review

‘Wild Comfort:The Solace of Nature’ by Kathleen Dean Moore

If you are looking for a nurturing read to start the new year, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore is a great choice. The personal essays in this book explore the natural rhythms of nature from sorrow to gladness using imagery that is both soothing and thought provoking. 

Kathleen Dean Moore is an essayist, activist, and professor who brings together natural history, philosophical ideas, and creative expression in her books. She lives in a college town at the confluence of two Oregon rivers and writes about living in the lively places where water meets land. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Wild Comfort: 

“There is meaning in the natural rhythms of dying and living, winter and spring, bones and leaves. Even in times of bewilderment or despair, there is the steadfast ground underfoot — pine duff, baked clay, stone turned red in the rain.” (Introduction) 

“I was happy then, standing in the surge with lines of moonlight catching on my rubber boots. This is something that needs explaining, how light emerges from darkness, how comfort wells up from sorrow. The Earth holds every possibility inside it, and the mystery of transformation, one thing into another. This is the wildest comfort.” (Introduction) 

“But how do you keep the bad stuff from lodging in every corner of your mind, I asked Hank. Pay attention to the present moment, he said. Every moment we are wondering at the path of wind across the water or smiling to see a dog rest in the sun, we are not rehearsing our misfortunes. Every moment we are glad for the twilight of morning, we are not vexed. It is impossible to be at the same time grateful and spiteful.” (Gladness) 

Wild Comfort was recommended to me by a friend. To be honest, as an “indoor girl” who loves the great outdoors when the weather is ideal, I was a bit skeptical of a collection of essays about nature. I am so glad that I read it! In this crazy 2020 year of ours, it hit the spot. I recommend that you brew a cup of your favorite tea, grab a soft blanket, and soak up the beauty and solace of Wild Comfort. 

Rating 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

Copyright 2010 by Kathleen Dean Moore 

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her younger daughter and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family. She is savoring the time that she has left before her younger daughter flies from the nest, yet she is also secretly looking forward to a time when she can travel more and not worry about anyone borrowing her socks.

‘The Immortal Life’ TWSM Book Review

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is an amazing nonfiction book. It details how the cells taken from from one woman in the 1950s helped with some of the most important advances in medicine: the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, and gene mapping to name a few — all without her knowledge or consent. 

Skloot honors the experiences of Henrietta and her family as she describes the events surrounding what became known as the “HeLa cells”. She tells this meticulously researched story of medical ethics, race, class, and sexism from the standpoint of those who lived it. Although Henrietta’s cells spurred great achievements and created a lucrative business, her family didn’t know this for years and did not benefit financially. Many of them had difficulty paying for their own health care. 

Rebecca Skloot is an award winning science writer. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was the 2011 winner of the National Academies Communication Award for best creative work that helps the public understanding of topics in science, engineering, or medicine. 

Here are some of the most compelling quotes from the book: 

“There’s no indication that Henrietta questioned him; like most patients in the 1950s, she deferred to anything her doctors said. This was a time when “benevolent deception” was a common practice — doctors often withheld even the most fundamental information from their patients, sometimes not giving them any diagnosis at all. They believed it was best not to confuse or upset patients with frightening terms they might not understand, like cancer. Doctors knew best, and most patients didn’t question that.” (Chapter 8) 

“Berg didn’t explain how releasing Henrietta’s name to the public would have protected the privacy or rights of her family. In fact, doing so would have forever connected Henrietta and her family with the cells and any medical information eventually derived from their DNA. That wouldn’t have protected the Lackses’ privacy, but it certainly would have changed the course of their lives. They would have learned that Henrietta’s cells were still alive, that they’d been taken, bought, sold, and used in research without her knowledge or theirs. (Chapter 14) 

“This child will someday know that her great-grandmother Henrietta helped the world!” Pullum yelled. He raised his arms above his head and yelled hallelujah. Baby JaBrea waved her hands and let out a loud happy screech, and the congregation yelled amen.” (Chapter 37)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a timely read about the history of medical ethics and how they can impact average people. As we navigate through Covid-19 with new vaccines on the horizon, it is encouraging to know that many things have in fact improved over the years. I highly recommend this book. 

Rating 4 ½ Stars out of 5

Copyright 2011 

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her younger daughter and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family. She is savoring the time that she has left before her younger daughter flies from the nest, yet she is also secretly looking forward to a time when she can travel more and not worry about anyone borrowing her socks.

‘The Glass Hotel’ TWSM Book Review

 The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel 

The Glass Hotel is a novel that takes the reader on a thrill ride that includes unusual characters and a ponzi scheme like the one for which Bernie Madoff was convicted in 2009. The main character, a woman named Vincent, is a bartender with a complicated past. When she meets Jonathan Alkaitis while working at a hotel that he owns, she believes he is a legitimate businessman. She also agrees to be swept into “the kingdom of money” by living with him as his fake wife. In The Glass Hotel, themes of guilt, wealth, and unintended consequences create drama and tragedy. This novel is a page-turner.

Some of my favorite quotes include:

“The thing about Alkaitis, a woman from Philadelphia wrote some years later, in a victim impact statement that she read aloud at Alkaitis’s sentencing hearing, is he made you feel like you were joining a secret club.” (Chapter 3)

“In a ghost version of his life, a version of himself that he’d been thinking about more and more lately, Oskar closed the door to his office and called the FBI. But in real life, he called no one. He left the office in a daze, but by the time he reached the corner he realized that he couldn’t pretend to be shocked, and he knew he was going to deposit the check, because he was already complicit, he was already on the inside and had been for some time.” (Chapter 10)

The Glass Hotel is a New York Times bestseller, and St John Mandel’s fifth book. Her previous novels include Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award. I admire the fact that she thanked her nanny in her acknowledgements section of The Glass Hotel. We often envision women who are famous or high achieving as “doing it all” as opposed to going out and getting the support they need to make it happen, which more often than not includes child care.

The Glass Hotel is a great read. I highly recommend it.

Rating 4 Stars out of 5 

Copyright 2020 by Emily St. John Mandel

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her younger daughter and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family. She is savoring the time that she has left before her younger daughter flies from the nest, yet she is also secretly looking forward to a time when she can travel more and not worry about anyone borrowing her socks.

‘The Minimalist Home’ TWSM Book Review

 

The Minimalist Home: A Room by Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life by Joshua Becker 

 

The Minimalist Home: A Room by Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life by Joshua Becker is a breath of fresh air. It will help you to lighten up your home in a way that fits your style.

The chapters are organized so that you can pick and choose what will be most helpful to you, whether that is cleaning out a couple of closets or a more complete minimalism makeover. It also deals with real life stages and phases of family life — from little kids with toys to teens who want their own space to a partner who may not be fully on board with your new minimalist ideas (spoiler alert: change your habits, not your partner’s — lol).

Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Minimalist Home:

“Minimizing is actually optimizing — reducing the number of your possessions until you get to the best possible level for you and your family. It’s individual, freeing, and life promoting.” (Chapter 1)

“Over the coming days and months, I noticed how easy it was becoming to clean the house… how the process was freeing me from past mistakes… how my home and life were becoming more peaceful and less stressful…” (Chapter 2)

“Your goal should be to keep only the best. For example, you don’t have to hold on to everything you inherited from your beloved aunt who has passed. Just keep a few pieces that remind you of her most, and then, instead of keeping them in a dusty box in your storage area, put them out where you can see them and remember her everyday.” (Chapter 9)

Becker stresses that minimalism should be about what is important to you and your family — not some prescribed list of dos and don’ts. For example, he describes his dining room as having a table surrounded by eight chairs, one piece of wall art (a gift from his sister) and two small decorative shelves. My guess is that guests in this dining room spend their time enjoying good food and conversation, not worrying about navigating tight spaces or whether they will spill something on an antique tablecloth.

The Minimalist Home is upbeat and helpful. Whether you just want fewer toys on the floor, closets where you can actually find stuff, or you are up for a full minimalist makeover, I recommend that you give it a read.

Rating: Four Stars out of Five 

Copyright 2018 by Becoming Minimalist LLC 

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her younger daughter and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family. She is savoring the time that she has left before her younger daughter flies from the nest, yet she is also secretly looking forward to a time when she can travel more and not worry about anyone borrowing her socks.

‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ TWSM Book Review

 

Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens has been on my “to read list” for months now. When I finally started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. Owens draws her readers in with a tale of love and loss so strong that it leaps off of the page, while including a murder mystery and stunning descriptions of the North Carolina marshland where the story takes place. 

Owens is an American author and zoologist. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel, and it has been on New York Times Best Sellers lists for over a year. Since it came out in 2018, you may be able to access it for free via your local library app without a waitlist (bonus!). 

Kya, the main character, is abandoned as a child. She manages to survive on her own in a shack in the marsh which is her home. While scraping through each day and trying to heal, she stubbornly stays alone in the wilderness which gives her comfort, yet she yearns for love and connection. She is taught to read by Tate, her first love, and is wronged by Chase, a local boy of privilege. Where the Crawdads Sing is her story — one of pain and ultimately one of triumph. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Where the Crawdads Sing: 

“Marsh is not swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace — as though not built to fly—against the roar of a thousand snow geese.” (Prologue) 

“It seemed that now, Kya being more vulnerable than ever, was reason to trust others even less. Standing in the most fragile place of her life, she turned to the only net she knew — herself.” (Chapter 44) 

“Tate remembered his dad’s definition of a man: one who can cry freely, feel poetry and opera in his heart, and do whatever it takes to defend a woman. Scupper would have understood tracking love through mud.” (Chapter 56) 

Although Where the Crawdad’s Sing is a wonderful book, if you are in the mood for light reading or a hearty laugh, pick something else — for now. Just don’t let Owen’s novel fall off of your “to read list”. You’ll be mesmerized when you eventually get to it. 

Rating 4 ½ out of 5 Stars 

Copyright 2018 Delia Owens 

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her younger daughter and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family. She is savoring the time that she has left before her younger daughter flies from the nest, yet she is also secretly looking forward to a time when she can travel more and not worry about anyone borrowing her socks.

‘Resilient’ TWSM Book Review

Resilient by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

If a book has ever jumped out at me as one that I needed to read, it is Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. Although it was originally published in 2018, it has 2020 written all over it.

Hanson is a psychologist, bestselling author, and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. Resilient delves into topics including mindfulness, confidence, courage, intimacy, and generosity. The book uses detailed examples and exercises to teach the reader how to calm the mind and optimize opportunities to connect with others.

Some of my favorite quotes from Resilient include:

“You can’t always count on the world, other people, or even your own body. But you can count on durable inner strengths hardwired into your nervous system — and this book is about growing them.” (Introduction)

“Thankfulness is not about minimizing or denying hassles, illness, loss, or injustice. It is simply about appreciating what is also true: such as flowers and sunlight, paper clips and fresh water, the kindness of others, easy access to knowledge and wisdom, and light at the flick of a switch.” (Gratitude)

“To establish a calmer baseline for yourself plus recover more quickly after stress, set aside a few minutes or more to relax deeply many times a week. Also look for little moments to relax in the flow of your day, especially when the needle of your personal stress-o-meter starts creeping up into yellow, orange, or red. In our overheated culture, relaxation needs to be a conscious priority.” (Calm)

If I have one complaint about Resilient, it is that portions of the book read like a neuroscientist wrote it. If you are a geek like me, this won’t bother you, but some readers might be more inclined to put the book down or at least skip around to the parts that appear to be more interesting and helpful to them personally (which is always a valid approach to reading a new book in my opinion).

If you are interested in becoming more resilient (and who isn’t these days?) Hanson’s book is a helpful addition to your self-care toolkit.

Rating 3 ½ out of 5 stars

 Copyright 2018 by Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson 

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.

‘The Thirteenth Tale’ TWSM Book Review

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

 

As the fall air turns crisp and pumpkins abound, why not curl up with a spooky story? The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield will whisk you away into a world of mystery, mansions, and family secrets. 

The story is told by Margaret Lea, a book lover and biographer who is hired to interview one of the most celebrated writers of her time, Vida Winters, an elderly woman with emerald eyes, copper curls, and a past full of secrets. Miss Winters is still full of fire and needs to tell her story before time runs out. As the novel unfolds, we learn about the love and loss that has shaped and strengthened both women. 

Some of my favorite quotes from The Thirteenth Tale include: 

“My story is not only mine; it is the story of Angelfield. Angelfield the village, Angelfield the house. And the Angelfield family itself. George and Mathilde; their children, Charlie and Isabelle; Isabelle’s children, Emmeline and Adeline. Their house, their fortunes, their fears. And their ghost. One should always pay attention to ghosts, shouldn’t one, Miss Lea?” (Chapter entitled And so we Began…) 

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” (Chapter entitled The Letter) 

“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails?” (Chapter entitled The Letter) 

The Thirteenth Tale is a gripping story that will keep you reading long past the witching hour. Setterfield honors the ashes of the past while providing a glimpse of enduring happiness for the future. Light a few candles, brew a cup of tea, and give it a read!

Rating 4 ½ out of 5 stars

Copyright 2006 by Diane Setterfield 

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.

TWSM Book Review ‘Project 333’

Book Review of Project 333: The Minimalist Fashion Challenge That Proves Less Really Is So Much More

by Courtney Carver

Why not try a fall fashion challenge? Whether you are out and about (at least somewhat) or entirely house-bound during Covid, ​Project 333​ can refresh how you look and feel. I read Carver’s book and took the fashion challenge. At first, the idea of limiting myself to 33 items of clothing for 3 months seemed silly and not feasible, but I ended up loving the concept. I wear my favorite things more often, and I also mix and match my clothes in ways that make my life simpler, and am still in fashion.

There were several things that made ​Project 333 ​approachable for me. This is not a “throw out most of your wardrobe and give it all to charity challenge”. She suggests carefully choosing the items to include and then simply putting the others away for 3 months. The fact that I could technically back out at any time sounded good! Also, there are basic items that you don’t count in the 33 wardrobe items — lingerie, socks, jewelry that you wear everyday, and clothing that you only wear at home or for working out in aren’t included.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from ​Project 333:

“If there are one or two outfits in your closet that you really enjoy wearing, create a uniform with your 33 items and wear very similar things each day. Use other examples you might find on the internet for inspiration and experimentation, but give yourself room to be you and decide what you want to wear.”​ (Chapter entitled “Messy”)

“I prefer wearing clothes I can live in, clothes that fit my body as it is and not as it ‘shouldbe’ “. ​(Chapter entitled “Crazy”)

“Seeing the outfit you wore to an event that made you sad will make you sad. Holding onto your ex’s sweatshirt or your old work uniform can make you sad. You don’t get to hold on to people, relationships, or any part of the past just because you are holding on to the stuff.” ​(Chapter entitled “Emotion”)

By trying the Project 333 challenge, I found that less really can be more. I wore my favorite colors more often, threw together outfits more easily, and didn’t have to let go of any of the signature jewelry that I love. If you are ready for a change this fall, I highly recommend that you give Carver’s book a try.

Rating 4 stars out of 5

Copyright 2020

Liz​ is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. ​When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.

TWSM Book Review ‘Beloved’

Beloved by Toni Morrison

 

I decided to reread my all time favorite novel, Beloved by Toni Morrison. This is one of those few “great books” that truly lives up to its reputation, having won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988. In spite of the fact that I have read Beloved several times, it still captivated me. Beloved is a story of love, strength, pain, and redemption that is set shortly after the Civil War.

Beloved was inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, An African American woman who escaped slavery in Kentucky in 1856 by crossing the Ohio River into Ohio, a free state. Captured, she killed her baby daughter rather than have her taken back into slavery.

Sethe and her older daughter, Denver, are main characters in the novel. The “baby ghost” of Sethe’s slain daughter, Beloved, comes to live with them, creating all kinds of opportunities for revisiting what they have been through, the meaning of family, and their hopes for the future.

One of the most appealing qualities of Beloved is how Morrison shares both the incredible strength and the all too human weaknesses of her characters. The day to day reality of an African American woman who was once a slave is described in amazing detail.

“Quickly, lightly she touched the stove. Then she trailed her fingers through the flour, parting, separating small hills and ridges of it, looking for mites. Finding none, she poured soda and salt in the crease of her folded hand and tossed both into the flour. She reached into a can and scooped half a handful of lard. Deftly she squeezed the flour through it, then with her left hand sprinkling water, she formed the dough.” (Chapter 1) 

“Sethe had the amazing luck of six whole years of marriage to that “somebody” son who had fathered every one of her children. A blessing she was reckless enough to take for granted…” (Chapter 1) 

“And no one, nobody on this earth, would list her daughter’s characteristics on the animal side of the paper.” (Chapter 3) 

Although the brutality of slavery is depicted throughout the novel, Beloved is much more a story of enduring and overcoming suffering than a story of the suffering itself. It will make you laugh, cry, and want to hold those close to you even tighter. I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Beloved by Toni Morrison 

Copyright 1987, 2004 by Toni Morrison 

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.

TWSM Book Review ‘Untamed’

Untamed b​y Glennon Doyle

 

If you are looking for an uplifting book about being your best self​, Untamed​ by Glennon Doyle fits the bill. Throughout the book, Doyle uses the metaphor of walking away from the cages that society teaches us to live in to become the strong, free, “untamed” women we were meant to be. We do this by looking to our true selves and becoming aware of what and who we want to be as opposed to what and who others expect us to be. We then make choices that are right for us as individuals.

Although Doyle is a best selling author, I was unfamiliar with her work until now. She has experienced many challenges and changes in her life including recovering from alcoholism and an eating disorder, and choosing to leave her husband for a woman who is now her wife — all while being a memoir writer in the public eye. Doyle does an incredible job of writing in a style that is real and universal and connecting with her reader, whether or not we can relate to her specific life experiences. Her humor also shines throughout the book.
Some of my favorite quotes from ​Untamed include:

“Ten minutes a day is not too long to spend finding yourself, Glennon. For God’s sake,
you spend eighty minutes a day finding your keys.”​ (Part Two: Know)

“When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she learns to please
herself.”​ (Part Two: Know)

“Selfless women make for an efficient society, but not for a beautiful, true, or just one.”
(Part Three: Aches)

I think we can all relate to the metaphor of being caged vs. being free and untamed in our own ways. Perhaps it was learning that polite girls don’t talk back while we were growing up and taking that to mean that sharing a divergent opinion is unacceptable, when the same behavior would have been encouraged in a boy. Or perhaps there are cages of perfectionism embedded in our definitions of being “good mothers”. It is easy to overlook that all mothers are human, and therefore none of us are perfect.

Untamed i​s an empowering book that encourages its readers to gently examine their own lives and be brave in making their own choices — all while laughing (and perhaps crying) along the way. I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Copyright 2020 by Glennon Doyle

Liz​ is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. ​When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.