Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book #129: How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

These books are NOT good to listen to as audiobooks--because they are TOO ADDICTING and it's absolutely painful to have to trudge along at the pace of the reader instead of being able to sit down and blaze through the last half of the book to find out what happens. I spent the last few days just wandering around looking for things to do with my hands while listening to this book. This book reads like it's the end of the series, the climax of all of the drama and intrigue and conspiracy that has been hinted at for the last few books--but luckily, it's not, because I know there are four more already out there waiting for me. This book does have a murder mystery in it: a quintuplet is murdered (one of the famous ones born in the 1930's--based on a real family), and Gamache has to figure out who did it. But while Gamache does spend a bit of time investigating this murder and does eventually solve it, most of this book is about the secret conspiracy that Gamache's boss, the Superintendent of the Securite, is involved in, and how Gamache is trying to stop it. The book starts with everything at the lowest of the low; it all looks like Gamache is falling apart and Francoeur is about to win, but Gamache slowly but surely pulls it together and you can see that he had it all under control all along.

I love how Penny does such a good job of giving you a tiny bit of information at a time, to give you a small glimpse into what Gamache knows and what he's doing, but not enough to let you figure it out right away. She's pretty awesome at what she does. I feel like this book could have been kind of annoying to read and pretty over-the-top (especially with the whole government conspiracy doomsday thing) but because of the beloved characters and relationships, it didn't feel that way. Not to me, anyways. I loved Beauvoir's journey in the last few books, and was happy about the happy ending he got (spoiler alert, but not really that much of a spoiler!). I liked how Gamache seemed the most flawed in this book than he ever has--he made some mistakes, yelled at his friends, got mad when he shouldn't--but that makes sense, right? He was under pressure to basically save the world, all on his own, and that makes people make mistakes. But he always comes back to being the gracious, compassionate, kind person that he is. I'm glad this series isn't quite over yet, and I can't wait to get to the next one.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Book #128: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Austin motivated me to read this book by loving it and talking about it a lot the last year or so. I even (gasp!) bought a hardback copy on Amazon, which shows how committed I was to it (I almost never actually buy books unless I've read them before and know I want them). And it was worth it. I really, really loved this book and was inspired while reading it to make some changes in my life to develop more grit. (I don't know if I actually will go start a non-profit to give books to poor kids like I was imagining while reading this book, but that's the power of the concepts Duckworth talks about--to inspire such ideas. Now I just need more passion and grit to actually do it.)

I don't know that I can summarize this book in a coherent way, so here are some of the most interesting points I got out of it in bullet form:
- Talent isn't as important as effort. Many of us have potential (based on our talent), but whether we actually achieve anything depends far more on our effort. She says effort counts twice as much as talent when it comes to our abilities to get anywhere in our goals.
- We love the idea of genius and most of us actually have a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset. We don't want to fail and we don't want to get things wrong, even though we say to our kids that it's okay to make mistakes. We also somehow think that we are stuck with how smart we are, but, spoiler alert: that isn't true.
- "Grit" is the main quality that determines whether people will give up or quit on things, and it also is the main quality that determines how much people achieve and how successful they are. Grit has two main aspects: passion and perseverance.
- Passion means having one overarching goal/compass that guides your life (or at least your career), which all of your lower-level goals lead towards. You can develop passion through interest, deliberate practice, and having conviction that your work matters--to you, and to others.
- Three ways to cultivate a sense of purpose in your work: 1. Reflect on how the work you are already doing can make a positive contribution to society. 2. Think about how, in small but meaningful ways, you can change your current work to enhance its connections to your core values. 3. Find inspiration in a purposeful role model.
- Parenting for grit: be authoritative (aka, supporting but demanding.) Be warm, respectful, and demanding of high expectations. Make your kids do hard things and hold them to high standards. Extracurricular activities can help kids do something hard and learn those lessons about not quitting. When they are in high school, kids need to stick to extracurriculars for more than one year to learn how to stick to hard things. Create a culture of grit and perseverance in your family.

This book made me think. A lot. I felt a little worried while reading it, thinking that maybe I don't have much grit. But I think I might just be thinking that because I don't have a career to point towards or outside commitments. Do you even need to have grit if you aren't worried about becoming a world-famous violinist or becoming a CEO or achieving something spectacular like that? Would it improve my life other than being a good example to my kids? Duckworth does talk about having different high-level goals for your career and your family life, but since I don't have a career, I feel like I don't have a place to really achieve anything or succeed (like she is talking about in this book).

That makes me think--should I focus on developing a skill or something outside of my kids? I have lots of hobbies, but I don't try to excel very much in any of them. Reading, exercising, and cooking aren't necessarily things that I'm working hard at improving at, although I do them regularly. But I think I could take any one of those hobbies and improve in and make them into something that has purpose (like my non-profit idea, maybe someday). The main reason I felt like I don't have grit is because I don't have a strong passion about anything, other than raising my kids. Not that that's not an important passion, and there are lots of aspects to it in which I could improve, but it isn't quite what Duckworth is talking about. I just have a lot of things to think about, in doing something meaningful for myself and in raising my kids to teach them and help them develop grit.

Book #127: Frederica by Georgette Heyer

I read Frederica four years ago, and haven't read much Georgette Heyer since that time when I first discovered her. So I grabbed it to bring with me on our trip to Ecuador because I knew I wanted to revisit it--I had fond feelings towards this book, as being one of my favorites of hers, but I didn't remember a single thing about the story. So it was like reading it for the first time again and I totally loved it. The book is about the heroine, Frederica, who is the oldest of five orphaned children (although she's not a child, she's twenty-four) and who is determined to give them all the best chance they can in life despite having been orphaned and almost broke once their father died. She is a strong, smart, capable woman, and has plans to marry off her younger, beautiful sister to the best catch she can find, and then to live with her younger brothers and get them educated. She sees herself as a confirmed "old maid" and isn't bothered by it at all. All of these qualities lead to the enchanting romantic conflict in this story, when she asks the Marquis of Alverstoke for his help launching she and her sister into society for the season, and he agrees only because he finds their family slightly amusing. But this confirmed bachelor and rake eventually finds himself becoming more and more interested in these siblings, and falling more and more in love with the totally unaware Frederica, and there lies the interest in this story--will she or won't she eventually figure it out? I love that this story isn't just about the romance between the two of them--it's a very satisfying ending, but it's not the main point of the whole story. There is an interesting cast of other characters as well, including all of Frederica's siblings (especially her two youngest brothers, who play a big role in forcing the Marquis out of his selfish shell through their escapades), and a lot of interesting action, like the hot air balloon launch where things go awry. Definitely a fun book and definitely one of my favorites! I need to find some more of hers to read.

Book #126: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

This may have been one of my favorite Chief Inspector Gamache novels yet. First reason: the setting. Gamache and his second-in-command, Beauvoir, are summoned to a monastery in the far north of Quebec to solve the mystery of a monk found murdered. The whole novel takes place within the confines of this beautiful, amazing church/monastery, and this setting is so well-described and so central to the story that you feel like you're there. Along with this, the monks are all interesting characters (and there are some comedic moments with different monks) and this setting raises many questions (not all answered) about religion and why these monks chose to live this life.

Second reason: the conflict between the characters in this book is so raw and deep that it was hard to listen to without being stressed out. I was trying to explain what was happening to Tommy and realized it sounded a lot like a soap opera--because I was trying to explain a lot of the backstory from seven or eight other books, it sounded overly dramatic and over-the-top. "Well, Beauvoir and Gamache were in a shootout with some criminals a few books back, and both got shot really badly and took a long time to recover. But then Beauvoir got addicted to the painkillers, and recovered, but it looks like he's about to relapse, because Gamache's boss, the Superintendent of all the police, is a super bad guy and he's trying to give him these painkillers to make him addicted again as a way to make Gamache mad. And Beauvoir is secretly dating Gamache's daughter and doesn't want him to find out..." But when you're reading the books, it definitely does not feel over-the-top or soap-opera-y at all. It feels very believable and real, particularly if you think about them as police officers and these being real threats in their line of duty. I was so MAD and worried about the way things were going while listening to this book, and so worried about Beauvoir and what was happening with him. But, I have to say, after the last book, when it seemed like she had Beauvoir totally healed from his addictions without any problems, I was kind of disappointed that she wasn't going to explore that line of conflict any farther. So, I guess I'm glad she didn't back away from that issue too fast before moving forward with it thoroughly. As long as it all turns out okay in the end, because Gamache and Beauvoir are too good of a team to be torn apart for good.

I just need to get to the next one ASAP to find out what happens!

Book #125: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

I loved this book when I was in middle school and high school, and I can't believe I haven't read it since then. I loved how well you got to see into Anne's soul, and how she describes both the petty and the deep problems that she and her family faced in their time in hiding. I remember being so amazed by her easy discussion of sexual topics (or what she was learning about them), and how she fell in love and how she wrote about it. She writes so vividly about the fear they felt when there were break-ins or chances of being overheard of discovered. It is very obvious that she was just a teenager as she wrote this, how she feels so misunderstood and not included and poorly treated, and how she writes about how she hates her mom and dad sometimes, and how she makes some generalized, sweeping statements about the world and about her goals (which are so easy to make when you are so young and idealistic!). But it is also amazing to see how she grows, and what she learns over the three or four years of the diary. If this were a fictionalized version, the writer would have had Anne write about the day they were discovered and captured and how she was so afraid and what was going to happen to them--and I can almost imagine what she would have written. It always made me so sad to get to the end and remember that they were captured, and to realize that her goals and dreams about her future would never come to fruition. She said many things in her diary about "this is only the very beginning of a long, full life," and it's heartbreaking to realize that those things are not true. But it is also poignant that her diary has a life of its own now, many years after she died, and that her dreams of being a famous writer did come to fruition.

Besides those bigger, deeper thoughts about Anne's diary, I was interested this time in some of the minutiae. She mentions many times about how they couldn't flush the toilet during certain hours, like during the day when workers were in the building, and at night when nobody was supposed to be there, and how terrible it smelled. You never think about those small, really annoying issues that would bother them and make their life so much more difficult, because those really are overshadowed by the overwhelming fear and stress they must have been experiencing every day while in hiding, but those things still have a day-to-day importance. I also was really impressed by all the things Anne did to keep herself busy while they were stuck indoors inside their tiny hideaway for those years. She was very self-motivated and worked hard to study so many different subjects, and I think that was so impressive and showed her work ethic and determination not to be bored or to fall behind.

Book #124: How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

I heard about this book from a book blog I follow and it sounded funny and informative, and I needed an audiobook to get through while waiting for the next Inspector Gamache book, so I checked this one out. Dunn goes through many different reasons why couples have problems after having kids, and especially through her own relationship problems with her own husband after they had their daughter. Her husband wasn't helping out enough, and she was having rage and anger issues and they were fighting a lot. However, they sound like very normal, nice people (particularly her husband) and their issues were pretty normal to most couples, I'm guessing. They went to several different types of couples therapy, she talked to lots of experts and read lots of research, and manages to make her personal journey with her husband towards improving their marriage with the addition of their daughter into an interesting story and an informative lesson for other people having issues as well.

I didn't choose to read this book because I felt like we needed it--Tommy is the most helpful and engaged husband and father I know (and I'm not just saying that, he really is). But as I listened, I couldn't help feeling aghast at some of the assumptions that many couples have to work through, like the husband feeling like he needs to relax all weekend after a hard week at work and therefore the wife still needs to do all the childcare and housework over the weekends. First of all, I would never stand for that, and second of all, are you kidding? That is absolutely ridiculous to me, and I'm glad Dunn and her experts called that out too. She gives lots of ways to divvy up household chores and to spend your weekends so that everyone feels rejuvenated by the beginning of the next week, and I thought the ideas were good, but I'm also really glad that those issues are not ones that cause contention in our family--mainly because Tommy is all-in as a parents and co-worker in running our household. I also felt like this book, and others that I've read lately (like 168 Hours), made the weekend seem like this precious time where everything must be FUN FUN FUN and QUALITY TIME every minute with your kids or for yourself, but I disagree with that assumption on principle and really feel like it's not our job as parents to make everything super fun for the kids and that instead it's good for us to spend time working on the weekends (and definitely doing fun things sometimes, but not every single weekend). But overall, I thought this book could definitely be useful to people and I enjoyed listening to it.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book #123: A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

I was kind of feeling a book hangover after the last Inspector Gamache novel so I downloaded this one as an e-book to read over the last few days. These books are addicting. And I think the reason why they are addicting is because of the characters, not necessarily the plots. Whereas the last book, Bury Your Dead, was super complicated with three different mysteries intertwined, and had a really interesting theme with Gamache dealing with his failures and mistakes in a massive firefight with the Surete du Quebec, this book was back to being a pretty standard murder mystery with one story and one solution. A woman is murdered in Clara Morrow's backyard and Gamache and Beauvoir have to solve it, and after questioning lots of people they finally do. Some of the actions of minor characters in this story seemed a little bit unbelievable (like, why would the murderer come back to the town and hang around?) but it was still a good read. I liked some of the sub-plot elements more--like the development of Clara and Peter Morrow and how she has become more famous and successful as an artist than he is and how she finally realizes the depth of his jealousy and insecurity towards her success. And Beauvoir's descent into addiction to opioids after all the wounds he sustained during the fight, and his delusions he's holding towards Gamache after watching the video again and again. Those are the elements of the story that keep bringing me (and other readers) back for more, because you can't wait to see what's going to happen to these beloved and interesting characters next.