Glennon Doyle has a very interesting voice. I appreciate a lot of what she's laying down, but some of this just felt a little selfish, to the point where it's borderline snobbery. Yet I also felt a kinship with Doyle and much of her take on the world felt like she was talking directly to me, absorbing right into my being. How can you not love a book like that? Doyle shares her experience with a divorce and a new relationship with a woman, retired soccer star, Abby Wambach. I loved the island metaphor that she uses to explain to family and friends that were not accepting of their new family unit. "When you are ready to come to our island with nothing but wild acceptance and joy and celebration for our true, beautiful family, we’ll lower the drawbridge for you. But not one second sooner." I especially related to her sections on parenting a sensitive child. She talks about how sensitivity is a superpower and not something to be ashamed of. Her mantra "We can do hard things," is something I've already started repeating to my girls especially in these last few months. Feelings are meant to be felt - all of them, not just the happy ones that we display to the world around us. Doyle is obviously a kick-ass mother but is also quick to point out when she doesn't do things right. She has a genuine ability to self-reflect, and this makes her thoughts that much more likeable and relatable.
I'm all for women taking stock of their lives and knowing when to say no. Selfishness has a rightful place in our lives, but it also needs to be balanced with empathy and awareness of others. Women often put others first to the detriment of their own sanity, but a healthy balance is what's missing not a full onslaught of self-talk, and a me-me-me-me-me attitude. But with that said, Glennon (I feel like I'm already on a first name basis with her, and I'm pretending we're friends) would probably point out that confident women all too often get labeled entitled, and to that point I agree. Quibbling over how much selfishness is too much or just right is not enough to take away from the other points in her book. She has so much good stuff in here to ignore. And then she says “When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself,” and I feel like I everything I just thought was wrong. She's so good and really makes me think about ALL OF THE THINGS.
And then she brings on the pizzazz with this gleaming pearl that I can't stop thinking about. “Mothers have martyred themselves in their children’s names since the beginning of time. We have lived as if she who disappears the most, loves the most. We have been conditioned to prove our love by slowly ceasing to exist. What a terrible burden for children to bear—to know that they are the reason their mother stopped living. What a terrible burden for our daughters to bear—to know that if they choose to become mothers, this will be their fate, too. Because if we show them that being a martyr is the highest form of love, that is what they will become. They will feel obligated to love as well as their mothers loved, after all. They will believe they have permission to live only as fully as their mothers allowed themselves to live.If we keep passing down the legacy of martyrdom to our daughters, with whom does it end?" Gut punch. Doyle has a way of just getting to the raw meat of women's lives, and this is just one of her many juicy bits of wisdom that make me keep coming back to this book, cringing and loving it all at the same time.
I really had to force myself to finish this. It was marginally interesting but not memorable at all. Larson follows William Dodd and his family as he becomes the American ambassador to Germany in 1933 when Hitler comes into power. He slowly and painfully reveals how the world underestimated Hitler's reach and volatile power. Dodd is a basic guy who doesn't like showy things. His daughter, Martha, sleeps around with everyone in Berlin, enjoying the social scene and flirting with obliviousness. The books takes so much time detailing Martha's sex/dating life (not in graphic detail at all so don't get excited) that she takes a primary role in the book. She eventually gets a "meeting" with Hitler as a possible hook-up but she's not into him. Later, Martha gets involved with a Russian spy, and she's probably the most interesting character overall which is an indicator of how boring this whole book is. Tell me more about Martha's correspondence with poet, Carl Sandburg, and her endless attempts to engage the literary crowd while she woos the Nazis. I finished this only because of an annoying promise I made to myself not to quit books.
The Stranger Things vibe is all over this book initially but then it diverts and goes down its own majestic Stephen King path. I'm a HUGE King fan and while this did not disappoint, it's definitely not my favorite of his work. Luke Ellis is a super genius twelve-year-old who has big plans to attend college when his whole world is altered the night a group of people break into his house, murder his parents, and ferry him off to the Institute. He wakes up in a bedroom almost identical to his own at home and discovers other kids at the Institute who are being held and forced to endure experiments and shots to expand their telekinetic and telepathic powers. All of this experimental torture takes place in Front Half but eventually kids are moved to Back Half where the real horrors exist, and they're never seen again. The staff at the Institute are heartless and cruel. King builds two simultaneous story lines between the Institute and Tim Jamieson, a disgraced former cop, now working the nightknocker shift in Dupray, South Carolina. I've always loved King's supernatural books more than his true horror (weird, I know) but the only thing I didn't love about this one is that it seems watered down. It's not as nasty as some of his books get, and I quite frankly miss the carnage. This makes me seem like a complete psycho since we're talking about kids, torture experiments, and kidnapping but in comparison to his other greats like The Stand and Under the Dome, this one was just sort of thinned out more than what I prefer in my King reads.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Yet another book that shows why librarians are the coolest and toughest scrappers hitting the grind for literacy. This evocative historical fiction set in the 1930s paints a vivid picture of Appalachian Kentucky and the hill country's colorful, impoverished people. Cussy, also known as Bluet for her blue-tinged skin, is feared, loved, and hated by everyone. She is the last living female with her blue-skin condition, and is treated as a pariah by people who don't understand it's just a genetic condition caused by an enzyme deficiency. Cussy is tough but extremely kind and giving. She takes a job as a Pack-Horse Librarian after a brutal forced marriage that almost led to her death. She rides a cantankerous mule through the twisted and and dangerous Appalachian hills to reach her patrons, bringing them reading material and the loving, kindnesses of a true, gentlewoman. I used to volunteer housing service work in Appalachian Kentucky as a teen, and the imagery depicted in this book really brought me back in time. I loved reading about that swirling fog, switchback roads, and fiercely loyal neighbors. Cussy is determined to reach her patrons, and they return her dedication with kindness that turns out to be her saving grace in the end when she needs it most. This book is rife with sorrow but also spilling over the top with heart-warming goodness.
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Know My Name by Chanel Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My girls will read this book someday, and if I had sons, I would have them read it too. I don't care that it's graphic and raw; it's also dripping with an angry truth that everyone should hear and feel. Chanel Miller's voice is fireworks of emotion. The day I finished this book, I tried to explain it to my husband while he was driving, and I just couldn't get the words out. I cried and tried to explain what she wrote about. He patted my knee and then lightly squeezed my arm, and that's all I needed. He understood what I was trying to say without another word. I ached for this woman, for myself, for my friends, for every woman who has faced even the tiniest bit of the cruelty and injustice that comes with sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Chanel's voice is difficult to connect with at first, and I found myself confused about who she is. Then as she continued her story, and her writing style revealed her true voice, I got it. She didn't act the way survivors are expected to act because there are no set rules. She didn't ask questions. She expressed more concern for the well-being of her sister than for herself. She did what she was told. She was a victim put on trial while her rapist, Brock Turner, was pitied, and his lost swimming future lamented. Her life and private parts were put on display while people made excuses for his privilege. She eventually writes a searing victim impact statement only to have it edited for time, and the justice system demeans her further. Chanel finally gets her say when her entire statement is published and read by millions of people worldwide. Her words are uncensored, and the polished euphemisms often used in sexual assault cases are bravely and notably missing. Chanel Miller makes her name known to the world despite the outrageous slap on the wrist that Brock Turner gets at sentencing. I was enraged, devastated, and disgusted by what Chanel went through. Her story lays out the reality of sexual assault and the way victims are degraded in the current processes of our judicial system but also a path toward healing by creating justice with her own words.
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We never really planned on going to Iceland. Our original itinerary for the girls' first international vacation was Nicaragua. We had everything researched, flights booked, Airbnbs reserved, transportation arranged, and then the 2018 protests and civil conflict erupted making travel with kids too dicey for us. My husband randomly suggested Iceland, and as I started reading about it, I got hooked on the idea. We switched out our shorts and sandals for rain jackets, sweaters, and hiking boots.
I planned our trip around three different areas that seemed realistic with a six and nine-year-old. Originally, I thought we could do this major haul and drive the whole way around the island in a week, but after I started researching, the possibility of that with kids was pretty much out of the question. I reeled in the fantasy and gave ourselves some wiggle room. I pared it down to three and a half days exploring the southern coast, two and a half days around the Snaefellsnes western peninsula, and a day and a half in Reykjavik.
Transportation - We took a red-eye flight and did not sleep at all on the plane. We felt comfortable enough to drive on our own, so we rented a car through Blue Car Rental. They have a free shuttle from Keflavik International Airport which worked out really well for us. We were exhausted but motivated by pure adrenaline to see as much as possible on our first day which ultimately felt like a sleep-deprived hallucination on a frosty planet of lush green mountains and milky, jade water. I highly recommend driving in Iceland. There were so many moments where we stopped spontaneously and saw things that weren't planned. I can't imagine seeing this country any other way.
Lodging - Because of the last minute travel plans, we found Airbnb to have the most reasonable rates with interesting and unique accommodations. Our first night was an adorable little tin cottage in a tiny fishing village on the southern coast called Eyrarbakki. It didn't look like much from the outside, but the inside was quaint and comfortable. Our host welcomed us with some licorice-flavored chocolate. We did explore the village and coastline, and enjoyed the sleepy feel of the area.
Weather and Time Change - Our visit was in July which is also Iceland's summer. Their summer months only average a temperature of 55°F so it's nothing like our hot, humid summers in PA. We packed lots of rain gear, hats, and wore layers and hiking boots every day. We had a fair amount of rain and a few days that were in the low 60s. When the sun is shining, Icelandic people flock to their decks and lawns in bathing suits. We're walking around in sweaters while everyone else is out sunning. They probably thought we were nuts all bundled up like that. The other lovely thing about Icelandic summers is the never-ending daylight.
Our nights and days were messed up from day one since we caught an overnight flight. Then the sun shines crazily past 10pm, and it makes you feel like the day never ends, basically because it doesn't! Our youngest was at her melting point one night, and I couldn't understand why she was so cranky. I checked my phone and realized it was 10:30pm, sun blasting us past the ability to gauge time. We slept in really late after our first night, and this helped. We also made sure our Airbnbs had black-out shades, and we brought melatonin along for getting settled in when the body is tired but the mind is thinking it's noon adventure time.
Turning Pages: Places to Check Out
The Golden Circle
This route takes you from Reykjavik to three of Iceland's most well-known tourist attractions including Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, Geysir Hot Spring Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. The circle can be driven in one day, and we did all three before heading to our Airbnb. I would definitely love to go back and spend some more time in Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park as we really only saw the Öxarárfoss Waterfall on our quick spin through these top sites.
This is the waterfall I dream about. There are so many incredible things about this country. One is that there are lots of free and inexpensive things to see. While you may be spending a lot on food and gas, the sightseeing is very affordable. The other thing that we love about Iceland is how raw and undisturbed everything is. You can view nature without all sorts of ropes and signs up warning off stupid behavior. I couldn't believe this place. Not only is the water cascading from impossible heights, but you can also walk the whole way around the falls and see it from behind. We were like little kids dancing under the droplets and watching the rainbows shine from every angle. The rocks are slippery and the going is slow, but Seljalandsfoss is something out of a fantasy movie.
After taking in Seljalandsfoss, continue down the trail along the mountains and you'll see some beautiful wildflowers and other falls. The girls were especially excited about this gem hiding behind a crack in the cliffs, Gljufrabui.
Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin)
Iceland has geothermal hot springs everywhere. They also have tons of swimming spots that are fed by these naturally occurring springs. The Secret Lagoon was our favorite. Locals call it Gamla Laugin, "Old Pool," since it was the first public swimming pool. The hot springs surround the man-made pool and run directly into it . Some areas in the pool are just warm and those closer to the bubbling, mushy springs are hot, hot, hot. Lounging in this hotpot water was ahhhhmazing. They even supplied pool noodles to float around on. The bottom is made of large, smooth rocks that make the whole experience feel completely natural and relaxing.
An important note about hot pot swimming hole etiquette ... you have to shower and wash with soap before entering the pools, naked and with other guests. It's a big deal here, and we prepped the kids for it ahead of time. Custom requires you to shower fully and wash off any contaminants you may have on your skin before entering the swimming area. It's like gym class all over again. Ultimately, it's really not a big deal but nice to know before you go.
The surrounding mountains and billowing fog made for a hazy dreamlike setting, but then you get closer and see that the pool is pretty decrepit. The day we were visiting, the water level was less than half of what it should be. You could see the water line left on the rocks and mud, making the shallow end only about ankle deep. Even though this was disappointing, we still wanted to have the experience so we left our clothes with our backpacks and climbed into the pool. The bottom was slimy and there were chunks of mud and sediment floating everywhere. We walked around, snapped a few pictures, and got out of there. The water was lukewarm at best, and we were freezing in that brisk Icelandic air. Changing out of our wet clothes in the ramshackle building was an adventure.
The hike would have been too cold in wet clothing, so we definitely had to brave the co-ed changing shed. It's really just a concrete room with a few hooks. Too many tourists have trashed the place leaving it a junky mess. Get in, get changed FAST, and take all of your crap with you. It was quite an experience. The views from the pool were incredible. The hike was incredible. The pool was not so much but in all, a fun adventure worth checking out.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This famous beach was used in filming for Game of Thrones, and I can see why. It's dark and dramatic with black pebbles, black sand, caves, and intimidating rock formations. It poured rain all day when we visited Reynisfjara which was such a bummer. This was one of my favorite two things we saw, and I could have easily spent hours wandering around. Parking is free, and they do have pay bathrooms available as well. Even with our full rain gear, we were soaked all day. We didn't let the rain stop us from exploring, and the weather only added to the moody environment. It felt like a place where it should always be raining.
The beach is juxtaposed with towering basalt columns. There are also lots of warnings about dangerous sneaker waves that can roll onto the beach at any time. Make sure to visit at low tide times so you have enough beach area to walk on without getting too close to the water and so you have enough safe space to view the black, looming columns. We also found all sorts of little rock sculptures and stacks left by creative visitors.
Postscript: What I Missed
Things to hit up next visit:
Thingvellir National Park : Silfra Fissure - you can dive or snorkel in the crack between two tectonic plates in what is said to be the clearest water in the world
Faxi Waterfall - part of the Golden Circle drive
Kerid Crater Lake - a bright blue lake inside a volcano surrounded by red rock. This is also part of the Golden Circle route.
Laugarvatn Fontana - natural steam baths/pools and a geothermal bakery. Wait, what? They dig up pots of fresh bread from the hot, black sand. Um yes please.
Slakki Petting Zoo - Admission includes a mini-golf course
Skogafoss Waterfall - beautiful falls that come directly from two different glaciers
Myrdalsjokull - glacier sitting atop the volcano, Katla where people take lots of tours on snowmobiles or into ice caves
Skogar Museum and Turf Houses - museum to experience Icelandic architectural heritage. We were lucky enough to see some turf houses from the road while driving but did not get to see this museum.
Landmannalaugar - Rhyolite Mountains, lava field and hot springs. The mountains consist of a range of geological elements that leave them dappled with lots of contrasting colors.
Solheimssandur airplane wreckage and beach - Ugh we almost made it to this one. This was the day it was pouring at Reynisfjara. We stopped to start this hike but the rain was so torrential, and the girls were so tired, we just couldn't get into the spirit it required. This is a longer hike along a black sand beach to a real plane wreck. The abandoned plane, a Navy DC, ran out of fuel in the 70s and crashed on the beach.
Dyrholaey Arch - a massive rock arch with lots of birds to watch
Svartifoss Black Falls - waterfall surround by basalt columns in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon - take boat tours to see the wildlife and free-flowing icebergs. Check out the black sand at Diamond Beach. This beach has little ice chunks lying all over the sand like glistening diamonds.
I reviewed this book earlier on it's own but was having a hard time finding a new pairing for Iceland. Although Kristin Hannah's book is set in Alaska, it brings to mind a lot of the things we loved about Iceland. Both settings are vast, dangerous, beautiful, and unique. They both share a lush bounty but also an element of wildness. People travel to these locations to see nature in its raw forms, and that experience can be life-changing.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It's me not you. I feel bad that I'm not crazy about this book. It's just a book with no feelings, yet I want to prop it up and just can't. The writing is beautiful and sets the scene of Alaska's untamed, dangerous, and addicting landscape. There's really nothing wrong with the book. I think part of my issue was that I just didn't have a lot of time and was reading it in such small doses, that I lost my connection with it. I couldn't absorb the setting and characters in the way they deserved. Leni's father, Ernt, comes home from his time as a POW in the Vietnam War, and fights demons that manifest in violence with his family. He's irrational and impulsive and packs the family up to head to Alaska to fend for themselves while retreating from the world. Isolated and unprepared, Ernt forges ahead, quickly making enemies. Leni finds comfort in her newly learned independence and the strength of the local people who show her kindness and compassion. Her coming-of-age arc also includes her mother, Cora, who is the main target of Ernt's rage. Leni finds her first love and a tragic end amidst the formidable allure of the Alaskan backdrop. Kristin Hannah's book paints a raw and emotional picture of domestic violence and the way in which it festers and infects all those involved.
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The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
James McBride grows up questioning his identity as a black child raised by a white mother with eleven black siblings in a poor housing project in Brooklyn. Ruth McBride Jordan is fiercely protective of her children and evasive about her childhood and past. James spends a large part of his life embarrassed by his mother and questions everything while she artfully and sometimes gruffly dodges his inquisitions. When he asks her what color God is, she replies that, "God is the color of water," and she generally lives her life according to that principle. Her expectations for life and living transcend the human construct of race, but James struggles to find himself. James and his siblings eventually all become successful college graduates, and James begins to uncover his mother's hidden past and roots in Jewish traditions. I absolutely love how McBride switches back and forth between his and his mother's stories. Ruth is a tough woman, and her memories and reflections are both inspiring and tragic. This is not just a story of James' life, but a moving tribute to his mother. He understands who he is after finding home and self in her memories and acknowledging her sacrifices and strength. I've been meaning to read this for a long time and wish I had sooner. This book gave me hope and reminds me all is not lost when chaos takes hold in the world around us. We can all find ourselves again. We can all find our center, our home, our worth, and that orbit is always pulling us back to the middle. This book is a precious pearl settled softly in my heart. It's a rare one you absolutely need to add to your reading list.
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Sorry I've been a little lazy about posting reviews lately ... I needed a break from constant laptop work during the quarantine. I read this book right at the start of summer, and what a way to kick off my favorite reading season. This one is incredible.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Perfect for summer, this delicate story weaves little savory bits of nature and beauty in with a slow, sad, coming-of-age element, intricately ushering readers through the investigation of the death of the handsome local bachelor, Chase Andrews. I've added this to my "New Loves" collection because the character development is so sweet and intelligent, but the possible murder mystery kept me glued to the book. Kya Clark, known as the Marsh Girl in Barkley Cove, North Carolina, is brought up in the marshlands of the coast in a poverty-stricken home filled with abuse and loneliness. Kya eventually outlasts everyone in her family, and her resilience keeps her company along with the seagulls and other parts of the marsh that wrap her in comfort. Two different men take an interest in her wild, untamed beauty, and she navigates her blossoming changes into adulthood with naivete and tenderness, opening up her heart to love and belonging only to have it drowned in the sea again and again. The locals treat Kya like an outcast and a creature to fear in the night. Their fears turn into accusations when Chase Andrews turns up dead. I love how Delia Owens wrote about the marsh and how Kya's story shapes her into a woman who becomes strong, intelligent, and an expert in her own surroundings. She takes her pain and suffering and makes something new and beautiful. The ENDING!! It made my head shriek but my heart sigh. It's just the absolute best book.
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This memoir has feels to last for eternity. Albom's books are always powerhouses but this one is on another level. Some of the life-changing lessons Albom learned in Tuesdays with Morrie resurface and change as he faces these new experiences with life and death.
Finding Chika: A Little Girl, an Earthquake, and the Making of a Family by Mitch Albom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Mitch Albom's books squeeze hearts so slowly that the aching feels warm and devastating all at the same time. The mark of an amazing book is one that leaves you with a feeling so deep that you can't shake it for days after finishing. This book left me with a profound sadness that I couldn't stop coming back to, and yet I loved it despite how it ripped me up inside. This is one of those books that will roll around in my heart forever.
Albom and his wife, Janine, start an orphanage in Haiti and are eventually given the scary news that five-year-old Chika has a brain mass that can not be properly treated in her home country. They take her back to Michigan only to find out that the tumor is rare, and the diagnosis is terminal. Through it all, Chika captivates everyone with her bold personality, fighting spirit, and sweet nature. Although the Alboms did not have any children of their own, Chika immediately becomes their girl blessing them with cheer and wonder despite the dire circumstances. They create a family focused on the short seven years of blessings she brought to their lives. After Chika passes away, Mitch begins to see her again. She visits him at home, and they talk just as they did in life. As Mitch grieves, he also relives her joy. She urges "Mr. Mitch" to write her stories, and he celebrates her. His honesty on what it's like to have a dying child, a child with older parents, a non-biological child, an orphan child from poverty and trauma is all powerful and authentic.
While I read part of this in print and also listened to the audiobook, I highly recommend the audio. Albom includes clips of Chika's voice, and the raspy sweetness of her laughter and speech in between Albom's narration is magnetic, soothing, and bittersweet. Have a large box of tissues handy through this entire book, and be prepared for full-on sobbing. I will assume you have a heart of stone if you don't cry reading this.
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Crushing the Red Flowers by Jennifer Voigt Kaplan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a solid middle grade historical fiction, but I do feel like there are better options. This book has unique perspective from the lives of two German boys living among the growing anti-Semitism that led to Kristallnacht and eventually the Holocaust. Emil is a funny, tubby kid that just likes to explore and get dirty in mud puddles, trying hard to ignore the growing stress among his Jewish family. The other, Friedrich, is a member of the Hitler Youth. Friedrich questions his cruel leader and the group's drastic changes from what started as fun scouting experiences to hate-filled speeches and brutal attacks against Jews. The boys eventually cross paths and have to determine what truths they really believe in. "The Night of Broken Glass" is a peak moment in the book, and it was chilling to read how the characters experienced this awful event. The main issue I have with this book is that the boys' voices read much younger and felt more childish than what a middle grade book deserves.
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Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.