Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Focused by Noelle Pikus-Pace

Where are your choices leading you? Regardless of our circumstances, each moment presents us with decision to make. It doesn't matter what question, trial, or success we experience—each traces back to a choice. At any given moment, we can choose to doubt, fear, worry; to be prideful, angry, depressed, or miserable—or we can choose to move forward. We can choose to be a light. We can choose to be happy. The choice is always ours, and each choice can be a step forward on the path of life we want for ourselves.
The life lessons learned by Olympic athlete Noelle Pikus Pace can equip each of us to turn daily choices and challenges into opportunities for growth. In her warm and relatable style, Noelle shares touchingpersonal stories and teaches how these experiences can help us keep a healthy perspective on the things that matter most. She helps us to see that though all of our goals and trials are different, we each can choose to become the best versions of ourselves one day at a time.
Covering topics from letting go of expectations and pressures to finding a healthy life balance, from standing up for ourselves to standing for righteousness, world champion Noelle Pikus Pace infuses readers with the enthusiasm and confidence to get a little closer to their goals each and every day.

My thoughts: All right. I'll admit it. She is identifiable because she lives a few towns over. Or she grew up a few towns over. I have no idea if she's still there. I'd totally stalk her if I had the time. She is extraordinary in that she is a woman athlete who is world class Skeleton. How many people do you know that claims skeleton as their sport? I'm sure I've met a few since Park City is a 40 minute drive, but it's never come up in a conversation, oddly enough. But world class? Olympic gold winner? Exceptionally extraordinary. And yet...

She's also very ordinary. If she lived next door, the difference between her and the rest of us is that she disappears for weeks at a time during the winter. But so does my neighbor. She goes to Singapore to see her family then comes home at the tail end of winter, missing the cold snap, complaining about the heat she had to endure. Cry me a river. But I digress.

Noelle discusses real life challenges, aimed at a teenage audience, I believe, yet uses those extraordinary experiences from her own life to teach a strong and memorable lesson. Regardless of her skill and talent, all her accomplishments, Noelle is just like any other young woman who struggled with insecurities and doubts that run the gamut of what we all suffered through. She wanted to be included in the group yet was rejected over and over again. She nearly quit even though she was one of the best in the country. She shares how she handled it and what she learned.

My personal favorite was on keeping your goals clear, focusing on where we want to go rather than the obstacles. This one reminded me of Peter who saw Jesus walking towards him on water. In his excitement and with great faith, he left the boat and began walking towards Christ. Then Peter got distracted by all of the obstacles keeping him from reaching the Savior and he sunk.

Noelle was clear of her goal when she started a very difficult track. She began strong but, at a very difficult turn, forgot to make the appropriate corrections because she was concentrating on the screaming voice in her head, "Don't hit the roof!" She got distracted and lost sight of her goal. You'll never guess what happened next.

She hit the roof. Of course she did! That's where her sights were suddenly set.

Every chapter has a life lesson with a story from her life. Unfortunately, I did the stupid Mom thing and ranted about the book to 16 year old daughter because I thought it would be excellent for her. Never do that, by the way. Teenagers are wired to do anything BUT what their mother thinks is a good idea. I'll give it a few months then reintroduce it by leaving it out but obscured by a magazine. Then she'll suddenly be interested in it.

I'm learning.

About the Author

NOELLE PIKUS PACE became the first American woman to win the Overall World Cup Title in skeleton in 2005. After playing a variety of sports through high school and college, her exceptional strength in skeleton made her favored to win the gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics. An unfortunate accident prevented her from competing, but the following year she came back to win the World Championships by the largest margin in the history of the sport. Noelle competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics and was the top U.S. finisher, placing fourth.
She retired after the Olympics to spend more time with her family. Following a miscarriage in April of 2012, Noelle and her husband, Janson, decided that she would try one last time to earn an Olympic medal, on the condition that the family would all travel together. Competing in 32 national and international competitions over two years, Noelle finished on the podium 29 times and concluded her career by triumphantly winning the silver medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and jumping into the stand to share the moment with her family and the world.
Noelle earned a bachelor’s degree in 2005 and a master of business administration degree in 2007. Noelle and Janson have two children, Lacee and Traycen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How Will I Know If I Know? by John Bytheway

Now, more than ever, young people are asking insightful and important questions about testimony, worthiness, mission preparation, and more. John Bytheway discusses ways we can come to know that the restored gospel is true, and—more importantly— how to know that we know.

It's spiritual gut-check time! The mission age has been lowered, and now more than ever, young people are asking themselves important questions:
  • How do I know if I really have a testimony?
  • Am I ready to serve a mission?
  • What does the Spirit feel like?
John Bytheway suggests that we "F.E.E.L." the truthfulness of the gospel through our feelings, our experiences, the many evidences we encounter, and our logical conclusions about how a loving God interacts with His children on the earth. Like gradually turning up a dimmer switch, understanding all the ways we F.E.E.L. our testimony will help it grow brighter.
As you read, you may discover that your testimony is stronger than you thought, and you'll also become more excited and motivated to let your light shine!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

"Urgent, real, and often very funny."—James Frey, New York Times bestselling author of Bright Shiny Morning and A Million Little Pieces

Neil Kazenzakis is barely holding his life together: ever since an accident left his wife profoundly disabled, he's been doing his best as a single dad and popular high school teacher. He's also been dealing with Lauren Downey, his sort-of girlfriend of the past two years who's pushing for a commitment—and for Neil to finally tell his son Christopher about their secret relationship.

Neil's carefully balanced world begins to fall apart when some questionable footage of him is anonymously posted to YouTube...just as Chris learns about Lauren in the worst possible way. Doubting his own recollection of the events in the online video and threatened with the loss of his job and the ability to care for his wife, Neil must find a way to prove the truth to his family, his community, and himself as he struggles to regain the splintered trust of his son.

Heartbreaking, poignant, and written with devastating humor and warmth, The Banks of Certain Rivers is a shattering story of memory, loss, and just how far a man will go to show the people closest to him the meaning of love.

"Jon Harrison's debut The Banks of Certain Rivers is a jewel-box of a novel. Tracing the limits of one man's love (and self-knowledge) with humor and drama, Harrison breathes life into Neil Kazenzakis and his struggles with such grace that the reader feels like she knows him. Elegant, poignant, and page-turning."—Katherine Howe, New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

This one is being promoted by one of my favorite authors, Catherine McKenzie. Amazon has it in Kindle version for a screaming good price. Just in case you want to have a gander at the writing style and content, here's a good sized snippet. I haven't read it yet but if McKenzie is recommending it, I believe it has to be good. If, after I do read it and I hate it, not only will I let you know, but I will also demote Catherine from being my best friend. Even though she doesn't know she is best friend. 

That's how good her books are.

Friday, September 12, 2014

House of Wonder by Sarah Healy

House of WonderHouse of Wonder by Sarah Healy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

House of Wonder is, at it's very essence, a very well written book about connectedness of family. The writing style is superb, providing subtle metaphors and symbolism. There are two time frames running, although the bulk of story is today. The book begins with 36 year old Jenna, in Jenna's POV, Getting a call from Priscilla, her mother, to ask her to come home. Warren is missing.

Jenna and Warren are fraternal twins. Jenna graduated from high school and left her small Jersey town. She needed to escape the definition of her family. Her mother was a former beauty queen who married out of the pageant circuit. In middle age, her husband left her for Mrs. Stroppe, a neighbor woman, leaving her with two teens; one relatively normal one and one who just hadn't matured, according to her. The reader quickly ascertains that Warren is on the PDD scale. Priscilla has been hoarding for years. Neighbors are, at times, unkind or at least ignoring of the trio. The house is full of stuff, Warren is still living at home, and Jenna is a single mother experiencing a degree of success.

How did Priscilla get this way? What caused Warren to be so unconventional? Who is responsible for the neighborhood burglaries? Love interest alert: What will happen with Jenna and Bobby?

Through sparse prose, the book provides short chapters on Priscilla's formative years and pivotal points. The author does not explain the parallels or describe the cause and effect regarding Rose or even Warren and Jenna. The author assumes her reader possesses enough intellect to make the connections and I really loved that. She provides enough information to tell the story but does not overwhelm the reader.

The bottom line is the relationship between twins, the hazards of keeping skeletons in closets, and unresolved losses manifesting in other areas of life. Very well written.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle

The Last BreathThe Last Breath by Kimberly Belle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From a remarkable new voice in suspenseful women's fiction comes an emotionally searing drama about a woman who risks her life to discover the devastating truth about her family…

Humanitarian aid worker Gia Andrews chases disasters around the globe for a living. It's the perfect lifestyle to keep her far away from her own personal ground zero. Sixteen years ago, Gia's father was imprisoned for brutally killing her stepmother. Now he's come home to die of cancer, and she's responsible for his care—and coming to terms with his guilt.

Gia reluctantly resumes the role of daughter to the town's most infamous murderer, a part complete with protesters on the lawn and death threats that are turning tragedy into front-page news. Returning to life in small-town Tennessee involves rebuilding relationships that distance and turmoil have strained, though finding an emotional anchor in the attractive hometown bartender is certainly helping Gia cope.

As the past unravels before her, Gia will find herself torn between the stories that her family, their friends and neighbors, and even her long-departed stepmother have believed to be real all these years. But in the end, the truth—and all the lies that came before—may have deadlier consequences than she could have ever anticipated.

My thoughts: Who killed Ella Mae? The book opens with Ella Mae's last hours and her murder. Told in third person, Ella Mae's point of view comes through loud and clear. She'd been unfaithful to her husband. She didn't love him, anymore. She was leaving him. He sobbed and begged her to reconsider. Just one night. Think on it. Ella Mae agrees but she won't really reconsider. Later into the night, her husband hears a sound and gets up to investigate. She hears a thunk then footsteps. She tries to escape but to no avail. She dies with the murderer's eyes as the last thing she sees and knows it is a crime of passion.

The book is then told through first person, Gia Andrews, youngest daughter of Ray and Rosalie, stepdaughter of Ella Mae. Sixteen years have passed and Ray is out on house arrest from prison. He is coming home to die. Gia been off saving the world for the past sixteen years. She came home to care for her dying father under the implicit understanding that her sister, Lexie, and brother, Bo, would be with her.

Nope. Bo's too busy inventing a cosmetics and Lexie is about the funniest character in the book. She is a diva in her own little southern way and when she doesn't want to be caught, she can run away and stay gone. And her one-liners are absolutely hilarious.

The story is intriguing because you think you know who killed Ella Mae and then you decide it was someone else and what is Cal hiding so maybe it was him? I honestly didn't really know until the last when Gia knows. What was really going on between Ella Mae and her lover surprised me but not as much as the humdinger at the end.

Meanwhile, the book is about home and family, trust and roots. This book will appeal to readers of Women's Fiction, mystery, and a little bit of romance. There is a little too much sex for my taste, although it is rarely explicit so I can't complain that much.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers

Accidents of MarriageAccidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book resonated for me for an entirely different reason than the description predicted. I watched a piece of my life being told through this book but not the one the message portrays. Maddy is a social worker who suffers a debilitating traumatic brain injury. Without revealing too much about her injury, she struggles initially with speech and emotional regulation. This is not necessarily the worst of her symptoms but those skills are paramount to a social worker. In layman's terms, the story explains the different symptoms and the way the patient may react to these symptoms that fascinated me and gave me a better comprehension of what my husband, the social worker, went through when he underwent a removal of a hemangioma located in the speech center of his brain. His healing was different but terrifying for those first few weeks when he struggled to speak, knowing his career depended on regaining this skill. I'd love to continue on this vein, but it would give spoilers of the book and reveal secrets that are not mine to share. So I'll return solely to the book.

The three perspectives are very necessary to fully explore the affects of a man with strong narcissistic tendencies and lack of anger management. Yet I thought the author did an exceptional job with providing a multi dimensional character. He's not a bad man. He feels guilt, rationalization, love, lust for power, and anger. His emotional outbursts are not clear cut. The relationships he has are complex. He has insecurities and truly believes he is changing. He's trying to put himself right.

Prior to the accident, Maddy is not a cowering victim. She is a strong woman who balances the demands of a family and a career with both gratitude and frustration. She is also human and not above reproach. That said, post accident, Ben doting on her, she has the faculties to know she is not functioning at previous levels and she blames herself. She turns her anger and frustration inward yet acknowledges that people don't just want to help a victim, they also want to kick a victim.

Emma is the oldest child of this couple. Her perspective is that of an adolescent that is caught between childhood and adulthood yet thrust into adult responsibilities as her mother is disabled and all attention shifts to Maddy and her recovery while Emma is left caring for two siblings and the house. In the meantime, it becomes her role to keep the home peaceful in case Ben snaps. She becomes the protector but with deep resentment as her own brain is not fully formed and she still needs a childhood.

There is much, much more that I believe would make for an interesting discussion. I enjoyed the book almost as much as Lisa Genova's, LEFT NEGLECTED.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins

RumbleRumble by Ellen Hopkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you have read any of Ellen Hopkins's books, you know what to expect. Hopkins uses sparse, clear prose, uses visual imagary through her poetry and tackles difficult issues. Usually the language is stronger than I am comfortable reading. Usually the subject is edgier than I want. Usually the characters share characteristics of people you know or are but lean a little further left.

Not as much this time.

The book was easier to read with the language still being very strong yet the protagonist is the 17 year old kid I'd know. He was so real, fragile, resilient, insightful, blind, and human. The story is about a family falling apart after one child completes suicide. Yet it is also about individuals moving past the life altering event, making adjustments, carrying guilt, anger, love, and ultimately pieces of forgiveness.

I won't ruin the story but the story runs deep and I loved it.