Posted by: Jenny | March 3, 2015

February Reads: 5 in 4

The short month saw a lot of reading action! Being unemployed is really helping me surpass my annual reading goal. Here’s what I read – I’d love to hear recommendations for you.

Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott

Funny story: One of my sons asked me what I wanted for Christmas last year. I had my eye on Jennifer L. Scott’s two books – Lessons from Madame Chic and At Home with Madame Chic, so I gave him these titles. As he was entering them into his iPhone, he was slowing saying the titles as he typed. “Lessons. From. My Damn. Sheikh.”  That would be a totally different type of book, I’m sure!

Anyway – he and his girlfriend gave me both books for Christmas. If you are not familiar with Jennifer L. Scott, she has a brand, so to speak, called The Daily Connoisseur– a blog and a YouTube channel. Her world view is based on the time she spent as a college exchange student in Paris, living with a well-to-do French family. Scott imparts the lessons she took away from her time in Paris living with “Madame Chic” and her family. As I love all things French, I was drawn into Scott’s world. The book is one which could easily be read in an afternoon (while sipping tea and listening to Debussy, bien sûr), but is best internalized and retained when consumed one chapter at a time. Topics such as using your very best items daily, rather than saving for special occasions, tackling daily chores with joie de vivre, and living with intention are covered in this lovely little book.

(Time will tell if I can incorporate these lessons into my own life. You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks. I’m hopeful.)

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

I’ve read other Laura Lippman books but this is my first foray into the world of Tess Monaghan, former newspaper reporter-turned-private eye. This introduction to the series is a quickly-paced adventure, filled with murder and mystery and quirky characters….and, most dear to my heart, newspaper folks. The twelfth in the series was released in February 2015, so I have plenty of reading to do. I guessed “whodunit” four times before correctly suspecting the culprit.

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

Love me some time in a Jennifer Weiner world, and this does not disappoint. Allison, a former news gal (sense a theme?), now writes from home and lives in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia with her husband and young daughter. She slips and slides, and then just dives in, to prescription drug addiction. Some surprises along the way, and nothing felt preachy, hopeless or superficial. This one kept me up way past my bedtime. Weiner, like Liane Moriarty, falls into the “Chick Lit” category, but this book transcends gender in its exploration of nature/nurture and the hot-hot topic of prescription drug addiction.

The Secret Place by Tana French

This is the fifth book in French’s series about the Dublin Murder Squad. Two minor characters from Faithful Place are the main characters here, and the protagonist in that novel, Frank Mackey, is a minor player. I said to my husband the night I started this, “I’m off to Dublin”, so strong is the sense of place and people in this series. The Secret Place has a sad premise – the murder of a teenage boy – and in a few places I was spooked enough to disrupt my sleep. As this is her final published novel in the series, I hope French is busy working on installment six. There are a few characters I want to get to know better.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Published in January, this book rightly invites comparison to Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster hit that flipped the narrative halfway through the novel. The protagonist is an unlikable mess of a woman (the girl on the train), but two other women also tell this story that keeps you guessing. Really, there’s not a likable character in this book, yet it’s a fascinating page-turner. I did figure out the mystery about three-quarters of the way through the book, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment.

What have you read lately? Thoughts on these books? Recommendations to fill my need for Dublin Murder Squad?

Posted by: Jenny | March 3, 2015

January Reads

The past several years, rather than make a New Year resolution, I’ve set a book-reading goal. My annual goal hasn’t varied – it’s always 52. It’s a reasonable goal, to knock out a book a week while enjoying the process (i.e. reading for pleasure).

Side note: aren’t goals supposed to progress over time? Should I be increasing my goal each year? Am I overthinking this?

I track the books read in my Kindle app (since most are in this medium) and in a log book (because a few are traditional books). I’ve found myself starting a book, getting that deja-vu feeling, before realizing I’ve already read it. So having a log is helpful, especially when I’m reaching for another Harlan Coben book among the million or so he’s written (and I’ve already read).

I decided to start a monthly blog post, not so much for tracking purposes, but to hear what others are reading. My goal for this monthly feature is to get feedback from my readers: books you’ve read last month, your thoughts on the books I read and get recommendations for authors. It’s a win-win for me and for you!

Here’s how I kicked off 2015:

Faithful Place by Tana French

Book Three in the “Dublin Murder Squad” series by Tana French, Faithful Place centers around Frank Mackey, who we first met in Book Two, The Likeness. If you’ve not read Tana French’s series, give it a try. Each book features a different cast of characters, all related to the Dublin Murder Squad, and the protagonist will have appeared in a previous book, usually in a supporting role, and not always portrayed in a positive light.

Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

This was somewhat a chore to get through, and I found myself skipping through to the end to find out whodunit. Protagonist is a Paris Hilton/Kardashian-type character who’s found guilty of murdering her mother. The book follows her as she delves into her mother’s secret past to find out who really killed her mother. It’s author Elizabeth Little’s first novel, not bad for a novice, but Tana French and Gillian Flynn have set the bar high for debuts so I’m less forgiving now.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty

I suppose Liane Moriarty’s novels could be classified as “chick lit”, but she deserves a wider audience than what that category would attract. The Hypnotist’s Love Story is an interesting mash-up of themes such as grief, trust and the psychology behind stalker behavior. As with all of her books, I loved my time spent in Australia with her cast of characters, and look forward to her next novel.

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Book Four in the Dublin Murder Squad series, French again blends police procedural with the psychology of crime and those determined to solve it. We go inside the mind of Det. Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, who was the object of derision in Faithful Place.

Four books, four weeks (okay, four weeks plus a few days). I’m on track to read number 52 by Dec. 31. What did you read in January? Do you set a goal for yourself each year? What challenges prevent you from reading as much as you’d like?

Posted by: Jenny | February 4, 2015

The Kindness of Strangers (and friends. Mostly, friends)

I lost my job two weeks ago. It’s one of those life events that rank right up there with death, divorce and public speaking as stressful events in a person’s life. I can vouch for that. I was told that with the reorganization of our municipality, my position no longer existed, so thank you for your years of dedication, blah blah blah.

In a word: Politics. Of course my position still exists; it’s just now at a lower pay grade, with “Deputy” added at the beginning of the title. The newly-elected official who will oversee that position probably has someone in mind for the job, so out with the old, in with the new.

However, I am fortunate that my job of nearly 14 years wasn’t my passion. It was a job, present for a very specific role in my life – to pay the bills. That’s it. It didn’t fulfill me. I didn’t dream of being the greatest clerk of the court that ever lived. I went to work, did my very best, and every two weeks, they gave me money. Even Steven.

So, I put it out there in the world, via Facebook, that I’m on the market again, hoping that someone on my friends list would have a lead. And there were leads – comically (and quite innocently), two people sent me the posting for the newly-revamped job description of the position that I had just lost. Others passed along jobs they’d heard about through the grapevine; some offered to give me a leg up by talking to contacts at these jobs and serving as a reference.

I was bombarded with messages of encouragement and commiseration. Three friends – former co-workers, not from this job but from a job 16 years ago – took me out for dinner and drinks that night. My adult sons checked in more frequently, giving me pep talks and assuring me of my awesomeness.

And then today, two weeks after my change of status, I went to my stylist for a hair cut.

I feel Shawna is criminally underpaid, considering the miracle she performs with my baby-fine hair every six weeks, but she insists that she is charging me her “friends” rate and that all is cool. I sat in her chair and she asked what’s new, so I told her the big news. She said the normal and typical things people say when they hear you got canned, and then we moved on to other topics. As she was drying my hair, she asked, “What can I do for you? What can I do to make this easier for you?”

Then she answered her own question: the hair cut was free. I deserve to look my best at a time like this, she reasoned, and she’s certain I’d do the same for her.

Now, I’m not a long-time client. I stumbled upon her in September, when on the hunt for a new stylist. We clicked at my first visit, and not only does my hair look the best it’s ever looked, I’ve found a new friend.

She had me thinking the rest of the day about how small things can mean something big when you’re in a time of weakness and transition. How hearing from old friends who are just checking in can lift your spirits. That sons who echo words of affirmation they’ve heard from you can make you feel more successful than any task or project ever made you feel at work.

And how sometimes, passion and purpose collide, and a simple gesture can trigger the desire to do what you do best and what you love. My stylist enhanced my appearance and enriched my soul as well.

So I’m back to my blog. I’ve realized that being let go was not a stressful event, but a gift. I’ve been set free to follow my passion.

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