Monthly Archives: February 2020

The Happiness Project

The start of a new year seemed like a good time to read Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project. I’d seen it floating around for a while, but hadn’t really looked into it, but now I’m glad I did.

Rubin’s book is part personal growth, part biography. She begins by explaining how she got started on taking a more scientific approach to happiness. By outlining several resolutions to commit to each month that fit within a certain theme, Rubin wanted to tangibly measure whether or not she felt happier by keeping her resolutions. She practiced everything from decluttering, choosing to act in love toward her husband and children, singing, pursuing passions, mindfulness, and other resolutions.

While it does seem to go against everything to actively think about and pursue happiness, Rubin makes some very interesting discoveries about happiness, things like: if you think you’re happy, you are; you can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do; and what’s fun for one person may not be fun for another person.

Happiness is very much a mindset, and Rubin’s experiment really pointed that out. There are practical things a person can do that can help boost happiness, but one has to be mindful in order to accomplish them.

While I’m not sure I’m going to commit to a happiness project of my own, some of the resolutions Rubin made struck a chord in me, and as I’ve worked on keeping them, I’ve noticed a small degree of change (so I can just imagine what I’d feel if I actually worked hard on making resolutions, and could figure out the trick for keeping them).

All said, The Happiness Project served to help me with a few things: truly thinking about the things I enjoy and the things that make me happy so I can pursue them more; considering my behavior, my attitude, and whether it really reflects who I want to be, and how I can better be the person I want to be. The book was the kick I finally needed to start being a little more committed to a bed time and wake up time (a range, at least). It’s definitely the kind of book you might read a couple times, to try to grasp all the insights within.

Recipe for a Perfect Wife

With a title like that, how can you not be intrigued?

Karma Brown’s recipe for a perfect wife is currently one of Barnes & Noble’s books of the month, so naturally I had to check it out.

Alice Hale had it all–a loving husband, a dream job in PR, the promise of a significant promotion. But in one moment, everything fell apart, and now she’s living in the suburbs with her husband, struggling to write the novel she says she’s working on while they try to get pregnant. Alice uncovers some cookbooks and magazines from the 1950s left from the house’s former owner, and as Alice slowly starts to learn more and more about Nellie Murdoch, she starts to feel like maybe the novel is possible after all. However, Alice’s personal life is on the verge of imploding. Bad choices, lies, and secrets are tearing Alice’s life apart, and she may not be able to repair the damage.

At first I thought this book was going to be a feminist book. Each chapter had a quote from the early to mid 1900s detailing things a wife should or shouldn’t do, most of which are ridiculous from a modern point of view. And the synopsis hinted that Alice was going to take control of her life, becoming a strong and independent character. However, as I read through, I couldn’t help getting quite frustrated. Alice’s problems all stemmed from herself, from not wanting to take responsibility for herself, her actions, and even her feelings. While her husband, in the end, wasn’t completely guiltless, he seemed more the victim of the story than Alice.

As far as the whole story, however, the drama was very good. Alice’s life was a little bit of a train wreck, the kind you enjoy watching, as long as you never have to experience it. And Nellie’s story was very interesting. Brown did an excellent job building mystery and suspense around Nellie’s marriage, making a little more of a feminist story from Nellie than Alice.

Though I wasn’t keen on Alice, I did enjoy the book. And I enjoyed rolling my eyes at the advice provided from the quotes Brown included in the book. Recipe for a Perfect Wife was a quick, engaging read, perfect for anyone who wants to watch a little drama and scoff at the choices others make.

The Adventurer’s Son

Usually when I read wilderness adventure stories, I stick with the uplifting ones that inspire me to abandon typical responsibility and go live the dirt bag life.

The Adventurer’s Son by Roman Dial was not that kind of story.

Dial starts with his own childhood and how he ended up being an Alaskan adventurer and scientist, instilling the joys of the outdoors in his children. His son, Cody Roman Dial, grew to love wilderness expeditions in his own right. So it seemed natural that, after a particularly rough breakup, young Cody Roman would go on a sort of wilderness journey to find himself.

But when he fails to check in with his parents when he is supposed to, it launches an all out, multi-year search to try to find him and discover what happened, and how he just vanished in the jungles of Central America.

This book is the story of a parent’s worst nightmare, and a close look at how one father handled it. Dial wrestles with some tough questions, like whether different childhood activities would have changed how things played out.

This was the kind of book that’s easier to read if you already knew how it ended. I had to resist skipping forward, because though I wanted to know, I felt a weird sort of responsibility to let the story play out in its own time.

Dial writes in a clear, honest style. Perhaps because of some experiences he had during his search, Dial doesn’t dramatize in any way, or even use emphatic language. The story is plain, and that makes it powerful.

In case you’re like me and didn’t know anything about the missing person search in 2014, I won’t spoil the story for you. Just know, it’s an intense book. And it’ll either swear you off wilderness adventure forever, or make you pause and remember that you’ve accepted the risks.

The Mists of Avalon

This book came to my attention over Christmas, when someone was looking for it for a gift. How can you not be attracted to a book about the women behind King Arthur’s throne? And as I started thinking about it, I realized I’d never actually read up on King Arthur, mostly only seen movies, which have varying timelines and storylines. So, naturally, I started down a rabbit hole.

Marion Zimmer Bradley takes a different tack by focusing very little on Arthur, and mostly on Morgain, his half-sister. Morgain is a mystic, reared in Avalon, and dedicated to saving her old religion from the sweeping tide of Christianity. The story follows the siblings from childhood through adulthood, showing where their paths started diverging and where they made choices that set their futures in stone. Each one pursued the path they felt was right, accepting the consequences of their actions and struggling to understand the bigger picture of their lives.

Right from the start, the story is full of intrigue and action. One of my early thoughts was that I could recommend this to people looking to fill the void left by Game of Thrones, it’s got so many similarities. It’s full of tangled webs of plotting and scheming, love triangles and affairs, secret children and general secrets. Betrayal. What I hadn’t expected, though I’m not sure why, was the paganism. But mixed into the story, and particularly Avalon, is Celtic religion, in all it’s pagan glory.

It was strange reading this book while at the same time going through the TV show Merlin, as the storylines are wildly different, though it seems like The Mists of Avalon follows closer to classic Arthurian legend (though, stay tuned, as I go down the rabbit hole, I may find differently).

This book took me a long time to get through, not because it was bad or tough, but because it’s almost 900 pages and I had other stuff going on. That said, it is a hefty read, with a lot of side stories that weave together to impact the narrative as a whole, though sometimes you have to wait a while for them to all tie together.

While I had some issues with the book (like not having Arthur pull Excalibur from the stone), overall I enjoyed it. It was an interesting read, and a unique way to tell the story, looking at the women behind King Arthur, and using their stories to tell his own.

So if you’re into Arthurian legend and lore, it’s definitely worth reading. Just be prepared for lots of taboo, because Bradley doesn’t hold anything back.

Also, enjoy this picture of Oscar endorsing this book.


The Night Circus

I was excited to get to read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. After reading her new book, The Starless Sea, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this.

The story revolves, naturally, around a circus that only opens at night. What most people don’t know is the circus is an arena for an elaborate duel of magic and imagination between two young proteges. But the young magicians don’t really know the rules surrounding the duel, which leaves open the door for many possibilities. Slowly, they begin to fall in love from witnessing each other’s magic and creativity. But when they find out one only wins when the other is extinguished, they start searching for a way to escape with their lives–and the circus– in tact.

The Night Circus is a fantastic story, full of imagery, imagination, and emotion. Morgenstern’s writing style gives you the information you need to know, and leaves you pleasantly anticipating the next chapter, ready to see what happens. Not quite suspenseful, but not quite predictable, Morgenstern creates a story that you simply want to experience and enjoy slowly, but all at once.

Though you get to read both sides of the story, you find it doesn’t give you that much more information than the magicians themselves have, allowing you to learn with the characters the rules and parameters of the duel.

One thing I do enjoy about Morgenstern’s writing is how she doesn’t necessarily give a complete recap at the end. While she wraps things up, the reader must be doing their due diligence to make sure they’ve collected all the strands of the story and followed them to conclusion. This also makes me interested in reading her books again, to see if there were bits I missed the first go around. With so much allegory and imagery, I’m sure there is. And I’m OK with that, since it makes it the kind of book that’s enjoyable to read several times, as you get something new from it every time (not that I don’t reread books, to me, books are like old friends).

Erin Morgenstern is one author I’m going to be following, snatching up books as quick as she can put them out. If you’re looking for something both literary and fantasy, she’s your author.