Book Review – Wishtree

Wishtree takes a modern day, controversial, political nightmare, and speaks love into it through nature. It’s a cute story. It’s educational. It’s thought-provoking if you allow it to be. I have to highly recommend this book, and even to adults, which feels weird, but right. 

First, I know there are some of you following purely for the pregnancy story. You should know that amongst that story, I’m posting other things like book reviews, notes about various things and, eventually, DIY projects when I get around to them. Feel free to delete any posts that do not interest you as they land in your inbox. I won’t be offended. But please comment if you feel you’re getting more than you bargained for, and at that point I will look into selective subscription options for you. Otherwise, enjoy! Thanks for following! 


I am not above reading children’s literature because one, I have a child and two, children’s literature gives you all the warm, happy feelings. Don’t be fooled by the genre, this one is not a picture book. It’s about 200 pages long, but you could read it in one night. If I had to guess on the age it’s intended for, I would say… 10 year olds? I don’t know, I’m not there yet. Ask me when my daughter is 10 if I think it’s appropriate for her reading level. Anyhow, I found Wishtree at a library used book sale for $.50, and let’s be real, that’s basically a steal.

Book 9:
Wishtree
by Katherine Applegate

Genre:
Juvenile Fiction

Published:
September 2017

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Wishtree is about an old oak tree in the city, Red, who serves as the neighborhood “wishtree”. Once a year, on May 1, a long time tradition begs people to write their wishes on a piece of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. The warm, happy feelings that come with community traditions like this, however, subside when someone takes to the wishtree with prejudicial actions toward the neighborhood’s new residents, a muslim family. Red, along with her animal residents, work together to make right the wrongs of the hurtful human before it’s too late.

Favorite Quote:

It is a great gift indeed to love who you are.

― Katherine Applegate, Wishtree

Awards (based upon my brief research):
An Amazon Top 20 Children’s Books of 2017
New York Time’s Bestseller

Pages:
224

My Overall Rating:
4 – My gut reaction was to give a 3, demoting it from a 4 simply because it’s “children’s literature”, but I let this post sit for a while because it just didn’t feel right. I’ve always appreciated children’s books that tackle deep, political issues in a way that a child may or may not fully understand at the time of reading (like much of Dr. Seuss’ writing, for example). Wishtree takes a modern day, controversial, political nightmare, and speaks love into it through nature. (Like… I think I’m talking myself into moving this up to a 5 just because of that last sentence.) It’s a cute story. It’s educational. It’s thought-provoking if you allow it to be. I have to highly recommend this book, and even to adults, which feels odd, but oddly right. 

P.S. What wish would you tie to the wishtree?

Book Review – An American Marriage

I loved so many things about this book. It was thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and educational. I rooted for characters. I got mad at characters. And I allowed characters to test my perspective on issues such as modern racial oppression, relational issues and more.

While this next book, An American Marriage, was not actually my February Book of the Month selection, it would have been my second choice. So when the book club I’m in selected An American Marriage as our March book, I was more than happy to go back and nab it up (for just $10, by the way). I knew it was going to be a good one…

Book 8:
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

Genre:
Domestic Fiction

Published:
January 2018

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, An American Marriage is about a black, newlywed couple whose already somewhat rocky marriage is tested when the husband, Roy, is wrongfully accused of a crime and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Can budding love survive when the perfect concoction of residual racial oppression and the law keeps a husband and wife apart and temptation lives next door? Through letters and multiple points of view, the reader finds out.

Favorite Quote:

There are too many loose ends in the world in need of knots. You can’t attend to all of them, but you have to try. 

― Tayari Jones, An American Marriage

Awards (based upon my brief research):
An Instant New York Times Bestseller
Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection

Pages:
308

My Overall Rating:
4 – I loved so many things about this book. It was thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and educational. I rooted for characters. I got mad at characters. And I allowed characters to test my perspective on issues such as modern racial oppression, relational issues and more. A quick read, this book reminded me somewhat of The Help, in the way it sheds light on racial tensions that many of us believe are ancient history. Racism may have changed, but it’s not gone.

I highly recommend this book, but why the 4 and not a 5? The wife, Celestial, seemed to choose an unbelievable route in the plot. Not only did I not expect her to respond the way she did, I could think of several other responses that seemed more natural given the situation. In the end, resolution was found where resolution was needed, but the journey there for Celestial just didn’t seem quite right. 

Book Review – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

This next book would not have been my choice in any way, but work calls… I’m all for healthy organizations, but reading organizational health books, to me, is like watching paint dry.

Coming off my high from The Great Alone, this next book would not have been my choice in any way, but work calls… I’m all for healthy organizations, but reading organizational health books, to me, is like watching paint dry. Plus, it’s just really hard to read a book I didn’t choose for myself when I have a stack of books on my shelf, itching to be read.

Book 7:
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
by Patrick Lencioni

Genre:
Organizational Health

Published:
July 2002

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a leadership fable that explores, well, the five dysfunctions of a team. Lencioni outlines those common dysfunctions as the following:

  • Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
  • Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
  • Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
  • Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards
  • Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

Favorite Quote:

Success is not a matter of mastering subtle, sophisticated theory, but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence.

― Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Awards (based upon my brief research):
None noted.

Pages:
227

My Overall Rating:
2 – I’ll admit, I came into this ready to give it a one simply because it’s not my cup of tea. However, I will also admit this book held my interest for probably the first two thirds because it’s written in fable form for that portion. As soon as it turned into the preachy, preachy, this-is-how-you-have-a-successful-team type of stuff, however, I had to read and re-read sentences because I was reading without actually taking it in. Snooze-fest. (I’m sorry Patrick!) If you lead a team and you need help, sure, go for it, but I can’t say it’s better or worse than the next organizational health book because they’re all kind of the same, aren’t they?

P.S. Sorry for the boring book review, but a book read is a book read.

Book Review – The Great Alone

Oh my heart, this book. It has everything – love, adventure, suspense, history, horror, psychology… And then the bulk of it is set in Alaska.

Few places have a piece of my heart, but Alaska has a large chunk of it I think. I spent a summer month in Homer while in college, staying at my cousin’s house with his family, and went back with my husband just a couple of years ago for a week in May to show him the place that absolutely captivated me like it does so many. This next book, The Great Alone, is set in a fictional town across the bay from Homer. It was my February Book of the Month selection, and when I saw it was an option, my choice was a no-brainer.

Book 6:
The Great Alone
by Kristin Hannah

Genre:
Historical Fiction

Published:
February 2018

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, The Great Alone is about a family of three who move from Seattle to the untamed wilderness of Kaneq, Alaska in 1974 to claim a parcel of land left to Ernt, the father, by a slain Army buddy. Ernt is a former Vietnam POW suffering from PTSD whose treatment is limited to trying to escape “the man” and doling out domestic violence on his fearfully faithful wife. The daughter, Leni, tries her best to lead a “normal” life despite her very abnormal circumstances, but while Alaska claims her heart, her parents claim her future, unless she can escape…

Favorite Quote:

Alaska isn’t about who you were when you headed this way. It’s about who you become.

― Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone

Awards (based upon my brief research):
Amazon Best Books of February 2018
No others noted… yet, but I will guarantee this to become an award winning book. 

Pages:
438

My Overall Rating:
5 – Oh my heart, this book. It has everything – love, adventure, suspense, history, horror, psychology… And then the bulk of it is set in Alaska. Can you fall in love with a book? Because I think I just did. I’ve read 86 books since I’ve gotten married, and this is one of just eight books I’ve given a 5. 

I’m not generally drawn to historical fiction, but I was intrigued by the concept of the 70s falling into the “historical” category. I didn’t expect to actually learn things about the 70s, and I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy doing so. Hannah definitely did her research – not only will you learn about a time period, but you’ll learn the effects war can have on a man, what it’s like to be in a cyclical domestic abuse relationship and what homesteading looks like on untamed land. It’s wild from all angles, and it rounds it all off with just the right amount of resolution. I was satisfied in the end, yet I wished the story could go on forever because Leni, you’ve found a place in my heart, and I wish the very best for you. 

I also need to share that I selected the quote above as my favorite because it’s a great representation of the book. However, here are two quotes that are great representations of my relationship with the book:

She was reminded of the college kids she’d seen in Homer every summer, clots of young adults in REI rain gear looking up at the jagged, snow-capped peaks as though they heard God calling their names. She would hear whispered conversations about how they were going to chuck it all and move off the grid and live more authentic lives. Back to the land, they’d said, as if it were a biblical verse. Like the famous John Muir quote – The mountains are calling and I must go. People heard those kinds of voices in Alaska, dreamed new dreams. Most would never go, and of the few who did, the vast majority would leave before the end of their first winter, but Leni had always known they would be changed simply by the magnitude of the dream and the possibility they glimpsed in the distance.

― Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone

Ugh, this is me, circa 2010. I was changed simply by the magnitude of the dream of moving to Alaska and the possibility I glimpsed in the distance. Secretly, a part of my still wonders if I’ll make the move some day, because…

She loved Alaska’s wild ferocity, its majestic beauty. Even more than the land, she loved the people to whom it spoke. She hadn’t realized until just this moment how deep her love for Alaska ran.

― Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone

Alaska does speak to people. I’m 100% sure of it. And my love does run so deep for that land. Never have I felt more alive than the two times I was lucky enough to find myself there. Now excuse me while I linger on the warm feelings in my heart from this book before diving into the next one…

PS If you’re interested in a Book of the Month subscription, which I’d highly recommend if you enjoy reading, let me know and I’ll send you a link that will allow both of us to get a free book if you sign up! It’s been a great way for me to be exposed to new books, explore new genres and get so, so excited when the first of the month comes around and I get to pick my next book. I love it!

Book Review – Disappeared

Book 5 was a gift from my mom, and a book far from the realms of my comfortable genre choices. Young adult, I love, but thriller, I loathe.

I think books are the perfect gift. They give you a chance to learn, to grow, to use your brain and to escape to another world. Book 5 was a gift from my mom, and a book far from the realms of my comfortable genre choices. Young adult, I love, but thriller, I loathe. I get so wrapped up in stories, that I sometimes struggle to escape them, and therefore, I generally avoid thrillers. However, I assumed I could handle the intensity of a young adult thriller, and I’m glad I took that chance. 

Book 5:
Disappeared
by Francisco X. Stork

Genre:
Young Adult – Thriller

Published:
September 2017

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Disappeared is about a brother and sister, Emiliano and Sara Zapato, in Juarez, Mexico who battle poverty, violence, justice, right and wrong and love in the tangled web that is the violence and cartel activity of Juarez. When things go too far, the siblings are forced to make the illegal immigrant trek across the desert to the US in search of safety.

Favorite Quote:

When you’re walking in the desert, the step in front of you is the only one that demands your attention.

― Francisco X. Stork, Disappeared

Awards (based upon my brief research):
None noted.

Pages:
329

My Overall Rating:
3 – I want to be more generous with this rating because I learned so much from this book about the cartels, the extreme amounts of violence in other countries and immigration. It pushed me to do further research and to think on a different level about my opinions on these things. I loved that the book had me rooting for illegal immigrants because, as an American, I think we’re too accustomed to the negative connotations revolving around illegal immigration.

But let me bring it back to the reason for the 3. There was just something missing. Most good young adult books take me probably two days to read, because they’re easy and I don’t want to set them down. I set this one down multiple times, and I can’t decide if it was so I could take the time to do my research and form some opinions about what I wanted for the characters or if it was something wrong with the writing.

That being said, I would recommend doing some research on the author, Francisco X. Stork, because he’s lived a pretty incredible life himself. And I would also still highly recommend this book given the simple fact that it made me think so deeply. From a literary standpoint for a fictional, young adult thriller, 3. From a conversational, thought-provoking, opinion-changing standpoint, 5. This is another one I hope my daughter reads someday. Though, by that time, I’m sure our laws and processes for immigration will be vastly different than they are now…

Book Review – Red Clocks

Red Clocks did the unimaginable, and it’s one redeeming quality was simply that I made it all the way through a book that was 100% a challenge for me.

This book was my second Book of the Month pick (January). I was disappointed in my options for January, and thought this one was my best bet. It was not. After December’s pick/review, I wondered if I generally rated all of my books too high, because there’s rarely a book I can’t find at least something good in. Then, alas, Red Clocks did the unimaginable, and it’s one redeeming quality was simply that I made it all the way through a book that was 100% a challenge for me.

Book 4
Red Clocks
by Leni Zumas

Genre:
Literary Fiction

Published:
January 2018

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Red Clocks is about five women in different stages of life who are, in some way, affected by newly formed government regulations relating to pregnancy, adoption and parenthood.

Favorite Quote:

Acceptance, thinks the biographer, is the ability to see what is. But also to see what is possible.

― Leni Zumas, Red Clocks

Awards (based upon my brief research):
A New York Times Editor’s Choice
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
An Indie Next Pick
One of Wall Street Journal’s Twelve Books to Read This Winter
An Esquire most anticipated book of 2018
An Elle Best Book of Winter
A Popsugar most anticipated book of Fall
A Ploughshares most anticipated book of Fall
A Nylon Best Book of the Month
One of Publishers Weekly’s most anticipated titles of Fall 2017

Pages:
356

My Overall Rating:
1 – On a scale of 1 to 5, I would only give less than a one if I didn’t finish a book, so… at least I finished. I chose this book because it said “dystopian” and it was related to pregnancy/adoption laws. I knew it would be a challenge for me. My fear before reading it was that it would be similar to The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a phenomenal book, and that it wouldn’t be as good, so I would therefore be disappointed. However, it was nothing like The Handmaid’s Tale. Instead, it was 351 pages of vulgarity and confusion. I felt uncomfortable with the repetitively, freely used anatomical language and I struggled to see a plot until I was a little over half way through. In my opinion, that’s not ok.

That being said, I would not recommend this book. I realize people love it (it’s only been out for a month and it’s won several awards and has very high ratings), but I’m apparently not on the same page as most critics. This book is for the literary adventurous, a group I would claim to be a part of, but a group who’s willing to read books they will hate for the sake of a new experience.

Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

For my birthday in December, I got a six month subscription to Book of the Month from my in-laws. More than I love reading, I love reading really good books, and this feels like a sure way to make that happen. I was ecstatic as I chose the first of my six books, one I’d recently had my eye on, and boy, was it a good pick!

For my birthday in December, I got a six month subscription to Book of the Month from my in-laws. More than I love reading, I love reading really good books, and this feels like a sure way to make that happen. I was ecstatic as I chose the first of my six books, one I’d recently had my eye on, and boy, was it a good pick!

Book 3
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman

Genre:
Psychological Fiction

Published:
May 2017

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is about a girl, Eleanor Oliphant, who is the definition of simplicity. She’s an odd duck, but she’s never cared. Growing up and paving her way through life on her own, she’s simply “fine” – nothing better, nothing worse. Her world is turned upside down when she and a co-worker help a stranger in need, bonding over the experience and leading her to deal with the happenings of her past relationships as she sorts out what relationships look like for her now.

Favorite Quote:

All you hear these days is that everything’s going to hell in a handcart, how everyone’s a pedophile or a crook, and it’s not true. You forget that the world is full of ordinary decent people like yourselves, Good Samaritans who’ll stop and help a soul in need.

― Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Awards (based upon my brief research):
Debut Bestseller
Costa First Novel Book Award winner 2017

Pages:
327

My Overall Rating:
4.5 – Ugh, I take my ratings so seriously, and this one was hard. I could not give this a 5 because the ending felt abrupt. However, in every other way, it was a 5 to me. Either Gail Honeyman has the most impressive vocabulary I’ve ever seen, or she put in a ton of work to make Eleanor Oliphant come off as such a unique person with a hilariously verbose way of thinking/talking. Even when the plot was slow, the content was fun. Plus, I think we all have a little Eleanor Oliphant in us, it’s just that Eleanor has a lot. I loved how Honeyman essentially intertwined two plots in one, using the same main character and bringing the plots together in the end. I highly recommend this book. 

P.S. I have to share my second favorite quote:

I have often noticed that the people who routinely wear sportswear are the least likely sort to participate in athletic activity.

― Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Book Review – Wonder

Wonder was a very quick read, but still, I would recommend it. I hope my daughter reads it when she’s in Middle School, and I hope she’s a Summer and not a Julian. 

The past few years I’ve tried to read at least two books per month (24 books in a year). 2018 is off to a great start as I finished this gem, my second book of the year, within the first week of the year. I don’t always read this much, but when I have the time, reading is what I generally want to be doing.

Book 2
Wonder
by RJ Palacio

Genre:
Children’s Literature – Fiction

Published:
February 2012

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, Wonder is about a boy, August Pullman, who was born with a “facial difference” and is infiltrated into a prep school in the 5th grade after being homeschooled for all of his previous schooling. The book spans the length of a school year, and shares August’s experience throughout that year from various character’s perspectives. He’s new, he’s “different” and he’s in the 5th grade… I think you get the general idea.

Favorite Quote:

If you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you the face of God.

― RJ Palacia, Wonder

Awards:
The New York Times Best Seller list

Texas Bluebonnet Award master list.
2014 Maine Student Book Award
Vermont’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award
2015 Mark Twain Award
Hawaii’s 2015 Nene Award

Junior Young Reader’s Choice Award for 2015
In Illinois, it won both the Bluestem and Caudill Awards in 2014

Pages:
316

My Overall Rating:
3 – Over the course of the book, I felt there wasn’t a significant plot, but in the end, I gained an appreciation for the writing style and was satisfied with it as a whole. I want to give this book a higher rating, because it really was a great read and such a feel good book (I was literally smiling as I read the end). What holds me back from rating it higher is simply the fact that it’s very much a children’s novel. Wonder was a very quick read, but still, I would recommend it. I hope my daughter reads it when she’s in Middle School, and I hope she’s a Summer and not a Julian. 

Book Review – The Life She Was Given

In pregnancy, and life in general, one thing that has helped me immensely to get through is reading. While I will not be including the books I read throughout my pregnancy, I will share reviews of my 2018 reads. Here is the first on that list.

In pregnancy, and life in general, one thing that has helped me immensely to get through is reading. While I will not be including the books I read throughout my pregnancy, I will share reviews of my 2018 reads. Here is the first on that list.

Book 1:
The Life She Was Given
by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Genre:
Historical Fiction, Mystery

Published:
July 2017

Synopsis According to Mandi:
Without spoilers, The Life She Was Given is about two girls, Lilly and Julia. Lilly was born into unfortunate circumstances and kept from the public eye until being sold to the circus. She journeys from her own personal hell to a new sort of hell in… the life she was given.The author frames the book to make the reader beg for redemption for Lilly, and she gets it, but not at the predicted time. Several years later, the other girl, Julia, inherits the family estate and begins uncovering dirty secrets of her family’s.

Favorite Quote:

Then again, she didn’t like small talk either, so she was glad he wasn’t commenting on the weather or the landscape. Life was too big and too short and too important to talk about the lack of rain or the latest gossip. She wanted to know how people felt about themselves and one another, whether they were happy or sad. She wanted to know what made them feel loved and what hurt them to the core. She wanted to know about their past, how they got where they were, and their relationships with their mothers and fathers and siblings. She wanted to know if she was the only mixed-up person in the world who felt completely and utterly alone.”

― Ellen Marie Wiseman, The Life She Was Given

Awards:
A GREAT GROUP READS Selection of the Women’s National Book Association and National Reading Group Month
GOODREADS Best of the Month

Pages:
356

My Overall Rating:
4 – I thought this book was very good. It had such a great plot with the perfect amount of both expected and unexpected turns. I found the point of redemption for the main character’s life to be unique. It managed to be a satisfying plot without the anticipated ending. There were just minor things that bothered me, like the beginning of each chapter being a recap of previous chapters, but as a whole, I would highly recommend it.