Category Archives: Reviews

Blog Tour – The Girl Who Stayed

The Girl Who Stayed

Title: The Girl Who Stayed

Author: Tanya Anne Crosby

2016 – Fiction

Source: TLC Book Tours

The Story: After years of running from responsibility and her past, Zoe Rutherford returns to the island where she grew up in order to take care of the family’s home, which has fallen into disrepair due to years of neglect. From the moment she steps foot onto the island, she is beset by memories of her sister, who went missing as a child and was never found. She also must come to terms with the realities of her family and the culture in which she grew up, exploring how that has shaped her as an adult. Dealing with these family skeletons only adds anxiety, as Zoe also faces a grumpy neighbor, an abusive ex, an attentive man who happens to be the police chief’s son, and the fact that women are going missing and a murderer may be running loose on the island.

Review: For me, the book started off really slowly. To be honest, I’m not sure if this is actual truth or if it is due to the current reading slump in which I find myself. It’s been a couple of weeks now with no end in sight. Regardless, I read the book in fits and starts, a chapter here, ten pages there. As I read, the story started to slowly draw me in.

I love novels that are set on the coast – they just feel so atmospheric and set such a believable scene. So the backdrop of the low country, the small details of living by the ocean, the small town behaviors and habits, these things really provide a great setting for a story which is ultimately about facing the past, realizing that it has an impact on who you grow up to be, and learning to love yourself.

I had a couple of issues with transitions – sometimes it wasn’t quite clear to me when the story transitioned from present to past. Nothing that can’t be cleared up with further reading, of course, but it did leave me confused a couple of times.

Overall, Zoe’s story felt really authentic. She often makes the point that she wouldn’t have believed that she could end up a victim of domestic abuse, which could really hit home with other women who have found themselves in situations that they can’t quite understand. For Zoe, when it rains, it storms, but it didn’t really feel overdone or too much. It just read like real life. Even in the midst of a slump, this book was a quick read that I enjoyed.

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Blog Tour – How to Be Alive

How to Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The World

Title: How to Be Alive

Author: Colin Beavan

2016 – Nonfiction – Self Help/Each Other Help/Reference Guide

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: TLC Book Tours

The Story: It all started when Colin Beavan conducted a year-long radical experiment during which he tried to reduce his carbon footprint and his physical impact on the world. After the year was up, he retained many of his new habits and began speaking out about how the rest of us could do the same, how even one person making small decisions can change not only his or her own life, but that of someone else…and the world. How to Be Alive seeks to make each of us a little more aware and mindful of the life choices we are making and where we might need to switch things up to be happier, more productive, and more meaningful.

Review: Okay, I’m gonna be brutally honest here, because what kind of ethical book blogger would I be if I didn’t? Getting through How to Be Alive was tough for me. Here’s why. Lately I’ve been feeling very much defeated in life. Things at home have been rough since before the holidays, changes at work are throwing me off, and I’m entering into some new seasons in my life that are bringing uncertainty and fear. I constantly feel a mixture of stress, anxiety, meaninglessness, depression, and sadness. I’ve been questioning my life choices and wondering what my purpose is. So yeah, reading this book about how to be alive and live a meaningful life was a little tough, although extremely timely.

A lot of the book focuses on general questions for how to begin and conduct a lifequest. Peppered with personal stories backed up by science, Beavan sets out to show readers how becoming more mindful and aware and making small life changes for the better can lead to increased happiness, self-worth, and more, while also making the world a better place. He argues that even small steps, like starting a community garden or reaching out to a neighbor, can be the starting point toward a more meaningful life. Addressing topics ranging from the importance of community to what we should eat, Beavan believes that all of us, working together, can change our lives, and the world, for the better.

Many of his ideas and tips are small and easy to implement. For example, invite friends on a shopping trip to the local farmers’ market.  Buy fresh, local ingredients for a meal, return home, and cook a fantastic meal to enjoy with those friends. Or reach out to a neighbor in need. Recycle. Ride a bike just a little more and use the car just a little less. Disconnect from screens for a day. Spend time with those important to us. Stand up against injustice by writing to our representative in government.

In my personal life, I’ve noticed that when I’m living more intentionally and less on autopilot, I’m happier and probably a lot more fun to be around. I’ve been learning that life is more about the experiences and the people, less about the stuff I own or how much money I make. For me, some of the best moments in life are when my friends and I play basketball in the park, try out a new local restaurant, do yoga with a friend from college, or spend a weekend away seeing a favorite indie artist’s show on her first tour. And while, yes, these are small things, by making intentional decisions, surrounding myself with positive people, and making small lifestyle changes, my happiness grows. And with it, my sphere of influence and my ability to impact the world. So if you are looking for meaning or purpose, start here. Make a few small, healthy changes. Make new friends. Pick up a fulfilling hobby. We only get one life. How do you want to spend it?

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Review and Giveaway – Into the Magic Shop

Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart

Back in college, one of the first people I met was a girl named Sarah. We met at orientation, but I left thinking that we would never be friends. Our personalities just seemed too different. She looked every bit the hippie, with long flowing skirts, healthy snacks, and a soft voice. Luckily, first impressions don’t often mean much, and we went on to become great friends. Today we live about an hour apart, and every so often the roommates and I drive over to visit or we host her at our apartment. She’s very much what I first imagined her to be – she eats vegan, loves nature, drinks organic tea, and has a thirst and love for traveling and cultures. She spent a couple of years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. But what I most associate with her is her love of yoga. She recently went through training to become a yoga teacher, but her love for yoga has always been strong. During our visits, we inevitably end up trying to twist ourselves into pretzels as she looks on, correcting our forms and teaching us the meaning of “Namaste”.

Why do I bring this up in a review, you ask? Well, this book strongly reminded me of Sarah. While most people associate yoga with those seemingly impossible poses, a lot of yoga actually has to do with self-awareness and relaxation. Sarah always starts a session with us by having us relax our entire bodies, relax our minds, and open up our hearts. This brings about a quietness of the mind and a feeling of serenity that plays well into the other exercises. I may laugh and complain about yoga, but I’ve never left a session feeling anything other than content and at peace. Those relaxation techniques really work and are great on a daily basis to help cope with stress or get in touch with my inner self.

James Doty, author of Into the Magic Shop, learned these techniques as a young boy. He didn’t call them yoga, he never struck a pose or burned incense or balanced on one leg while stretching his arms toward the sky. Regardless, the effect was the same. Growing up in an unstable environment, living well under the poverty line, and dealing with stresses no kid should ever have to face, Doty was understandably angry. He often got into fights and had plenty of inner turmoil to grapple with when he was alone. He latched onto a magic kit he owned, learning how to create allusions and perform tricks that gave him a modicum of control.

One day while riding his bike around town, he discovered a small magic shop and decided to explore. The proprietor’s mother, in town for six weeks, was holding down the shop while her son ran errands. She must have sensed something special in Doty – she agreed to teach him a special kind of magic if he promised to come to the shop every day for two hours. The magic she taught him? Relaxation techniques. How to control his anger. How to open his heart. How to become self-aware. How to make goals and visualize success and envision a future he thought was beyond his grasp.

Doty went on to overcome many difficult obstacles in his quest to become a neurosurgeon. In medical school and after, he learned that those techniques from his youth actually had the power to change neural pathways, that by learning to control their stress reactions, patients could actually assume some measure of control over the body’s physiology. He also realized that those techniques actually improved his performance as a surgeon. Combined with compassion and tenacity, Doty brought hope to his patients and began to change the conversations regarding patient/doctor relationships .

Part memoir, part science, part self-improvement, Into the Magic Shop has the potential to be a useful tool for both doctors and those of us who could just use a little anger management or stress control in our daily lives. I was reminded a little bit of Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, but Into the Magic Shop is a unique creation. And thanks to the generosity of the publisher, I get to give away a copy on the blog today (US residents only, unfortunately). Enter here for your chance to win – maybe the tricks in the book can help bring peace to your own life. And for those of you naysayers, I dare you to at least give these techniques a try. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

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