Monday, May 29, 2017

The Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot, 2017

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on Goodreads 
"England, 1940." Clare Childs knew life would change when she unexpectedly inherited the "Maggie Bright"--a noble fifty-two-foot yacht. In fact, she's counting on it. But the boat harbors secrets. When a stranger arrives, searching for documents hidden onboard, Clare is pulled into a Scotland Yard investigation that could shed light on Hitler's darkest schemes and prompt America to action. Across the Channel, Hitler's "Blitzkrieg" has the entire British army in retreat with little hope for rescue at the shallow beaches of Dunkirk. With time running out, Churchill recruits civilian watercraft to help. Hitler is attacking from land, air, and sea, and any boat that goes might not return. Yet Clare knows "Maggie Bright" must answer the call--piloted by an American who has refused to join the war effort until now and a detective with a very personal motive for exposing the truth.The fate of the war hinges on this rescue. While two men join the desperate fight, a nation prays for a miracle.
(360 pages)

Oof. The Maggie Bright book deals with a lot of heavy topics. I mean, WWII isn't known for being a light or happy period in human history, but sometimes books set during that period focus on the homefront and on happier parts of the story. I don't think I'd ever read a book with such a focus on the beaches of Dunkirk. I also hadn't read a book that painted such a bleak picture of the war effort before America joined in. There are some snide comments made throughout the book about isolationist Americans, because even through the end of the book America has not decided to join the war yet. It's fascinating to read a book set in the thick of WWII before the tide had turned and our triumph was ensured. It's also really scary to see how close the Nazis came to winning everything.

The book takes a surprisingly dark angle on the Nazis as well. I mean, we all know that they were awful–that's not up for debate, of course–but a lot of book that are set more on the homefront don't really focus much on the enemy powers as much more than potential bombers. We get an intimate, horrible look into the atrocious acts committed by the Nazis throughout the book. I won't go too much into the circumstances because those would be spoilers, but suffice it to say that the main characters talk about the Nazi T4 program.

Anyway, moving on to the book as entertainment rather than just as history. I liked it, I did, but I have to say that my main appreciation for the book comes from its historical insights rather than from the characters. Murray is definitely my favorite, and then Jamie and then probably Clare, but there were so many characters that things got rather confusing by the end. Everyone also had a chronic over-sharing problem: perfect strangers would walk up to each other, exchange some pleasantries, and then spill huge secrets to each other. The worst offenders were the two Scotland Yard agents who literally introduced themselves to Clare, invited her to coffee, and then told her big state secrets known only by a few (as well as a plethora of little personal details they surely should have been trained not to reveal to a complete stranger). Along the same vein as this ever-so-convenient openness, there's a dreadful case of insta-love in the book as well. Within the case of a single week and just a few encounters, Clare and a man she just met fall completely in love with each other. It's rather painful to watch.

Also, there's a whole side-plot with Clare's colorful family history, but we never even get to meet her oppresive uncle or learn anything important about her parents or watch her properly process something else she stumbles across over the course of the book. I would have really liked to see more in this area, because I liked what we got.

But really, though, I devoured The Maggie Bright because it's about a fascinating, and little-known, period of WWII. I lapped up the historical details and the new perspective on both the war as a whole and America's role in it, and I read anxiously to see what would happen to my favorite characters on every fresh page because I knew that so many real soldiers faced similar situations to theirs. It's a gripping story, even if parts are rather contrived, and I am glad I had the opportunity to read it.


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, May 26, 2017

How To Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick, 2017

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publisher's website 
What do you want to be when you grow up? It's a familiar question we're all asked as kids. While seemingly harmless, the question has unintended consequences. It can make you feel like you need to choose one job, one passion, one thing to be about. Guess what? You don't.

Having a lot of different interests, projects and curiosities doesn't make you a "jack-of-all-trades, master of none." Your endless curiosity doesn't mean you are broken or flaky. What you are is a multipotentialite: someone with many interests and creative pursuits. And that is actually your biggest strength.

How to Be Everything helps you channel your diverse passions and skills to work for you. Based on her popular TED talk, "Why some of us don't have one true calling", Emilie Wapnick flips the script on conventional career advice. Instead of suggesting that you specialize, choose a niche or accumulate 10,000 hours of practice in a single area, Wapnick provides a practical framework for building a sustainable life around ALL of your passions.
You'll discover:
• Why your multipotentiality is your biggest strength, especially in today's uncertain job market.
• How to make a living and structure your work if you have many skills and interests.
• How to focus on multiple projects and make progress on all of them.
• How to handle common insecurities such as the fear of not being the best, the guilt associated with losing interest in something you used to love and the challenge of explaining "what you do" to others.

Not fitting neatly into a box can be a beautiful thing. How to Be Everything teaches you how to design a life, at any age and stage of your career, that allows you to be fully you, and find the kind of work you'll love.
(240 pages)

I've always had a huge variety of interests. I had a terrible time deciding what major to pursue in college next year because there were so many careers I wanted to try: publicity, computer science, economics, accounting, and history were all subjects that I seriously considered majoring in at one point or another. I struggled with the idea of shutting doors on my future, of choosing one path and eliminating my chance to pursuing the rest of them. I eventually wound up choosing to double major in computer science and economics, which are two of my favorite subjects and ensure I will have a wide variety of appealing career paths to choose from down the road.

I say all this to provide some insight into my background approaching How To Be Everything. I have never considered myself to be a "straight arrow" person, which means that by Wapnick's definition of the word I must be a "multipotentialite" (a person with multiple passions and potential pursuits). The book is designed to introduce its readers to this term, a convenient label to put on those of us who have more than one interest, and then to offer different strategy ideas for incorporating diverse interests or even total career switches into one's working life. While I do like Wapnick's advice about following your passions (while always still keeping one eye on the finances!), I'm not sure I agree with her idea that some portion of the population are multipotentialites, that they are a misunderstood and often oppressed bunch, and that they must basically "come out of the closet" about the fact that they are a multipotentialite and try to fight against restricting social norms that seek to make them have only one interest their entire life.

Why do I not agree with this? Because I've never met anyone who wasn't a multipotentialite. If there's truly someone with only one interest out there, who never gets sick of their job or passionate about a side hobby or occasionally daydream about hopping careers, then they are the minority in this world. Honestly, I think most people pursue what Wapnick calls the "Einstein Approach," which is basically just having a good enough job and doing things that interest them in their free time. Gobs of people also follow the "Group Hug Approach," pursuing a career that encapsulates most of their greatest interests. I, to be perfectly honest, will probably do both of those: I'll have a "group hug" job that combines my love of tech and economics, and then I'll spend my free time reading and doing art projects and other things my job doesn't offer. This won't make me any sort of strange person or outlier–it's really a pretty normal path! The outliers are truly the ones who follow Wapnick's other models: the "Slash Approach," which is basically when you have a few different rewarding jobs simultaneously, and the "Phoenix Approach," which is when you pursue one career to an expert level and then start over in a new one. These subsets of Wapnick's "multipotentialites" are really the more rare ones, and these are the people who would find that the world isn't really designed for their eclectic career path. I suppose it's good that they are encouraged to pursue what really fascinates them, but I do hope they give things a full try before getting discouraged and moving on (and if they only have one year left in their PhD program, then for heaven's sake they should finish it!!).

All in all, though, this was a pretty interesting self-help book that was very different from any other one I've ever read. It was quite engaging and easy to read, unlike most books of the genre that I have to drag myself through, and I honestly liked thinking about Wapnick's tips even if I didn't agree with all of her points. If you think this book is interesting, by all means do give it a try!


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in order to participate in a TLC book tour.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Just Life: A Novel by Neil Abramson, 2016

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on the publisher's site
From Neil Abramson, the acclaimed author of Unsaid, comes a riveting novel that explores the complex connection between humans and animals.

Veterinarian Samantha Lewis and her team are dedicated to providing a sanctuary for unwanted, abused, and abandoned dogs in New York City. But every day it gets harder to operate her no-kill shelter. Sam is already at her breaking point when she learns of an unidentified, dangerous virus spreading through their neighborhood. The medical community can only determine that animals are the carriers. Amid growing panic and a demand for immediate answers, suspicion abruptly falls on dogs as the source. Soon the governor is calling in the National Guard to enforce a quarantine -- no dog may leave the area.

Samantha knows from her own painful history that, despite the lack of real evidence against the dogs, a quarantine may only be the beginning. As questions about the source of the virus mount and clash with the pressure for a politically expedient resolution, Sam is forced to make life-altering choices. She finds allies in a motley crew of New Yorkers -- a local priest, a troubled teen, a smart-mouthed former psychologist, and a cop desperate to do the right thing -- all looking for sanctuary from their own personal demons. But the person Sam needs the most to unravel the mystery of the virus and save the dogs is the last one she'd ever want to call on -- because contacting him will mean confronting the traumatic past she has fought so hard to escape.

(386 pages)

Whew, this book is heavy.

I mean, it's got the whole animal euthanasia plotline about Sam's attempts to protect New York's dog population during the outbreak, but it also has a lot of poignant discussions about animal abuse, the use of animals in medical testing, human abuse (including one memory of a sexual assault and another of the discovery of a gruesome murder), substance abuse, and more. The main characters each carry their own heavy, terrible baggage and they must learn to cope with it throughout the course of the book in order to do their best for the dogs who are being pinned (with little to no evidence) for the spread of a dangerous new virus that is affecting and killing children.

Honestly, I didn't really like the book that much. It was a little too gritty, too painful, and too explicit. The language was really bad and the description of violence was too extreme for my tastes. Also, the descriptions of animal cruelty and of the euthanasia process were way too much for this animal lover. It's absolutely heartbreaking to read about how the innocent, loving creatures who are put down because no one will love them back!

Setting aside the strong language and my emotional reaction to the violence, Just Life is definitely a very thought-provoking read that makes a good jumping-off point for interesting debates. The characters are diverse and pretty well-rounded, and Sam is even pretty likeable (though her sort-of romance plotline feels really forced). If you're a little less sensitive than I am, you might like this book much more than I did.

As it is, I'm handing off my copy to the Little Free Library by my house and making sure to give my dog lots of extra pats. It's been a roller-coaster month as my sweet old boxer has been slowly losing control over her hind legs, and I really don't need any sad books about dying dogs lying around while watching her deteriorate. Come to think of it, my dog's health problems may also have affected my reaction to the book; if so, I'm sorry I can't give a more unbiased review. If anyone else has read Just Life, please let me know in the comments what you thought of it!


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book to participate in a TLC book tour.