Secrets Kids Know (that adults oughta learn) by Allen Klein

My guilty morning secret (now that I’m retired) is I’ll often make a cup of tea and go back to bed to read for a bit.  That’s how I enjoyed Secrets Kids Know over the last several weeks. Turned out to be a delightful way to start my day.

I’m usually not a huge fan of the self-help genre, I find they regurgitate one simple principal over and over to fill pages.  But this is not the case with Secrets Kids Know.

The overall premise is as adults grow up we loose our joy in life.  Which affects many aspects of our lives, from our relationships, to our careers and creativity.  Mr. Klein helps the reader see a wide variety of things through children’s eyes — with his delightful insights, quotes, examples, and stories.

Each chapter (or secret as Mr. Klein calls them) is a breath of fresh air, here’s a brief sampling:

Be a Beginner, where we see how the innocence of not knowing something opens us up to all possibilities – without preconceived right or wrong.

Be a Fun Seeker, in which we see how clowning around like a kid can be restorative.

Be Curious, which asks us to use curiosity to inspire our goals.  The child-like question “are we there yet?” can be turned around on yourself  “Am I there yet?” or your company “Are we there yet?”

Be Truthful, where we learn how to see things as they are, and the value of honest observation, unclouded by adult preconceptions.

Each chapter ends with a “Grow Down” (vs. Grow up) assignment — more of a suggestion really — such as taking a nap, blowing bubbles out the car window during a traffic jam (gonna try that one), or consulting your child-like instinct when making important decisions.

I fear I’ve made Secrets Kids Know sound simplistic — it not.  The author recognizes that adult pressures, worries, and crises can’t be solved by being childlike.  We can’t always live in the moment, as if a three year old. Instead, Mr. Klein suggests that we incorporate child-like tendencies into our day-to-day thoughts and activities in order to cope with the burdens of adulthood, not to mention the nightly news.

Something as profound as being present – a Buddhist teaching I’ve long struggled with, was made relevant to my adult life with this quote:

One of the reasons children are filled with extraordinary amounts of energy and enthusiasm may be that they are in the present moment.  Their energy is not wasted on a wandering mind that exhausts itself through negative emotions. 

Emma Seppala

Unlike some other self help authors, Mr. Klein is no egotist.  He happily intersperses his writing with other’s stories, quotes, and insights – often causing this reader to chuckle…

One good thing about five-year-olds is they are always just a Krazy Straw and some chocolate milk away from the best day ever.

Simon Cholland

Mr. Klein is a Jollytologist® (yes he trademarked it), is a professional speaker, and has written a number of books on using humor in our personal and professional lives — to motivate, harness creativity, and heal.

While I won’t be donning a red clown nose (something the author advocates), I did refresh my walking music with some Bee Gees, helped a neighbor’s 1 1/2 year old with a chalk drawing on the sidewalk, and, yes, I’ll be buying bubbles.

Thank you to Viva Editions and the author for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest and non-compensated review.

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The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

The Widow’s House is so much richer than the current spate of modern thrillers (my previous book included).  This book has it all.  There’s a crumbling estate, family secrets, haunting ghosts, a vulnerable heroine, a couple of murders, and lots and lots of atmosphere.

Sound confusing — like it may be too much?  Fear not, Ms. Goodman weaves all these elements together into an enthralling and well-crafted Gothic tale.

 

I’m going to cheat and quote the back cover blurb, just because it’s that good:

When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation–of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career.

They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.

But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is–this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate–it seems to be after Clare next…

Riven House is indeed falling down, has an unusual pentagon shape, and is haunted by ghosts — according to the locals.

As Clare delves into the history of the house, she uncovers a series of tragic deaths.  The ghosts are said to be those of Mary Foley and her baby, both of whom lost their lives at the creepy estate. Then there’s the tale of the Apple Blossom Queen, a local beauty who came to a horrific end at Riven House.

Were these just random accidents or the actions of the reputed ghosts in the house?  Clare decides to try and uncover some answers, and with the help of her former professor, starts to expand this work into her novel. Jess’s writing also seems to be doing well.

At contrast to the ghosts and creepy estate, Ms. Goodman weaves a sensual beauty into the idyllic setting of the Hudson Valley apple country — we can smell the apple blossoms, see the ripening apples in the orchards, and then as fall approaches we can taste the area’s special apples:

The first time you bit into one your mouth was flooded with caramel, but when you took another bite, looking for that taste again, you got plain apple.  You had to sneak up on it. The taste was elusive, but when you caught it you wanted to suck that sticky sweetness right of its flesh.

But, cue ghostly sound effects – nothing is quite right. There’s trouble in Clare and Jess’s marriage, an old boyfriend is with the local police, there’s clandestine meetings between Jess and their sexy real estate agent, and a parade of local characters who range from slightly odd to the definitely strange.

Soon Clare starts to actually see the ghosts and experience the haunting of Riven House.   She comes close to accidental death, and tries desperately to figure out what is real versus her imagination.

Just picture me, in the chilly dark nights of Lake Tahoe, as I snuggled tighter in bed and happily kept reading.

Fair warning dear readers, there is a fairly complicated family tree, babies switched at birth, and family secrets kept for many years — all of which are key to the unraveling of the story line.   So, as much as The Widow’s House is a proverbial page turner — you should slow down and savor the unraveling of a wonderful suspenseful story.

Ms. Goodman is a master at plotting and building tension as she take the reader through her twists and turns.  The ending of the tale will haunt you with this lingering thought — “was any of this real”?

A perfect read for Halloween 

Ms. Goodman has a long list of well-received novels.   A new author to add to my list, given this one was so good.

Thank you to William Morrow/Harper Collins for an Advanced Readers Copy.

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I just returned from Lake Tahoe and took some thrillers with me.  I love me a good engrossing thriller, especially when on vacation. When I opened the The Woman in Cabin 10, I knew I was not in for classic literature, but rather a best-selling, page turning thriller.

Ms. Ware sets us up with our main character, Lo Blacklock experiencing a harrowing home break in and assault. Although clearly shaken up, her job as a travel journalist requires her to embark on an exclusive luxury yacht trip.  This trip is her chance to write an important piece for her magazine.  The boat cruising through the North Seas provides a claustrophobic atmosphere and with only a few other carefully chosen passengers and crew, the premise had high creepy potential.

Lo wakes suddenly in the middle of the night and hears a body being tossed overboard. Here was my first niggle — now wait a minute, what does a body being pushed overboard sound like?  How did she instantly recognize the noise as a body and how could she even hear the noise in the rough North Sea waters?  Hmmmm

I forged on with The Woman in Cabin 10 not wanting to believe what was unfurling as a contrived and obvious plot.  I was sure I couldn’t have figured it out while only half-way through.  The optimist in me kept thinking there will be an unexpected twist, this bestseller has got to have something more than such a transparent storyline.

To make matters even worse for this poor reader, Lo Blacklock is a mess.  Haven’t we had enough unreliable narrators?  Lo drinks too much, is on anti-anxiety medication, complains incessantly, is self-pitying, weak, and beyond paranoid.  She’s supposedly a journalist, but she didn’t interview anyone and never opened a notebook. By the second half of the book, I hoped the murderer would off her — please, just toss her whiny ass overboard.

As a crime thriller, it lacked suspense and actually got boring in places — especially with the redundant, ad nauseam inner thoughts of Lo. The characters act illogically and much of the plot is disjointed.

There are good modern crime thrillers out there – try Harriett Lane
or 
Gone Girl  both had originality and good writing, but sorry to report — not The Women in Cabin 10.

Ms. Ware’s debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, got very good reviews, so perhaps The Woman in Cabin 10 suffers from the dreaded second book curse.

A digital review copy was provided by Gallery/Scout Press via Netgalley.

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Buried in Books

This is the week of the Friends of the SFPL Big Book Sale and I’ve been busy.  Lots of fun, lots of work.

Here are some photos of the wonderful bookish madness.  Click on these photos to appreciate the full enormity of this sale.  A massive amount of work is required by volunteers, corporate sponsored volunteers, and staff to pull off this – the largest used book sale on the West Coast.

Each year, the Friends ask for table sponsors in order to raise money for the sale, so this year Book Barmy took part.  Here’s the sign and the table — Graphic Novels and Comics —  a most popular table indeed.

I must admit after awhile, working at the Big Sale gets pretty overwhelming, so many books ~~ etc.  For a break, I sign up for extra shifts at my regular haunt,  the permanent Readers Bookstore in a separate building at Fort Mason.

While back at the store, I got to meet the delightful Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow blog, photographic evidence here…my bad hair day notwithstanding.

Go to Scott’s blog, it’s fascinating, as he specializes in British Women writers from the mid-20th century.  Even more impressive, he started his own imprint, Furrowed Middlebrow Books, published by Dean Street Press.  This series of books had been long forgotten and unpublished until Scott got them reissued.  ~~~ Those covers, sigh, I want every title…

The Big Book Sale goes on through Sunday, so if you’re in the area, stop by – info HERE.Or any time of the year come by the permanent Readers Bookstores – info HERE

Thus endeth my shameless promotion of the Friends of the SFPL, the Big Book Sale, and the Readers Bookstores.

My enthusiasm knows no shame.

 

In other news, we’re off to Lake Tahoe for a week.   I’ve plucked a few popular thrillers from my toppling pile of publisher’s ARCs taunting me and causing great guilt.

 

 

Back next week.

 

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Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

I read Tulip Fever years ago en route to a holiday in the Netherlands. I wanted learn about the tulip frenzy of the 1630’s, when bulb prices soared beyond anyone’s imagined riches.  I also wanted to read about the golden age of the Dutch masters.  What I wasn’t expecting was that I would be treated to a rollicking great story… complete with a sprinkling of sex and a bit of a mystery.

Set in 1636 Amsterdam, Tulip Fever is a novel of passion and deception. It is the time of the tulip craze and the Dutch were enjoying great wealth.  Sophia is the young wife of Cornelis Sandvoort, a prosperous older merchant.  She agreed to the marriage only because he funded her poor family’s immigration to America.    Their marriage has not produced a child, so Cornelis decides to immortalize themselves by having their portrait painted.  He hires Jan van Loos, an up and coming young artist.  Not only does the portrait sitting bring some excitement into their dull household routine, it brings a secret love affair for Sophia and Jan.  Their relationship is carried on with the complicity of the household maid, Maria who has her own secrets.

Ms. Moggach intertwines the story and her characters with the 17th century Amsterdam tulip mania and it’s eventual crash (can we say dot.com folks?).  There are lies, secrets, betrayals, and plot twists that keep the reader totally immersed.  Then, if you’re like me, you’ll gasp as the  consequences reverberate into the various characters fates, positions, wealth, and lives.

Tulip Fever has been recently adapted into a film, which I saw recently.  I have to admit I really enjoyed the film and thought it was actually a very good adaptation of the book.

The film has Dame Judi Dench as a somewhat disreputable nun and the screenplay was written by Tom Stoppard.  It is visually stunning and the costumes are amazing.  But I have to wonder at the 17th century fashionista who came up with these.

So which am I recommending? Well, the answer is both — Tulip Fever the book and Tulip Fever the film. Do both, I say.  Film trailer HERE.

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Big ~~ Really Big ~~ Book Sale

If you’re barmy about books and in the Bay Area…

Here it is…

The Largest Used Book Sale on the West Coast!

 

The 53rd Annual Big Book Sale will be held at the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion from September 20th – 24th, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There will be a Preview Sale for members on September 19th  4-8 p.m.

This year’s Big Book Sale will have over a half-a-million (yes, you read that right – 500,000 +)  books and media.  All priced at $3 or less.

And everything goes for $1 on the last day of the sale, Sunday, September 24th.

All to benefit the San Francisco Public Library and its invaluable community programs.

 

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Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Lucky old me, I was granted an advanced reading copy of Glass Houses and read it in three days.  I could have read it in a day, but had to slow myself from ripping through this newest gripping mystery from Louise Penny.

As many of you know by now, I’m a fan —  I’ve read every one of Ms. Penny’s Chief Superintendent Gamache novels and that I can’t stop raving about her characters, multi-layed plots, and often gorgeous writing.

Ms. Penny was a CBC journalist and in interviews she says this experience gave her insight into people at their most vile, but also she got to witness acts of incredible forgiveness.  As such, her mysteries involve dark human acts, but balance this evil with mankind’s redeeming graces.  Not only am I a fan of her poetic phrasing and intelligent writing, but also her luscious food descriptions.  (She says she writes with a pile of cookbooks on one side and poetry books on the other.)

Each of Ms. Penny’s books has a theme and in Glass Houses it’s conscience~~ having a conscience, acting on your conscience, avoiding your conscience, and the consequences therein.

A mysterious dark hooded and caped figure appears on the village green of Three Pines town square. The figure stands, unmoving for several days and upsets the entire village.  There is nothing Gamache can do as the figure just stands, but he is also concerned.  Turns out this figure is a “Cobrador del frac” – a Spanish debt collector with roots in the Middle Ages.  The Cobrador is meant to publicly shame debtors by stalking them and reminding them of their indebtedness.  But the villagers have no idea who the Cobrador is meant to intimidate.

Glass Houses has a bit of a new style, Ms. Penny goes back and forth in time using Gamache on the stand in court as a conduit for unraveling the mystery of the Cobrador and subsequent murder in Three Pines.

But Gamache has more to deal with than the murder, he is simultaneously  planning a secretive massive drug operation on the US/Canadian border.  He must tread carefully, as he’s still not sure who he can trust, after uncovering rampant corruption within the Sûreté du Quebec.

Once again, Ms. Penny weaves thoughtful prose with historical references. She uses the phrase “burn the boats”, during Gamache’s drug operations, which was how Cortez prevented his armies from retreating to Spain.  And poor Gamache continually has the children’s rhyme “ashes, ashes, they all fall down” running through his mind, which gives the reader not only the same brain worm, but an extra layer of suspense to the throat clenching last few chapters.

The Three Pines regulars don’t play a large part in Glass Houses, but Clara has a showing of her portraits of each of the villagers and the paintings reveal a wonderful insight for each of them.

Thank goodness Ruth* and her foul-mouthed duck are still causing trouble, there’s plenty of mouthwatering food, and cozy evenings at Myrna’s bookstore with cocoa and cookies.

There now, stop — that’s all I’ll tell you about Glass Houses – no spoilers here.

As with any of Ms. Penny’s mysteries — you’ll fall hard for the characters and the imaginary Three Pines, you’ll laugh and cringe at the village mishaps and misunderstandings, you’ll be deeply invested in the solution of the crime, and you will never– ever be bored.

 

I told you I went to see Ms. Penny on book tour yesterday, well this photo perfectly captures her spirit and personality.

“Surprised by Joy”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Ms. Penny quote:  “Ruth is the Greek chorus of the village of Three Pines.”

 

Thank you to Minotaur Books for a digital advanced readers copy via Netgalley.

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