Review: The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stayed up to finish the last hundred suspenseful pages of this intense read last night! I love all 16 books in the Gabriel Allon series. I’ve been reading them since they first came out in 2000.

Gabriel and the team of Israeli spies face ISIS after a bombing in Paris. Gabriel recruits a female operative to infiltrate the terror organization. This was an exciting, though terrifying book because the events are based on the combustible, modern, real-world Middle East. This could really happen. In fact, it has.

The real attacks in Paris and Belgium had not happened when Silva was writing this book. They occurred during the publishing process. He wrote in the forward that he was incredibly sad that his predictions became reality.

These books are best-selling blockbuster spy novels. Sure, there’s a little bit of formula, readers expect that in a series, otherwise there would be a different book with different characters. I feel like Daniel Silva does a good job of keeping it fresh and following the evolution of the lives of the characters.

I love the characters, their passion, their brokenness, their relationships to each other. The action is gripping but they are the heart of these novels.

Silva’s stories always contain heart – and not just romantic relationships, but real relationships between people. Struggles between family. Struggles between what is best for one personally versus what is best for the people you care about. It gives insight into the struggles of Jews from the holocaust to present day, but also the struggles and motivations of the Palestinians, the Syrians, and the others who share the troubled terrain.

I always learn something both of history and of humanity when I read these books. They are thrilling but also heartfelt.

View all my reviews on Goodreadsgoodreadslong

Turned in my Final!

Whoohooo!!!  I just turned in my final presentation for the last class in my Emerging Media master’s degree program!

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It’s on THIS web site and social media!  The only thing between me and that M.A. is my capstone project and that’s just doing this for longer time period, creating more content and engaging with folks! Well, shoot, that’s something I’m going to do long after I get that degree!  I’ll finish it up in April and graduate in May!!! Should I have the diploma say Sweet T? Here’s something most folks getting their MBA won’t say…I’ve had so much fun in this class and in all my classes!

It has been a lot of work and I’ve learned so much!  I’ve created and managed social media professionally in the past and it’s definitely harder to do it personally.  Branding and marketing myself is different.  There aren’t the resources. It’s harder for me to give away an ipad to my 1,000th fan! I have to find time between my real job and my real life, There aren’t the collaborators (graphic designers and editors) getting paid to do it. It’s easier in some ways, of course, because my voice is my voice. Artwork can a challenge for me but there are so many free resources for photos, manipulating images and creating memes. There are so many free resources, period.  But I’ve had to wade through the clutter and noise to find the ones most useful to me.

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Over the next few months, I plan to share more ideas about our past book club selections – the books, crafts, games and decorations and of course some of the amazing food to go with our great reads.  I’ll also be sharing more book reviews.  Because I won’t have to read for class, I’m increasing my book challenge to 75 books. That’s one more a month plus three extra!!  Whoo!

Thank you for going on the journey with me.  I hope you will continue to help me learn and support me on this adventure.  I hope your life is enriched by sharing this love of reading together.  I believe the internet and social media can forge and strengthen friendships and connect souls if you let it. I am always open to suggestions. Tell me what you think by commenting below or sending me an email at sweettnbooks@gmail.com

Have a super day!

Christmas Gifts for Book Lovers

Here are some gifts you can get (or make) for me (or someone who loves books and bookclub!) Quick someone tell Stephen, I want these things! And if you know me, you might find this in a gift bag with your name on it!

Wine charms
Crafters on Etsy have so many cute and wonderful wine charms. Our book club tapes quotes (or fuzzy buttons) from the book around our wine glasses to distinguish whose is whose but these are ALL wonderful!
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I just love this adorable necklace and quote!

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OOooh and this necklace is great, too!

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I know someone who needs this shirt!garden

And a bunch of folks who need this one!

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Coffee mugs are always fun

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and after coffee is wine, of course.  Book club needs LOTS of wine glasses!

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Curl up by the fire with your mug or glass, a good book and a warm blanket. I would love to learn to make the chunky knit ones!

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Or this amazing customized bookshelf quilt!!!  This really makes me wish I quilted.  Hmmmm…. Anyone want to learn with me?

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Then there’s magical book art!!  I would love to have the patience to make this!

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Have a wonderful Christmas, Hannukah, Ramadan, Kwanza or whatever holiday you celebrate!

Review: Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and LeadDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the first few chapters, I was a skeptic, as I usually am of books like this. I thought I had read something by Brene Brown years ago – around the same time Oprah was recommending books and world views by like authors Elizabeth Gilbert and Sarah Ban Breathnach. I soon realized I had not read her work. I am generally an extrovert and don’t have problems with vulnerability and sharing but this book spoke to me on so many levels.

Ours is a world filled with situations and messages that make us ashamed of our bodies, our imperfections and of not living up to the expectations of others and of ourselves. Quite simply this book helps give reasons to believe we are enough. IT’s a guide for overcoming fear and living whole-heartedly. It is based on a solid foundation of research by Brown because of her own personal struggles with shame and vulnerability.

At first, I argued that some shame is necessary to know we’re doing something that is at odds with our moral or ethical beliefs. She quickly defined that feeling as guilt, which can be good, and is different from shame.

I recommend this book to everyone. I think there is some nugget that will speak to every point of view. Her early research only involved women because she thought shame was more of a female issue, then she realized the differences between male and female shame. Women’s is multifaceted, shame over weight and appearance and not being a good mother. Men’s tends to come down to one thing – not being a p#ssy.

I thought about skipping the chapter on parenting because I have no children, then found myself weeping as I realized what a wonderful job my mother did – even in the things she did wrong. She had me at 17, how did she know how to do it all so right when she was so young? She gave so much love and support and allowed me room to fail and take risks and be creative. Things Brown says are key.

I will definitely reread this. For some friends and family members with shorter attention spans, I’m recommending they just listen to one of her Ted talks or read some of the shorter material on her web site: brenebrown.com.

I’m considering it as a book club selection. We’ve never read nonfiction, other than biographies, as a group. It can touch on deeply personal issues, something some will be uncomfortable with but as Brown says, “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”

Do you think it would be a good book club book?

View all my reviews

Review: Counting by 7s

Review: Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
four-stars
Goodreads

 

This sweet book made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me laugh and cry at the same time (like I always do in Steel Magnolias). I’m not going to say too much because I think it will make a great book club book selection and there is a lot we can talk about.

In addition to laughing and crying it made me think… about grief, foster care, diversity, not fitting in and being strange and different, poverty, gardening, how families can be so different. Maybe this couldn’t happen in reality but what if it could? I had some real problems with the actions and details of school employees. In truth, it would not go down like that. I had some issues with the ending but I choose to suspend my disbelief and embrace these characters. And this book has some beautiful quotes!

View all my reviews on Goodreadsgoodreadslong

four-stars

Review: Church of Marvels

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
three-stars
Genres: Fiction
on May 5th 2015
Goodreads

 

What the …??? What a beautiful strange weird eerie dream with haunting twisted intertwined points of view. Turn-of-the-century scenes from a Coney Island freak show, New York opium dens, whorehouses, asylums, seedy dark places yet still hopeful hearts. What an interesting setting to ponder gender identity and belonging.

It started slowly and was a little confusing with four different character threads. Frankly, it was pretty dull early on. But it got such high ratings on Goodreads, I stuck with it and suddenly, about a third of the way in, it grabbed me. I wanted to know what happened. I think this may be one of those that rattles around in my head for a while revealing insights that weren’t obvious to me at first. An onion book.

View all my Goodreads reviews

 goodreadslong

three-stars

November Book Club: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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Book club means laughing.  Celebrating two years of our very own book club multiplies laughing exponentially!  Especially when we vote on our favorite book selections from the year and add silliness like the #mannequinchallenge!  They’re lucky this fad will pass by December or I would video every month!!

Because our book, A Man Called Ove, is Swedish, I made a special trip to Ikea for Swedish meatballs. I thought they were pretty good, though they didn’t turn out like I thought they would. There was a LOT of sauce with a LOT of sour cream. That happens a lot when I cook, it’s just not quite what I had in my head. I think I’ve gotten past where I was a few years ago, though.  That was when every time I turned on the oven, I burned myself, burned the food and set off the smoke alarm.  It was telling when the friend who got there early to help me out, looked at the meatballs I had pulled out of the oven to cool and said, “you know they’re cold, right?”  Thank goodness for microwaves.

I love the IDEA of cooking, it’s the execution that gets me a little sweaty.  I mean… it gets me glisteny. Granmama says Southern ladies don’t sweat they glisten! (not sure if Southern ladies do hot yoga or run too much, but anyway.)  I so admire those who can cook a and I want to be one of those bloggers who makes these wonderful, beautiful, easy, cheap, delicious, fast meals for their whole family from vegetables I grew myself and locally raised animals.  But I’m not quite that girl (yet). So I try to make one little special something that’s not too hard for book club and invite my amazing gourmet chef friends who bring these delicious treats they’ve made from the abundance of healthy things they’ve grown in their back yards! Or purchased from the most amazing Farmer’s Market with the best pies! Or they go to the food paradise known as Weigman’s.  I’m intimidated by Weigman’s.  It makes me glisten.

3-3-ikea2(Did you know Ikea has an emoticon app with Swedish meatballs?  Amazing what you can learn when looking for a picture for your blog!)

So like our book, the Swedish meatballs were Swedish and they weren’t too bad. We also had Swedish cheese, and Swedish fish.  I’m also clever enough to have invited my Swedish friend and she made a real contribution with Jansson’s Frestelse (translated as Jansson’s temptation), a creamy potato and onion dish with a tiny hint of anchovies.  It was yummy! I’m not sure of her recipe but this recipe from cutie Anna at Door Sixteen (she designs book covers) is similar.

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There was also a wonderful salad, pumpkin dip, apple cranberry pie from Wilson’s Farm Market, a delicious apple, walnut feta salad, homemade pepper jelly with cream cheese, a tiny little chocolate cake…  We should have taken a “before” picture, all that was left was crumbs! I could go on and on about the food….

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So this month’s book was loved by most though there were a few who thought it was just ok.  Sure it’s a story that’s been told before.  A grumpy old man, depressed and feeling like his life has no meaning is rescued by a family of sorts. I loved the characters and their connections to each other. I enjoyed learning about Ove’s past as it unfolded in relation to present day events.  It emphasized that you never know what other people are going through or have been through.  A little kindness can be bigger than you know.

Ove likes good tools and well-built things.  Everything should have a purpose and be useful.  He has a hard time when he no longer knows his own purpose.  Sometimes as people age or lose someone close to them or something prevents us from doing something the way we used to – an accident or injury, the whole world is different. It’s frustrating to know one’s place in the world.  Things don’t make sense the way it used to.

Ove sees the world in black and white.  There are rules that should be followed.  He has daily rituals he dogmatically follows. I wondered if there was a touch of Asberger’s or obsessive compulsive disorder or if his behavior was a result of the hardship he faced growing up. I think it’s some of both. If we don’t have a congenital mental illness, we all have times in life where we deal with emotional disorder or mental fatigue.  We all have touches of neurosis.

We talked about fathers, and grandfathers and grumpy old men we knew. Both of my Grandaddys were quiet, sometimes ornery fellas with a special place in their hearts for a sweet oldest grandaughter. I also saw some of Ove in myself.  I’m mostly a rule-follower.  I mostly think there is a correct way things should be done.  I get really frustrated when people don’t do what they’re supposed to. I think most of us are loyol to our world view, whether it’s thinking the idiot in front of us should speed up and drive faster or that crazy lunatic should slow down in the neighborhood because someone could get hurt.

This book gave us other perspectives, too, through the supporting characters.  It didn’t seem anything in the world could upset the lanky one – Patrick. It’s good to have a few of those people in your life, though sometimes it’s frustrating when nothing rattles them! I loved how the whole group of neighbors were connected and worked together to help each other.

Parveneh seemed like such real person, she laughed, she got annoyed, she pushed Ove’s buttons, she was kind, she argued with her husband, she barged right into life whether there was a mailbox or a closed door in the way or not.

Someone talked about being annoyed with her at the beginning.  I wanted to talk more about that but the conversation went down another path and didn’t come back. I wish we had come back to that topic but I love the way book discussions jump from one topic to another. We’ll never cover everything because books are like life. The stories grab each of us by our own experiences and none of these are the same.  That’s why sharing it together makes it so much better.

I have some very dear friends who are like Parveneh; they are often loud and rude and demanding but they make you food without you asking and they love you with all their hearts and I love them back, fiercely.

There was a quote in the book I loved, “You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away.” I think this was referring to Ove’s wife Sonja. But I saw Parveneh as that ray of light.  Her whole family were sunbeams but she, as most mothers are, was the catalyst, the connector.  She opened the window to let the light in.  I now have this quote on my desk with my own addition – be that ray of light.

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It seems like I’ve read a lot of books about older people this year: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (also Scandanavian), The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, My Grandmother Wanted to Tell You She’s Sorry (also by Backman), At Home in Mitford, Etta and Otto and Russell and James,  Perhaps they’re not always grumpy but definitely have a sense of being out of touch in some aspects and so incredibly in tune in other ways. In fact, I didn’t write this blog post by HPB Blog but I could have: If You Liked A Man Called Ove, You Might Also Like… I’ve read 5 of the 11 and liked them all.

I adored the relationship Ove developed with the mangy cat, a kindred curmudgeonly spirit. Fredrick Backman had a fun sense of humor and the translator nailed it. Backman is a blogger and has said this novel grew out of a blog he wrote. The character was based partly on him, partly his father.  There is a movie with English subtitles currently playing in a few theaters around the country. It’s in Annapolis this weekend if you’re local!  You can buy it on Amazon.

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Happy Reading! Here’s me enjoying some chocolate cake and wine after everyone left…

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P.S. Don’t you just love the photos at the top!  They are from A Latte for Thought, a blog about “books, food, coffee, coffee,and coffee.” I love her review of Ove!

2014-15 Book Club Picks

Our First Year of Books

The Light Between Oceans by     The Jane Austen Book Club by     Me Before You (Me Before You, #1) by    The Kitchen House by

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by     Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by     The Paris Wife by     A Moveable Feast by

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1) by     Paper Towns by     The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by     Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by

Our first year of book club was so amazing!  There were winners and losers but mostly winners.  We had such a good time reading and discussing and eating and laughing.  There was a lot of laughing!  Have you read any of these?  What do you think?  Look for more detailed reviews of some of these in the future.

up September The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
What a great first book for our group.  It was emotionally wrenching and thought provoking.  We had great discussions.  Can’t wait to see the movie.

down October The Jane Austin Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
This was such a disappointment.  We think Jane Austin would be underwhelmed. 

unimpressed

up November Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes
Another emotional sob-fest. Another movie we can’t wait to see.

up December The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Boyoboy we had emotional covered in our first few months.

up January The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg
Fannie Flagg always makes me laugh. Fun and interesting characters – this is where we christened one of our own members Winged Victory.  We also learned about the WASPS, the gritty women aviators in WWII and the lives of women during the war.

up February Wild by Cheryl Strayed
While we had mixed feelings about Cheryl Strayed but our discussions about her life-changing trek on the Pacific Crest Trail were great.  This is a great selection for book clubs. The book was better than the move (duh).

down March The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
As a group many had a hard time stomaching Hadley Richardson Hemingways’s lack of standing up to Ernest. A few people appreciated her character for her time in history.  Some also felt like it was more of a timeline of her life than an emotionally deep narrative.

down April A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
We read this as a companion to The Paris Wife.  Our group really doesn’t have much of an appreciation for Hemingway’s bullish machismo.

up May The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
We loved this quirky autistic Sheldon Cooperish character and his adventures in finding love.

meh June Paper Towns by John Green
Let me introduce you to the meh thumb.  Yes, no we didn’t love it, didn’t hate it.  There are a lot better John Greens.  The movie was terrible.

up July The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
What a wonderful book. Yes, it was made for book clubs with all its references to great books but at its heart it is a heartwarming story of love and family.

up down meh August Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
There was love. There was hate.  There was confusion.  There was meh. Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess has a strong voice and a strange life.  It made sense for some of our ladies and not for others. Lots of taxidermy.

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How do you choose the next book?

I always have a hard time choosing the next book to read. Even though I have 181 books on my Goodreads To Read list,  a stack of unread books on my shelf and wish lists in my multitude of audio book apps.

Sometimes it’s because there are so many choices. Sometimes it’s because I just finished an amazing book and my mind and heart just don’t have enough room for anything else. Especially something cute or chickish or deep or heavy or historical. A new narrator feels like I’m cheating on the old one.

It takes me way too long to move on to the next book. I could probably read at least one more book every year in the time it takes to choose.

Today went something like this… I finished listening to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie while getting ready for work. I needed something to listen to on my commute so I checked my audiobook apps to see if I already had anything checked out. No luck. I checked my wish list to see if there was anything available that I wanted to read. Not really. On some whim a few months ago I added a lot of classic literature to my wish lists and on another day I added several strange non-fiction things (Killing Lincoln, Killing Reagan, Killing Kennedy….). Neither of those genres sounded particularly appetizing. No killing today, thank you.

I didn’t want anything too heavy because well, the election results and the gloating and mourning on social media and strangeness and heartbreak of my friends and the country in general is too much right now. For the same reason I didn’t want anything too frivolous. Humor is wonderful, I could use some levity but there are a lot of different definitions of funny. I don’t have enough antacids to stomach satire or sarcasm today.

I almost chose All The Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani. I love her warm characters and humor and big Italian familes but the subject – a fictionalization of Clark Gable’s romance with Loretta Young – and reviews made me think it may be a mediocre story.

I ended up choosing Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. You know why? Because it’s short. Only 5 hours. So much for nothing heavy. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be heavy. I’ve never read anything by Neil Gaiman before but always wanted to. And hey, it’s short! (And I’m behind on my goal of reading 60 books this year! I need to read 15 (short)(er) books by December 31!  That means I can’t read the next Outlander (#4) until next year because it’s 880 pages! That’s ok, I like staying only one step ahead of the Starz series.

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It also takes me a while to choose books for book club. I take suggestions from our members, though they keep telling me they prefer that I choose the books (even when it’s Frankenstein or The Jane Austen Book Club! Bleh!) There are a lot of ideas on Pinterest and other book bloggers and book clubs that really help with this. I would copy almost everything Delicious Reads www.deliciousreads.com does if it wasn’t, well, copying.

I’m apparently not the only one who has this problem! All the apps have recommendations and the librarians have recommendations. Here are some interesting sites to answer the question.

My favorite site is Goodreads. It has a feature called Listopia with a TON of lists to choose from voted on by members. These are really great. (Don’t you love how I mentioned Outlander earlier and an advertisement magically appears! Magically.

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Your Next Read gives lots of lists and favorites. The team behind the list went for more strange and interesting books that they had never heard of before but loved

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What Should I Read Next lets you type in the title or author and it suggests titles based on other readers’ favorite books.

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Whichbook is fun and it’s different than Witchbook. It lets you move a set of sliders to choose how much of something you’re in the mood for like happiness, humor, safeness, and even the amount of sex. It has lists of suggestions and allows you to create your own to share.

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Of course there’s always the NY Times Bestseller lists and Amazon’s best sellers list. Remember when Oprah’s book club would take a book from number 576 to top 10 in six minutes flat?

Do you have the secret?  Help me! How do you pick your next book?