Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Book Prescriber is in!

Left to Write

I have always been intrigued by the power of books to affect our lives so profoundly that we change, grow, move-on, get over, become different by just reading them. It has been my experiences that reading certain books can profoundly heal and/or change our lives. Whether it is through imaging what the characters are going through so strongly that we change or by reading their cautionary tale we become different, just by reading the book. So I am always on the lookout for books that are ‘life-changing,’ novels and non-fiction alike.

Books that inspire us ourselves came up as a topic of conversation seven years ago, when I reached out to an ex-best friend – someone I thought I would be friends with forever – on her 50th birthday. Have you ever had a friend with whom you just clicked? With whom it felt like she just ‘got” you and vice versa? With this particular friend I felt that we would be friends forever. Sadly this relationship did not last.

I have been lucky in that I have formed quite a few of these friendships and had various best friends over the years. But also unlucky in that so many of them have faded away. For this particular woman, we stopped being friends decades ago; she became another name on a long list of lost girlfriends.

I remembered her birthdate and called on her 50th birthday. After catching up on husbands, kids, careers, etc. I asked what she had done to mark the event. I was intrigued and inspired by what she told me.

She had had a party, invited dear friends, asking each to bring a ‘life-changing’ book as a gift. The book could be motivational, or inspirational or aspirational, fiction or non-fiction but it had to have made an impact or difference to the gift-giver’s life.

Of course we’ve lost touch again – picking up some relationships after 25+ years is just not possible – but I have thought about her clever book party theme since then. I would love to have a list of books that have the power to change our lives. Think of it, if you are feeling depressed or sad or blue, wouldn’t it be great to have a list of books that are perfect for elevating your mood, a book pharmacy of sorts.

Feeling blue over a dead-end career? There are books for that! Feeling wistful as an empty nester? There are books for that! Longing for a long lost friend? There are books for that! Looking for help to get over a broken heart? There are books for that!

This is one of the main themes for the book, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George that I recently read for my online book club, From Left to Write. It is about a book seller who calls himself a literary apothecary set in France who obviously knows and loves books.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go into a book store feeling one way and walk out with a prescription for a book that would help heal you or energize you or raise your spirits or calm your anxiety? This is what I imagined the inspiring books themed party that my friend described to be like.

There have been quite a few movies about small, independent bookstores with delightful book sellers encouraging people to buy some books and discouraging them from buying others, basically trying to make a difference in someone’s life. Two that come to mind are Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill and Meg Ryan’s in You’ve Got Mail. And while I love watching movies, there is nothing that compares to a book in my mind for elevating my mood, changing my perspective or inspiring me.

Two of the many books mentioned in The Little Paris Bookshop that I had heard of and loved were The Elegance of the HedgeHog by Muriel Barbery and The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim.

So while I don’t have any plans for an inspiring books themed party for my 55th birthday later this month, maybe I will host one for my 60th!

What life-changing books have you read? It would be wonderful to share and compare book lists!

Disclosure: This post was inspired by the novel The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, where Monsieur Perdu–a literary apothecary–finally searches for the woman who left him many years ago. Join From Left to Write on October 8th as we discuss The Little Paris Bookshop. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

First Mothers Book Review Part II

 

First MothersLast week I shared Part I of my review of First Mothers, The Women who Shaped the Presidents by Bonne Angelo. Here is a rest of my review with 3 more commonalities that the presidential mothers from Sara Roosevelt to Virginia Kelly all shared. 

3) Each presidential mother wanted an education for herself as well as for her children – especially the sons who went on to becoming president. Some of these women went out of their way to get an education during a time in history in this country when educating women was not valued.

About Rebekah Johnson (1881-1958): “From childhood she was set on going to college, and though her decision was slightly less astonishing than that of Martha Truman and Ida Eisenhower decades earlier, the number of girls in higher education in Texas at the turn of the century was minute. It is impressive, and significant, that these nineteenth-century mothers of contemporary presidents place such important on higher education, which scarcely figured in the thinking of most young women in those days.” (page 174)

It is very impressive that of the 11 mothers, 6 attended college, two went to European finishing schools and two received nursing degrees. This is especially remarkable given how few women were being educated in the USA at that time.

Further education opened doors for these women, which in turn opened the eyes and minds of their sons. Note: only Nelle Reagan had no formal education beyond elementary school, and Barbara Bush dropped out of Smith College after her freshman year.

Was your mother educated? Was your grandmother? How about your great-grandmother?

4) Each of the 11 presidents has a very Special Relationship with their mothers. Fact is they each could have been called ‘Mama’s Boys.’

From a 2001 with the author:

“The younger brothers were proof — to me — that there was something special between the mother and the son who would become president. Billy Carter, Sam Houston Johnson, Don Nixon and most of all, Roger Clinton, conducted themselves in a way that embarrassed their brothers….The mothers would never acknowledge that they had a favorite child — but when one son shines and achieves so brilliantly, there had to be a greater feeling of pride on the part of the mother. His success was her success.” 

Margaret Truman Daniel, author and daughter of President Harry S. Truman is quoted as saying:

“The enormously strong intellectual and emotional bond between Dad and his mother – the sort of bond which, I have discovered in my delvings into presidential lore, has existed between an astonishing number of presidents and their mothers.” (Page 433)

According to the author it is a key ingredient to the makings of a self-confident man who is able to withstand the rigors of a presidential campaign and then the office of the presidency. What do you now think of the expression ‘mama’s boy?’ Is it an insult or a compliment?

5) Each of these presidents had a weak or poor relationship with their father—or at the least they were not nearly as close as they were with their mother.

From the 2001 interview:

“Most of the fathers were disappointments to these mothers — failures or feckless or abusive. To compensate, the mothers poured themselves into these sons — he would be her fulfillment and her monument.

Yes, Joe Kennedy, particularly, had great influence, but it was his first son, his namesake, who was the apple of his eye. Joe Jr. was the Kennedy he expected to see in the White House. Jack, a sickly youngster and quite different from Joe, was closer to his mother. And, yes, the senior Bush had an influence, but the new First Lady, Laura, says her husband is much more like his mother: “They are both feisty; they both are funny.” And they share a much more outgoing personality than father and son. Says George W: “I got my looks from my father and my mouth from my mother.”

From the book:

“Some were weak or feckless, even outright failures….And some were never there at all. Even two of the most successful and powerful fathers, Joe Kennedy and Prescott Bush, were absent a great deal in pursuit of their careers [and/or] lifestyles.” (Page 432)

Did these sons feel the need to make up for the shortfalls of their fathers?

When I reread the book recently I read the 2008 version that now includes a chapter on George Walker Bush. A side tangent: When the author was preparing this revision, during the 2008 presidential election, she actually did research on both George Walker Bush and Al Gore. She found that Gore and his mother, Pauline, LaFon Gore also fit the patterns! And I think President Obama also fits the patterns, but I have not read anything directly on his relationship with his mother nor about her relationship with her father.

Bottom line: Each chapter of the book presented a different president and his mother, chronologically. I have since also read her other book, First Families, which I can not recommend as much. But if you are looking for an interesting read, insights into the past 12 presidents, reflections on the mother-son relationship and thoughts on how to help mold a self-confident, high achieving young man you will enjoy reading this book.

Click here to read First Mothers Book Review Part I.



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

First Mothers Review Part I

I read First Mothers, The Women who Shaped the Presidents by Bonne Angelo in 2002, enjoyed it tremendously and recommended it to many friends over the years, including my book club, who selected it for our September 2015 meeting. Over the next two post I will share some of my notes from the book discussion I lead. Look for part II of my review next week.

The original edition profiles the presidents and their mothers from FDR to Bill Clinton, with added information on the first ladies too. I learned a lot about the president and their mothers, including the idea that these 11 presidents had much in common when it came to their relationship with their mothers – something I never would have guessed.

As the time I first read the book, my kids were 7 and 12 and I was inspired by some of the parenting concepts. For instance I took these two quotes to heart:

“They were diverse women who led [mostly] conventional lives, exercised their keen intelligence and didn’t shrink from controversial opinions—which they dispensed without hesitation to their political sons. As a group (with the exception of Sara Roosevelt) they were concerned about social issues, troubled by racial inequities and other injustices.” (Page 425)

And

“An intelligent mother with strong opinions stirs more than her son’s intellect. She stimulates both his curiosity and his energy so that he will one day be an opinion-shaper himself.” (page 425, quoting Carole Klein, author of the study Mothers and Sons.)

No one will accuse me of being a shrinking violet or holding back my opinion on issues that matter to me! Both of my kids were raised to see the value in social justice, for speaking out on issues and values that matter to them.

First Mothers

In this week’s post I will share 2 of the 5 commonalities that I found most interesting from the book.

1) Each presidents’ mother had particularly strong relationships with their fathers. Most were each their father’s favorites. In an interview the author, Bonnie Angelo, gave in February 2001 she said:

In every case of these mothers, there was a special bond between this particular daughter and her father….they made these girl feels that they could go beyond the constraints placed on 19th century women to do more, to be more. The fathers made the girls more independent minded, more self-assured. And I am convinced that these traits were then passed directly to the son who would become president. Father to daughter to son.”

This self-confidence, given from father to daughter to son is “fundamental to achieving success in any career, whatever the choice. Personalities may be unlike, motivations may differ, but the one who makes it to the top, the achiever, first believes in himself.” (page 427)

From the same interview:

I wrote only about the modern presidents — FDR to Clinton — because the modern presidency really began then, when they had to go out and actively seek the office, which meant they had to have that self-assurance the mothers implanted in them. That is crucial to anyone running for president these days.” 

2) Each presidential mother dealt with various forms of adversity and they then passed their resiliency to their sons. Some of these mothers knew hard times. But even in the face of poverty, alcoholism and even domestic violence, these women rose above it and passed this ability onto their sons — something that many of the presidential fathers could not and did not do. 

From the same interview:

Rose Kennedy was the foremost example of a trait that these mothers shared: resilience in the face of hard time, of abusive and alcoholic husband, and the unbearable tragedy of the death of children. Rose lost not just the two we all suffered with her, Jack and Bobby, but her first born, Joe Jr., who was lost flying a dangerous mission over the English channel in World War II, and her golden daughter Kathleen was also killed in an air crash just after the war. And yet she never lost her faith or her ability to meet any challenge. Think also about Hannah Nixon, who lost two sons to tuberculosis, one when he was only seven, the other at 22.”

Virginia Kelley is quoted in the book, from her memoirs saying,

“Too many people seem to think life is the tablecloth, instead of the messy feast that’s spread out on it,” she stated in her memoirs. “They want to keep the cloth clean and tucked safely in a drawer. That’s not life. Done right, life leaves stains. That’s why I don’t judge Bill Blythe for the things I found out about him. That’s why I feel sorrow, not hatred, for Roger Clinton. That’s why I love my mother, even though many a day she made me feel like murdering her…. It’s called resilience.” (page 401)

Have you overcome difficulties in your life?

Come back next week for part II of my book review on First Mothers by Bonnie Angelo. (Click here for part II)



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

Motivational Quotes I

What is it about certain quotes that stop us in our tracks and rocks us to our core? I love finding these kinds of quotes and/or phrases in books or online. From time to time I plan to upload quotes that I find inspirational, or thought-provoking. I would love to hear what you think of them too.

To get us started here are four such quotes, all from books that I have read this past year and highly recommend. The first one in particular has influenced my perspective on my life, my art and my self-image as I have struggled to accept that I only reached a modest level of professional success during my time running various businesses. The fact is I invested a lot of time in my work and businesses, but much more time in my relationships with my husband and kids. And so at the end of the day, the expression of my art has been focused on how I created and raised my family rather than on what I accomplished professionally. Something to think about.

Hope you find these phrases thought provoking and/or motivational as I do.

“She really was an artist, but her art was not something that would be viewed in a museum or contained between the covers of a book. Franny’s art was in how she had lived her own extraordinary life. SHE was her best creation.”

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan Page 444 [Note: Highly recommend this book!]

“It was supposed to say “Great Artist” on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say “such a good teacher/daughter/friend” instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is Fuck you all. Don’t all women feel the same? The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury. We’re all furies, except the ones who are too darned foolish, and my worry now is that we are brainwashing from the cradle, and in the end even the ones who are smart will be too damned foolish.”

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud Page 3 [Note: Another great read!]

“I’m angry because I’ve tried so hard to get out of the hall of mirrors, this sham and pretend of the world, or of my world, on the East Coast of the United States of America in the first decade of the twenty-first century. And behind every mirror is another fucking mirror, and down every corridor in another corridor, and the Fun House isn’t fun anymore and it isn’t even funny, but there doesn’t seem to be a door marked EXIT.”

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud Page 4

“Wouldn’t you want someone to tell your story? Ultimately, it’s the best proof there is that we mattered. And what else is life from the time you were born but a struggle to matter, at least to someone?”

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman page 148 [Note: Loved this book!]

What do you think?

 

 



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

The Road to Recovery

Two weeks ago I fell down two small, but mighty steps, while having dinner at my son’s house. As I landed, I broke my ankle/leg in three places and dislocated the joint. During a three hour surgery the following day, I was outfitted with all sorts of new hardware to hold my ankle and foot together. I have four more weeks of non-weight bearing on that leg, so now my new reality strictly includes activities I can do while sitting. I have made use of my time by reading and stitching. Lots of reading. Lots of stitching.

Here are some of the pieces I have stitched and finished (so far!):

1
I found the material and the instructions for these beautiful felt applique ornaments at a quilt show when I was in Melbourne. They stitched up fast and fun.

 

 

 

2
These hardanger angels are made from Norwegian fabric and stitched with patterns that I found in a book and overlaid onto the angel outlines. I backed them with felt and embellished them with decorative stitches and beads. I love doing hardanger pieces.

 

 

3
More hardanger patterned ornaments.

 

 

 

Books I have read (so far):

The Ships of Brides By Jojo Moyes is about a group of young war brides, from Australia, being sent to their new home and husbands in England at the end of WWII. I am a sucker for Jojo Moyes books and enjoyed this one, although I can’t say that it was great literature, it is historical fiction, one of my favorite genres. And I loved that it was about Australian brides given our time there earlier this year.

The Captain’s Daughter by Leah Fleming is a novel about two women who survive the sinking of the Titanic and their subsequent friendship. This was not a heavy read, but was perfect for lying in bed, on heavy medication. Can’t say it was great but it held my interest while I was bedridden. It was predictable and the characters a bit over simplified, but then again, I am a sucker for a happy ending—which this one has.

The Mill River Redemption, A Novel by Darcie Chan, is a sequel to her earlier best seller, The Mill River  Recluse, which I did not read. This is the story of a woman who leaves NYC after her husband dies and heads for small town Vermont to raise her two small children with the help of an aunt that she barely knows. When the daughter are young women, they become estranged and after their mother dies, they find out that the unusual terms of her will are supposed to help them forgive each other.  This book raised all sorts of interesting questions for me. What would I have done if something had happened to my husband when my kids were little? Would I have stayed in northern California or returned to the east coast to live near family? You see when my kids were six and one my husband received a cancer diagnosis. He is fine now, but this theme struck home (although please note that the husband in the book did not die of cancer). Another theme that interested me was the notion of estrangement. Is there something that a family member could do that would make it so that I wouldn’t speak to them for decades? The sisters in the book had not spoken to each other for over 10 years when their mother dies. I come from a family in which I didn’t meet one of my grandparents because of this: one of my parents cut off their mother for over 10 years – it is an interesting thing to think about.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro is a novel about art and value. It was very interesting and I learned a lot. I read this one for my book club and I liked thinking about what gives a piece of art its value: is it simply because it was painted by a famous painter? Or is it because the piece has meaning or beauty or evokes emotion? The book is a bit of a mystery, but it unfolds well and the characters are well developed and mostly make sense.

One thing I noticed is that all four of these books make use of going back and forth in time to tell their stories. And even though they varied in depth and sophistication, they each made use of history and I always enjoy reading about the past.

What would you do with you time if you were suddenly forced to sit and heal?



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!