You Are a Badass by Jennifer Sincero

You Are a Badass

Information

Goodreads: You Are a Badass
Series: None
Source: Publisher
Published: April 23, 2013

Official Summary

In this refreshingly entertaining how-to guide, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author and world-traveling success coach, Jen Sincero, serves up 27 bite-sized chapters full of hilariously inspiring stories, sage advice, easy exercises, and the occasional swear word. If you’re ready to make some serious changes around here, You Are a Badass will help you: Identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stop you from getting what you want, blast past your fears so you can take big exciting risks, figure out how to make some damn money already, learn to love yourself and others, set big goals and reach them – it will basically show you how to create a life you totally love, and how to create it NOW.

By the end of You Are a Badass, you’ll understand why you are how you are, how to love what you can’t change, how to change what you don’t love, and how to use The Force to kick some serious ass.

Review

You Are a Badass is a fairly generic self-improvement book.  It’s not really about anything, beyond encouraging the reader to take control of their life and work towards their goals—whatever their goals are.  The lack of specificity can be daunting for people who really want to know something like how to start a business, exactly, or how to reach their ideal weight, exactly, but the overall message of believing in yourself and going for it could be just what some readers need to get inspired to seek out books that are more focused on their exact goals.

The tone of the book is relentlessly peppy and upbeat, and I found it entertaining even though I was reading the book simply because someone had given it to me—not because I had any actual interest in the book.  I felt pretty inspired from the opening pages to go out and do something (again, unclear exactly what that something was supposed to be, but oh well), and I really only raised eyebrows when Sincero started talking about getting in tune with cosmic energy and putting out positive vibes so they come back to you.  (Really, she seems to think there’s something useful in believing in God but didn’t want to have that type of religious undertone to the book, so she settled for some unspecified universal energy we should all believe in.  I think you can pass on this part and still get something out of the book.)

There are two main points to the book, which make a ton of sense, even if you’re not really a self-help book kind of person.

1.) Sincero invites you to think deeply and figure out what’s really holding you back from trying to achieve your goals.  For instance, did your parents’ bad marriage make you subconsciously wary of getting in a committed relationship?  Or are you just comfortable being single and, even though you gripe all the type about wanting a partner, are you holding yourself back because it’s just easier to live alone?  Sincero wants you to stop telling yourself and others “stories” (“I’m destined to be single.”  “I’m broke because there are no good jobs in my field.”  “I can’t start my own business because it’s too much of a financial risk.) and to be honest with yourself.  You can’t address what’s holding you back if you don’t know what it is.

2.)  Sincero posits that the difference between successful people (whatever your definition) and unsuccessful people is that successful people take action (That’s not to say there are not things like being born wealthy or knowing the right people that provide an advantage, but that’s not really the focus of the book.)  And this is really her message: If you want something, you have to commit yourself to getting it.  It might be hard.  It might be scary.  And, yeah, it’s possible you will fail.  But Sincero’s point is that you are only going to open your own business, or become an artist, or get a date next month if you actually go out and take steps to achieve those things.  No one is going to walk up to you and offer you the opportunity to open your own bookstore/frozen yogurt shop.  You have to decide you want to do that and find a way to make it happen.

Basically I would say this is a good starter book for people who want to make some kind of change in their lives but are being wishy-washy about it.  Though Sincero occasionally dives into more specific topics like how to meditate and how to manage relationships with people who don’t believe in your goals, much of the book is an extended pep talk.  Once you commit to your goal and get going, you’re probably going to have to do more work and research (say, reading books or taking a class on exactly how one does start a small business), but if you’re just feeling unmotivated or indecisive or brought down by people telling you you’re not going to succeed, this book could be the one that gets you on a brighter path.

3 Stars Briana

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Mini Reviews (1)

mini reviews 1

Courage to Soar: A Life in Motion, A Body in Balance by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford

Simone Biles captivated the world in the 2016 Olympics, so I was excited to pick up her biography.  I enjoyed learning more about her fairly ordinary childhood (she and her friends liked to pretend to be the Cheetah Girls), her introduction to gymnastics, and her very supportive family.  Biles shows strength and grace as she transitions from living with her mother to living with her grandparents, struggles to determine if she values gymnastics or a normal high school experience more, and honestly admits that some years she was a complaining teenager just like the rest of us.  The narrative is sometimes choppy and jumps around, but overall I can see many readers enjoying this book and being inspired by it. (Source: Library) Four stars.

The Scourge by Jennifer Nielsen

At times this book feels a little trope-y, with the “feisty” heroine who can’t keep her mouth shut, her lock-picking best friend, the snotty rich girl who is not really as bad as she seems, and the “mystery” surrounding the scourge–a deadly disease that readers know early on is probably manufactured by the villainous government.  In short, I loved it.  It’s engrossing and has a great cast of characters as well as a sweet romance.  What’s not to love? (Source: Library) Four stars.

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

This book has been describe as “magical realism” as it features nine children living on an idyllic island that provides all they need and prevents them from getting hurt.  However, a mystery surrounds the island as it seems clear someone–maybe even their parents–are sending them there.  I was disappointed, then, that the mystery of the island is never revealed.  Perhaps it was to keep the book from turning into yet another dystopian novel, but it is a letdown to read a story with a mystery that is never resolved. (Source:  Library) Three stars.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 6: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson

Maybe you have to read the other comic books to understand the full scope of Civil War II.  As it was, I found myself disappointed that Kamala and the other characters do not really seem to grapple with the moral issues surrounding the idea of preventative justice.  Still, I love Ms. Marvel and I was glad to spend more time with her.  Especially welcome was her trip to visit her extended family in Pakistan. (Source: Library) Three stars.

Feeling Like You Read the “Wrong” Books

 

feeling like you read the wrong books discussion

In the book blogosphere, we tend to hear about how people feel shamed for reading YA.  Interestingly, however, YA books are the one group that I can feel pretty comfortable admitting to reading.  After all, its huge expansion in recent years is a testament to how popular–and how financially successful–it is as an age range. Thus, when I meet a new person and they ask what I am reading, I can typically assume that, if I choose one book from the five I am currently immersed in, the YA book will, statistically, give me a better chance of making a connection or at least make me look kind of “normal.”  True, there are those who will mock me for reading YA or those who also read YA, but hurriedly add that it’s “just for fun” or “a guilty pleasure” or that they need “some mindless entertainment to relax,” but “they’re also reading some Foucault right now, too.”  But, by and large, YA seems to be more accepted than many other types of books.

The strange thing is, I’ve noticed that, no matter what I say I am reading, I almost always end up feeling like I admitted to reading the “wrong” type of book.  Sometimes it’s just because the other person has more specific interests than I do (for instance, only reading fantasy and nothing else) and I sadly chose to tell them that I was reading Charles Dickens rather than J. R. R. Tolkien.  Other times, I end up feeling shamed for reasons I sometimes can’t articulate to myself–because the person didn’t say anything outright.  They just made a “joke” or kind of gave me a weird look or paused too long before responding.  I have to admit that the “What are you reading?” question actually makes me panic a little now.  In my head, the possible consequences for saying I read each type of book look something like t his:

Admitting I Read Classics

Now the person thinks I am stuck up, showing off, or suggesting that I am more intellectual/somehow better than they are.  They might now feel inferior or defensive based on their own reading choices.

Admitting I Read Fantasy

They now think I am a nerd.  They’re wondering if I dress up in costumes and if I can speak Elvish–and not because they think those are fun things to do.

Admitting I Read Middle Grade

They can’t figure out why I’m reading such “juvenile” books as an adult and consequently now think I’m weird, unintelligent, or unable to leave my childhood behind in a proper way.

Admitting I Read Picture Books

They’re going to ask if I teach or have some sort of “project” and when I say I think picture books are valid pieces of art for adults to read for themselves, they’re just going to stare at me.

Admitting I Read Graphic Novels

I’ll get the same reaction I’ll get if I admit I read MG.

Admitting I Read Nonfiction

They think I’m super serious and super boring.  They possibly also think I’m setting myself up as intellectually superior.

Ultimately, answering the question “What do you read?” feels like a no-win situation in a way that answering a question like “What is the last movie you saw?” does not. Perhaps it’s because there are only a limited number of films in theatres and I can assume that anything I name will have been something the other person has also seen or at least heard of–making it less weird. I, in essence, look far more mainstream, more like the “average” person.  But when it comes to books, there are so many published that it seems almost impossible to make a connection with a new acquaintance based on naming a book.  The conversation becomes too fraught and somehow they always seem to be making sweeping judgments based on my moral character and identity as a person just because I said I’m currently reading the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

I don’t let others change my reading habits just because they don’t like what I do or are critical of my book choices.  Still, I sometimes wish that it were easier to discuss books with people.  I wish that having literary conversations could be a positive experience where I learn about new books and can share excitement with another book lover–even if we’re excited about different genres.  But, somehow, I’ve never really had that experience in-person. And I’m wondering why.

Do you experience judgment when admitting to reading or liking certain books?

Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth Gaskell

Information

Goodreads: Cousin Phillis
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1864

Summary

First serialized in Charles Dickens’ Household Worlds, this short novel tells the story of a young woman discovering love for the first time.

Review

Cousin Phillis is a short novel in four parts describing a young woman’s coming-of-age through the eyes of her cousin Paul.  Though it features Gaskell’s typical interest in the industrialization of the country, the coming of the railroad serves mostly as a vehicle to get the narrator and his friend into the countryside, where they meet the beautiful and intelligent Phillis. The focus remains on Paul’s observations of Phillis and her reaction to his handsome manager, Edward Holdsworth.

The choice of Paul Manning as narrator is perhaps the one flaw in the story.  He remains sadly unconvincing as a man.  We hear little of his work or of his own pursuits.  Even his friendship with Holdsworth is briefly and broadly sketched.  Most of his energy seems to be spent, not on the railroad or in finding a lover or in the things one typically expects a young man to do, but on thinking about Phillis’s habits.  At first he is intimidated by her superior intelligence, beauty, and good sense.  In the end, he is concerned about her love for Holdsworth.  But does the average man really sit around pondering his cousin’s looks and words, worrying that she is falling in love?

Aside from this criticism, however,  I found the story beautifully and simply drawn.  It is a subtle work, much subtler than many of Gaskell’s stories.  Progress is coming to the countryside, but no one makes a speech about it. We see naturally the excitement and enthusiasm of the men and woman as they welcome the advance of the railroad.  We see implicitly what might be lost–the careful, humble, and pious life of the countryside replaced by the bustle and empty show of Holdsworth and the men of progress he represents.  And the criticism of agricultural life so directly stated by Margaret in North and South is only quietly alluded to in the figure of Phillis Holman, whose superior intellect and education makes her somewhat unsuited to the sphere in which she moves.  Men of intelligence are, of course, not wholly lacking in agricultural areas, and yet Gaskell makes it clear that the long hours required in the fields make education difficult to obtain.  Only Holdsworth, a brilliant railroad man, manages to come across as Phillis’s equal in education and perceptiveness.

Cousin Phillis is a short story (indeed–it seems to cut off in the middle), but one that immediately captures the interest of the audience.  The beauty and the rhythms of the countryside come alive through Gaskell’s pen and the warmhearted characters quickly earn reader sympathy.  Readers just beginning to approach Gaskell will find that this is an easy and a delightful way into her works.

4 stars

The #NotAll Book Tag

The rules for this one are charmingly simple.  Just link back to the creator, the fabulous Orangutan Librarian.

#notall cover changes – a cover change you liked

Generally I don’t like books with movie covers.  However, The Lord of the Rings covers are an exception.  I prefer the Legolas cover to the Saruman one, though.  Who would want Saruman on their bookshelf?!

#notall adaptations – an adaptation you love more than the book

Catherine Marshall’s Christy tells the story of a young woman who travels to poverty-stricken Cutter Gap to be a teacher.  The book was, to me, a bit dull.  But the TV adaptation features a spunky protagonist who faces more challenges and finds more romance

#notall tropes – a trope you’ll never tire of seeing

I love books that feature royalty in disguise.  Even if the disguise is bad.  Sometimes even if the book is bad.  The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Henry V and Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale all feature nobility hiding their true identities.

#notall instalove – you instaloved this instacouple

L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle isn’t really instalove, but the two leads do get married rather suddenly.  Valancy Stirling, you see, is dying, and she wants to really live before her time is up.  So she proposes to the disreputable Barney Snaith and scandalizes her small town community.

#notall love triangles – an example of love triangle done well

For the sake of demonstrating that you can have more than one love interest without throwing logic out the window or having the woman drawn to a guy who is clearly insane/villainous/abusive as if he’s really a contender against the upright guy with morals, I have provided four examples for your consideration: Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery, Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

#notall parents – bookish parents that, you know, PARENT!

Gregor’s parents from the Gregor the Overland series clearly love him, even if they can’t go on all his adventures.

#notall villains – a villain you love

The villain in Diana Wynne Jones’ Dark Lord of Derkholm is not really a villain–only a man pretending to be a Dark Lord for the entertainment of the tourists.  Weird stuff.

#notall chosen ones – a chosen one you can get behind

The Lord of the Rings obviously has to make my list twice.  Gandalf tells Frodo, “I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.  In which case you were also meant to have it.  And that may be an encouraging thought.”  But Frodo is no ordinary “Chosen One.”  He seems chosen specifically because he is meant to be an instrument in the hands of providence, not for any extraordinary skills he may himself possess.

Lord of the Rings

#notall hyped books – a book that lived up to the acclaim

Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School combines the Renaissance Faire with the story of a girl navigating the perils of middle school.  It’s a great graphic novel and I highly recommend it!

#notall *insert favourite genre* – a book you’re not keen on from your favourite genre

I like fantasy, but…the premise of Three Dark Crowns is a mess.  So is pretty much everything else about it from the instalove to the nonsensical politics.

Three Dark Crowns Book Cover

#notall *insert least favourite genre* – a book you liked from a genre you don’t often read

I don’t typically read memoirs, but Call the Midwife got me into Jennifer Worth’s and it was pretty good!

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

Information

Goodreads: Agnes Grey
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1847

Summary

Feeling that her family treats her like a child, Agnes Grey determines to make her own way in the world by becoming a governess.  However, her idealistic vision of molding the characters of children is quickly shattered.  In her positions, she is often denied authority and thwarted in her efforts to teach her charges virtue.  Additionally, she finds herself increasingly isolated as her position raises her above the servants but keeps her inferior to the families for whom she works.  Still, Agnes quietly perseveres in doing right.

Review

Anne Brontë tends to be overlooked when the works of her sisters are discussed.  In recent years, however, there have been attempts to revive her reputation, especially in reference to her work The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which shocked contemporary audiences with its depiction of a woman who leaves her alcoholic husband.  As critics begin to reexamine the feminist undertones of Anne’s works, undertones so far ahead of their time that even Charlotte refused to have Tenant republished, it seems fitting to return to Anne’s first novel, Agnes Grey.

In many ways, Agnes Grey seems a quiet and unassuming novel–and yet it made audiences uncomfortable in its own day.  The titular character begins work as a governess in two different wealthy households.  In the first, she is prevented from punishing the children and so cannot prevent their misbehavior.  In the second, she is instructed never to cross the wills of her charges, leading the eldest to become a shameless flirt  who delights in hurting men to cater to her vanity and the second to curse and run about in the stables with the male servants.  Rendered ineffective by the directions of her morally decadent social superiors, Anne becomes increasingly unhappy and struggles to remain patient, humble, and cheerful.

The novel does not only critique the morals of the wealthy families but also examines the unfeeling treatment of women who occupy a nebulous space in society.  As a governess, Agnes can neither become friends with the servants nor enter into intimate conversation with her families or their guests.  She becomes all but invisible and  mute, her small pleasures denied to her by those who have her at their mercy and her attempts to instill virtue in her charges silenced.  At night, she has only dreams of a certain upright Mr. Weston to console her–but Agnes can scarcely believe he would ever glance her way.

There is an undeniable sense that Anne Brontë writes of her own experiences in these pages, making the isolation, the heartbreak, and the impotency all feel keenly personal.  Well might her contemporaries have felt shamed, for she does not hold back in describing the callous carelessness of the upper classes in their pursuit of their own pleasures and vanities.  Women and social inferiors are simply casualties of the whims of their “betters.”  Brontë ‘s perceptiveness, her deft characterization, and her fearless social commentary all make Agnes Grey a remarkable read–one that should not be overshadowed by her sisters’ works.

5 stars

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the NightingaleInformation

Goodreads: The Bear and the Nightingale
Series: The Winternight Trilogy #1
Source: Library
Published: January 10, 2016

Official Summary

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Review

I had heard a lot about how beautiful and moving The Bear and the Nightingale was before deciding to pick it up, so I had some high expectations.  I am always looking for books that are different, lyrical, and just all-around enjoyable.  In the end, however, I was not quite as impressed with this book as many other readers have been.  Although the characters are interesting, the plot is unevenly paced, and I guess I’m also a bit fatigued by mainstream literature representing religious leaders as corrupt social climbers and religious followers as fools.

The main two Christian characters in the novel are , admittedly, extremely interesting.  One is a charismatic priest who was building an almost cult following by painting skillful icons,  annoyed to be send to the back woods of Russia until he realizes he might have a calling to stamp out the vestiges of pagan practices on the estate.  The other is a young woman, sincerely devout, troubled by the fact she seems demons everywhere that practically no one else can.  Now, the intersection of Christianity and folk religion is a fascinating topic, and I love to see it explored in literature; however, I think Arden missed some opportunities to be as nuanced as she could be here, as the book takes the hard line that the folk beliefs are real, and anyone following Christianity is apparently a nut. I suppose I would have liked more subtlety in the exploration of how these two belief systems can interact and whether they can survive together.

Our heroine, Vasilisa, holds firm to the old beliefs; her primary talent seems to be having a hereditary skill to see mystical creatures and find out what they want–generally, offerings.  On one hand, I admire her tenacity and her strength in trying to hold her estate together as the evil priest and evil stepmother attempt to stamp out the old ways.  On the other hand, it’s easy to believe in protective house spirits when you can see and talk to them, so I think the faith of people who can’t see them, like Vasilisa’s nurse, is more interesting.

My main issue, however, is with the pacing of the novel.  The beginning is slow, which is fine; I think the acceptance of slowness is frequently one of the dividing characters of adult books vs. young adult books.  However, it is frustrating that 90% of the book is slow, and when the author gets to the climax, the main battle, the thing she has been building up to, it’s over in practically an instant.  More time could have been spent making this climatic scene matter.

The Bear and the Nightingale is charming at parts and thoughtful and lyrical. It just didn’t capture my imagination or my attention quite as much as I had hoped.

3 Stars Briana