Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

A fan of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls I was looking forward to reading Tara Westover’s book Educated, another memoir about rising above and beyond a hardscrabble childhood.

And let me state this: I read The Glass Castle. I know The Glass Castle. I even met Jeannette Walls at an author event. And believe me Educated is no The Glass Castle.

Born and raised in Buck’s Peak, Idaho, Tara Westover was the youngest of her mother and father’s seven children.

To say Westover’s childhood was less than typical is an understatement. Her parents, Gene and Faye (pseudonyms), strived to live off the grid, isolated from society. They shunned the government, doctors, and public schools. Instead, they treated ailments with homemade cures often using essential oils and tincture. And Faye homeschooled her brood in a very haphazard manner.

Still, as a child, Westover desired a more normal life. She wanted to go to school and get involved in activities other kids her age were involved in. Her father forbid her going to school to get some “book learning.” Yet, somehow Westover was allowed music lessons and ended up playing lead in a local production of the musical ” Annie.”

Getting involved in local theater and hanging out with kids from more “normal” backgrounds opened up new worlds for Westover. Yet, her family, for the most part, weren’t very impressed with Westover’s theatrical pursuits. Especially her father who put the kibosh on his daughter going to school.

Fortunately, Westover had an older brother, Tyler, who encouraged his little sister to envision a life beyond Buck’s Peak. Incidentally, Tyler escaped Buck’s Peak and achieved an education, including a Ph.D.

Sadly, Westover had another brother Shawn who was very abusive both physically and emotionally. He even shoved her head in a toilet!

Because of her lack of formal schooling (and needing to escape her dysfunctional family), Westover chose to educate herself. She scored very high on the ACT and was admitted into Brigham Young University.

BYU was like going to another planet for the sheltered Westover. Until then she never had heard of the Holocaust among other historical moments.

Westover also had a hard time adjusting to her peers and their different ways. And at times she was quite judgemental towards them.

Yet, she did bond with a few of her classmates and professors. Many of them supported and mentored her, often getting her out of a sticky situation.

Westover excels as an undergrad, which gives her a chance to study at England’s prestigious Cambridge University and Harvard later achieving her very own Ph.D.

Still, Buck’s Peak beckoned, and Westover found herself going back despite her family’s extreme dysfunction. Her brother Shawn had become even more abusive, especially towards his wife and children. And Westover’s parents were busy with their successful essential oils business.

Educated started out strong with a powerful narrative of Westover’s troubled upbringing.

But once she got to BYU, her story began to fall flat and sparked my cynicism. At times there were plot holes so big you could drive a semi through them.

Westover claims her family lived as survivalist yet they had modern convienences like TVs, computers, Internet access, and cell phones.

The family has horrific accidents and injuries, yet never receive proper medical care.

Westover gets away with things in college most students would not. And professors, classmates, boyfriends, and roommates bend over backwards for her. Not too mention a lot of her success seems to fall in her lap. She isn’t that brilliant.

And though she did get scholarships, I wondered where she got the money to pay for rent, bills, food, travel, and other assorted amenities.

I was also bothered by her refusing to report Shawn to the authorities. She definitely had the power to do so.

Though Educated is a compelling read, I found Westover to be humorless and cold. And I didn’t appreciate her lack of gratitude or her lack of paying it forward.

Thank goodness there are vastly superior memoirs I’ve enjoyed over the years, many I’ve reviews at this very blog.

Book Review: Make Almost Anything Happen-How to Manage Complexity to Get What You Want by Tim Kilpatrick

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It’s no secret we live in a very difficult time. We deal with complex issues both personally and professionally. And at times our situations make us crazy with self-doubt wondering how we can better manage our lives.

Fortunately, health care strategist, systems engineer, and entrepreneur Tim Kilpatrick might have the answer in his book Make Almost Anything Happen: How to Manage Complexity to Get What You Want.

Make Almost Anything Happen is divided into six distinct parts:

  1. Mission
  2. Impacting People
  3. Impacting Realities
  4. Impacting Activities
  5. Strategy
  6. Iteration

Part one describes how to define and develop a mission or goal you want to achieve. This is of utmost importance.

Part two examines how the mission impacts people in various ways.

Part three focuses on how the mission affects our reality and the reality of others.

Part four defines what activities will benefit from the mission by studying people and realities affected by the mission.

In part five, we develop a strategy framework. The strategy framework delves into how the mission we’ll accomplish with a planned out complex system.

And finally in part six-iteration-is about learning by working on various activities, what Kilpatrick calls an “Enablement Framework.”

Throughout Make Almost Anything Happen, Kilpatrick provides ample examples on the people who made things happen by managing complexity. Some are well-known like Coco Chanel and the Wright Brothers. More currently there are names like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Sarah Blakely, the creator of Spanx.

And there are names of people not as well-known like Olympic Bob sledder Jasmine Fenlator and Edward Jenner who invented the small pox vaccine.

Unsurprisingly, a book about managing complexity is, well, complex. While reading this book, I was overwhelmed by the information, data, ideas, and requirements outlined by Kilpatrick. I suggest using Post-it Notes, highlighters’ and journaling to keep track of all of the pertinent details.

Fortunately, Kilpatrick’s writing isn’t dry and stuffy. He writes in a friendly tone and implies this book can be used personally as well as professionally. For instance, one of Kilpatrick’s personal missions is to be a better father, a very worthy goal.

Make Almost Anything Happen is a pretty heavy duty book, but should be read in the workplace, the classroom, and on the homefront.

Book Review: The Final Weekend-A Stoned Weekend by Neal Cassidy

What do you get when you combine the movie St. Elmo’s Fire it it was directed by Quentin Tarantino, with a script written by David Mamet and influenced by the movie Reefer Madness? You’d probably get Neal Cassidy’s novel The Final Weekend: A Stoned Weekend.

First, meet six college pals, Clarence the soon to be cop, Trent the screw up, Justin the medical intern, and wannabe business owner Harry.

Rounding out are besties who couldn’t be more different, Courtney and Ling-Ling who lives in an apartment that Courtney’s grandmother pays for (who’s a hooker turned millionaire).

All of these friends are connected by their beloved professors Goodkat who lives in a life of debauchery.

During the weekend these friends party, hook up, have lots of sex, and smoke a lot pot.

Yet, all of them have goals and desires that will propel them into the world of “adulting.” Meanwhile, Goodkat lives in a world of arrested development despite being nearly middle-aged.

As for Grandma? Cassidy could write a novel on her. She’s quite a character with a certain flair with a certain cuss word.

As for the final weekend? You won’t see it coming and when you do you will be thoroughly shocked.

Cassidy is an excellent writer, each chapter is written from each character’s point of view as they explore unrequited love that may blossom into true love, moments utter idiocy, sex romps, secrets, and moments of regret.

This novel is not for those who despise excessive cuss words, drug use, sex scenes and I did notice a few grammar errors. However, I was able to look past them. I hope Cassidy has writes more novels. He’s a literary voice to keep an eye on.

Book Reviews: You Are Awesome-9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life by Neil Pasricha

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In this day and age it’s difficult to feel somewhat mediocre let alone awesome. Our country is deeply divided, our global world is spinning out of control, and Mother Nature is a harsh mistress.

On personal level we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us we are never enough. We are told by advertisers and marketers, social media, reality TV, corporate owned news, and celebrity culture. We’re not rich enough, smart enough or just enough.

It’s all enough to make us feel awful. But Neil Pasticha begs to differ in his book You Are Awesome: 9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life.

For the uninitiated Pasricha is a best-selling author, popular public speaker who has given speeches at TED Talks and SXSW, and award-winning podcaster at 3 Books.

I admit I have a love/hate relationship with self help books. Some have all the appetizing quality of a breath mint and others are a delicious feast.

After a brief introduction where Pasricha reminds us to be resilient, he gives us the 9 secrets to claiming his awesomeness.

  1. Add a Dot, Dot, Dot
  2. Shift the Spotlight
  3. See it as a Step
  4. Tell Yourself a Different Story
  5. Lose More to Win More
  6. Reveal to Heal
  7. Find Small Ponds
  8. Go Untouchable
  9. Never, Never Stop

Now my fully competent readers, you can probably figure out a few details of Pasricha’s secrets from the nine titles. But the titles are not sentimental greeting card verse. Pasricha goes very much in depth, using care and craft, the hard work, scientific facts, true stories (including his own) and various resources to achieve transformation. Believe me, you’re not awesome because you are breathing.

In the wise words of one of my favorite  philosophers, RuPaul:

“You better work!”

You’re going to have take an in-depth look at your life, past, present, and and possible future and do a full assessment of your missteps. It won’t be pretty.

But you will also be encouraged to revisit the times where you succeeded and found true joy, professionally and personally.

In the end You Awesome is both a regular book and workbook. While reading it I found myself writing down notes, highlighting passages, and applying Post-it notes to several pages.

Written in voice that is both honest and relatable, Pasricha’s You are Awesome is a good primer on gaining more resilience and living a life of purpose and meaning.

*Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for the advanced copy of You Are Awesome: 9 Secrets to Getting Stronger and Living an Intentional Life. This book will be released this Tuesday, November 5th.

Book Review: Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

Over the past few years I’ve read several books on what it is like to live in the richest country on low pay, back breaking work, while striving to make a better life for oneself and perhaps one’s family. Some of these books include Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado, We Were Witches by Ariel Gore, The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel, and of course, Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic, Nickel and Dimed.

I didn’t think I could handle reading another one until I came across Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. (Introduction by Barbara Ehrenreich)

Not quite 30, Land found herself leaving an abusive relationship with a young daughter in tow. What followed her was a nightmare of homelessness, deplorable apartments, low wages working as a housekeeper, and a very unpleasant journey through the so-called safety net when it came to acquiring government assistance. Unlike some fortunate souls Land lacks a supportive family who help her in her time of need.

Land decides to clean houses to support herself and her daughter while also attending college. She works for a local housecleaning company but also takes on freelance gigs. Not surprisingly, housekeeping is truly back breaking, horribly paid, and demoralizing. Some of her clients don’t see her fully human and worthy of respect. And then some of them just don’t see “her.”

Not making enough money to buy even the basic necessities, Land has to go on government assistance, a tangled weave that is often very difficult unravel with its endless paperwork and noxious questioning of Land’s eligibility and worthiness. If one earns a few extra dollars, one can find their benefits slashed or lose them in their entirety.

Keep in mind, not only is Land taking care of her daughter and cleaning houses, she’s also attending college. I just dare any reader to call her a slacker. She is the antithesis of lazy. In fact, due to my research, most people receiving some type of assistance are working and/or going to school. They are not cheating the system and most are not lazy losers.

But back to the book…

Maid is searing with brutal honesty. Land’s love and devotion to her daughter is undeniable as is her willingness to make a better life using various options. Her resourcefulness is both admirable and clever. I couldn’t help but root for her. Does she at times feel sorry for herself? Well, of course. She is human, after all. There certain times in one’s life when you just got to cry over your lot in life, and then you move on.

In the end people who are struggling like Land deserve respect, not empty pity or utter derision lacking any type of empathy.

In the end Maid convinces the reader to look beyond the stereotypes you may have swirling in your brain when it comes to the poor, anyone on benefits or those faceless, nameless heroes and heroines who make our lives much easier through their blood, sweat and tears.

Maid is a treasure of a memoir. Land should be very proud of herself, and I hope she keeps writing. I expect more from her. She’s one to watch.

Book Review: Leading from the Roots-Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World by Dr. Kathleen E. Allen

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“Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” – Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail

You know I like a book when I mark it up with post-its, write notes in the margins, highlight certain passages and nod my head along like one of those bobble-head figurines. Which is exactly what I did while reading Dr. Kathleen E. Allen’s fascinating, timely and revolutionary’s book Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World.

This book implores organizational leaders (and pretty much anyone else with a stake in the workplace) to look beyond the confines of the physical spaces where we toil to nature and how it can help us and our companies thrive.

Leading from the Roots is divided into 11 well-researched,  and finely-written chapters on concepts like cooperation, diversity, lack of waste, curbing excess, the power of limits and so much more.

Each chapter gives ample evidence on how nature can help worker’s productivity and commitment to their jobs and how simple it is to work these practices into the workplace that won’t break the bank, take up too much time, or distract us from our tasks at hand. Dr. Allen provides ample evidence through both her extensive end notes and bibliography. And each chapter concludes with a summary of the chapter’s main focus and points to ponder and discuss.

Simply put, Leading from the Roots inspired me. Dr. Allen’s lessons are doable, practical and very audience-friendly. It’s ideal for everyone-managers, workers, students and grads, religious leaders, politicians, activists, teachers, creative types, social workers, medical personal, entrepreneurs, and so on.

Leading from the Roots is a great addition to my book shelf. I highly suggest you add it to your book shelf.

Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

Book Review: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

Book Review: Drink Like a Woman-Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat by Jeanette Hurt

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When it comes to liquor and libations Milwaukee-based food and drink writer Jeanette Hurt knows her stuff. So I was only too delighted to come across her book Drink Like a Woman: Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat.

Drink Like a Woman provides over 70 cocktail recipes and so much more. It goes beyond the fruity, sweet, pink and girly drinks like the Cosmopolitan popularized by Sex and the City to provide cocktail recipes for all kinds of palates and tastes.

After a foreward by Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, Hurt share a few words on so-called “girly drinks,” in which she claims there are no “girly drinks.” Women like what they like and we don’t have to apologize for it.

But before we can make a cocktail we need to get our home bar together. Hurt provides a very thorough list of needed accessories like jiggers, muddlers, shakers, strainers, pourers and glasses to make your home bar top notch whether you’re new to the cocktail game or an experienced mixologist. And you don’t have to break the bank. Many of these items can be found at thrift stores, estate sales and rummage sales.

Okay, now we’re onto the fun part-the cocktail recipes, which are inspired by fierce femmes and our herstory, which spans from the 1600s to the modern age.

Chapter One, Witches and Bar Wenches covers the years 1600-1900, which celebrates the Revolutionary War, authors Jane Austen (Jane Austen’s Zombie) and the Bronte Sisters (Bronte’s Brew). You can also make a toast to trailblazers with drinks like Nellie Bly-Tai, Curie Royale and Amelia Takes Flight. That time of month? Ditch that Midol and enjoy a Monthly Medicinal instead.

Chapter Two, Votes for Women, Whiskey for All, covers the years 1900 to 1950. Drinks celebrate flappers with Flapper’s Firewater, Rosie the Riveter with Rosé the Riveter and the iconic artist Frida Kahlo with a Frida Kahlúa. Do you need a virgin cocktail for non-drinkers or those underage? Stir up it up with a Suzy B’s Virgin Voter, which honors Susan B Anthony, famous suffragette and a proponent of the temperance movement.

Chapter Three, Libations for the Liberated, covers the years 1950 to 2000. Pop culture icons like Mary Richards, Princess Leia and Buffy the Vampire Slayer get their own drinks (Bloody Mary Richards, Kissed by a Wookie, and Buffy’s Stake), feminism is in fine form with the Bra Burner, Sister Solidaritea, and the Gloria Stein’em.

Chapter Four, Stirring Up Cocktails and Shaking Up the World, covers the 2000s. You can also make a toast the LBD with The Little Black Dress, denounce manpslaining with Mansplainer Antidote and celebrate friendship with the BFF.

Drink Like a Woman also provides recipes for all kinds of syrup, the rules for creating creamy drinks, and hangover cures in case you indulge too much. And Drink Like a Woman also provides a list and brief bios of the ladies of liquor, the mavens of mixology who shared these cocktail recipes.

Drink Like a Woman is also a fun read for its quotations, lists of music and movies to love while enjoying your cocktails and Paige Clark’s charming illustrations. Drink Like a Woman is a welcome addition to any one’s book shelf whether one imbibes or does not.

Retro Review: The Child Who Never Grew by Pearl S. Buck

For the longest time I only knew multi-award winning author Pearl S. Buck through her classic The Good Earth, among other notable works of both fiction and non-fiction.

But Buck was also a mother of daughter with special needs, a daughter named Carol, which I was made aware of this when I came across Buck’s slim memoir about raising Carol called The Child Who Never Grew. And it at turns, bittersweet, wise and very touching.

When Carol was born she seemed perfectly normal and healthy. Buck and her husband felt truly blessed. But it wasn’t long before they realized Carol wasn’t developing at the same rate as other babies. In fact, Carol’s cognitive abilities would never surpass that of a four year old child.

Devastated, yet determined to do right by Carol, Buck and her husband arose to the challenge of raising a child with “mental retardation,” finally sending Carol to a facility most suitable to address her needs in Vineland, New Jersey.

The Child Who Never Grew is brutally honest on the “stigma” of raising a child like Carol but also the compassion that was so needed and desired by Buck and her husband, and most a beneficial to a person like Carol. I was also impressed on how Carol was looked at in the western culture of the United States and the culture of the far east. This book is also interesting on how we’ve come in our society when it comes to the lives of children and adults with special needs.

A book filled with heartache and triumph, The Child Who Never Grew isn’t just a memoir of mothering a child who is “different,” it is an amazing look at motherhood itself.