The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

Posted on October 20, 2011. Filed under: Books, Personal Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Every once in a while I find myself in a non-fiction kick. During those times I tend to go a bit overboard on biographies, memoirs and inspirational/self-help titles. An advice columnist that I really enjoy following, Carolyn Hax, recommends this book to many people for a variety of reasons. After hearing it time and time again I finally trekked to the library and put in the request to borrow it, and I am so glad that I did. I have recommended this to quite a few people since reading it, the impression it left on me is definitely a lasting one.

I personally feel that every young woman, going to college, in college, living on her own, moving to a new city or living in the same city she has lived in her entire life should read this book. This book teaches life lessons and life skills that many of us girls are lacking. This is not about self-defense and not meant to scare women about the dangers of the world but it is educational and excellent. There is no substitute for learning the information provided in this book – I wish I had read it years earlier.

Gavin De Becker is a pioneering advisor on navigating dangerous and risky situations involving assignation, stalking and basic survival fear. De Becker owns an agency that protects public figures including politicians and celebrities. Through reading his book you can tell that he is the leader in this type of knowledge. He is smart, he is confident and it shows throughout the book. Additionally, De Becker is confident that with this knowledge we can also be safer, which makes your confidence rise as well.

De Becker gives us some of his back-story on how he ended up in this field and goes through some difficult stories about his childhood. Hearing about his childhood helps us really understand how he was able to hone in and fully develop the heightened awareness he has for survival skills. We also get an excellent glimpse into the mind of someone whose sole profession is protecting others. Getting in on that thought-process is enlightening and helps us better understand how we can start to think that way and protect ourselves better.

The main topics in this book are female safety focused. While De Becker doesn’t want to stereotype, it is fact that many of the situations he describes in the book are female based problems. While men can be victims in the same scenarios, the truth is that women find themselves as the victims more often, focusing on what really is occurring is helpful to us to better prepare ourselves. Topics explored are stalking, trusting our instincts and learning to how to listen to the guidance our instincts are providing, public figure attacks, intimate violence, occupational violence, threats, and violence from children. There are many situations described in the book that we may never ever encounter, but having the knowledge in us ready in case we are in that situation is invaluable. We will never regret teaching ourselves what to do in the rare case we find ourselves there.

The best take-home message for me was learning how to trust our instincts. This book is not meant to make us more afraid or allow fear to take over our lives, it is rather about learning how not to be fearful because we have the ability and knowledge (after reading this) to safely navigate dangers that are presented to us. De Becker really focuses on what biology has given us and how we are ignoring it. Part of us ignoring these survival signals are culture – we are being taught to act in ways that go against this biology and are putting ourselves at risk. De Becker is helping women to break through that culture to put our personal safety first.

As I said before I think this is a book that every young woman should read, most likely more than once. It helped give me courage and strength and after reflecting on what I had read it also did make me feel less freightened and more in charge. I wouldn’t put myself in danger on purpose just to prove that I am in touch with my intuition but I did learn how to trust my intuition more and have thought of some ‘plans’ that I would carry out in a variety of situations, mentally preparing myself ahead of time should I find myself there. I also reflected back on previous encounters where I put many of these biological tools aside in an effort to just ‘be nice’ and I can recognize how I purposefully ignore bells and whistles and warnings and I’m ready to make different choices in those some situations in the future. Excellent read – don’t be scared, fear truly is a gift!

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Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

Posted on September 8, 2011. Filed under: Books, Movies, Personal Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

It has been a long while since I last read a Nicholas Sparks book. After Nights in Rodanthe was a box-office flop I took a break from his stories, but this one was amazing. For anyone who has read his books before, have no fear, it takes place in North Carolina and is a bit of a love story…

The story starts out with the mysterious ‘Miss Katie’. She is a waitress in a small town in North Carolina. She keeps to herself and really tries to be invisible as much as possible. As for her past and history, well that’s a closed book and she isn’t giving away any secrets. Sparks opens this book shrouded in mystery surrounding Katie. We know she has run but we aren’t completely sure what it is she’s running from. As the reader we are looking over our shoulders with Katie while doing our best to chip away at small details she gives away to figure out what her story is.

Much of the beginning of the book if focused around this North Carolina town she has found herself in. It’s a small town so gossip is rampant, which is part of the reason for Katie to stay as tight-lipped as she is. But the town’s smallness also lends itself to be quaint, and homey and just what she needs to calm her nerves from whatever it is she is running from. We quickly meet the local widower, Alex, who is struggling to keep up with his two young children and the general store he manages. There is no secret that right from the beginning of this story we are expecting something, anything, to happen between Katie and Alex. This is a Nicholas Sparks book after all, so it is no shock when she walks into his general store that he is intrigued, and is determined to break through her shell and learn about who she is.

The first few chapters are really focused on where Katie is, the struggles Alex has gone through loosing his wife, his interactions with his children, and the way the entire town interacts. As a reader I wanted to find out what Katie was running from, I had some hunches and ideas but nothing concrete and it was a bit frustrating not to have that laid out for me after a few chapters. Then, just as my frustration was about to peak, Katie has a new neighbor, a female named Jo that Katie opens up to. At this point we have it – we know why Katie is running, we understand what she is up against and we truly want her to succeed.

Sparks takes a moment to introduce a new character at this point. Up until now we have only heard from Katie and Alex, but it is time to get into the head of Kevin, Katie’s husband. Not hearing from Kevin until quite a ways into the book was definitely an interesting point to the book. Since we had hints about her past and then learned it in full it really gives the reader time to develop a concrete feeling on this new character, and when he is finally introduced we have a firm opinion on him, and the thoughts he puts into the book confirm our thoughts and really solidify them. Once Kevin is introduced the book takes a bit of a turn.

Katie and Alex are becoming close, she has a dear friend in her neighbor Jo, she is starting to grow roots in this new location and we are now hearing from her husband and have a direct insight into the mind that Katie is trying to read from miles away. We want Katie and Alex to love deeply and for Katie to trust Alex with all her heart and love him as much as he immediately loves her but we understand the difficulty. We learn her secrets and watch as she grows stronger by the chapter. And at the same time we watch Kevin’s actions and then the story gets really good and you are definitely involved.

Without giving away the ending, or much of the middle, I will say that this book was more riveting and page-turning than any other Nicholas Sparks book I have ever read. I literally could not put it down for quite a few pages because I was glued. The narrative switched between Katie and Alex in North Carolina and Kevin. We could see both sides of the story and we could only read one word at a time as the worlds collided. Nicholas Sparks did an excellent job developing all of these characters in a way that we had opinions of them that matched their actions and our opinions were so incredibly strong that we felt involved in the outcome. The book was heart-wrenching while at the same touching and at the end you feel proud at what was accomplished by the characters. I really did not know how it was going to end and that helped keep me glued to the pages.

I cannot say enough that while this is somewhat of a love story, it is less about love as it about learning to love again and learning how to trust. There are times when the story is a bit graphic, not from a sexual point of view but from a violent point of view but it is done in a very tactful way that makes you really understand the characters and their inner-feelings.  It is a good story with a lot of meat to it – perfect for those that like drama, good for Sparks’ fans and really good for just about anyone who has agreed with my book selections in the past. The action, drama and love packed into this book truly would make a Hollywood movie proud, according to the author’s website movie rights have been sold, hopefully the movie lives up to the book! Enjoy!

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This is a Book by Demetri Martin

Posted on August 26, 2011. Filed under: Books, Personal Reviews, TV Shows | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

This is a fabulous book. This is a hilarious book. This is a semi-thought-provoking book. This is clearly the work of a genius.

Demetri Martin is a comedian, actor and now I guess an author as well. I have always enjoyed his comedy, it is witty but thought-provoking and really smart (and witty!). When his show on comedy central was cancelled I was pretty disappointed but upon seeing his book gracing the New Releases table at Barnes & Noble I perked right up! I finished this book in 2 days flat. My husband, typically a slower reader, finished in 3. For a nice, light summer read, or a quick book around the busy holidays, this is one to keep in mind!

Please do not go into reading this book expecting a story or any type of running theme. The theme of this book is Martin’s comedy style, that’s really the only common thread. It is more a collection of funny quips that he has written versus a novel. As a daily commuter this was perfect for me to read to and from work as I could easily move from one ‘chapter’ or story to the next. If you do read this on a train or any other public commuting space please be prepared to be stared at by your fellow commuters. You will most likely laugh – out loud and frequently. This is typically abnormal behavior during the morning and evening rush hours so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Since his comedy is a little unusual, before you devote your time to this book, you may want to check out Martin’s twitter or website to get a feel for his comedy. He is known for not only his funny stories but also great drawings. Lucky for us, he included quite a few of his drawings within the book. There are two sections full of drawings, including graphs and pie charts for those analytical out there. The subject matter is light, it may take a small amount of thought, but it is really just fun.

Since there isn’t a unified plot with this book, this has become an increasingly difficult review to write. I have recommended this book to numerous colleagues and friends, and so all of you out there on the World Wide Web – check it out too! I really cannot say enough about this book. It is fun, it is clever, it was wonderful. Definitely a book I plan to re-read once it has finished making its rounds through my circle of friends.

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Posted on April 28, 2011. Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I know I am a little late on reading and reviewing this book since it was quite popular a few months to a year ago but better late than never! If you haven’t read this yet I could not recommend more than you run out and rent it from the library, or purchase it. This was such an excellent book and an absolute pleasure to read!

The Help revolves around house maids, well-to-do women, education, and desegregation in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960s. Kathryn Stockett really takes you back in time with her characters, Aibeleen, Skeeter, Minny and Hilly. Hilly is an overly opinionated ignorant woman who enjoys having full control over everyone, her domestic help, her frail mother, her friends and the town. She thinks she is much more important and well-educated than she is, and throughout the book she is frequently the source of drama, strife and anger (from both the reader and other characters). Wherever Hilly is, trouble usually follows.

Skeeter is the heroine in this novel. She is well-educated and smart, and maybe the author was onto something with having her looks as nothing more than average, or less than average, because it allows us to look past her outer shell and into her core and her heart, which is clearly pure gold. Skeeter is from a very conservative town and household. She was extremely close with her maid, who she considered a second mother (or maybe better than a mother growing up), her childhood maid disappears before she is due to come home from college and it may be out of a gut instinct that this person would never have abandoned her that she starts to create a journal of the Jackson maids. She is dying to become a full-time writer and thinks that a book chronicling what it is really like being a maid for a white woman in Jackson could be a breakthrough, and she is correct. What Skeeter maybe didn’t fully anticipate was the stress this would cause for herself and those contributing their stories as well as the tough decisions she would make – now that she knew all about her friends’ dirty laundry did she still want to consider them friends?

Aibileen is Elizabeth’s maid. Elizabeth is Hilly’s best friend and I don’t think Elizabeth could make any decision without first knowing what Hilly wants her to do, she relies on Hilly for entirely too much and it is clear that Elizabeth has some morals but throws her beliefs out the window to stay in Hilly’s good graces. Aibileen is the strongest of the maids in terms of spirit. She believes in Skeeters project and works with her to find others who also believe in the project. Aibileen and Skeeter truly believe that this book will bring about change, they are only hoping the changes that are brought are positive.

Working on this project requires complete secrecy. The maids cannot tell their families, they cannot allow their employers to find out and Skeeter must never get caught on the wrong side of the tracks in a neighborhood she doesn’t belong in. There are many times in this book where you think it is going to take a turn for the worse and your beloved characters will be found out but you have to continue turning the pages to see if their work pays off. If completed the book will rock the world, it will show the rest of the country how backwards and behind Jackson Mississippi truly is, and will help desegregate the south that holds on so dearly to is segregated history.

Reading about the experiences the maids tell Skeeter are shocking from a modern perspective but most likely not that far from the 1960s truth, which is unfortunate. These maids were the heart and soul of many childhoods and taught many children about life, but once those kids were old enough to understand their parents they didn’t have the same love in their hearts for their maids and the pattern would start again when those children would have children. The ‘housewife’ that really stood out was Cecilia.

Minny was Cecilia’s maid. Minny was unlike the other maids in that she caused a fuss over things and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She had a short fuse and blew it easily. Celia was until the other wives in that she had no children and didn’t need a maid but also didn’t have an upbringing that included domestic help, or domestic skills of her own. Many of the women employed maids so that they simply didn’t have to do the work, but if necessary they were able to cook, clean and possibly take care of their children. Celia couldn’t cook or clean but also couldn’t break through into Hilly’s circle, which was all she desperately wanted. Minny learned a lot about truly caring for another person through her time with Celia and Celia in turn learned a lot about herself and how mixed up her priorities were. Watching that relationship unfold was truly memorable and touching.

This book can make us all feel grateful for the freedoms we have all won and the freedoms we enjoy. It reminds us of a time that we may, or may not have, lived through and how far we have come, together. Togetherness is the glue to this story. Anything is possible if we can come together and work as a team. Compassion and empathy are also just as important. As I read the last page of this book and reflected on what I had read, I learned that we all have it in us to feel compassion for other people and we can each be a change agent, in the troubling world we live in knowing that we can do something small that means a lot to so many people and truly makes such a big difference is a good feeling.

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Second Chance by Jane Green

Posted on February 25, 2011. Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , |

Jane Green – one of Chic-Lit’s finest! Every once and again I need a book that just requires me to sit back and enjoy, I want it to be light and easy to get through quickly. In one of these moods I settled on Second Chance. If you enjoy light books with easy story lines and characters or chic-lit then this would be a great choice for you!

The cast of characters in this tale is a group of friends scattered between England and the US that were originally united in High School. They have similar backgrounds but have all changed, and grown distant over the past few months. They are very protective of each other but have made life decisions that have left them out of touch. Many of this group are famous, and the ones that aren’t famous are well-off and would claim to have a wonderful life. There was one person in the group consistently united them and brought them together, that was Tom. Tom is described to be a well-liked, handsome, smart and successful person. He lived in the US but kept his ties to his friends in England and his family still living in England strong. Tom is at the center of this story without being much of a main character, which is a really interesting reflection.

It is clear from the start that Holly starts as one of the true centerpieces of this tale. Some of the other group members such as Paul and Olivia are a bit more of a distraction to the Holly saga but she is one of the true centerpieces. Holly is in what she feels at the beginning of the story to be a wonderful life. She has two fabulous children and a wealthier husband with a house she loves. As the story moves on it becomes more and more clear that Holly is unhappy. It starts with her resurfacing feelings for Tom and then more obvious to her admitting it may be possible her choice in spouse was her settling. Much of the story is focused on Holly and how she decides to change her life.

Another main plot is Saffron. Saffron is an actress in hollywood. She is living what seems to be the typical hollywood lifestyle, including having a relationship with an A-list celebrity. Saffron does have skeletons in her closet and when they come crashing out her newly rediscovered friends are there to help her piece them together.

This story focuses a lot on how true friendships can be put back together in an instant, even if it has been years, but I think this story also has a lot of focus on how friends can influence you especially in a true way. Old friends know who you were and can see your changes, it may be an old friend that is the one to help ‘bring you back to Earth’ if you stray from your true self.

There are many tragedies in this story and many points for growth for each of the characters. I didn’t find there to be anything shocking about the plot, and there were few twists. Green lays the story out and develops the characters in such a thorough manner that it is easy to see where they are headed. It is a light-hearted story with some deeper emotions laid underneath. It shows us that even adults do stupid things and make bad choices but that a truly strong person can do what is right in their heart and stay by their friends.  It would be a lovely beach read!

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