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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One Day – Book & Movie Review! (Two for one special!)

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

In anticipation of this movie coming out I quickly ordered the book of the same name. Lucky for me it arrived the day I finished a book so I was ready, and eager, to jump in upon opening that smiling Amazon box. After tearing through the book I only had to wait a few short weeks for the movie to come out, and last night my date with the husband was a trip to see this movie. Now that I’ve seen and read both the book and movie I am eager to report how much I love this overall story.

One Day by David Nicholls is a brilliant concept! In short, it is the story of Emma and Dex  that spans 20 years. What makes it so different and consuming is that we only get to check into Emma and Dex’s lives once a year – July 15th. Each July 15th we check in with our characters to see what has changed, what is new, and what may be in the imminent future. As a novel it truly keeps the reader on their toes because you have to use your context clues to really put the pieces together and figure out what has happened since the last year you heard from them.

This kept the reading at a fast clip for me because I wanted to know. The characters talked in the story with tomorrow being only a day away so there were many times when I was dying to see what took place on July 16th, but alas I had to wait until the next year, or years, to put the pieces together. I could see how this would be frustrating to some readers but it truly kept my interest.

The story is lovely. Both characters have good and bad things about them, and I would say their worst qualities both fall on the confidence spectrum. Dex is overconfident, overcool and very image driven. Emma is lacking confidence and that makes her stay in a safety net that you are dying to cut on her behalf. Throughout the book I could picture Anne Hathaway playing Emma, it was a very easy character to imagine based on some of Anne Hathaway’s previous roles. Dex was easy to imagine as well simply because of his priorities – we knew which labels of clothing he wore, how he looked, which women he was with and so on. What makes the story so beautiful is the way that we are able to actually watch these characters grow through triumphs and struggles and as different as they become it is clear that their focus is still with the other person. They never fully lose sight of their relationship with the other person, even if it hurts at times. It truly is a beautiful story.

As for a movie adaptation, again what a wonderful concept! The movie succeeded in making it very clear what year it was and the progression of time. The characters aged beautifully and realistically, we could see them gaining a year or two since our last sighting, which was nice since many movies seem to miss the mark on realistic age progression. The acting was exceptional as well. Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway really showed a large range of emotion and did it in a believable fashion. They also had wonderful on screen chemistry. They truly made the story feel real, and drew you in, they become friends to the viewers by the closing credits. It is a worthwhile movie to see overall, if I hadn’t read the book and had just watched the movie I think I would have really really enjoyed it, reading the book was not critical when watching this movie at all.

Overall, I feel that this story worked better as a book than as a movie. Since we are only checking in once a year the story is in the details. What was mentioned in passing, what has changed, what you anticipated changing, what is different? In an hour and a half movie those details would really bog you down. I know the author was involved with the screenplay which definitely helped keep the credibility of the story but I do feel that many sacrifices were made for this adaptation to work and I did miss the details. There were some very serious character flaws that I was hoping to see played out, especially since I felt they were pivotal to the beauty in the story, but they didn’t make the cut and were missed to an ‘insider’ who knows the full story. I would highly recommend the book, it is a must read!! As for the movie, I still really enjoyed it and may even see it a second time, but as a comparison to the book, it didn’t land as high on my adaptation movie list as I had hoped, but still a great movie!

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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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Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Posted on February 14, 2011. Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I’m a little behind the curve on reading this book but if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it! This was such a thought-provoking and insightful book. Colleagues of mine had recommended this book to me a year or so ago and I put off reading it, what a mistake! The final push to read this book came after I saw Malcolm Gladwell deliver a keynote speech at a conference I attended. It was a medical conference and Gladwell has very limited medical knowledge but he didn’t try to shape his speech to match the conference exactly and that was what made his speech so perfect. He chose to discuss leadership, leadership strategies, failures and development. The way he spoke and delivered the speech was unbelievably gripping, I truly was at the edge of my seat and was completely engrossed in his speech. Once I left that ballroom I knew it was time to pick up one of his books, Blink happened to be the one available at my library, and so my journey into the subconscious with tour guide Malcolm Gladwell began…

Blink focuses on the decisions made in the blink of an eye that many of us don’t even realize occur. It touches on a few different aspects of our subconscious reactions and thoughts. Gladwell eases us into the book by recounting the story of the J.Paul Getty Museum’s acquisition of a priceless statue. The museum was eager to acquire such a rare statue but in their decision to purchase this piece they overlooked important initial reacts that critics, scholars and art historians had about the statue. This was Gladwell’s first proof that not dismissing unexplained feelings is a good thing. The gut reactions are reactions we have for a reason, there is an emotional and psychological reason behind these feelings and they shouldn’t be dismissed.

Gladwell takes us through card games and our bodies reactions, sports misconceptions, miraculous predictions, famous police investigations and the cliff notes version to couples counseling. The chapter about the couples was one of the most intriguing to me. Gladwell explains that with a fairly high success rate certain people can predict whether couples will remained married or are likely headed for divorce based on small body language clues presented during short, everyday conversations recorded between the couple. The body language clues barely last a second and are so subtle that Gladwell doesn’t even pick up on them at first. Trained professionals see these clues and can confidently predict where this couple is headed. Most of the couples did not even realize that they were giving off these clues, especially since the topics they discussed during their short, filmed conversations were about their pets, family, and other innocuous topics. The facts of how these trained professionals identify these clues are presented to you in a manner that makes you want to study yourself in the mirror and your partner, or family at your next opportunity. In no way is Gladwell suggesting that you will be able to have equal success, quite the opposite, Gladwell is certain that without extensive training our brains won’t even pick up on giving us these cues or on noticing them when others exhibit them.

Blink if filled with facts, figures and lively examples to keep you involved in each chapter. Historical examples give you pause and a moment to reflect and the entire book truly makes you think about all of the snap judgements that we discount on a daily basis. After I finished this I felt that his lesson was truly delivered to me, and did not fall on deaf ears. I want to pay more attention to my initial reactions and instincts but he also preaches throughout the book that this is something that yes common people can learn but it is harder than it seems. It is not going to be an overnight change and while there are steps to learn how to trust, feel and recognize these subconscious behaviors and reactions they all happen rapidly and can be easy to dismiss.

Part of the art of Gladwell’s storytelling is that he weaves lessons and stories throughout the book, making each chapter you read important and reinforced. There are some chapters that you read at the edge of your seat because you are just waiting for him to tell you the critical ah-ha moment in the story, but he has a plan and doesn’t want to spoil the ending too soon. He keeps our appetites ready for more stories and more examples.

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