A Beautiful Work In Progress – Kindle Ed. – By Mirna Valerio (Author)

I had the good fortune to read this title in advance, thanks to the Kindle First program.

A Beautiful Work In Progress: A Memoir, Kindle Edition, by Mirna Valerio is one of the most inspirational personal accounts I have ever read. It does not hurt that the book details the life of a plus-size athlete. I am a plus-sized, non-athlete, but inspiration can go a long way into shifting thoughts which become actions, so I am willing myself to put these good intentions into practice and get myself started toward better health. Her advice goes so far as to think of oneself as an athlete whether or not any external validation of that is present. Good advice, I think how shortly ago I finally decided to think of myself as a writer– if only because “I write.”

Like the author, Mirna Valerio, I have replaced the goal of becoming “skinny” (whatever that is) with becoming fit and healthy. I think that is more a desirable and realistic plan. Will I be running marathons– most certainly not, I know– no matter how impressive that would be.

She makes it unmistakably clear within the pages of the book and in the speech she gave in September of 2016 (reprinted in the appendix) that we have our preferences. We are not cookie-cutter people in shape, size, nor about personal tastes. My preferred physical activities center around basketball, dance and swimming. I have tried to keep dancing, but the instances of basketball and swimming have indeed become fewer and farther-between. These favorite activities are ones I wish to resurrect in earnest.

Her accounts of some of her marathons were quite harrowing. She is unquestionably a dedicated, determined, and exemplary athlete. In my opinion, the author is a role model and heroine, though she writes her story as though she is neither. Her prose is approachable, readable, and relatable. Reading her account is almost like hearing it from her lips, as her style is easygoing, matter-of-fact, and unassuming. I have gotten to know her more than most other authors, I believe.

The accounts of her many races and her training measures are here, but there is much more in this book. Mirna Valerio is a multi-faceted person. Her intellect shines through as clearly as her athleticism and prowess in her marathon runs. She is a voracious reader, she has taught music and Spanish and traveled a good deal. It is all pretty fascinating.

I am usually one to think “I am not worthy!” when reading such an account of an accomplished person, but I know that she would not want that so I will put that energy instead into making my story come true. After all, this is not the end. I am chronologically further into my story than Mirna Valerio, but this last act could prove greater than the others if I put my all into it and “do not leave anything on the trail” so to speak.

So here am I, despite appearances, a burgeoning athlete. Thank you, Mirna Valerio. I have subscribed to your Facebook and Twitter because I see that your posts are as inspirational as this book, and I will need the encouragement. In return, consider me another “work in progress” and one of your many “enablers.” 🙂

If you are interested in this lively account of a marathoner, then here is the Amazon product page link to A Beautiful Work In Progress: A Memoir.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mrs. Saint and the Defectives: A Novel – By Julie Lawson Timmer

~ GENERAL TAKE [MILD SPOILERS] ~

I read Mrs. Saint and the Defectives in July when it was available as one of the selections for Amazon Prime’s Kindle First program. Every month, Amazon Prime members can pick out one title from the handful offered and download it for free thirty days before it debuts publicly. It is one of my particular favorite perks of the Prime program.

I chose this title, as it seemed one right up my alley. It sounded fun, light, and quirky enough to de-stress me and set me up for a positive month. I was not wrong.

The titular character, Mrs. Saint, is a powerhouse of a woman with firm opinions on things like being neighborly, families eating together, and teenage boys and dogs. You know– controversial stuff. I could not help but love her immediately. But then, I loved every one of the characters in this book. The author, Julie Lawson Timmer, does a fantastic job of breathing life into them all. Besides mere life, she bestows each with a charm, grace, and personality. I know people such as these.

Markie, a recent divorcĂ©e, and her teenage son Jesse become next door neighbors to the irascible elderly woman and a rag-tag bunch she calls “defectives.” The dance that ensues between the overstepping neighbor and the reticent, retreating Markie is something to behold.

The so-called “defectives” are an awkward bunch of lovely people like ourselves and probably everyone we know. No one escapes pain and woundedness in this life. Some merely hide it better than others, if you ask me. Brokenness does not mean one is “defective”– just human in an imperfect world.

The author has an impressive command of language and narrative. I read the book through nearly in one sitting. Ms. Timmer obviously knows people. With a few deft sentences, she made me feel I understood even the lesser characters well. I had a stake in them and their growth and struggles.

If she were to write a sequel, I would buy it and read it with anticipation. The ending was a mixed bag to me. Ultimately, I like what occurred for most of the characters. There was a development, a revelation, that I felt was not necessary to the story, but others may well disagree.

 

~ MORE PERSONAL TAKE – [MEDIUM SPOILERS] ~

 

Mainly, I enjoyed at least the first 90% of the book very much. I smiled often and even laughed aloud. Other times, I found myself “coaching” the characters as though they would hear me and fall into line. [Why do I do that– ever?]

Knowing her neighbor had lots of wisdom, why did Markie not keep her stubborn attitude in check? Why did Mrs. Saint deliver her “advice” in the same matter-of-fact way? Did she not realize that “people do not care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” Had she not heard that you “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” sometime in her life?

So, I would have preferred if a few certain characters might have been less reactive and stubborn. It became a bit frustrating– though true-to-life to some degree– as we can “miss” each other even with the best of intentions.

I have read many lighthearted books lately in which the last chapters took on a vastly more profound and somber subject or tone. There was some warning [of a sort] when I looked back over the stories in detail. However, they felt disjointed and out of step with the rest of the narrative.

Much to my chagrin, Mrs. Saint and the Defectives wound up this way. My thought on the semi-surprise “Cause” ending is that the book, though seemingly lighthearted in tone, is quite serious in its way. The plight of these people is enough– more than enough to my way of thinking– to give it importance, relevance and whatever other weighty “ance” word you can imagine. This tale is about the human condition.

There is no end of books written about the subject that is broached in the last pages about a certain character’s back story. I would not discourage significant themes. I find them when others may not, in fact. This tale of a pushy but well-meaning neighbor with a houseful of eccentrics under her roof and their dealings with the near agoraphobic single mom and her angsty son is ENOUGH.

The ending seems a reach in a few ways. The explanation feels like a betrayal of the personality and traits of the title character. It does not go with what came before. Also, it seems like a reach — like that of an overachiever holding a pen, who always pushes for more and is rarely satisfied– and never believes that others without that ultra-critical eye, simply marvel at the beauty that was inherent in their words already.

I wish I could have assured the author that just as these quirky, beautiful people she lovingly detailed in these pages have intrinsic worth and are not “defective,” so too would this book be worthy enough without the ultra-serious turn. If it is not broken, it does not need fixing.

What Julie Lawson Timmer has done with her work has touched me greatly, without a doubt, and I am grateful for it. I just would have liked to have maintained the same particular sentiment and tone from the start through to the story’s conclusion. As this is art, though, it is the beholder’s eye that matters. Your perspective may differ.

Here is the link to download the Kindle version of Mrs. Saint and the Defectives on Amazon.

 

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“P.S. From Paris” by Mark Levy – Kindle Edition

P.S. From Paris was my August Kindle First selection. Amazon Prime members get access to one free book one month before it becomes available for purchase. I am glad that I read it. However, there are a few caveats.

Characters – Characters in P.S. From Paris are well-fleshed out with a few being less-so. I quickly grew fond of most characters. The banter between the main characters especially is worth the price of admission.

Content – There is nothing particularly egregious in this story. The language is tame overall, with maybe a dozen mostly mild expletives. There is no violence. There are allusions to adult relations that are not much steamier than the old film trope of having the camera pan away from a kissing couple. I like the overall wholesome feel.

Pacing – One of the major detractions from the book for me was the pacing. The beginning seemed slow. I had to fight to stay awake. The pace picked up and never wavered again once the romantic leads met one another.

Storyline – This is a romance, certainly. Some have labeled it rom-com. For me, there are comic moments, but they are the sort that made me smile wryly, rather than laugh out loud. This book was light-hearted the first 85% or more of the novel, then become melodramatic and serious in content and tone near the end.

This evolving plot is something I have seen a lot lately. It tends to feel a bit contrived– like the author is trying too hard to be clever, relevant, and socio-politically vital. This story is slightly less heavy-handed about it than others I have read lately.

It is not that I object to profound messages in books that I read– quite the opposite! It is more a matter of feeling that there is depth to be found in the simplest of stories, too. To me, it does not need switching gears to make it into something unexpected. When done with mastery, precision, and subtlety, I am sure it would make a winning story for me. I have seen it so often that I am starting to expect it beforehand.

I am also unclear how realistic the plot twist is, as it seems beyond all credulity that the publishing deception went undiscovered for years. [It is too difficult to detail this further without spoiling the plot for readers].

Writing – Marc Levy writes well. The story is often enjoyable to read. A slight problem with following the story comes down to dialogue. Mr. Levy kept a minimalistic approach to attributing lines of dialogue. It became hard to follow without reading back and making sure of the speaker. There were also several instances of a change in the scene without much fanfare. It took a minute to sort out what was happening.

Aicok Single Serve Coffee Maker

This Aicok Single Serve Coffee Maker has a stainless steel body design. It is durable and sturdy and should be around for years. The Aicok is also BPA free.

The machine is compatible with Keurig’s 10oz coffee pods. I have been enjoying many cups now with no issue. I used to have a Keurig maker in the past, but I gave it away to a loved one. It is surprising to me how much I like having one again. It is incredibly handy! I save money often by using a reusable pod filled with coffee my family enjoys.

The size of this machine is so compact that I am toying with the idea of putting it on my desk for even more convenience. At only 8.5 x 4.9 x 9.1 inches and not even 2.5 pounds, it’s got a small enough footprint for sure for all but the tiniest desks. I still love my French press, but this is excellent for those times that only one person wants coffee. If we both do not want coffee, we generally will not make a pot, as we do not want to waste any. This way, we get coffee whenever we like regardless whether the other person is in a java mood.

The cartridge is removable and is top rack dishwasher safe, which makes it easy to keep it pristine. I would not use the sterilizer cycle to be on the safe side, however. It is a definite plus to me that most of my travel mugs fit s

The one button operation makes it simple for even the most bleary-eyed to make their morning brew. This machine has an auto-shut off and protection against overheating. It is UL certified.

The Aicok Single Serve Coffee Maker has a 100% guarantee, as well as a 24-month manufacturer warranty, so there is no risk.

If you are interested in getting your own compact coffee brewer, here is the Amazon product listing.

Should you wish to see my original review, it is here. I hope you find it helpful :-).

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Heiyo Stylus Fine Point Pen for Capacitive Touch Screen Devices – Silver

 

 

 

This Heiyo Stylus Fine Point Rechargeable Pen works well on my daughter’s Fire & and my Fire 8. The pen is the exact size of a new lead pencil. This writing device is only slightly heavier than the regular pencil. It is surprisingly lightweight for the look of it. It is comfortable to hold and has a balanced feel to it.

The pen comes in a box with a charging adapter and a diagram of the parts along with the shortest user manual I have ever seen. A short manual is enough here, as there is nothing too problematic about the pen operation. To start the pen, you press the start button at the top of the unit. A blue light flashes three times across the LED strip to show that it is on. After that activation, no other sign indicates whether the pen is on. Thankfully the pen will shut itself off after two-three minutes, so its charge is not worn down. You never have to worry about turning it off with this power-saving feature built-in.

The pen is compatible with iPads, iPhones, iPods, Kindles, Samsung Galaxy phones, tablets and touchscreen laptops; essentially anything that has a capacitive touch screen. I have noticed no lag when using this on my Kindle. I use it for routine tapping here and there, for simple games, and for writing lists, and feel it is responsive enough overall. There was a slight learning curve for me, as nearly all of my writing is on a computer or electronic device. Seeing my handwriting at first was a bit of a fright, but the longer I use it, the better it looks again.

The stylus tip has not scratched or in any way harmed my devices, which is always a concern as they are costly to replace. I am hoping my daughter will try some art with this pen and test it out with one of her apps. Although a thin fiber fine tip [2.2mm], I use extra-fine generally. When I am making lists or writing in a word processing program or app, I adjust the chosen tip to the finest one available so that I am happier with the control over the lines and with the finished product. I wish that replacing tips was possible with the Heiyo, but it is not at this time.

To charge the stylus, just remove the end cap to reveal the Micro USB underneath. Fit the adapter over the Micro USB and plug into a charging port. The LED indicator will glow with a reddish hue. It is simple and practically fool-proof to use and keep charged for the next time.

The Heiyo Stylus comes with an 18-month warranty and customer service should you ever need it.

If you are interested, this is the link to the Amazon product page.

If you would like to check out my original Amazon review, here is the link.

Not Exactly “The Mutual Admiration Society”

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I wanted to like it a lot. Memories of those glorious hours I spent in childhood reading “Nancy Drew,” and most especially “Trixie Belden” came to mind from some description of TMAS on the product page. This tale is not like any of those books. Nor should it be– I get it. Much time has gone by since then, and they seem a bit dated. They were pretty idealized, innocent stories. If I reread them now, I would read them differently than my younger self. I might have to (reluctantly) agree with detractors about being “saccharine” and such.

Though I am willing to concede the series’ I used to get lost in were possibly too straight-laced, this book went too far off the rails for me. The writing is good. This volume is not the first story written about these characters, and this is not the first book in the series, either. Written from the perspective of a jaded 11-year-old girl named Tessie Finley, it follows her and “Birdie,” her 10-year-old sister. A well-intentioned librarian tells Tess she might aspire to become “a real-life Nancy Drew.” Instead, she reads mysteries for the opposite reason. She has dreams of “doing crimes, not solving them.” After all, she would be what she “already was– an eavesdropper, liar, shoplifter, cat burglar, poison-pen writer extraordinaire, and top-notch blackmailer….”

Of course, a lot of this seems wishful thinking. She is not bad. I just cannot relate to those sorts of goals. At all. I understand there has been a tragedy in her life, as she watched her beloved father die in a horrible accident. The title “The Mutual Admiration Society” comes from one of the few flashbacks we get of them with their father. Unfortunately, they are quite brief, as they are the best part of the book. That highlight is never matched for me. That is disappointing, as it happens fairly early.

On the other hand, their mother is barely seen or heard from in the course of the book at all. Her absence and things the narrator/ title character says leads the reader to know that she is not a fixture in her daughters’ lives– even though she lives in the same house. She does not even allow them to call her mom or a similar title, as doing so may detract from her finding a new husband and the girls a substitute dad. We readers are privy to no scenes of closeness with their mother– no breakfasts, lunches or dinners. Nothing. The lead does think about how her mother is a lousy cook, so these meals do happen. It feels contrived. I feel as annoyed at this as I do when watching a movie in which a couple has a child or children, but they hardly appear on camera at all. It is like having children is the easiest thing ever. They never need or want anything. The parents’ lives just progress like when they were pre-child. Anyone? LOL

Much to Tess Finley’s credit, her top goal on her “to-do” list is to take care of her sister. Although just a year separates the girls, Birdie is working with some significant issues of unknown origin. Tess’ treatment of her sister is kind for the most part, allowing for some momentary lapses. She is eleven, after all. However, even being so young, she has compiled what amounts to an enemies list with an expletive title. Really? She often uses her favorite cuss, da*n, and sometimes she uses the blasphemous version. Other than that, there is not too much by way of swearing. There is no sexual content of any sort.

The characters are stilted and not fully fleshed out. Tess’ way of thinking and talking seem a parody of some ne’er do well gangster. It does not ring true but feels quite forced. Add to this that nothing much truly happens, and it was a disappointing read for me. It seems at times like the author was taking a crack at duplicating the charming “Scout” character from “To Kill A Mockingbird,” but it comes up short. The book just does not jive with my sensibilities.

The Mutual Admiration Society by Lesley Kagen was my January selection from the Kindle First Program. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can choose one of these special titles every month for free. See the choices here.

Here is my original review on Amazon. Please feel free to comment, share or vote as helpful. Thank you! 🙂

Book Review: Nukila Amal’s The Original Dream

The Original Dream

If you have Amazon Prime, then you might want to select this title as your Kindle First selection for December 2016. I recommend it if you see yourself doing so after reading this review of a sort. 🙂

This review will not have spoilers, nor will it say much about what transpires at all, in fact. I do not want to detract from it in that way. This review will merely state how I read it to the end.

In truth, I was not going to review this book at all or, if I ever did, not this soon. I am still marinating in it, or it is marinating in me. I am not sure. Thinking of it just today, and how a few weeks have gone by, I became curious about how others saw it. Did many feel likewise moved as I was after having read it?

I am somewhat surprised by the preponderance of negative reviews. Admittedly, the novel was confusing to me at first. Many reviewers by their account felt similarly. Naturally, I can appreciate that criticism. As I consider myself a researcher, I read for information probably more than most, Having adopted a regular “just the facts, ma’am” personality from years of reading straightforward articles, essays, and non-fiction, I recently started reading fiction again. [Finally!]

“What is the problem here?” I took my glasses off and rubbed at my eyes, mulling it over. I looked over at my daughter. Seeing her brought my husband to mind. The similarities in them will do that sometimes. He passed on years ago, yet he gave me a “eureka” moment as though he was right there. He had not been a reader. Movies were his reading preference. Being dyslexic, I suppose that was fortuitous.

Years ago, as craziness erupted on the big screen within the first few moments of the film, my husband whispered excitedly to our daughters: “Fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy ride!” He knew right off he would enjoy the heck out of the movie if he just held on till the end– and just experienced it. He wanted them to do the same to get the full effect of the rush of free-falling.

I realized my modus operandi as the reader needed to change or this was not going to end well– if I even finished at all! I am too stubborn to admit defeat that quickly, trust me! I took a few deep breaths and vowed to go for the experience and to ebb and flow to the beat of the author’s stream-of-consciousness. It turns out; it is a ride, indeed!

Nukila Amal’s is a metaphorical and poetic treatment of prose in The Original Dream. It is not your usual read; it is true. If you prefer your narrative simple and straight, then you may go away utterly disappointed like some rich young ruler in the Bible– or as I nearly had done. However, if you are in it for the adventure of reading, of being translated elsewhere and altering your perspective on the turn of a dime, then this alley is one you want to meander down to see where it leads. This journey will prove the path less traveled by, but the lack of footsteps that trod it before does not imply it is barren or desolate. It is lush and rich with ideas as well as overgrown vegetation. The patient reader will prevail still. It has made all the difference– just as Robert Frost promised.

If you want to pick up The Original Dream, it can be found on Amazon here. It is available as a selection from Kindle First for the month of December 2016. It becomes available on January 1, 2017 for everyone.

Please check out and comment on my original Amazon review here. 🙂