Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: The Diary of an American Au Pair

It's been a while since I completely finished a book. At first I had a hard time reading this one—not knowing why I was reading it until the end. It seemed as though there were little purpose for the book the whole time I was reading until about the last 20 pages.
But it was one of the "finding yourself" novels that most women can associate with.

"The Diary of an American Au Pair" was originally published by Marjorie Leet Ford under the title "Do Try to Speak as We Do."

It's understandable why they changed the name to something more attractive to the chic lit crowd.—although in the beginning the novel didn't seem to suit the traditional chic lit being a but more stodgy than most.

In the end, however, more and more details are told by the nanny Melissa, who the story is based around.

Melissa moves to England to be a nanny to escape a relationship with her fiance Tedward, who we know at once is not her top pick. Her new family's mother is dreadfully uptight, giving Melissa a hard time about everything and using niceties to get her to agree to do more work than she had originally agreed upon for less pay.

In the beginning Melissa finds everyone she comes in contact with her against her, but as time goes on, she makes friends with another nanny as well as some extended family, making life a bit more tolerable. But as she's having such difficulty as a nanny. She begins sending letters home to San Francisco, which are published.

When things become unbearable to Melissa in the end, the children tell her they understand if she leaves, but they have been thankful for her. She takes a sabbatical to think: Should she marry Tedward? What does she do about her English suitor Simon? Should she stay or take the full-time offer back home as a writer?

Sometimes getting away from your life, regardless of how nonsensical, can be what you need to determine the trajectory of your life—and at that moment being a nanny in a foreign land is what she needs to move on in life.

Worth the read.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Finally: A supernatural book with a sense of humor

By Tiffany Young

"Hounded" by Kevin Hearne begins with a very old druid in the body of a 21-year-old shopkeeper, Atticus O'Sullivan. Hoping to keep his home secret, he changes his Irish name, opens an occult bookshop and minds his own business.

Fate has other plans, however, as supernatural body after supernatural body hunts him down to tell him about others coming after him and giving him advice. While he knows he can trust his vampire and werewolf attorneys, can he trust the goddesses and witches who say they want to help him against his rival?
The story line is pretty amusing with him communicating silently with his dog, who makes jokes even as he is at battle with his arch rival, asking for steak and French poodles when everything is over.

The magic and different beings are also described thoroughly enough for an outsider like me to understand what their particular gifts are, which makes the fact that there are multiple beings tolerable.

This is the first of three books, and I think I am up for a trilogy if the rest of the Supernatural Book Club is.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Enter your shorts

If you love to read, you may dream of being a writer. Why not try your hand at a short story competition? It's quicker than writing a novel and will get your creative juices going. The Writer's Digest has a competition going on over here.

The deadline is Nov. 15, 2011. Good luck!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Making a list and checking it twice

Not sure what to read next? Don't have a list of books to read or a stack piling up next your bed?

Well, I can't relate to that, but if this is you, Lifehacker has a nice post on how to make a summer reading list. is especially good, and if you join, make sure to add me as a friend.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A quick, uplifting read

Got a few minutes? Download this book, "The Wisdom of Serenity" to enjoy during moments of downtime.

The author, Christopher Foster, writes The Happy Seeker, a blog about spirituality and its effect on the soul.

The book is just 35 pages including the cover and bio, but offers short little truths about life, such as "Your body has limitations" but "there is another part of you that is forever free."

It's a free, downloadable book, so the only cost is time.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Little Prince: A trip to childhood

By Tiffany Young
Do you ever feel like you've lost something from your childhood? Perhaps it was innocence or great ideas or your creativity, but there's something that was there now just beyond your grasp in adulthood.

Enter "The Little Prince" by Antione de Saint-Exupéry. This book, presumably for youth, speaks it's greatest truths toward adults.

The story begins by telling how a man who is trapped in the dessert with his wrecked airplane had enjoyed drawing as a child, but was told by adults to stick with something that would make him money. Decades later he is trying to fix his plane when he gets a visitor—a prince—who has been traveling from his own small planet to other planets, finally landing on earth.

Each planet describes a different sort of adult.
The first is the king, who represents those who want to rule over people.
The second man is a conceited man, who represents those who need continuous praise and validation.
The third is a drunk, representing those who have bad habits and wallow in them.
The fourth counted the stars and represents those who do nothing of consequence and thinks it's very important.
The fifth stands for rule-followers who can't think for themselves, but do the same thing every day because that is what they are supposed to do.
The sixth is a geographer, who represents those who want to live an adventurous life, but live vicariously through others.
And the seventh is Earth, where the pilot is so busy trying to survive, he almost misses the relationship with the prince.

While I'm not sure if the author is religious at all, there's a lot of symbolism that makes me think he at least has a knowledge of religion.

It's interesting there are seven different men represented, just as there are seven deadly sins.
There are good seeds and bad seeds and the bad seeds must be destroyed early on so the planet is not overtaken, which correlates with the idea of cultivating good seeds in Jesus' parables.

At the end, the prince dies, so he can go back to his rose, whom he is in charge of. It seems that his death could symbolize the death and resurrection of Christ and his returning to God. His death is by a snake, which makes me think of the Garden of Eden.

And these are just a few of the religious symbols I noticed while I was reading.

Whether you're religious or not, there is plenty to learn in this whimsical and heartfelt book about relationships, cultivating creativity and remembering life from a child's perspective.

The drawings by the author illustrate the story nicely and made me think the story paralleled the author's, who was in fact, a pilot.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

No excuses—it’s time to create!

By Tiffany Young

For anyone looking for a swift kick in the butt to get started on their novel, painting or any other endeavor, “The War of Art—Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield delivers.

The book is broken into three books, with the first focusing on resistance. Resistance, Pressfield says, comes down to anything—good or bad—keeping you from your opus (More on finding your opus when I write my review of Thomas Moore’s “A Life at Work”—excellent!).

Many forms of resistance have appeared throughout my life: procrastination, rationalization, fear—Check!
Book two focuses on the professional aspect of creating. The number one rule, it seems, is showing up. You’ve probably heard it before, but that’s what separates the writers from non-writers—writing! Imagine that. Ever met someone that says they’re a writer, but when asked what they’ve written, they haven’t actually started?

Book three is where the book moves from reasons why you may not create and setting yourself up for creative success to persuading the reader that they were made to create and that artworks are from another realm.

This both takes some pressure off the artist, while adding to it at the same time. Relief comes when the realization hits that it’s not even our piece of art being rendered—there are muses or angels or whatever you’d like to call them whispering what to do next—hence screenwriters who say they don’t develop their plots, they just appear as scenes flashing in their mind.

The scary part, however, is in Pressfield’s final pages, “You shame the angels who watch over you and the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along on its path back to God.”

Pressfield essentially tells us we are robbing humanity of something great if we are not contributing to society with our God-given gifts—Wow! I take it back … a kick in the butt would feel better.

Though this book leans toward the spiritually driven, I’d suggest it to anyone struggling with productivity in their unique talents.

Don’t worry about some long, boring book; Pressfield keeps it to 163 pages—most of them incomplete. When he’s finished with one point, he moves on to a new page and a new point with quick and poignant stories to motivate.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

One thing at a time

If you're anything like me, you spend the day tweeting, facebooking, checking e-mail, playing Words With Friends and mostly just being distracted. If you feel like it's keeping you from doing the things you need and want to get done, perhaps reading Leo Babauta's "Focus."

You can download the free book and read it in .pdf format on your computer or print it out.
If Leo Babauta sounds familiar, it may be because his blog Zen Habits has long been successful among GTDers and minimalists.

Babauta came on the blogging scene originally giving GTDers advice on productivity and slowly moved into a more minimalist view, in which he focuses less on goals and more on living a more aware life. His book "Focus" shows others how they can eliminate distractions and focus on the things they love—be that creating, spending time with loved ones or just relaxing.

Some of the things he hit on that I know I need to work on is eliminating phone/online distractions hen I sit down to work on something.

As you can imagine, working in news, I'm expected to have my eye on the pulse at all times, but staring at Twitter and news feeds all day does not help me write articles. Finding a balance is sometimes difficult and I believe he is right in that most of us can eliminate these things, if not entirely, to a certain degree. Could I check e-mails just 4 times a day? Probably so and be more efficient to boot.

Other things he suggests are simplifying your workspace—having just 5 items on your desk available instead of it being cluttered with things you may only need once a day, such as staplers or tape.

I'm a long way from developing most of these useful suggestions in everyday life, but I've pared down my distractions before, and I'm hoping, with the suggestions from this book, I can find balance again.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Run-like you've never run before

By Tiffany Young

If you haven't heard of "Born to Run," well, I'm shocked. This nonfiction book is one of the best I've read. A writer for several running and health magazines, Christopher McDougall, finds, after the age of 40, he can no longer run pain free.
He sees his doctor only to find he needs a lot of orthotics he'd rather not deal with. He's heard of an Indian tribe in Mexico, the Tarahumara (tara-oo-mara), who not only run fast through the jungle, but do it at all ages. How, he wonders, do they not get hurt?

McDougall travels to find out and ends up finding Caballo—the Horse—a white, older guy who has become friends with the Indians and lives in a hut in a town as close to civilization as is near the Tarahumara. This mysterious man tells McDougall all he needs to know about the Indians and running without letting him know anything about himself—who he really is, where he's from and how he came to live outside a jungle in Mexico.

Caballo tells McDougall about a race he is attempting in Mexico—bring some of the best runners in the world to run against the Tarahumara and see who wins. But the race is unlikely to ever happen. The Indians live in a jungle in Mexico, where Americans would have to pass drug cartels and then traipse up and down and along cliffs to get to the race. Who is going to do that? Turns out there were a few who would end up volunteering just to see the fastest people on earth race on their own turf.

I won't tell too much, except that this is a book that shouldn't be missed, even if, like me, you're not a runner. The book isn't so much about running—although you'll learn about that along the way—as the relationships that ensues from those who truly love running. Along the way you may pick up a tip or two about how to run better: Is barefoot running really better?, Why did people evolve to run on two feet, when it seems so slow?, What makes a runner fast?

Be warned—it's inspiring and may make even the least likely of runners want to give running a chance. But perhaps that's your destiny: Were you born to run?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Starbuck's: More than a cup of Joe?

By Tiffany Young

If "It's Not About the Coffee," then Starbucks is about the people according to this book by Howard Behar. Behar, a one-time executive at Starbuck's tells about how the coffee empire's focus is not just about serving the best coffee, but about serving its customers and employers.

While this book is not as good as "How Starbucks Saved My Life," it's a decent book that tells corporate leaders how they should conduct business. It was no competition really, so it's unfair to compare, but the similarity in names makes me compelled to do so anyway. In one, you've got a likable guy fired from his big corporate job slogging coffees at customers all day in a place only slightly more upscale than McD's. In the other, you've got someone who doesn't give away much of his personality. You get the idea Behar has character, but you're not really sure if that's just his view of himself—in other words, you don't get to know him very well.

All that being said, Behar does give 10 principles, which if followed, would make an impact in companies all over:

1. Know Who You Are: Wear One Hat
This chapter has the reader clarify what really matters to them. Behar found out furniture wasn't his true love, but building relationships was.

2. Know Why You’re Here: Do It Because It’s Right, Not Because It’s Right for Your Resume
In this chapter, the reader is encouraged to find a job that they want and will work for them rather than trying to figure out how to move up the ladder.

3. Think Independently: The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom
Here managers are encouraged to let those who are doing the work make some decisions in how it's done.

4. Build Trust: Care, like You Really Mean It
This one is obvious, but often ignored. People expect you to actually care, not just say you do.

5. Listen for the Truth: The Walls Talk
This chapter deals a bit with what might be called intuition—listening to that gut feeling when you're all alone and things aren't busy.

6. Be Accountable: Only the Truth Sounds like the Truth
Here the reader is encouraged to acknowledge when they have done something wrong and not sweep problems under the rug.

7. Take Action: Think Like a Person of Action, and Act like a Person of Thought
Sometimes it's just time to act—when it's time to try something even though every single detail may not be worked out yet.

8. Face Challenge: We Are Human Beings First
Everything doesn't come down to money and laws—sometimes it's better to think and act like a person who has feelings.

9. Practice Leadership: The Big Noise and the Still, Small Voice
When success comes it's harder to listen to that underlying voice, but it's a necessity to continuing success.

10. Dare to Dream: Say "Yes," the Most Powerful Word in the World
It's easier to say no than yes, but saying yes can make dreams come true. Try saying yes to great opportunities.

From Michael Gates Gill's story, you do get the idea that Starbucks follows these principles or his work there would never have inspired to write his story telling of how working at Starbucks changed his life.
If you have time, why not read both?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"It's All Too Much" was all too little for me

By Tiffany Young

I was pretty excited about seeing "It's All Too Much" by Peter Walsh at the library because I tend to love organizing books. However, as I dove into this one I realized it's really lacking for single people. I can see how it would be useful for families but I'd say about 85 percent of his book at least focuses on issues for families and people with big homes.

Each chapter is divided to break down what you should work on, and since I live in a rented out bedroom, I pretty much just have one room. His advice for the bedroom to keep only things related to sleep and romance? Well, that's not going to work for me, since I don't have anywhere else to keep craft projects or setup my computer.

He also seems to focus a lot on people who have really bad clutter problems of which I either don't feel I have or am in denial—don't get me wrong I do have clutter I could part with, I'm just not sure it's as extreme as the examples in the book.

All this being said, I can see how this book would be beneficial for couples who have issues that need to be worked out. He gives a lot of instruction on communicating and working together to create a shared vision and make a room fit the vision that I can see being helpful. The room by room checklist can probably help those with bigger homes tackle the problems one at a time instead of getting overwhelmed.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book of Lists or Lists of Books?

By Tiffany Young

If you're here you probably already read a lot. But in case you need inspiration, there have been a lot of bloggers out there creating their book of lists that I thought I'd share. I was going to add my own personal books that I want to read in the coming months, but realized many were already on these lists and most of them I'll be writing about at some point anyway, so find a topic below and get reading!

Here is a list of books to start learning about everything from finances to relationships:
Build Your Own Classroom

One of my favorite blogs for some reason is "The Art of Manliness." No, I don't have an identity problem, but they write about interesting topics no one else does. Here is a post on why men should read poetry with some suggestions on where to start. The list is totally fine for women, too! (And maybe you can leave the book on the bedside table for your man to stumble upon.)
Be a Man, Read a Poem

Trying to become more organized? Who isn't? Check out these three books on organization discovered by
The Washington Post.
3 books to help you with your organizational resolutions

Looking to change your life? These books encourage you to find your strengths and use them.
Two books to buy for 2011

Skip down to the educate yourself section at the bottom to find a list of finance books if you're motivated to get rid of debt and get financially fit this year:
How to take control of your finances in 2011

Interested in losing weight? Here are some tips and books to read:
How to Lose 20 Pounds in January

The Simple Dollar shares his books for 2011 (Even though he has a financial blog, they're not about finance):
Resolution 3

A minimalist blogger shares her goal for 2011 and lets followers see what she thought of various books.
Rowdy Kittens' 2011 Book Challenge

Live in the Bee Cave area? Their library has some new books to share:
New Year, New books

And lastly, read a review before you read the book. This can be a time saver!
New York Journal of Books

There are a lot more lists out there, but this should be a good start. I'll try to share more as they come up—especially a fiction section, since most of these involved nonfiction and self-help books mostly. Have a great weekend and happy book hunting!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ex-con risks freedom to find out if his policeman son was a good cop or bad cop

By Tiffany Young
"The Two Minute Rule" by Robert Crais was a very fun read.
It begins with a bank robbery in which the robbers are shot after trying to have a shootout with the police officers there to arrest them.
Then you meet Holman, a convicted bank robber about to be released from jail. But right before his release he is told his son, a police officer had been shot the night before.
Holman questions police about what happened, but not getting answers that add up leaves Holman to search for answers himself. He makes contact with the only people he knows—his old friend, Chee, another ex-convict—and FBI Agent Pollard—the one who helped lock him away in the first place.
Holman, the "Hero" bandit, is trying his best to stay clean, but as he digs deeper into this mystery of his sons murder, he finds himself slipping into old patterns in order to stay a free man and has several run-ins with the police who were doing the investigation on his son's murder although they say the case is closed.
Pollard helps Holman against her first instincts, because, after all, Holman was named the Hero bandit because he was caught robbing the bank because he couldn't let himself leave the bank with a guy having a heart attack and went back to save him by performing CPR.
As Pollard gets to know Holman, she comes to see more of this side of him, though he sometimes slips back into his old habits and has a terrible time keeping his temper under control.
Will they be able to find out what happened to Holman's son before their time runs out and the dirty cops they believe had something to do with the murders find them? Will Holman be able to stay out of trouble an remain a free man or will his grief and need to find out what happened to his son—and whether he was a good cop or followed in his father's footsteps—put him back in the slammer?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Collector inadvertently helps another find his past

"Everything is Illuminated," a film that came out in 2005 with Elijah Wood, is a wonderful movie that tells a story of one collector who is moved to find out where a photograph came from and to thank a woman for saving his grandfather's life.
Jonathon (Wood) is the collector and travels to the Ukraine to find a small village that more or less vanished during the Holocaust. His tour guides, Eugene and Eugene's grandfather, end up being related to this village as well, though you're not sure how until the end of the film. Though Eugene does not know it, his grandfather is from the village and pretended to be dead and ignored his Jewish heritage so he could survive. All throughout the film it seems that perhaps the grandfather was one of the soldiers who killed the Jews. He ends up taking his life in the end, once they have left the village and he tells the women the collector is looking for that the war is indeed over. She has been living in a house near the no longer existing village surrounded by sunflowers and collecting items from the village and cataloguing them since the war.
Though Jonathan and his guides start off on a rocky start, they end up respecting one another and having a weird understanding of one another.
I highly recommend the independent film.