Book Review: These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

Book Review: These Is My Words by Nancy E. TurnerThese Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner
Series: Sarah Agnes Prine #1
Published: February 17, 1999
Format: Paperback (384 pages)
Genres: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Library

 
A moving, exciting, and heartfelt American saga inspired by the author's own family memoirs, these words belong to Sarah Prine, a woman of spirit and fire who forges a full and remarkable existence in a harsh, unfamiliar frontier. Scrupulously recording her steps down the path Providence has set her upon--from child to determined young adult to loving mother--she shares the turbulent events, both joyous and tragic, that molded her and recalls the enduring love with cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot that gave her strength and purpose.

Rich in authentic everyday details and alive with truly unforgettable characters, These Is My Words brilliantly brings a vanished world to breathtaking life again.
5 Stars

An epic romance on par with Gone With the Wind that features a feisty female lead.  It made for a great discussion in my book club since it brought up social and women’s issues.  The western setting and the journal-style story telling made it an unforgettable read.

Mild spoilers ahead! This spoiler warning is for those very sensitive to any spoilers. Major spoilers look like this > View Spoiler »

beware-spoilers

These is My Words is an epic western romance starring a wonderful and strong female lead named Sarah.  She reminded me a lot of Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind.  But I have to say as much as I like Scarlett, I think Sarah has a few things that Scarlett was lacking.  Sarah is genuinely kind but never loses her blunt, humorous honesty.  When she saves a man who had gotten seriously injured by his horse near her ranch, she says this:

I lifted his head and took away the rags and gave him a pillow.  I can make another pillow, I thought, and if he is going to die in my bed he may as well be comfortable.

-Nancy E. Turner, These Is My Words pg 136

I liked Sarah’s gumption and the fact that she stood up for herself.  She can defend herself in times of physical danger (which in the wild west, there were a lot) but she also stands up for what she wants, what she thinks, and what she believes.  One of my favorite things that Sarah says is the most awesome string of cursing I’ve ever read. I need to remember this line the next time I’m mad.

Low down dirty ornery rotten skunk of a cussed mule-headed soldier!

-Nancy E. Turner, These is My Words pg 106

There is nothing more witty or tough than a pioneer woman.  As much as I admire Sarah, I think deep down if I lived in pioneer times I would act more like her sister-in-law who screamed at tarantula spiders and fainted when they circumcised cattle.  Sarah just calmly flicked the tarantula out the window and wouldn’t kill it because they eat bugs.  I would have killed it.  Or burned the house down when I didn’t have the guts to actually kill it.  Anyway.  One of my favorite parts in the story was when Sarah went to the bank to deposit her money.  This was the banker’s reaction to her:

…he had the gall to sniff in my face and tell me to let my husband handle my money and not trouble myself with the confusion of it all. 

-Nancy E. Turner, These is My Words pg 301

Sexist pig.  When she tells the banker that she doesn’t want to leave her five hundred dollars with someone who finds money “confusing” he suddenly becomes much more accommodating when his eyes light up with dollar signs about that huge amount of money.  Then Sarah puts him in his place when she finds out the pitiful interest rate they offer and tells him how she can make much more money by raising cattle or making soap.  Then she says this little gem of a line:

In case that’s confusing to you, Mister, it’s called profit.  Thank you for your time, and good day.

-Nancy E. Turner, These is My Words pg 302 

Sarah’s awesome.  Don’t miss out on her story because of the writing.  It’s written in a journal style which was hard to read sometimes if I’m being honest.  There’s very little dialogue and the journal style is hard to get into since I’m being told how things are instead of being able to imagine them and live them myself.  The other thing about journals is the dates, which I most often skipped over and didn’t bother reading.  My friend who listened to the audiobook was able to point out when Sarah had stopped writing for years at a time that I hadn’t even noticed.  So the dates were a little important to the story but they were so boring to read.  It’s just a drawback of the journal style I guess.  The grammar is also intentionally bad to give it an authentic western feel which it pulls off pretty well.  Still, the poor grammar is difficult to read and I’m glad to say that the grammar improves as the story goes along because Sarah becomes more and more educated.  Sarah writes with a western accent and she uses terms that we are no longer familiar with.  The grammar, the journal style, and the unfamiliar accent and terms all made it hard to get into at first.  This isn’t an easy read for sure but it was a great story that stuck with me.  Once I got into it, I was hooked.

The women and social issues that this story brought up made for a good book club discussion.  As a group, we were surprised at how similar the problems that Sarah faced were to our own.  There are the judgmental, gossiping neighbors that she feels judge and watch her every move.  There’s the day when Sarah’s husband asks her to do something and she totally lays into him because she has had enough.  I do that and I don’t even have half the problems that a pioneer woman did.

One thing that was drastically different from our own problems was how common death and war were.  Children experienced the death of family members quite often.  I thought this was a beautiful quote about how children deal with grief.

Children just cannot be sad too long, it is not in them, as children mourn in little bits here and there like patchwork in their lives.

-Nancy E. Turner, These is My Words pg 95

Living in the west was dangerous.  Sarah always had a gun with her.  She had it with her all the time because she had to use it all the time to defend herself.  I even got to the point that I was suspicious of everyone Sarah met.  Every time she met someone new I was like, DOES SHE HAVE HER GUN? WHERE IS HER GUN? WHO IS THIS GUY?  

I loved the small details about culture that I got to learn and think about.  I found the way they built houses fascinating.  When Sarah marries Jimmy, he builds a large porch so they can easily expand their house by just adding some walls.  Jimmy had her stand in the kitchen so he could build counters exactly her height.  I found the idea of a husband custom building a house just for his wife so charming.  What a labor of love.

Most of the things I need in my life are relatively cheap and easy to come by.  It’s nice to have a reminder that that wasn’t always the case.  Pioneers had to completely use up everything.  Nothing went to waste, not even old children’s clothes.  Sarah receives some old children’s clothes and decides to turn them into a rug.  The way she describes what the rug means to her makes me want to value the things I have a little more.

I am making a rag rug with scraps the Maldonados gave me from all their children’s old worn out clothes. I told them what a happy rug it would be as it carries all the children’s laughter with it, and Mrs. Maldonado cried and hugged me and made me eat two huge tamales.

-Nancy E. Turner, These is My Words pg 108

As much as I love the main character and the culture, this book is through and through a romance that will appeal to people who love Gone With The Wind.  It’s got an epic time period, a sharp, independent woman, and eventually true love after a few divorces.  If Scarlett O’Hara lived in the west, her story would have been a lot like These Is My Words.

The romance starts with trading books for horses.  Sarah Prine, the main character, finds a treasure hoard of books on her trek west and she needs horses to haul them.  She runs off to Captain Elliot for help, who teases her in the most adorable way.  He offers to help if she gives up two of the books.  This is Sarah’s reaction to his offer.

“To give that man a book was more than I could stand, but if it meant to have all the others, I just had to do it.”

-Nancy E. Turner, These is My Words pg 45

Aw.  Such cute teasing for me to read, but I would have been mad just like Sarah if those were really my books.  I loved how the captain watches her reaction to each book he picks up.  She agrees too quickly to the sermon book and so he puts it back down.  Of course he finds the book she wants the most and takes it.

The captain and Sarah part ways and she ends up marrying someone named Jimmy.  All epic romance needs something truly tragic and Sarah’s marriage with Jimmy definitely was.  When on his death bed Jimmy confesses to loving his old sweetheart and not Sarah, his wife, it broke my heart.  But that event led to one of my favorite parts about the romance with Captain Elliot.  When Captain Elliot finds her a while later and tries to date her she emphatically tells him she doesn’t want to date anyone ever again.  Her emotional outburst leads her to tears.  Sarah’s young daughter, April, naturally thinks that her mom is crying because she has an “owey.”  This is the captain’s reaction, which I loved.

He was drilling a hole in my head with his eyes, but he said to April, Yes, honey.  Mama’s got owey.  Straight through the heart, I’d reckon.

-Nancy E. Turner, These is My Words pg 147

What I love about his reaction is that he understands her.  You can tell that he knows she’s been treated badly and he works so hard to show her how much he loves her.  And when he proposes to her and says, “I want to be married to you just like you are, spitfire and all. (pg 214)” you can just tell that he loves her the way she is.  That’s what true love is to me and I couldn’t put down this book because of it.

Can true love exist in marriages where each spouse depends on the other for survival?

This was an interesting question that my book club brought up.  Someone pointed out that in the west where you needed someone to tend the farm and you needed someone just as much to cook the food and make clothes, did a lot of the marriages come about because of need and not because of love?  I bet a lot of marriages came about because of that.  Then there’s the fact that there weren’t a lot of options to pick from.  You get who you get and you don’t throw a fit.  I think even in marriages where they married because they more or less had to, that they found true love in a different way.  In fact, since they depended on each other so much it can develop a special bond that is unique and deep.  What do you think?

Content Rating: Medium, for scenes about sexual violence and rape.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Nancy E. Turner

Nancy E Turner

Nancy Elaine Turner was born in Dallas, Texas and grew up in Southern California and Arizona. She began writing fiction as an assignment for a class at Pima Community College and completed a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts Studies from the University of Arizona in 1999 with a triple major in Creative Writing, Music, and Studio Art. She lives in Tucson with her husband and Snickers, a dog rescued by F.A.I.R. She has two married children and four grandchildren. She also enjoys the outdoors, theater, movies, and antiques.

Book Review: Out of the Past by Kalinda Vázquez

IMG_2387.JPG Book Review: Out of the Past by Kalinda VázquezOut of the Past by Kalinda Vazquez
Series: Once Upon A Time #3
Published: April 14, 2015
Format: Hardcover (112 pages)
Genres: Graphic Novel
Source: Library

 
Return to the immersive world of ABC's hit television series ONCE UPON A TIME with an all-new sequel to the original graphic novel, ONCE UPON A TIME: The Shadow of the Queen. Welcome to the Enchanted Forest, where the characters from classic fairy tales have come to life and are locked in an epic struggle between good and evil! Plott ed by series writer and co-executi ve producer, Kalinda Vazquez, and co-written by returning author Corinna Bechko, the release will tie into official show continuity and dive in to four never-before-told stories of fan favorite characters!
4 Stars

A fun, quick must-read for Once Upon a Time fans.  The art is gorgeous.  The stories are all new and set in the Enchanted Forrest which I don’t get to see as much of on the TV show as I would like.  Loved it!

Mild spoilers ahead! This spoiler warning is for those very sensitive to any spoilers. Major spoilers look like this > View Spoiler »

beware-spoilers

This is my first graphic novel that I’ve ever reviewed.  It might possibly be the first I’ve ever read.  So I can say, as a graphic novel novice, that it was really fun to read this.  I didn’t finish the first book in the Once Upon a Time book series because it was a novelization of Season 1 and not a very good one at that.  It was boring to re-read stories I already knew from the TV show.  I’m happy to say that all of these stories are new.  They are background stories for five of the characters – Belle, Rumplestiltskin, Captain Hook, The Mad Hatter, and the Evil Queen.  All of these stories are set in the Enchanted Forrest.  Of all the characters, we didn’t see much about them in the Enchanted Forrest and I loved getting to see more stories about them there.  It was a lot of fun.

There are two authors and four artists.  Each story has it’s own artistic style and none of the stories have the same style as the cover.  I kind of wish they had showcased the different art on the cover instead of having something completely different.  It gave me the expectation that it would have highly realistic illustrations inside but instead the art was more stylized or cartoonish.  I loved the art, don’t get me wrong, but I think the cover should at least match.

Pretty art! Hot Pirate!

 I was also surprised by how thin and tall this book was.  It almost felt like a picture book.

IMG_2389.JPG

The first story is about Captain Hook.  It’s about an adventure he has as a pirate and it shows some of his sarcasm and bravery.  This story was good.  Maybe not amazing, but still good.  It reminded me that Captain Hook had a bad boy side to him that he’s lost a little of in the TV show.  The art for this story was my least favorite from the book.  It’s very sharp and undetailed.  I should admit right now that part of my motivation to read this book was to stare at some hot pirate pictures.  Sadly, not as much hot pirate as I was hoping for.  However, the art matches the adventure plot of this story and works really well.  *stares at hot pirate on cover some more*

IMG_2390.JPG

The story about Belle and Rumple is so fun and romantic.  I think it might be my favorite.  It showed a stage in their relationship from the Enchanted Forrest that we didn’t get to see much.  They aren’t in love but they had moved past the cruel stage at the beginning of their relationship. The art is amazing.  It is colorful and beautiful.  The watercolors gave it a romantic fantasy style that matched the story.  The great plot twist at the end shows off Belle’s cleverness and adds a little romance, too. The artist did a good job being true to the characters and how they look on TV.

IMG_2391.JPG

The least interesting story has to be the one about the Evil Queen.  Not much happens in the plot and the art is very dark and a little boring.  The end of this story increases the Evil Queen’s resolve to get revenge on Snow White.  Wow, that’s new! (Not.) That story line is already very emphasized in the TV show. If anything, it’s a little too emphasized.

IMG_2392.JPG

I think the story that went into the most detailed background was for the Mad Hatter.  It was his entire backstory and it helped me understand his character in a whole new way.  The cartoony look of this story was perfect for the Wonderland setting.  Even though it’s the longest story in the book, it kept my attention the whole time.  What an emotional, sad story.  I like the Mad Hatter even more after reading this.

IMG_2393.JPG

Content Rating: Mild, for mild language.  I think it swears only once or twice.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Kalinda Vazquez

Kalinda_Vazquez

Kalinda Vazquez grew up in New York and moved to Hollywood in 2001 to pursue a career in television. She had no formal education in film or television when she got her first job in 2007.

Kalinda worked as a writing assistant, staff writer, and story editor from 2007-2009 on the Fox drama Prison Break. She also contributed several scripts to the series and co-wrote the final installment Prison Break: The Final Break. In 2010, she became an executive story editor and writer on the first season of the Fox action series Human Target.

In the summer of 2010, Vazquez joined the staff of The CW network's action/espionage series Nikita's first season as a writer and executive story editor. In 2011, at the start of Nikita's second season she was promoted to co-producer, a title she held until her departure from the show in 2012.

In the fall of 2012, Vazquez joined the second season crew of Once Upon a Time, as a writer and producer. In 2014, she co-wrote Once Upon a Time's second graphic novel, Out of the Past. It was also announced, following the conclusion of the series' fourth season, that Vazquez would not be returning as a writer or producer for the series' fifth.

Book Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Book Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. MaasThrone of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #1
Published: August 2, 2012
Format: Paperback (404 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass--and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.
4 Stars

This exciting fantasy adventure stars a fascinating heroine who is a mix of sarcasm, humor, Cinderella, and deadly assassin.  The romance was a love triangle, but I thought it was well written.  Other than too many exclamation points in the writing for my taste, I loved this book.

Mild spoilers ahead! This spoiler warning is for those very sensitive to any spoilers. Major spoilers look like this > View Spoiler »

beware-spoilers

Throne of Glass has a fantastic main character named Celaena.  Her strong opinion mixed with her sarcasm and a little condescension made her so funny and likable and just awesome.  Even though she is a notorious assassin, she’s also not afraid to be feminine which I found refreshing.

Random question – I was confused about the “Adarlan’s Assassin” title.  Did she kill people FOR Adarlan or IN Adarlan?  I know there are prequels to this series and I’ll bet it answers that little detail.  I’ve heard good things about the prequel stories so I’m probably going to read them.  But if you happen to know the answer to that little detail, I’d be very grateful.

Throne of Glass started out as a fairy tale retelling of Cinderella but Sarah J. Maas changed it after asking herself, “What if [Cinderella] was an assassin who had just tried to kill the prince?”  The questions she asked herself after that helped shape it into an original story with only slight references to Cinderella.

To anyone that has issues with the realisticness of a woman being an assassin, I would like to point out that women already posses a lot of the skills required to be an assassin.  I think my favorite example is Kaltain staring Celaena down with a “keenness that would make any assassin proud. (pg 75)”  Being underestimated is also another huge advantage that women have.  Celaena is underestimated about her assassin skills all the time and she uses it to her advantage.

As much as I adore Celaena’s sarcasm and humor, she can only get away with it because of her vulnerable moments where she discusses her childhood which was full of abuse and tragedy.  I found myself noticing that Celaena used her sarcasm the most when she was telling tragic stories from her past.  It helped me connect with her character more when I realized that she was probably being overly sarcastic to cope with the pain she still felt.

Celaena is definitely brave, but she’s not perfect either.  If she was perfect I would hate her.  I like her flawed the way she is.  In the castle that Celaena is living in, there is something or someone going around killing people.  Celaena is usually very confident and brave, but she starts to have doubts about being able to kill this particular monster.  As she hurries up the stairs in the dark, she says to herself, “Not that the thought of something wicked dwelling in the castle scared her or anything. (pg 194)”  That made me laugh. She’s brave but maybe not that brave.  I felt like I could connect with her a little more after that.

Despite being a little afraid, Celaena is trying to figure out who/what is killing people.  Her only clues are disemboweled, dead bodies with weird symbols around them like it’s the Da Vinci Code High-Fantasy Edition.  Celaena learns that the symbols mean this monster has been released from the Chamber of Secrets land of the dead, so she gets all Hermione at the library to figure out how to kill it.  This story keyboard smashed all my geek buttons at the same time.

As Celaena is chasing after this monster, two guys are chasing after her.  Kidding!  Honestly, it’s not that bad.  There are two guys that she develops relationships with.  I feel like it is my duty, as a book reviewer, to tell you that there is a love triangle.  I know this plot element can really bug people, but it doesn’t bother me that much if the romance is a subplot like it is in this book.  I really enjoyed the romance in this book.  Neither of the guys is perfect and they both have a unique connection with her.  Now I can’t choose.  As far as love triangles go, it’s a very well written one.  Captain Westfall annoys her too much for them not to have some romance later on.  And the Prince is just so darn charming but a little vulnerable at the same time that you can’t help but like him, too.

The Prince perfectly matches Celaena’s sarcasm.  When Celaena is having her period, she tells the prince to go away because she feels like dying.  He tells he that no one should die alone and makes up a a sarcastic and slightly suggestive story to entertain her in her “final moments.” By the way, how cool is the casual reference to a period?  I liked the honesty, but I liked even more the men’s reactions.  The captain freaks out and runs away.  The prince comes to tease her.

The prince was clever, charming, and persuasive.  I liked that he intuitively knew to appeal to Celaena’s competitive side to get her to join the assassin competition on his behalf.  I found it so interesting that the prince embodied the romanticism that a traditional princess has.  He insists on marrying for love, which Celaena finds old-fashioned and unrealistic.  He also believes in being polite and kind.  And he thinks incredibly gorgeous and romantic things like this about Celaena:

He couldn’t banish her heart-wrenching music from his mind, even when he burned his mother’s list of eligible maidens, even when he read a book long into the night, even when he finally fell asleep.

-Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass pg 149

Isn’t that just beautiful and romantic?

This next quote is a conversation that Celaena and the prince have and I think it shows the princes romanticism and Celaena’s realism.  I also think it makes them a good couple.

“What’s the point in having a mind if you don’t use it to make judgements?” [said Celaena]

“What’s the point in having a heart if you don’t use it to spare others from the harsh judgements of your mind?” [said the prince]

-Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass pg 231

As much as I like Celaena, I agree more with the prince.  I try daily to have more empathy and not judge others.

Captain Chaol Westfall is attractive in his own way.  He’s logical, loyal, and down to earth.  The captain also has a swash-buckling side to him that Celaena makes fun of, to my delight.

Chaol tossed his cape on top of hers, his toned body flexing through the dark threads of his shirt.  He drew his sword.  “On your guard!” He moved into defensive position, and Celaena looked at him dully.

Who do you think you are? What sort of person says “On your guard”?

-Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass pg 81

I have only one small complaint about Throne of Glass.  Exclamation points do not belong in prose.  Just saying.  It made the writing feel cheesy.  Here’s an example:

How lovely it was to hear a voice like her own–cool and articulate–even if he was a nasty brute!

-Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass pg 3

If the exclamation point had been left out it would have come across as delightfully sarcastic.  The eclamation point makes it just so dramatic!! You know!!! It sounds like Jim Carrey is stuck in my head!!!!

Here’s another one!  In the prose! I only marked it because it irked me.  Irked me, I tell you!

Celaena would not make a fool out of him!

-Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass pg 133

Here’s another example of the generous use of exclamation points! This is Celaena’s hilarious description of the prince!

Princes are not supposed to be handsome!  They’re sniveling, stupid, repulsive creatures!  This one … this … How unfair of him to be royal and beautiful.

-Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass pg 8

I know I’m starting to sound like Elaine Benes from Seinfeld criticizing someone’s use of an exclamation point, but it did pull me out of the flow of the story more than once.  Although, to be fair, the exclamation points work better in the last quote since this is a thought in her head instead of in the prose.  Still, they were used a lot throughout the book and the story didn’t need so many exclamation points.

I think the only way to write a fair review of this book is to mock it light-heartedly in a way I hope Celaena would approve of.  I loved this book.  It was so much fun.  But the exclatamtion points need to go.  *deep, tragic sigh* *hand over heart* *moment of silence for the dead exclamation points*

I’m sorry.  I’ll stop talking about exclamation points now.

One thing I enjoyed about the narration was when it moved to different points of view.  It didn’t do it a lot – just enough to be interesting.  It told the story from the Prince’s view, the Captain’s view, and Celaena’s view. And it was well written so I could tell whose head I was in without ever getting confused.  Most of the story was from Celaena’s view, but it added a lot to the story – especially the romance – when we got to see little snippets from the Prince or the Captain.

Throne of Glass had a fun, adventurous plot that I really enjoyed …  except for the ending. As Celaena continues the quest of finding out who is killing people she starts to think that it’s Nehemiah, who is her best friend.  I know from too much reading of books that I should not believe this.  I’m hoping for a cool reveal of who is controlling the beast that kills people and it sadly turns out to be the most cliche choice. I was kind of disappointed.  View Spoiler »

I loved the fresh and different take on magic in this book.  Celaena briefly mentions being able to see fairies as a child.  The day she first killed someone was the day they left her.  This quote talks about how there used to be magic in this world but it left on it’s own.

But even though the king had banned magic, most knew the truth: within a month of his proclamation, magic had completely and utterly disappeared of its own accord.  Perhaps it had realized what horrors were coming.

-Sarah J. Mass, Throne of Glass pg 31

This little snippet causes so many questions that I know I will devour this series until I find out where magic went.  Why did it leave? When is it coming back? WHAT IF IT NEVER COMES BACK? I found the idea of magic suddenly leaving one day so interesting.

 Also, unimportant detail (but what am I if not a noticer of unimportant details), the main characters are 18 and 22 which are technically adults.  Just curious why it’s not an adult book.  Not judging or anything.  They probably made it a young adult book because young adult books are awesome and this is an awesome book.  But still, it did make me wonder what “makes” a young adult book.  Does the age of the main character matter when it comes to labeling it young adult or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What do you think about young adult books that have older characters? (like 18 or 22?)

Content Rating: Medium, for violence and language.  The violence is a little graphic.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series. Sarah lives in Southern California, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much coffee, and watches absolutely rubbish TV shows. When she's not busy writing, she can be found exploring the California coastline with her husband.

Audiobook Review: Think Like A Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Audiobook Review: Think Like A Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. DubnerThink Like A Freak by Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt
Series: Freakonomics #3
Published: May 12, 2014
Format: Audiobook (7 hrs 5 mins)
Genres: Audiobook, Non-fiction
Source: Purchased

 
The Freakonomics books have come to stand for something: challenging conventional wisdom; using data rather than emotion to answer questions; and learning to unravel the world's secret codes. Now Levitt and Dubner have gathered up what they have learned and turned it into a readable and practical toolkit for thinking differently - thinking, that is, like a Freak. Whether you are interested in the best way to improve your odds in penalty kicks, or in major global reforms, here is a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems.

Along the way, you'll learn how the techniques of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion can help you, the reason an Australian doctor swallowed a batch of dangerous bacteria, why Nigerian email scammers make a point of saying they're from Nigeria, and why Van Halen's demanding tour contract banning brown M&Ms was really a safety measure. You'll learn why sometimes it's best to put away your moral compass, and smarter to think like a child. You will be given a master class in incentives-because for better or worse, incentives rule our world. And you will learn to quit before you fail, because you can't solve tomorrow's problem if you aren't willing to abandon today's dud.
4 Stars

If you’re an avid Freakonomics podcast listener, like me, you won’t find much new in this book.  Still, I really enjoyed the ideas and had fun applying them in my life.  It’s all about critical thinking and new ways to approach problems that you might not have thought of before.

beware-spoilers

Think Like A Freak is all about approaching problems in ways you hadn’t thought of before to actually solve them.  We go about problem solving the wrong way sometimes because we put private benefit over the greater good.  We also have this mentality that there is a right way and a wrong way to solve problems.  More of us need to think like a Freak which more or less means this:

The modern world demands that we all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally; that we think from a different angle, with a different set of muscles, with a different set of expectations; that we think with neither fear nor favor, with neither blind optimism nor sour skepticism.  That we think like–ahem–a Freak.

-Steven D. Levitt & Steven J. Dubner, Think Like A Freak pg 8

Here’s a simplified list of what the first two Freakonomics books were about. This book is different because they discuss in more depth HOW they did those things.

  • Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life
  • Knowing what to measure, and how to measure it, can make a complicated world less so
  • The conventional wisdom is often wrong
  • Correlation does not equal causality

If you want a single word to describe all advice on Facebook, here it is:

Just because you’re great at something doesn’t mean you’re good at everything.  Unfortunately, this fact is routinely ignored by those who engage in–take a deep breath–ultracrepidarianism, or “the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence.”

-Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, Think Like A Freak pg 28

I had never realized how much value there is in admitting you don’t know something.  People fake it because looking like you don’t know something, especially if everyone thinks you should know something, has more consequences than just making up something.  We all do it.  At the very least, it gave me permission to say “I don’t know” to my kids more often.

This small quote changed my perspective on learning.

The key to learning is feedback.  It is nearly impossible to learn anything without it.

– Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, Think Like A Freak pg 34

I get stuck in the trap the feedback = criticism which leads to hurt feelings.  They give an example in the book of learning to bake bread.  If you have never baked bread in your life and you are not allowed to try it and make mistakes the chances of you succeeding are almost none.  The two ways you can learn something are:

  1. Trying it out and using the feedback from your experiments to do better next time
  2. Have a teacher, who will also give you feedback on what you are doing to guide you in the right direction

It’s so simple and yet I had never thought about it that way before.  You can’t learn anything without feedback! It changed the way I viewed teaching my piano students.  I now see that me making little adjustments to what they are doing is essential to learning instead of being hurtful.

In most situations, it’s easy to get feedback but reading this made me realize how many things I’m doing that have no feedback.  Raising my kids, running my book club, doing the laundry, cleaning my bathroom, running my blog, writing these reviews – I don’t get much feedback on how I do those things. Most of the time I just stick with the first thing I did and hope it doesn’t turn to crap.  It made me more aware of the decisions I make that are not based on feedback because I don’t have it or I didn’t bother to gather it.  I want to do more experiments in my life so I can have actual feedback and make better decisions.

The best experiment I ever did was figuring out how to get my dishwasher to actually clean my dishes.  A couple years ago, we lived in a rented townhouse and it had a basic dishwasher.  We would pre-rinse the dishes as much as we could, but every time they came out they would be covered in tiny bits of food.  Glasses that had been used for drinking water were now dirtier than when they went in.  Obviously that must mean we weren’t using enough detergent, so we used more dishwasher detergent.  Didn’t help.  Convinced that our dishwasher was broken, we called the maintenance guy.  Unlike me, he had experience with using and fixing lots of dishwashers.  Or in other words, he had lots of feedback.  He told me my dishwasher was most likely clogged with detergent so it wasn’t draining properly and instead of my dishes being rinsed with clean water, they were being rinsed with the dirty washing water that hadn’t drained all the way.  Ew. Gag.  I also didn’t believe him.  I thought he was trying to get out of fixing our stupid, broken dishwasher.  When I told him that, he decided to prove it to me.  He ran my dishwasher empty – no detergent or dishes.  After it had been running for about 10 minutes, he opened the door.  The entire bottom of the dishwasher was covered in suds.  The only place the suds could have come from was inside the dishwasher, clogging the pipes like he said.  He told me to get some dishwasher cleaner and run it empty until there were no more suds.  It took 3 times to get it all the way clean.  After that, I experimented with doing my dishes.  I’ve always believed that it’s dumb to wash your dishes before you put them in a dishwasher.  

What happens if you just stick gross, disgusting dishes with 2-day-old caked on food straight in the dishwasher?  I was going to find out.  Turns out, they come out much cleaner than you’d think (once your dishwasher isn’t clogged with detergent anymore).  My experimenting revealed that caked on spaghetti sauce and cheese wouldn’t come off very well in that particular dishwasher (my new dishwasher will get spaghetti sauce off like a dream).  Other than that, everything came out clean.  Plates with huge blobs of ketchup – straight in the dishwasher.  No pre-rinsing.  Pans that most sane people would soak – straight in there.  Food that was so caked on that I couldn’t even scrape it off – dishwasher!  The caked-on kind came out 80% clean and then I would hand wash them after the dishwasher had done most of the work because I figured, why prewash ALL of the dishes when only some of them actually need it?  Putting them all in no matter what and then washing the ones that came out dirty afterwards saved time because then I only had to wash the ones that needed it.  Since it was draining properly, the gross dishes weren’t getting the other ones dirty.  I would like to add that of course I scrape food off into the garbage can but anything that is so stuck on that scrapping won’t get it off is the dishwasher’s job.

I then experimented with different brands and types of detergent.  The one that got my dishes the cleanest was the plastic tabs with powder inside them.  Powder dissolves better and doesn’t clog up the drain like liquid detergent does.  I tried turing the heat-dry cycle on and off.  Turning the heat-dry off makes it easier to clean the dishes that didn’t get all the way clean, but it leaves the tupperware wet and you have to shake it off before putting it away.

TL;DR – don’t do the dishes in the dishwasher the way your mom taught you.  Clean it out and experiment to see what your dishwasher can really do.  Hint – it can do more than you think, even the old, basic models.

My next favorite chapter was about thinking like a child.  Try to make things fun.  I try to turn chores into games because I think I hate cleaning as much as my kids do.  One of my favorite games I made up was Laundry Basketball.  I turn on the washing machine and tell the kids to see how many shots they can make with their dirty clothes.  My mom is convinced that in college they are going to round up their roommates and play Laundry Basketball with them.

Incentives easily backfire.  Say hello to my kid’s sticker covered potty training toilet that achieved nothing. Incentives work for people who think just like you, but most people don’t think like you do.  Can I just say that I love this list on how to use incentives the right way?  It’s come in really handy so far.

How to Bribe Your Kids the Right Way – Incentives 101 (pg 135)

  1. Figure out what people really care about, not what they say they care about.
  2. Incentivize them on the dimensions that are valuable to them but cheap for you to provide.
  3. Pay attention to how people respond; if their response surprises or frustrates you, learn from it and try something different.
  4. Whenever possible, create incentives that switch the frame from adversarial to cooperative.
  5. Never, ever think that people will do something just because it is the “right” thing to do.
  6. Know that some people will do everything they can to game the system, finding ways to win that you never could have imagined.  If only to keep yourself sane, try to applaud their ingenuity rather than curse their greed.

After reading that list I realized that the perfect incentive for my kids is video games.  My kids LOVE video games.  They would be completely addicted zombies by now if I let them.  But it makes the perfect incentive because they really care about it, it’s cheap for me to provide, and they will do almost anything to get it.  They have done dishes, laundry, picked up toys, and even cleaned toilets to get to play for 30 minutes.

How do you do the dishes?

I know this is a weird discussion question, but I’m so intrigued by how people do them.  Do you pre-rinse? Do you hand wash them?  Do you point the forks up or down?  What detergent do you use?  Rinse-aid or no rinse-aid? I want to know it all! I’m bizarrely curious about this chore that I hate doing.


 

Content Rating: Mild, for very mild language (if there even is any language.  I don’t actually remember any swearing but if it’s there I know it’s mild.)

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Stephen J. Dubner

Stephen J. Dubner is an award-winning author, journalist, and TV and radio personality. In addition to Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, his books include Turbulent Souls Choosing My Religion, Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper, and the children’s book The Boy With Two Belly Buttons. His journalism has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Time, and has been anthologized in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Crime Writing, and elsewhere. He has taught English at Columbia University (while receiving an M.F.A. there), played in a rock band (which started at Appalachian State University, where he was an undergrad, and was later signed to Arista Records), and, as a writer, was first published at the age of 11, in Highlights for Children. He lives in New York with his wife, the documentary photographer Ellen Binder, and their children.

About Steven D. Levitt

Steven Levitt

Steven David "Steve" Levitt is a prominent American economist best known for his work on crime, in particular on the link between legalized abortion and crime rates. Winner of the 2003 John Bates Clark Medal, he is currently the Alvin H. Baum Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, director of the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and co-editor of the Journal of Political Economy published by the University of Chicago Press. He is one of the most well known economists amongst laymen, having co-authored the best-selling book Freakonomics (2005). Levitt was chosen as one of Time Magazine's "100 People Who Shape Our World" in 2006.

Book Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Book Review: Big Little Lies by Liane MoriartyBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Published: July 29, 2014
Format: eBook (460 pages)
Genres: Adult Fiction
Source: Library

 
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
4 Stars

If you loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette I bet you would love Big Little Lies, too. Big Little Lies is full of quirky characters, great humor, gossip, intrigue, and mystery.  It’s addicting to read.  And somehow, at the same time, it talks about abuse, lies, and the objectification of women in a thoughtful and moving way.

beware-spoilers

This book is about deep issues like abuse and lies so how did Liane Moriarty make it so funny?  I think it was a combination of blunt honesty and creative writing that made this book amazing.  Right from page one we get snooty internal commentary from a cat that sets the tone for the whole book.  Sadly, the cat doesn’t really show up again but the humor sticks around. (And can I just say that a book about a person going on with their daily life that is narrated by a sarcastic cat would be an excellent book.  Someone should write that.)

If this quote doesn’t perfectly describe people on their phone all the time then I don’t know what does (I’m one of them, ok? Not judging).

Mothers took their mothering so seriously now.  Their frantic little faces. […] Eyes fixed on the mobile phones held in the palms of their hands like compasses.

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 2

I think my phone/compass has a setting that heads straight for the corner of my counters and table.  Anyway.

Chick lit and murder mystery had a baby and it is this adorable book that you just want to eat up and pinch it’s wittle cheeks.  The narrative of the story is interrupted by hilarious interviews between the residents and the police officer about a murder that has happened.  The interviews unearthed mostly gossip and unhelpful information but oh are they so much fun to read.  At first, I felt like I needed to keep all the people straight in the interviews but I don’t think you really need to.  Unlike other murder mysteries where you are trying to find who did it by following a revolting trail of disturbing clues, this book doesn’t even tell you who died.  Part of the fun is trying to figure out who even died!  And your only clues are the interviews of the moms judging the other moms in the school!  I had a lot of fun writing guesses in the margins as I was reading and they were all wrong which means that this book had excellent foreshadowing and writing that kept me on my toes.

My favorite character was Madeline.  Her tirade about being forty and getting outraged at imaginary problems was hilarious.  Also, I never, never get upset about problems I’ve invented in my head.  Never.  Mostly.

I don’t know why, but I loved reading about Madeline’s unfounded resentment for her ex-husband’s wife, Bonnie.  It was just so funny and blunt.

“When Bonnie hears I’ve hurt my ankle, she’ll bring me a meal.  She just loves any excuse to bring me a home-cooked meal.  Probably because Nathan told her I’m a terrible cook, so she wants to make a point.  Although the worst thing about Bonnie is that she’s probably not actually making a point.  She’s just freakishly nice.  I’d love to throw her meals straight in the bin, but they’re too damned delicious.  My husband and children would kill me.”

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 28

I feel a little like that when I get mad at my husband and he’s nice to me.  My husband is also freakishly nice.  Now what am I supposed to do!? The nice card is so not fair sometimes.

I can relate to this a little too much.

The angrier Madeline got, the more freakishly calm Ed became, until he reached a point where he sounded like a hostage negotiator dealing with a lunatic and a ticking bomb.  It was infuriating.

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 212

One of the deeper issues that Big Little Lies explored was how important a woman’s looks are in our society and the consequences of that.

A glittery girl. […]  All her life Jane had watched girls like that with scientific interest.  Maybe a little awe.  Maybe a little envy.  They weren’t necessarily the prettiest, but they decorated themselves so affectionately, like Christmas trees, with dangling earrings, jangling bangles and delicate, pointless scarves.

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 14

Why are looks so important to women?  Why do even women value other women based on their looks?  Do we miss things (like the abuse of one of the women who happened to be very beautiful) because everything looks pretty on the outside?  It’s not like I’ve never asked myself these questions before, but I always find myself thinking more deeply about them in the context of a story.  Jane, one of the main characters, has this thought when she meets someone new:

Although, what did that say? If the woman had been a toothless, warty-nosed crone she would have continued to feel resentful?  The injustice of it.  The cruelty of it.  She was going to be nicer to this woman because she liked her freckles.

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 16

I found this next quote so moving and thought provoking.  It’s about how in our society women can easily feel that the most valuable thing a woman can be is attractive to a man.  I liked this honest look at the issue of women’s looks that Liane Moriarty masterfully mixed with a little humor.

“You’re beautiful,” she began.

“No!” said Jane angrily.  “I’m not! And that’s OK that I’m not.  We’re not all beautiful, just like we’re not all musical, and that’s fine.  And don’t give me that inner beauty shining through crap either.”

Madeline, who had been about to give her that inner beauty shining through crap, closed her mouth.

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 197

Madeline talks about how Jane’s mother’s attitude about beauty shaped Jane a little, then society and media shaped her attitude a little more, and then one hateful comment finished the job that everyone had been doing little by little.  They all added up together to warp her attitude about food and wrongfully plant the idea that skinny means beauty and beauty is what matters most to a woman.

There were some lovely thoughts on parenting.  This book showed so well that while genetics play a role in your kids, how you raise them matters so much more.  As I’m watching my kids grow up, I relate to this quote that puts childhood so poignantly.

Your child was a little stranger, constantly changing, disappearing and reintroducing himself to you.  New personality traits could appear overnight.

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 63

I never realized until reading this book that I judged people who stayed in abusive relationships.  I developed so much empathy for people who are victims of abuse after reading this.  This quote shows the mindset of the woman who was abused.  The idea that she somehow deserves abuse.  I love that the message of this book was that you don’t deserve it.  No matter what.

A little violence was a bargain price for a life that would otherwise be just too sickeningly, lavishly, moonlit perfect.

So then what the hell was she doing here, secretly planning her escape route like a prisoner?

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 245

I think this all the time.  There has to be a balance between empathy and the ability to function in your real life.

… there was real pain in the world, right this very moment people were suffering unimaginable atrocities and you couldn’t close your heart completely, but you couldn’t leave it wide open either, because otherwise how could you possibly live your life, when through pure, random luck you got to live in paradise?  You had to register the existence of evil, do the little that you could, and then close your mind and think about new shoes.

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 353

The word silly is used a lot throughout the story to downplay the hurt and concerns of women.  The saddest example is when the little girl who was getting hurt during the school year was afraid to say who it really was.  But when the little girl later insisted on not inviting a certain boy to her party, the mom dismissed it as her daughter just being silly.  It turned out that this certain boy was the one that was hurting her.  We sometimes trivialize violence and pain when it happens to girls and even women.  Every time I saw the word silly, I realized how very sadly common it is to do that to women.  To trivialize the pain they are going through.

One of the most fascinating things about this book was all the lies and secrets.  All of the characters tell white lies and most of the characters have big lies or secrets.  It seemed like the more secret they kept something, the more power it had over their life.

There’s something about this scene that just gets to me.  Celeste is naturally beautiful.  I think this scene shows how even women tend to over-value how important our appearances are.

“Oh, Celeste,” she’d moaned. “I just can’t handle you today.  Not when I’m feeling like shit and you waltz in here looking like . . . you know, like that.”  She waved her hand at Celeste’s face, as if at something disgusting.

The girls around them had exploded with joyous laughter, as if something hilarious and subversive had finally been said out loud.  They laughed and laughed, and Celeste had smiled stiffly, idiotically, because how could you possible respond to that? It felt like a slap, but she had to respond like it was a compliment.

-Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies pg 165-166

The passive aggressive way the women told Celeste that she was too pretty and it made them feel bad made Celeste respond as if it was a compliment when it wasn’t.  Is there something about passive aggressiveness that makes the only polite response a lie?  I try to imagine Celeste responding with the truth and I couldn’t figure out a way in which it didn’t end badly for her. 

What white lies do you tell the most?

As a naturally honest and blunt person, I tell white lies all the time.  I’m actually pretty good at.  It’s not something I’m proud of.  I wish that I could be honest all the time, but people’s feelings matter to me and it’s just not always possible.  I tell lies most of the time to avoid minor tiffs and to spare people’s feelings.  For the most part, I think that’s a good thing.  I have things to do and telling someone that no you don’t like deviled eggs but they keep insisting you take them even though you’ve pointed out they could get ruined in the heat (Just turn on the AC!) or that someone else might like them more (Nonsense! Take them!) it’s sometimes just easier to take the deviled eggs.  And then throw them at someone’s car.  And when they ask if you liked them, you lie of course.  Yes they were delicious!!  Because who wants to argue some more about deviled eggs?

To reduce how many white lies I tell (because yes it does make me feel guilty), I found that the best thing to do is just say no.  That’s it.  No explanation or excuse.  Neighbor: Take the deviled eggs!  Me: No. Neighbor: Ok…  (I guess you could add in a polite “But thanks anyway” to reduce the awkwardness but honestly I don’t mind awkwardness).

Content Rating: High, for strong language and a rape scene that was mildly graphic.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is the author of five novels, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, and the best-selling Three Wishes and The Husband’s Secret. The Husband’s Secret reached number one on the New York Times best-sellers list, was a number one best seller in the UK, has sold close to two million copies worldwide, has been optioned for a film, and will be translated into more than thirty-five languages. Moriarty lives in Sydney with her husband, son, and daughter.