Book Pairing: When Breath Becomes Air and The Book of Joy (with bonus kid recommendation)

Confession time: I have a really hard time with 'self help' sort of books, or books with some message that I am supposed to learn in the process of a story (see also The Shack, The Alchemist). I tend to feel like these books are just common sense in a pretty package and often underestimate the reader. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World seemed dangerously close to falling into this camp, but I thought I could use some extra joy, since the world at large is giving me a little anxiety these days and I was looking for a new audiobook.
Just before I started listening, I finished reading Paul Kalanithi's book, When Breath Becomes Air, a young neurosurgeon's account (published posthumously) of being diagnosed with cancer. As I was listening, so much of Paul's message seemed to echo in the words of The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. What I loved about both books was the crossover of faith and science. Sort of supporting my own personal feeling that the miracles of science, of our biology, is it's own type of spirituality and it informs all the world's religions. It would seem that Kalanithi's decision to become a neurosurgeon had more to do with humanity and exploring the soul than just being a doctor and helping others. Thinking about what makes us who we are, and how amazing the human brain is, was absolutely fascinating and gave me so much food for thought.
In this way, I think When Breath Becomes Air made me more open to the teachings of Tutu and the Dalai Lama. They are obviously of different faiths, are welcoming of all religions, and agree that science is intertwined with our spirituality. The ways in which they support the '8 pillars of joy' with such intriguing scientific facts is so compelling. For example, people who have a more self-centered perspective and use mostly personal pronouns ( I/me/mine instead of we/us/ours) run more risk of heart attack, and fatal ones. Apparently it's more of an indicator than smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol! Or that holding grudges increases stress, and that even just THINKING about forgiving someone lowers stress levels. So much good stuff. Also, the pair are adorable and entertaining, always joking with each other, and they have the funniest of idiosyncrasies (Tutu loving rum and Coke, and switching to Coke Zero to ingest less sugar made me smile).  
After listening to The Book of Joy I quite literally went back to see if it was published before Kalanithi's book. It was not, but I wonder if he followed the work of these two great spiritual leaders. Much of the way he dealt with his cancer and diagnosis seemed informed by the pillars of joy, despite suffering. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu talked often of joy through suffering and one of my favorite passages from When Breath Becomes Air is when Paul and his wife decide to have a child.
“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?" she asked. "Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?"
"Wouldn't it be great if it did?" I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn't about avoiding suffering.” 
Speaking of kids, I highly recommend a book about the world's religions for very young readers called The Golden Rule
I picked it up one Christmas and it outlines how all religion and spirituality are centered around the same general beliefs, which is reflected in The Book of Joy. If you, too, are a little hesitant about 'woo woo' spiritual type books, I'd still definitely recommend these two (three!) great books that read great together.


Scoring the Summer Bucket List 2018

Another summer break has come to a close, and another year of school has begun, which means time for the annual scoring of the summer bucket list. Things are a little crazy around here, since my oldest started middle school! I am slowly getting into the groove of juggling between two schools and, so far, my boy is having a great experience (my daughter is, too, but she's still in elementary and loves school no matter what). The responsibility, multiple teachers and the school itself really seems to suit him. I rather hated middle school, although it was junior high (just 7th and 8th) for me, and I think my anxiety is for my former self and not this kid, especially in this day and age. Even if/when, he runs into any issues, there are as many school counselors on staff as when I was in HIGH SCHOOL! One of his electives right now is Yoga/Mindfulness/Meditation and the teacher is a buff young dude with a man bun and a beard! I would like a do-over please! ANYWAY...
We had a really great summer and this year my husband took off every Friday, which was excellent - highly recommend. This enabled us to check off a lot of bucket list items and we're hopeful that summer 'fun family Fridays' will be a yearly thing. Without further ado, here's what we managed to accomplish besides slothing in the backyard, hitting up the pool and beach.
Blueberry picking
An easy one to check off the list, and I highly recommend these Smitten Kitchen muffins.
Mini Golf
Another gimme for the summer! 
Go to the Movies
Christopher Robin was the consensus this year, and it did not disappoint. I have a huge crush on Ewan McGregor, so this was a win win for me!
We ended up enrolling in the national Kids Bowl Free program and went at least once a week, which was pretty fun! It doesn't end up being free, exactly, because I paid $30 for my husband and I to have unlimited bowling with them, and I spend $12 on shoes each time we go. But, all in all, it's a pretty good deal for keeping entertained during the summer months and it's still good through September.
Point Defiance Zoo 
My husband checked this one off with the kids, while I had a day of relaxation for my birthday. Ahhhh.
Visit Paradise at Mount Rainier 
Another year, another successful and strenuous hike for the kids! We finally hiked the skyline trail after a 12 year hiatus, waiting for the kids to be old enough to handle it. They had some setbacks, there were bouts of whining, but when they were done with over 8 miles of walking for the day, and well over 1500 feet of elevation gain, they were really proud - as were we! 
Having pool time post hike is also a great incentive, we love staying over at Alta Crystal Resort!
Hike Big Four Ice Caves trail and Wallace Falls 
We did Big Four and happened upon a hike and sketch program which was really awesome! Additionally, my husband took the eldest on his first Rattlesnake Ledge hike.
Wallace Falls fell off the schedule, but we hit up Snow Lake just before school started. It was a little overcast, but it's always beautiful there.
Go to an Outdoor Concert 
Nope. Just as with the school year, and even more so in the summer, I am stick-a-fork-in-me DONE by the time evening rolls around and am not super motivated to leave the house. Oh well, I'll put it on the list again next year, I'm sure!
Annual Car Show
My daughter had a birthday party on this particular day, but my boys went and enjoyed!
Art Project 
Well, we didn't do an art project per se, but the kids did their Amazon STEM kits, as well as National Geographic fossil kits and they discovered paint by sticker books - which were a HUGE HIT this summer!
New to us Museum 
Our first visit to MoPOP was so much fun, and we are now working our way through all of the Marvel movies with the kids (they had only seen the Guardians films and Black Panther). They mostly geeked out over that, while my husband and I also enjoyed a lot of old school sci-fi memorabilia  - Aliens, The Fifth Element, Battlestar Galactica, the list goes on!
Deep Clean/Purge and Rearrange Kid's Rooms 
We did this the last week of summer and my boy actually said it was FUN. I mean I enjoy a good game of keep, toss or donate, so the apple must not fall far from the tree.
Complete Library Summer Reading Challenge and Read Harry Potter Books
My son and I are nearly done with The Order of the Phoenix, but I got a late start on Prisoner of Azkaban with my daughter, since we spent the first part of summer reading Anne of Green Gables! YAY! She really enjoyed it and that makes my heart so HAPPY. And, of course they completed their summer reading challenge!
Visit Wild Waves
NOPE. Another thing that I keep telling myself I'll do with the kids that I'll put on the list year after year. One day, when I'm feeling brave...
Yoga Breaks
Cosmic Kids Yoga is so darn cute and I highly recommend! We even did some in the backyard! 
Have Each Kiddo Pick a Meal to Make for the Family 
This didn't happen, but since it's not necessary for warm weather/an outdoor activity, I'm hopeful that we will do this sometime during the school year!
Theo Chocolate Tour 
The day that I chose to do this, the tickets were sold out online! Boo! Again, something that could be done during the school year, so maybe we'll try again and plan well in advance.
Redmond Night Bazaar 
See above re: outdoor concert.
Ferry to Bainbridge 
We've had bad timing in the past with ferries, so we didn't feel up to Bainbridge. Instead, we hit up Whidbey Island, visiting Coupeville and Fort Casey avoiding the ferries. Thumbs up for this as a day trip!
Try a New Cocktail Recipe
I tried this Escape From Alcatraz  and made quite a few Aperol spritzes, but I kept coming back to last year's Gold Rush cocktail of bourbon, lemon juice, honey syrup and mint: so easy and delicious!
Try a New Restaurant for Dinner
We tried two new restaurants in Enumclaw during our summer road trip and both were excellent! The Historic Mint Restaurant and Ale House was really trendy and cute with tasty food and wikki stix for the kids! Il Siciliano also had excellent atmosphere, delicious pasta and pizza, as well as a nicely done Aperol Spritz. I wish we had a similar neighborhood Italian joint!
Unexpected bonus summer accomplishment number one:
My husband and son do a twenty mile supported bike ride every year, and this year I got a great pic:
But the real accomplishment was getting my daughter up and running on her bike! She was really determined and proud of finally hitting this milestone, and we are, too.
Unexpected bonus summer accomplishment number two: enroll my son in joining me for my boot camp class! He asked to come with me and I thought maybe he'd try it a time or two. And, lo, he loved it and dutifully came with me every Tuesday without fail this summer! 
He's already looking forward to classes during winter break! And yes, I'm already counting down the days to Thanksgiving and Christmas...


Hot Chocolate 15K and 5K Seattle Coupon Code for 2019

Hey all! Just a little housekeeping post here for this year's Seattle Hot Chocolate extra race swag with the code: SEAANDREA19 This year, for the first time, the freebie is an arm band to hold all types of phones:

And of course, that's in addition to the awesome hoodie with every registration, 5K or 15K. 
I'm a HUGE fan of the understated colors this year. A lot of times, I get the men's in a smaller size, but I may got for the women's this year!
And if you run the 15K, you'll earn this awesome city specific medal with lovely Rainier views:
And, don't forget about the legacy program - if you're running the race for a third year in a row (or 5th, or 10th) you'll earn yourself some PERKS: a specialized race bib, commemorative pin, discounts and more. Check out the details here.
The race is Sunday, March 3rd 2019, the perfect time of year for some really excellent hot chocolate. 
Hopefully I've tempted you to join in the fun and for some extra incentive, here are my recaps from Seattle, Seattle AND Chicago. If you are not in the Seattle area, check out a Hot Chocolate race near you in the following cities:
  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Minneapolis
  • Philadelphia
  • San Diego
  • Seattle
  • St. Louis
  • Nashville
  • Charlotte
  • Tampa
  • Scottsdale
  • Columbus
  • Indianapolis
  • San Francisco
  • Houston
  • Mexico City


Books I Read in August 2018

Tap, tap... Is this thing still on?! Yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve been on this space. Unlike previous summers where I took a purposeful break, I just ended up feeling 'meh' about books I planned to write reviews for, and just took them off the schedule. One DNF: I just couldn’t get into Ohio by Stephen Markley, a little too much forced intellectual rambling. And one that I thought was okay, but didn’t really have much to say about: The Simple Wild, reviewed below. I also abandoned Still Lives, the Reese Witherspoon book club pick. So, I had more duds than I've had in years last month. HOWEVER! There were also some excellent books and one favorite of the year, for sure...

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Jumping on the bandwagon, because I was so excited for the film and it did not disappoint, neither did the book! I had put it off for a long time, because reviews are definitely mixed. I LOVED the prologue of this book, as I am a sucker for some sweet, sweet schadenfreude and was hooked. After the initial window into Nick's family life at a young age, it took me a little bit to get into a rhythm of the story with so very many family members and connections to puzzle out. But once his unwitting girlfriend Rachel joins him in Singapore I felt like it picked up steam. I loved being on this ridiculous roller coaster with her and seeing the sights through her eyes. I loved all of the hilarious and lack of self-awareness juxtapositions of these crazy rich characters and found Kwan's footnotes about this society fascinating. That he grew up in this bubble then moved to Texas, giving him perspective and an outsider's view, is also fascinating. I totally have wanderlust and want to go to Singapore now! 

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand
Reading a Hilderbrand novel every summer is a favorite tradition of mine and, as always, this was the perfect immersive Nantucket experience in book form, with another cast of vivid characters that interconnect in an utterly seamless way. I love feeling like I'm getting to know all of the people on the island and I thought it was fun that she took a crack at a mystery. I was guessing until the shocking and unsettling end. She left some room for future hi jinks, in which I hope she indulges. Her work is often considered fluff, but I find that she is masterful at creating atmosphere (expertly setting a scene and putting Nantucket on many a reader's bucket list) and character development. Her novels all seem to have a large cast of characters, but I never find this to be unwieldy. As soon as a name is mentioned, I know who she’s talking about because in a few paragraphs she can give even the smallest bit player unique traits and a rich, memorable back story. If it wasn't immediately clear, I just love her work and look forward to every winter and summer for a fix!

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
I gobbled up this story about a woman navigating her life after a tragic accident in record time. Some of the characters felt hyperbolic: it was clear how we were to feel about her overbearing mother and fiancĂ© Chip, a total cad. There were quite a few side plots, but all were rather  thoughtful and engrossing. There are very similar themes, and I would definitely suggest How to Walk away for fans of Me Before You.

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
I am thankful for the folks at Atria for a complimentary digital galley for review. Yet, this was a hard one for me to get into, as the main character seems so purposely unlikeable. I understand that Calla is a city girl who falls for a Alaskan bush pilot when going to visit her estranged father, and the two need to be complete opposites for the tension of the narrative to unfold. But, being overly vapid and entitled doesn't seem necessary - ANYONE who has lived in a major city would have a hard time adjusting to middle-of-nowhere Alaska. Must she be coddled and still living with her parents? Addicted to makeup? Just DIE without soy for her latte? Also, within the first pages there is an editorial error which kind of put me off, because I'm a stickler for such things (deep SEEDED instead of the correct term, deep SEATED) and I chalked it up to being an ARC that is hopefully rectified in the published copy. I'm glad I decided to stick with it, because I had heard so very many good things. Her father and the community of people she encounters in Alaska are lovingly drawn characters that I found rather compelling, and was moved by their plights. The romance was fun, and I thought it ended in a well thought out and satisfying way. 

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
I was a little wary going into this book, as there are many mixed reviews. I think that the Pulitzer win threw readers off and the book wasn't necessarily judged on it's own, but rather it's worthiness of the prize. I found it absolutely delightful and sweet, with amazing wordplay, wit and self deprecating humor. I didn’t always rush to pick it up, but when I did, I couldn't put it down. I loved the characters, laughed out loud A LOT and, oh my heart, I adored the ending. I must share my favorite quote, as someone who moved away from a big city and doesn't visit often:
"New York is a city of 8 million people, approximately 7 million of them will be furious when they hear you were in town and didn’t meet them for an expensive dinner, 5 million furious you didn’t visit their new baby, 3 million furious you didn’t see their new show, 1 million furious you didn’t call for sex, but only five actually available to meet you."

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
As I mentioned, I had started the Reese Witherspoon book club pick and just couldn’t get into it. Sharp Objects had been sitting on my shelf for awhile and figured it would fill the thriller void that Still Lives left behind. It has been YEARS since I read Flynn, and dang, she’s really great at what she does. Her writing is perfectly nuanced and pitch perfect in the creepiness, dread and tension infused into the smallest turns of phrase, like when she's describing one of the many moment's of panic Camille faces: 
"I could feel my limbs disconnecting, floating nearby like driftwood on an oily lake." 
*SHUDDER* I also thought the ending wasn’t terribly shocking, but then the other shoe drops in the prologue and ZOMG. I’m running to watch the show now...


Books I Read in July

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan
This was an impressive debut and you can read my full review here.

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
The buzz around this book (which was significant) described it as a Grey's Anatomy in novel form, but I never got into that show, so I put it on the back burner for awhile. I'm glad I finally picked it up, as it was a super fast summer read. I got a bit of a Liane Moriarty vibe in the beginning as the story is set up from the lens of mommy culture. The dynamic and contrast between Zaide and Emma as doctors and mothers, as well as the dynamic between their patients, or parents of their young patients, that they interact with at school and the country club is rife with potential conflict - and craziness ensues. The flashbacks to when the pair were in medical school together was also a fascinating glimpse into doctor culture, which was my favorite part of this reading experience. The romantic drama was kind of easy to tease out, but came to a pretty shocking and satisfying conclusion.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley
I think I might have enjoyed this sequel to The War That Saved My Life more than the original! Bradley writes with such straightforward and powerful prose, and she perfectly captures the viewpoint of a child. 
"Bombs fell from the sky. Boys fell from trees. Anything might happen. Anytime."
Ada will always be an all time favorite book character, with her equally heartbreaking and brave voice. If you are a fan of WWII historical fiction, these two books are must reads, whatever your age.

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
I've seen so many of Colgan's books on social media, and especially on my library shelves in either summer or winter, so I figured it was time to give her novels a try. This was a cozy read with great British humor and wit, and a story that is somewhat predictable, but with a few surprises up it's sleeve that I didn't see coming. I for sure will read more of her work when looking for a comfort read.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Straight up romance reads are not my usual go-to, but I think I need to make more space for a few in my reading life - especially those with an empowered female lead. This particular romance also shed light on the inner workings of an adult woman with high functioning autism, WRITTEN by an adult woman with high functioning autism. It was compelling, so adorable and, yes, STEAMY. Fair warning if that's not your thing. I found it highly entertaining and, ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed the dynamic between the characters in this gender reversed Pretty Woman like story.

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit - check out all the great reading round ups here.


A Year of War and Peace, the Halfway Point (and Favorites of 2018 so far!)

Back in January, I decided to conquer War and Peace over the year and I'm proud to report that I'm still on track and over the halfway point at page 797!

This has been an interesting exercise, and I've learned a few things about my reading habits along the way...
For one thing, I AM capable of enjoying more than one book at a time. I have always been monogamous with my print books: I never start a new one until I am done with my current read. The only exception to this rule is audiobooks. I can listen to one while reading one, but even then, I only do nonfiction on audio to keep them totally separate. Reading War and Peace has opened up the possibility for me to perhaps tackle a yearly doorstop. It's akin to turning on a soap opera every day, like I did back in college!
It's a great way to transition between current reads. When I have finished a physical book, I almost always wait until the following day to start a new book - or, at least delineate the time in some way (complete some tasks, wait until after dinner, or some TV) before starting another book. Checking in with the characters of War and Peace is like a palate cleanser between stories. 
There is something meditative about reading War and Peace daily. Maybe it's the prose, or having to really concentrate on what is going on: the complex history and the huge cast of characters that go by many different nicknames require my full attention. It has become a time to switch off worrying, thinking about the to do list, or zone out.
I am also reminded of my own advice for reading more, or any big endeavor: breaking it down into small daily tasks is a great way to accomplish your goal. The idea of reading a 1400 page book seems sort of ludicrous. But, I honestly am pretty amazed at how much I've accomplished already and I have already been thinking about what big book I want to tackle next year!
That being said, there were certainly days when I didn't feel like picking it up, and I didn't bring it along on vacation. Rather than giving up altogether, which I contemplated from time to time, I just chose to do what I could, when I could to catch up. In general, it's not a reason to give up on something when you have a setback. To be clear, I am enjoying the story, and I'm glad to be reading it! This hasn't felt like a chore, because I've given myself permission to read it when I feel like it, and it has worked out so far.

Since we're halfway through the year, I thought I'd also round up a few books that I think will most likely be on my best of 2018 list (here's the link to previous years and other book lists). There are a few that might squeak on to the list, and maybe one or two might fall off of a top ten, but here are five books that I've loved so far this year:

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (review here)
You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (review here)
Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan (review here)
How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran (review here)
The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir (review here)


What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan (NetGalley Review)

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (July 10, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
After years of chasing the American dream, the Zhen family has moved back to China. Settling into a luxurious serviced apartment in Shanghai, Wei, Lina, and their daughter, Karen, join an elite community of Chinese-born, Western-educated professionals who have returned to a radically transformed city. 
One morning, in the eighth tower of Lanson Suites, Lina discovers that a treasured ivory bracelet has gone missing. This incident sets off a wave of unease that ripples throughout the Zhen household. Wei, a marketing strategist, bows under the guilt of not having engaged in nobler work. Meanwhile, Lina, lonely in her new life of leisure, assumes the modern moniker taitai-a housewife who does no housework at all. She is haunted by the circumstances surrounding her arranged marriage to Wei and her lingering feelings for his brother, Qiang. Sunny, the family's housekeeper, is a keen but silent observer of these tensions. An unmarried woman trying to carve a place for herself in society, she understands the power of well-kept secrets. When Qiang reappears in Shanghai after decades on the run with a local gang, the family must finally come to terms with the past and its indelible mark on their futures.
From a silk-producing village in rural China, up the corporate ladder in suburban America, and back again to the post-Maoist nouveaux riches of modern Shanghai, What We Were Promised explores the question of what we owe to our country, our families, and ourselves.

This was a slow burn of a novel, that centered mostly on each character's internal life and struggles. The missing bracelet at the beginning of the novel had me intrigued. Was it truly missing? Was it an attempt to replace the maid, or does it have value? What kind of value? The hint of a secret between Lina and her brother in law Qiang is also hinted at in the very first pages. Then the bulk of the book delves into the past and the lives led by each of the characters up until the present day, full of immersive detail while examining contrasting themes of those with money and power, and those without. Who has more freedom or happiness, really? 
The narrative lingered a bit longer than I would have liked with expats Lina and Wei's history, ostensibly the main characters. I found Sunny the maid's story much more interesting, and would have liked to spend more time with her and Little Cao, the Zhen's surprisingly multifaceted driver. Perhaps because she was the working class observer, the more relatable character in the beginning. Though, overall, I was impressed with Tan's ability to create an entire cast of characters that I was rooting for, major flaws and all. The various relationship dynamics were very compelling, even some of the briefest interactions were the most impactful, as with the tenuous father daughter connection between Karen and Wei.
"Why do our minds fixate on the kinds of love we're not getting instead of the kinds of love we are? We expect it to be the thing we want it to be. And we're blind to every other form of it."
In the end, the secrets and realizations that are made gave it a highly satisfying ending with a lot of food for thought about family, loyalty, freedom and finding a place in the world. I would highly recommend this as a read alike for another summer debut, A Place for Us with very similar themes on family, choices and culture. 
Many thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for the complimentary digital review copy!