TLC Book Tours: Lift

GetAttachment.aspxI have been a runner for years.  In between runs, and in pursuit of better health and fitness, I have tried yoga, spin, and cross fit.  Lift, by Daniel Kunitz, is a study of fitness trends.  And in this study, he describes his own fitness journey, running, cross fitting, and military training.  He has not only tried many different forms of exercise and trends, he writes about them in detail here.  He talks about cross fit quite a bit, and though I have tried it, I just don’t get it.

GetAttachment.aspxGoing back to the ancient Romans, he explores fitness trends, fitness ideals, and how the idea of the perfect body has changed.  As the idea of the perfect body has changed, so have ideas about the perfect workout.  He includes a study, a history really, of many different types of workouts, but does not offer any advice or draw any conclusions to what the perfect workout is.  He notes a change in attitudes about how women participate in sports and fitness, as have attitudes about women’s bodies.  This was important to me, and I have actually noticed this in my own life.  Women are now more active, participating in a variety of sports and types of exercise.

He describes the turn of the 21st century as the New Fitness Frontier.  And though cross fit had been around prior to 2000, it has grown in popularity in the past few years.  It brought back old-school exercises, functional strength – and cross fit’s creator, Greg Gassman created this type of workout for soldiers, firefighters, police officers.  In this new frontier, there was a focus not just on exercise, and instead on lifestyle.  Athletes, and active people in general, accept pain and discomfort as a part of training and fitness.  In the new frotier, there is “a rejection of the ideology of ease”.  And it’s here, on his explanation of changing ideals that he compares our modern ideals to Aristotle.  Aristotle believed that by bettering ourselves, we can better serve others.

He studies weightlifting, acrobats, military training, the original olympic games, running, and ninja warriors.  Although extensive, his study of fitness, sports, and exercise is not comprehensive.  One of my favorite parts of the book was about Muscle Beach, which is in Santa Monica, California.  Here he mentions Vic Tanney, Steeve Reeves, Jack LaLanne and Joe Gold.  These were some of the original stars at the beach.  Which was more than just a beach, by the way.  It was more than just lifting weights, there were acrobats, bar routines, which eventually led to a popularity in weight lifting, and a specific type of weight training.

I was really surprised by this book.  Inside is a lot of information – a history of sports and exercise, that could be daunting, but it’s not.  In the new frontier, there are always new ways to be fit, exercise, and new ways and things to eat.  One of the most important things about the new frontier he mentions in his conclusion, is the need for exercise.  Our lifestyles have changed dramatically in just a few generations.  He mentions that the rise of the suburb (beginning in the 1950s) gave rise to the gym.  The emergence of new technology correlates to the rise in obesity.  “American kids are paying the price of progress”.  The important takeaway from this book is the need for exercise, and as he points out there is a variety of ways to get and stay fit.




Modern Romance

9780143109259_p0_v1_s192x300Aziz Ansari is a funny guy.  I was never a huge fan of Parks and Rec, but I love his stand-up.  I was not that surprised to hear he had written a book,  Modern Romance, but I was surprised that it was more than just comedy.  Parts are the book are hilarious, which is what is expected of him, but the book was well-researched, insightful, and intelligent.  As a young single guy, who grew up in a very different world from his parents, he’s questioning modern relationships.

What he’s addressing in this book is love in the digital age, how people connect, and how they find each other?  It’s something I’ve thought about before, although I have been married for 11 years, and have not actually experienced.  Reading through the book, I am so relieved I’m not single.  He goes in detail just how important texts can be – in wording, timing, and tone.

I loved his take on relationships – even with his own relationships he is open and candid The book was co-written with Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist and professor at NYU.  For the book, the conducted extensive surveys in different spots in the U.S. (both urban and rural), and in spots in other parts of the world.  One area mentioned that I thought was interesting was Qatar.  He talks about the constrains of dating in the Arab world – young women are very limited in their activities and communications with the opposite sex. He also talks about dating and sex in Buenos Aires, and how people there were much more open about infidelity, and that it seemed much more prevalent there.

He explores the different apps, services, and things that are available to singles.  He examines the idea of too much choice, these apps and services don’t seem to be that helpful in helping singles connect. He mentions that his own parents’ marriage had been arranged, and that they have been happily married for over 30 years. If they married each other sight unseen and are still together, what hope is there for anyone in the 21st century?

I got the audiobook from the library, and it was honestly one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever read, or “heard”.  Ansari himself read the book, and there were inside jokes just for listeners, and he mocked listeners for being too lazy to read the actual joke and for missing out on all of the graphics the book included.  Overall, it was hilarious, and one of the best books I’ve read all year.


The Bishop’s Wife

9781616956189_p0_v2_s192x300I have long been fascinated by the Mormon Church. What they do, what they believe, and how they practice. In the past couple of years I have gotten to know some Mormon women, and as often as they’ve invited me to go to church with them, I’ve never taken them up on the invite. I recently read The Bishop’s Wife, all about the wife of a Mormon bishop, and absolutely loved it. Not only because of the double murder mystery the sotry focuses on, but also because it provides an inside look at the Mormon Church. Mette Ivie Harrison herself is a lifelong member of the Church, so who better to write about the institution.

One thing that fascinates me about Mormons is their work ethic. I feel (and could be way wrong here) that there is something ingrained into Mormons – wether it be taught by parents, or by the church itself, about hard work.  Most Mormons I know are overachievers.  And Harrison herself is an example of that. She is a mother of 5, has a PhD from Princeton, and is an accomplished triathlete. I’m so humbled by that, and her devotion to her faith.  There is a bit of her in Linda, the main character of this story, as a mother of five boys. She is a bishop’s wife, and in their church that means her husband’s role as bishop is not necessarily a preacher of the word, so much as a leader of the church. He is responsible for performing some ceremonies, counseling, and general church business. During the day he is a busy accountant, he is the father to their sons, and taking on this role as the church’s bishop is an honor, but keeps him incredibly busy.

As the bishop’s wife, she has certain responsibility to the ward.  She has a big family to care for, but those boys are mostly grown, and other than keeping up with the laundry and grocery shopping, she has a little more free time on her hand.  She’s kind of a busybody. Not in a bad way, she just seems to have watched a few too many crime shows.  So when a neighbor, young mother, and member of their ward goes missing, she assumes the worse. Though, as the missing woman’s husband is introduced, and his father, it seems like a closed case.  These two men represent the worst about the Mormon Church.  Linda is sure they are responsible for her disappearance.

In this close-knit community, the murder investigation seems to be handled internally. This is at the same time scary and comforting. Comforting, because there is community and care for the families involved, which especially important in this case, as the missing woman left a five year old daughter behind.  It’s terrifying, because in investigating the disappearance and murder of a young mother, being handled in the community gives that community the ability to cover up and protect possible suspects.  Linda thinks she knows what happened to Carrie Helm, and I thought I did too.  I was surprised by the ending, and surprised to have loved this book so much.  Harrison has a handful of other books published, and a sequel to The Bishop’s Wife.  His Right Hand is moving the top of my TBR list!

New Fiction Friday: Northanger Abbey

9780802123800_p0_v1_s192x300Of all the Jane Austen books I’ve read, somehow I had never read this one. As part of the Austen Project, I read Val McDermid’s version of Northanger Abbey, which was updated from the original.  The original was published in 1817, and this is quite different with McDermid’s updates.  Like Austen’s other works, it’s kind of a romance, though McDermid is known more of a mystery writer. Northanger Abbey is one of the book’s many settings, and is supposed to be somewhat Gothic.  In this story, however, it doesn’t show up until the very end of the book, and doesn’t seem to be as interesting as it’s supposed to be.

Cat Morland is a 17 year old girl, ready to be on her own.  She is a minister’s daughter, one of five children (though in Austen’s original, Catherine is one of two children), who was homeschooled, and didn’t grow up with a whole lot. So she’s super excited when a family friend invites her to stay with them over the summer in Bath The Allens are neighbors, and close friends of the family. They take Cat along with them to the Fringe Festival, staying with them at their estate. This is nothing like the life she is used to, though she thinks she could get used to it. It is a nice break from the small, crowded house she shares with her rather large family.

It’s here that she meets new friends, Bella, Eleanor, and most importantly Eleanor’s older brother Henry. With Eleanor, her brother, and Eleanor’s father, they take a trip up north, and it’s there that the visit Northanger Abbey. One thing about Cat, as a teenage girl, she is obsessed with vampire novels. Even before their trip togerher, she stays with Eleanor at her home, and becomes obsessed with exploring Eleanor’s family stately estate – snooping around in closets, down dark hallways.  She is convinced there is something dark and possibly sinister hidden in the estate.  Northanger Abbey is even more intriguing, it’s quite a bit bigger, offering more rooms to explore.

I really liked the story overall, and the old English and Scottish estates that were described throughout the book. As a 17 year old, who was obsessed with Facebook and texting, and all vampire novels, Cat was a little annoying, though I don’t know how she compared with the original character. I also thought that it was interesting that Val McDermid chose this book as part of the Austen Project, with such a young main character. I kind of felt that she was trying too hard to modernize the story.  As part of the Austen Project, I have to say this wasn’t my favorite adaptation of Austen’s work, but it was still a fun read.  And though I’ve never been an Austen fan, I’d really like to read the original Northanger Abbey.


The Austen Project

9780804172417_p0_v1_s192x300On Friday, we shared our review of Eligible, which I really loved.  Eligible is a modern version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Curtis Sittenfeld took that story, written originally in 1813. and gave it a 21st century twist.  It was a fun update, and one I enjoyed reading.  I loved Sittenfeld, and she wrote this as a part of the Austen Project.  The Austen Project is something a few writers took on, including Sittenfeld, updating some of Austen’s best works.

At first, I was just excited about reading Sittenfeld’s latest book – but I had no idea it was part of the Austen Project.  Since getting Eligible from Book of the Month club, I have picked up the other books in the project.  There are 6 books that are a part of the project, and so far I’ve read 4. 9780007587827_p0_v3_s192x300Two of the books have yet to be published, but I’ll be excited to read those too.  The two books in the series that aren’t out yet are versions of Persuasion and Mansfield Park.  Here’s what’s already out:

Emma – Alexander McCall Smith  I am a huge fan of his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, and was excited that he would take on this retelling of one of Austen’s most influential books.  This book famously inspired the movie Clueless, but Smith’s Emma is anything but clueless.

Northanger Abbey – Val McDermid Of all the Jane Austen books I’ve read, somehow I had never read this one. As part of the Austen Project, I read Val McDermid’s version, which was updated from the original.  Like Austen’s other work, it’s kind of a romance, though McDermid is known more of a mystery writer.  I liked her version, and it made me want to read Austen’s original – putting that on my TBR list.

9781400068326_p0_v3_s192x300Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld Eligible is a modern take on Pride and Prejudice. The premise of the Pride and Prejudice story here hasn’t changed. The cast is the same, it’s just updated.  There is a Mr. Darcy, who is coy with his affection for Elizabeth Bennet (Liz). This is my favorite book in the series.

Sense and Sensibility – Joanna Trollope This is probably my least favorite of these four books.  This is one Austen story that I enjoyed, but in Trollope’s version there is no “sense”.  It stays somewhat true to Austen’s, with some modern updates.  In updating the story, some of the details don’t seem to fit.  Trying to stay so close to the original story, while inserting 9780062200471_p0_v1_s192x300modern elements seems odd.  There is no real originality in the retelling.

Whether or not you’re an Austen fan, you can enjoy these books.  Wether told in the early 19th century, or in the 21st century, these stories are somewhat timeless.  There will always be love, always romance, and devoted readers.  I’ve enjoyed reading them, though I know that not everyone has.  Reading through several reviews of these books there are some who love them and some who hate them.  Some Austen fans don’t want the original stories changed.  Others are excited that there are new ways to connect with Austen.  Most importantly, the new versions are attracting some readers who were not Austen fans (like myself).

New Fiction Friday: Eligible

unnamedCurtis Sittenfeld is one of my favorite writers. Her American Wife is one of my favorite books ever. I was excited to hear about Eligible, her latest book, which is part of the Austen Project. The Austen Project involves a modern retelling of some of Jane Austen’s books, and as a part of that, Eligible is a modern take on Pride and Prejudice. I’ve never been an Austen fan, though I have read a few of her books. Yeah, I know, I was brave enough to say that, and feel that I’m not alone.

The premise of the Pride and Prejudice story here hasn’t changed. The cast is the same, it’s just updated. There is a Mr. 9781400068326_p0_v3_s192x300Darcy, who is coy with his affection for Elizabeth Bennet (Liz). She and her sister Jane live in New York, and are called back home to Cincinatti when their father falls ill. There are five unmarried sisters, three of whom still live at home. There, in a crumbling, over-mortaged house, in a setting somewhat reminiscent of the English countryside.  They collectively nurse their father back to health. Their mother, who somewhat successfully raised 5 daughters seems helpless, and clueless that they are about to lose their home.

While the two New Yorkers are back in town, they meet two young men who are new to the city. Jane, who works as a yoga instructor, meets Chip Bingley, a doctor who just starred in a season of Eligible, a TV dating show similar to the Bachelor. This is just one of the fun updates the Elizabeth Bennett story gets. Liz is a successful journalist, who meets Chip’s friend and colleague Fitzwilliam Darcy. Darcy is also a doctor, and as Liz gets to know him, he seems increasingly hesitant.  Her Darcy is similar to the original Elizabeth’s Darcy. Reserved, snobbish, and sometimes distant.  She doesn’t even like him at first, and it seems as if the feeling is mutual.They both seem like odd couples, especially given the Bennett family drama.

Like the original Elizabeth and Darcy, they are destined to be together. In this version, Darcy is from San Francisco and is not that impressed with the Cincinatti – the city itself, its people, food, and culture.  And when they first meet, he describes his early impressions of the city:

“Here’s what I’ve learned about the people in this city…They grade women on a curbe./ If someone is described as sophisticated, it means once during college she visited Paris, and if someone is described as beautiful, it means she’s 15 pounds overweight instead of 40. And they’re obsessed with matchmaking. They act like they’re doing you a favor by conscripting you to have coffee with the elementary school teacher from their church during the two free hours you might have in an entire week. I’ve lost count of how many of my colleagues’ wives have tried to set me up.”

I really liked Eligible, everything I didn’t like about Pride and Prejudice was updated.  I loved the modern Elizabeth, she had a voice, a career, options.  If Austen’s original story was a criticism of the time period, Sittenfeld’s version is too.  This adaptation proves that finding love in the 21st century has changed quite a bit, but I love that Liz and Darcy still manage to find each other.

TLC Book Tours: Stepping to a New Day

unnamedThis is my first time participating in a TLC Book Tour – when the book first showed up on my doorstep about a week ago, I was pretty excited.  Stepping to a New Day took me to a small town in Kansas named Henry Adams.  This is my first book of Beverly Jenkins that I’ve read, but the town is one she frequents in her writing.  The cast of characters is large (seemingly the whole town itself), and reading through and getting to know some of the characters, I could imagine what Henry Adams is like.  One of my favorite characters is TC, who comes to this tiny place from Oakland.  TC is in town help his nephew, who is recently divorced and raising his kids on his own.  It’s a bit of a change for him, but one that he seems to like.

tlc tour hostIt’s in Henry Adams that he meets Genevieve (Gen), a vibrant, kind woman, on the verge of remaking herself.  In this small town, it’s hard for her to reinvent herself, though she seems to determined to stay.  Burned by her previous relationship, interestingly her ex-husband loved a pig (???).  She returns to town, even after having her ego bruised.  In a small town, it goes without saying, that everyone knows your business.  It was brave of her to go back, yet it seems as if she had no where else to go.  She volunteers with a local adult literacy group to help adults improve their reading skills.  As TC gets to know her better, it is clear that he can’t read.  She just might be the perfect person to help.

Before reading this book, I didn’t know much about Beverly Jenkins, or the series of books she wrote about this town.  It would be interesting to know what had happened in the town in these previous books, but it wasn’t necessary to enjoy  this story.  There seems to be a lot of history between the characters, which may have been revealed in the previous books.  TC may be new to this cast of characters, but seems to fit right in.

I’ve never lived in a small town like this one, and don’t think I’d want to.  The book explores some of the benefits, and downfalls of living in a small town like Henry Adams.  Gen can’t escape her past, everyone seems to remind her of who she was.  But on the other hand, there is love, help, and genuine concern for her.

This isn’t a book I would’ve normally read, but I really enjoyed the story.  There was a moral to the story, that it’s never too late to change.  It’s never too late to start over.  Gen and TC are both in their 60s, and are undaunted in the face of change.  One takeaway from the book, the author’s notes at the end point out that there are 32 million functionally illiterate adults in this country.  She also defines what this means, and how this may affect an adult’s life.  There’s also information on how to help, including how to access some of the tools that Gen used.  Her work, and what she was able to do for TC, was for me the best part of the book.  It’s an important issue, and probably needs more attention.