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THE QUALITIES OF WOOD: A Novel ~Mary Vensel White

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

“Eyes can become discerning, she thought, if your look long enough.  The sky, the qualities of wood.  She wondered who invented the microscope, what made them think there was anything to see. Dr. Lightfoot said that the motivation driving the scientist and the artist was the same:  to create.  Vivian thought about pictures she had seen of early autopsies, fifteenth-century artist monitoring dissections in order to paint the body more faithfully.  She thought about Da Vinci’s notebooks, the embryo in the womb and his precise sketches.  If you look long enough, close enough.  Is that what artists do?  The sky, the qualities of wood.  Dr. Lightfoot was wrong.  Scientists seek to improve, while artists merely represent, reflect, interpret” (from the middle of chapter 17 about page 153)

THE QUALITIES OF WOOD is a wonderful read; I would definitely want this book in my bag for the beach or mountain cabin read.   It is slow moving with lots of thinking and contemplation happening as a young woman packs up a Grandmother’s house, looks at her present circumstances and contemplates her future.  She is at a new start place in life and in the heat of a Midwestern summer she works and sorts and throws things into the garbage.

Vivian has been married for 4 years to her college sweetheart and she has left her job with the water department in the city to reconnect with her husband at his Grandmother’s house which is in a rural fictional Midwestern location. Nowell is already at the house working on his second mystery novel.  When Vivian arrives, Sherriff’s Deputies are in the woods behind the house and they have found a body of a young neighbor girl.   Nowell’s brother Lonnie and his new bride Dot arrive to also help clean up the house and Vivian meets a fun townie named Katharine, who becomes a friend and shows them the ropes and gives them the historic tour.

The main road is being paved, it has always been dirt as the town prepares for a huge end of the summer reunion of the Clement family to honor the town founder, The new paved road goes right in front of Grandmother’s house.   The town has a number of traditions and a whole museum to honor the founding Mr. Clement; they will have a small fair and special entertainment for everyone to participate in the event.   Then again the town has some big secrets and prejudices are exposed about one of the halves of the family tree.

All around Vivian, things begin to fall apart and she begins to contemplate how she became a business major in college and gave up art and her own family lessons and growth.  There were secrets between her parents that she begins to understand and interpret how they fit into her life now and into the future. The town secrets and the strange behaviors of her neighbors she thinks about also as she sorts her husband’s family secrets become apparent and reveal the truth right to the very last page.

Lots of symbolism and metaphor have been written into this story.  I like that!

“THE QUALITIES OF WOOD IS A NOVEL ABOUT SECRETS.  Family secrets.   Community secrets. And secrets between lovers, past and present.  And all of these secrets have their price.”   Book cover

This is Mary Vensel White’s first novel.  Her short fiction has appeared in many periodicals.  She shares life with her husband and 4 children in Southern California.

Mary Vensel White’s Web page 
Mary Vensel White on Facebook
Mary Vensel White on Twitter

tlc logo TLC Online Book Tours and Harper Collins Publishing sent me an advanced reader copy of this book and I found it to be a good read.  I think you will like THE QUALITIES OF WOOD.

Little Island
The Moon Sisters
In the Land of the Living

DARING GREATLY: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead ~Brene’ Brown

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

I am a reader and life practitioner who just wants the best for people and I feel DARING GREATLY is one of the best reads and guides I could possible share with you.   I believe Brene’ Brown is defiantly on to something great and good for humankind’s best interests and outcomes.

I have reviewed Brown’s other major work The Gifts of Imperfection and was drawn into her research modes and interpretations.  Yes, I could find my own self and struggles in her words. I was not ashamed to look at my own feelings of shame, those times when I block my feelings of vulnerability, and I was challenged to evaluate my words and actions improving my outcomes and resilience.  I liked her fine-tuned definitions of words and responses; I could certainly understand how they made a difference in our conversations.  I have watched her TED TALKS numerous times, and listened to her full interview on the radio program ON BEING at least 3 times.  I have great praise for Brown’s ability to explain her data and what she understands in such incredibly human terms, so that all of us can comprehend and find useful her lessons.

In DARING GREATLY, the author has taken her research further by adding men to the studies and more interviews and by teaching and leading numerous workshops which have honed her vast knowledge into even more expository and useful words.  DARING GREATLY is a useable workbook not only for social workers but for anyone who looks to be a parent, a teacher, a human in a loving relationship and/or a leader.  This book pinpoints our control issues and politics – actually, it covers just about every way we as a people keep our actions from matching our values.

“Blaming, gossiping, favoritism, name-calling, and harassment are all behavior cues that shame has permeated a culture.”

I found myself releasing old feelings about my childhood and forgiving myself for my imperfect parenting skills when reading DARING GREATLY.   I firmly believe that children are hardwired for struggle and adversity and those are the tools which assist us in learning to be shame resilient and wholehearted people. (Author’s terminology)

This book can change lives and has changed lives and I recommend this book to everyone.  DARING GREATLY is a gift of change and an innovative approach to being the best that one can be – INSPIRING.

If you purchase anything from Amazon or Powell’s from this site, I will receive a few blooms for my bouquet.  Thank you.

This book is from my own library and I thought it was worth sharing with you.  I have already created a workshop using the information gained from Brene’ Brown’s work.

“I am Enough!”  

From Powell’s review page:
”Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. An award-winning teacher and speaker, she is also the author of The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t). Her groundbreaking work has been featured widely in the media, including a PBS special.”

TED TALK on Vulnerability

Related Reading:
The Gifts of Imperfection
The Wisdom to Know the Difference
When Women Were Birds
Search Inside Yourself

The Long Goodbye: A Memoir ~Meghan O’Rourke

Thursday, April 7th, 2011


This is a loving story of a “normal” family who experienced the loss of the Mother and Wife to colon cancer.  It is a story about their growing and parented years, it is the story about the years of sickness and the family’s responses and actions, and is introspective of that which a daughter understands about her own development, growth and the mother-daughter experience.

This book is a study in grief and it is well researched, literary, and supremely well written.

Right up front I give this book 5 Ladybugs and I hope that I inspire people to read this story and benefit from this information.

There were moments where I thought I was reading a 300 page obituary for a talented and energetic teacher.  I often thought, wow I wish I had read this before my own Mother was dying; I am happy that other people can now benefit from the research, poetry, insights, and lessons shared in this book.  It is a celebration of living a good life, having a good death, and how mourning and grief play out amidst the living and the survivors.

“One of the grubby truths about a loss is that you don’t just mourn the dead person, you mourn the person you got to be when the lost one was alive.”

I found myself feeling jealous several times during the reading of this book.  O’Rourke writes about familial love as a resource and strength in the face of immeasurable loss and how each family member took part in the care of the patient and the nurturing of each other.   The extended family was fairly close by and offered their support also.   I had to wonder how my experience would have been changed with even a spoonful of that “yogurt” of the author’s experience.  It was a very personal read.

“It is, of course, difficult to study ‘grief’ because a salient feature of grief is that it’s not monolithic or singular; it’s personal and variable.  That said, there seem to be certain universal aspects. And one is the ameliorating influence of watching your loved one accept his or her death. (Another is that the dominant feeling after a loss isn’t anger or denial but yearning, exactly the feeling I’d had.)”

O’Rourke has moved well beyond the studies and conclusions of Kubler-Ross’s stages and even refers to these as states, because there is not an orderly progression – rather it is” an ongoing, messy process”

“But even ‘normal grief’, Prigerson said, is hardly gentle. Its symptoms include insomnia or other sleep disorders, difficulty breathing, auditory or visual hallucinations, appetite problems, and dryness of mouth.  I had had all of these symptoms, including one banal hallucination at dinner with a friend, when I imagined I saw a waitress bring him ice cream.  In addition to the symptoms Prigerson named, I had one more: difficulty spelling. Like my mother, I had always been a good speller. … My problem was not unusual; certain forms of grief can take a toll on your cognitive functions.”

Grief is such an important part of living and living a “good” life that there are many studies being done and this book offers up so much of the new thinking and “facts” presented by the current research. It has been a question on the mind of most human’s experience.

Missing from this book, were all the details of the “paperwork” involved with the process of illness and dying.  There is little mention of the insurance, and co-pays, fees and lawyers. The author does talk about how they had to tell her Mother’s treatment history to each new Doctor and Administrator that they encountered and how exhausting that part of the experience can become.  She also mentions how sometimes her notes arrived ahead of charts and labs and these were the basis of keeping her mother cared for and proceeding with less pain and trauma.  I wanted to add, how lucky she was to have so many helpers and friends who did a conscientious job of helping her keep track, because it seemed like when I could finally get away for a shower or rest, some physician arrived and changed the routine and medications – and no one told me.

This book is an invaluable resource of how to care for one’s self through the tough sieges and loss, and it is recounted by a good teller.

Richard Ford said: “The LONG GOODBYE is emotionally acute, strikingly empathetic, through and unstintingly intellectually, and of course elegantly wrought.  But it’s above all a useful book, for life—the good bits and the sad ones, too.”

The book was sent to me by TLC book tours but I did not receive any compensation for reviewing this book.  If you purchase the book from this site, I will receive a few beans in my bucket.

Everyone who makes a comment on this review will be entered into a give away for a copy of this book to be mailed to you by the publisher. Only available for USA and Canada.  The random drawing will be held April 22, 2011.

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Related Reading:
The Gifts of Imperfection
The Love Ceiling
The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Let’s talk about this idea of grief in the comments section.  I think you would truly like this book.

I know I experienced many of these feelings and I think this was why I torn the ligament off my ribs and had to just sit still for several years to heal it – powerful impact physically and emotionally. Looking forward to what you are going to share.