Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Reviews: Summer Reads!

Summer time reading book reviews

I keep telling myself there is no way that these are ALL the books I have read since January…Sigh, it must be true. Even though it is less than I would have hoped, there are some real gems in here. I also feel like I have uncovered a few secrets to making reading be quick and seamless to help with aforementioned low-book-count-disappointment. It involves starting a new book immediately after finishing one, rotating reading fiction and non and then giving myself permission to read the books I really love and can tear through: mystery.

As always, I read almost exclusively on the Scribd app. I have a full review, tips, photos, etc of the app here and you can use this link to read for free for 2 months.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
I loved Gretchen’s writing style. Very intellectual, great quotes, statistics, research mixed in with personal experience. This has been one of my favorite books in a long time and I truly looked forward to reading it each night. It is about her year-long goal to find a way to be happier in her current life while only making little changes. I appreciated her honesty, was inspired by her goal setting and enjoyed the story.

This book is for you if you like personal narratives and goal setting.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
This book was recommended for me as similar to The Girl on the Train (which was insane + amazing) so I gave it a chance and was not disappointed. I could not stop thinking about it and finished it in a few quick sittings. It is a murder mystery with so many twists you never seem them coming and you kind of want them to die…as the title suggest. Twisted but illuminating.

This book is for you if you like thrillers, a quick read and some grown up themes. Sorry Twilight, we love you, but we need a break from the teenage whine sometimes…

The Expats by Chris Pavone
We listened to this on audio together and it was intriguing, but a bit hard to follow on audio. It’s an ex CIA agent who has quit and moved abroad with her family but all these ‘people’ from the past are popping up and she can’t figure out who they are really after, her or her plain jane husband. Lots of twists and keeps you on the edge of your seat, but almost frustratingly. It’s a bit long and just needs to get to the point a few times. But intriguing and makes you think about what you would do for your spouse and what you could forgive.

This book is for you if you like plot twists, mystery and a little brain work to follow the story line.

For The Love by Jen Hatmaker
This book may have changed my life. I don’t say this lightly. Jen is hilarious, honest and so insightful. She is relatable and real. This book is a mash-up of life stories, thoughts on biblical living and hilarious antidotes. I loved it so much that I made an entire art journal of my favorite quotes. 

This book is for you if you are a person or know persons. It is not just for people who identify as christian, it is for everyone who is in relationships with others. That is all of us.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight
A friend recommended this and I was enthralled. It is heartbreaking and scary and overwhelming. It’s hard to know who to side with in the book and leaves you a little unsure in the end about the characters final decisions. The storyline is that a book about a woman’s terrible past shows up, but no one is supposed to know her secret, and now they do and are trying to, literally, rip her world apart. You follow the characters through present day and then flashback to the past to learn the real truth of the story.

This book is for you if you like mystery, women’s issues, books that don’t end well and force you to choose and put yourself in their shoes.

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by PD Viner
This story is heartbreaking, sad and gripping. A woman is murdered, the cop is totally in love with her, her mother is seeking revenge, the dad is hanging out with her ghost. Another book with many twists and makes you feel for the characters separate anguish and try to figure out which of their responses you would have if this happened to you. A little graphic at times, but enjoyable overall.

This book is for you if like emotional thrillers with a bit of ghost activity 😉

Essentialism by Gregg McKeown
This book has been talked about non stop in the online world lately and it certainly lives up to the hype. I listened on audio, but feel I need to go back and read the physical book with a highlighter. I have recommended this book to anyone and everyone, especially at work. The author’s goal is to help you determine what is most important in your life, to cut out the excess and then to do the important very, very well. Engaging and so very practical and helpful. I feel this would be a useful re-read every year or so.

This book is for you if you need to pare down your life, take control of your time and use it effectively. This book requires a bit of heavy lifting in the personal, mental, work department.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book has been described as beautiful, long and poetic. It really was long and so many of you told me on instagram you couldn’t finish it, but the other half of you were obsessed. It is the blending of two stories, a young german soldier and a young, blind girl hiding from the soldiers. The story is a love story between her and her father, her uncle and then the soldier. All who care for her deeply and the profound impact she has on the world around her.

This book is for you if you love stories from WWII and beautiful, well penned words.

The New Bohemians by Justina Blakeney
This book is a mix between home design, DIY projects, inspiration, thoughtful text on design and is overflowing with jungalicious vibes. The book is full of beautiful photos and great ideas. I can literally sit and just read and look at homes for hours in this book and can never quite finish the book as it has SO much in it. It is so useful for decorating and design ideas and any kind of inspiration as it is just so so full of beauty!! As much as I love scrolling the Jungalow blog and hashtag, it is just nice to have real physical books to browse and touch with your hands. Worth it.

This book is for you if you need some inspiration in making your home more unique, jungalicious and inspiring.

Interview with Artist KenT


Hey friends! I have someone I would love you for you to meet today. kenT is an artist living in my (almost) hometown of Charlotte, who I met through instagram! Seriously, that app just keeps making my life better every day #weird. When I found kenT’s work I was enamoured with his use of color and movement. I love a good abstract, but his stuff was nothing like anything I had seen before. As I began to dig deeper into who he was I realized that we had a lot in common, including some friends, and after reading just a few bits of his bio and poking around his site I thought “we need more people like him in the world sharing these kinds of ideas”, so when we started talking about doing an interview I knew I had to get him to share with you guys. Oh, and the best part about it is, he just wrote a book! So if you can’t get enough of him here in this interview, go check out alllll his thoughts in his new book Be Something. If You Want To Make Something. 

Recently a shift has been happening, especially in the online world, with artists. You can no longer be flaky, unorganized, difficult, moody and slightly insane to be successful because there is a long line of reliable and nice artists waiting to serve your customers/clients. And besides, no one likes people like that. I have been thinking and talking about this, in my own life, a lot recently and I knew that kenT would be a great person to speak to this and share his own experiences. I hope you enjoy his energetic and honest thoughts on self-care, customer service and showing up to work.


kenT, a big part of your bio is about being kind and fun to work with. How do you infuse your business practices with kindness and why you want to be known for this?

i’m not sure if kind if my favorite word here, but it is in the right direction. kind just reminds me of going back to the days of the vcr and having to fast forward to get to the beginning of the movie. anyone else remember “be kind. rewind.”? my attitude is really to be surprising. this includes kindness + thoughtfulness. surprising someone really is what this whole journey of be-ing someone who is noticed is all about. as an artist i fight with the typical starving artist stereotype. i am expected to fit into a mold. it’s a “scattered, out-of-the-box, running late, torn-jeans wearing, messed-up hair” kind of mold. i think spike lee playing mars blackman in the first nike air jordan commercial got it wrong. it has nothing to do with the shoes. if you want to make and make a living at this, you have to surprise people. not with how you look, but with your product, your personality, and your service. surprise does not mean crazy or overboard obnoxious – it means to exceed their expectations. the corporate world has an absurd way of gauging their employees’ performances. at year-end reviews, employees are given marks of either “does not meet,” “meets,” or “exceeds” expectations. based on those reviews, bonuses are given, promotions are made, etc. employees work all year just to get one of those credits on their records. those that “meet” expectations just keep riding the train. those that do not are given a second and sometimes third chance to bring up their marks. those that are marked “exceeds” (which are few and far between) are considered stars within the company and often get a new title (oooooh – aaahhh, yeah!) and perhaps a bigger bonus. for the most part, employees “meet” expectations, and things continue to move along as is. as an entrepreneur or business owner / maker, we are not given such reviews. we are only offered two possible marks. either yes. or no. and we are given those reviews on a daily basis. yes. yes, i will buy from you again, work with you again, forward you to a friend, and carry a torch for you. or a no. h – e – double – hockey – sticks no, i won’t buy from you again. in fact, i’ll tell others not to as well. see that review – you suck. no stars for you. a rating of one. there is no second or third chance. if you do not deliver, you lose. companies will keep you around because it is easier than finding someone new or it is risky to make changes. but buyers, they will drop you. i’m sure of it because i do. i’m not good with second chances on customer service. i’ve walked out of a small shop when the owner was too chatty on the phone to help me. i took my business elsewhere. i refuse to purchase art supplies at a big box store minutes from my home, and instead drive farther, because it is so slow and has an aura of malaise. i’m certain you have stories of poor results in which you have taken your business somewhere else. you may not have the same i-won’t-shop-there list as i do, but i’ll bet you have one. unless you exceed their expectations, which are high, customers / clients will move on to the next person on their lists. do more for clients or potential clients than they expect. be nice. be helpful. treat them as you would your best friend. it surprises people. 140514_kentyoungstrom-2

You talk a lot about showing people that working with artists can be a reliable and efficient effort, not a tortured and haphazard procedure. How do you stay organized in your (art) work and business? 

i mentioned above that as an artist you are already facing an uphill battle. rightfully so, artists are thought of as difficult to work with. i attempt to give off a casual, easy to work with vibe because it is how i operate. for others it may be different. here is some simple advice. given with a simple question:

would you buy from you?

take a credit card – even if it cost you a small percentage of the sale. put the price of shipping into the product, so shipping is not extra. if it breaks, replace it. if it’s wrong, fix it. be easy to work with. be easy to refer. i don’t give this advice to my daughter, but i do to you. be easy. have you ever seen the scottish keg toss competition where the guys in skirts, i mean kilts, toss kegs over increasingly high walls? i am convinced shipping companies play similar games with my packaged paintings. i’ve given up on insuring them because it is denied every time. apparently unless ansel adams takes photos of the packaging, all claims will be denied. that’s not the point of this story however. i have on separate occasions had paintings both stabbed and snapped in half. on both of those occasions, i gained clients for life by simply fixing the problem at no cost or no hassle to the client. no hemming and hawing about let me check and file a claim and get back to you. no. on the phone i took care of it the first time. client one got a youtube video and a repair kit, because she wanted to fix it herself. i did not know her at the time or know she would soon be a great client and business friend. since the dexter-like box-stabbing incident, i was the initial artist on her quote-sharing app (which was launched at harpo studios). she also has since purchased multiple pieces and promoted my work to countless business connections. client two got his package picked up the next day and returned to him in about a week or so – fixed and ready to hang. he also got a small painting just for the delay and the hassle. was all this convenient for me? absolutely not. pain in the derrière. but the end result sure was a win – win. take care of your customer as if they were your mom. (minus the discount and, well, frankly the hassle that would be.) they will tell other customers as if they were your mom too. you know – like every time she talks to them!

be easy. be nice to your mom. it surprises people. 140514_kentyoungstrom-16

The life of the successful (or not so successful) artists, business owner, blogger, dad, friend, and now author (!) etc goes about 800 miles a minute and there is so much work to be done. How do you balance work and rest (and not just the 8 hours a night kind)? What are some of your rituals or routines for rest? 

8 hours? am i suppose to get 8 hours? i often hear it is about balance. my thought? balance shmalance. that doesn’t exist. i prefer persistence + pattern. i make it a pattern to do all those things. my pleasure is the pattern. it’s doing it again. then again. i’m a fighter. i’m driven. i hit the bag and get in the ring over and over. not literally – but everyday i’m there. the pleasure of the pattern is the result. the pattern may change but it’s all part of me. it’s not a mix of plaid and stripes, but rather a mix of subtle textures and colors.

it looks something like this.

work out
eat (power bar of some type)
take the kids to school
*walk into the big box of paint i call the studio
paint a bit.
eat (turkey/ chicken)
visit with my mac/ check orders
paint some more
eat (fruit/nuts)
wrap up./ package/ wash brushes / head home
say hey to kids / make them food
do some computer work
make dinner (high protein/low fat)
take kids to some sort of practice / game / homework adventure etc.
hang out

* in that big box of paint i have the freedom to insert…
make nice with my TRX bands
paint something that has not been ordered
run an errand
pick up a kid or two for appointments
walk the dogs
text friends
take photos
crank spotify
juggle the soccer ball
downward dog my way to a little inspiration
jump around. jump around. jump up. jump up. and get down.

this pattern is revolving and always will be. it certainly didn’t develop overnight. but it grounds me. makes me me. pleases pic 2 (4 of 9)

I hope you guys are as pumped to go surprise some people as I am after reading kenT’s interview. Check out his book here and connect with him here. Thanks so much kenT. Now lets all go be something. 140723_KentYoungstrom-13-X2

Book Reviews

Book reviews by Lauren Likes. Room, Big Magic, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and more. Plus a free 2 month code to read for free on Scribd.

Yesterday, I shared my secret for reading so many books via the Scribd app and shared a code for you to try it for 2 months free. You can read the post here or register with the code here. Today, here are the most recent books I have read and my thoughts for you. And as always TONS more reviews here. 

Finding Lilly by Rachel Del. PSA: I know someone who has officially published a book. WHAT?! Rachel’s writing is very easy to read and the story is so compelling you will finish it in no time. This book is able to grasp the true uncomfortableness of interpersonal relationships and the difficulty and confusion that comes along with them. The main character is fierce and flawed at the same time, which is what makes her so relatable. There is more coming, as this is a series and Rachel is deep in the trenches of writing more. This book was a little outside of my normal reads, but I was just so excited to read something my friend wrote! 

This book is for you if you need a super quick read and are into romance and tangled webs of relationships. *adults only

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I first listened to this on audio, she reads it and I loved her voice and felt like she was speaking directly to me. I loved it so much that I bought the actual book and am now reading it again. That is true love. This book could get its own whole post. I loved the way she described our relationship with inspiration as it is a living breathing soul of its own. I loved the encouragement to have a love affair with your creativity. And I loved her encouragement of curiosity. Ok, yes it certainly needs its own post. I cannot recommend it enough. 

This book is for you if you are a creative or are just curious and want to find something that you love. It is a quick read, it is helpful, informative, entertaining and will strike some lightening for you. Read this if you need direction in your creativity, are stuck or have already found your passion.

I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman. I was enamored by this book as it tells both sides of the story: the side of the man who abducts and murders girls and the side of the girl who was abducted but got away. While telling their stories of the past, it also follows them presently as they reconnect as he is about to be sentenced to death. Intriguing and terrifying, this book raises so many questions of ‘what would I have done’ in certain situations. I loved the well roundedness of the story, but was a little disappointed with the ending to be honest, but I don’t know why. It was a perfectly fine ending and brought closure to everything. Id love to know your thoughts if you read it. 

This book is for you if you like mystery and crime novels and would like to know what it’s like inside the mind of people we define as ‘monsters’.

Building a Business ebook by Elise Joy and Maggie Whitley is such a treasure chest of knowledge, insight and ideas. This book is useful for all ranges of businesses from an intriguing story of how businesses are built and run to an idea generator for blog posts, shop items and newsletters, and third, to an in-depth, intense math lesson on how to price your products and create a sustainable business. The book is well-organized, thorough and applicable whether you have a creative business or are looking to grow your blog, newsletter or social media followings. While reading through it I was constantly grabbing for a pen to write down ideas and have come up with a full marketing and content plan for my newsletter and an upcoming ecourse while reading it. There are so many great ideas and helpful resources in this book that I will be coming back to over and over again. I have already recommended it to three different creative businesses owner friends who have asked for help with issues that are specifically addressed in the book. I cannot recommend it highly enough as there is so much great content for such an amazing price that will be long-lasting and applicable in so many scenarios. 

This book is for you if you have a small business or are looking to build one or you would like to grow your blog, social media or newsletters.

The Collaborative Habit by Twyla Tharp. I think that her first book, The Creative Habit, may be my Bible of Creativity, so I’m biased. But, this book was an incredibly fast read and focuses on collaborations. What makes them work, how to choose you work with and how to evaluate yourself in them. She shares a lot of stories about working with famous dancers, composers and pop stars but the lessons are applicable to any work you do: Show up, give it everything you have, make a habit together and be flexible.

This book is for you if you ever work with anyone else. So everyone. Particularly people who are in collaborations where you really have to trust and rely on another. Also, if you love stories about famous people.

Room. Everyone is talking about this since the movie came out and its worth the hype, as is the movie. We all feel horrible when we read those trashy stories in magazines when real people really do get abducted, but we are insanely fascinated and can’t stop. This is the perfect, guilt free read. It has all the ideas, details and glimpse into these terrifying experiences. But what I love most about this book is that it is told by the 5 year olds perspective who has never been outside of the shed where he is being held captive. The audio book is read in a child’s voice and is beautiful. His life and the love his mother has created for him have so much joy and it will make you proud of the resiliency of humanity. I also love that it follow them through living in room, their escape (which you know happens but still put me totally on edge) and then their experience of meeting the world for the very first time. The author does a great job of introducing our everyday world from the first time ever perspective and it is amazing. I only wish the book went on for years and years and years so I can know where they are when Jack is all grown up and see how they have truly acclimated to the world again. This book is beautiful and heartbreaking and terrifying all at once. 

This book is for you if you would like a fresh perspective on meeting our wonderful world, need a reminder of what kind of magic a mother’s love can work and are also mortally intrigued by the life of those oppressed and restricted from the world.

Scary Close by Don Miller. Terrell and I listened to this together on our New Zealand road trip. I did not like the narrator’s voice, I kept thinking he should be reading about Huck Finn. But! We both loved this book and it sparked some really great conversation. It is about relationships, the importance of getting your own life in order first, building a firm foundation for your relationship and constantly maintaining/evaluating/working on it. We are firm believers in getting help when you need it and truly reflecting on your life/relationship and working on it, especially when its hard. Don’s work is always personal and engaging. (My other favorite by him is Blue Like Jazz)

This book is for you if you are a human who knows other humans. Or you are in a relationship or want to be in a relationship. Seriously everyone should read it, especially those who want a real relationship and maybe need a push to do the real work of it.

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore. This is one of my favorite books I have read in a long while. I listened on audio and she reads it and her voice warms my heart every time I hear it’s honey. This is her autobiography and she is someone I have always been fascinated by because of her tumultuous, public and exotic childhood, which she explains some of. I probably cried 16 times while reading this,  mostly from the beautiful moments she shares. Its funny, very entertaining, insightful, raw in its honesty and encouraging.

This book is for you if you like the behind the scenes looks into stars lives, love personal moments, like connecting how little moments grow us into who we are and are also betwixt by Drew’s beauty, goofiness, regality and honesty.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’m trying to give a fair review of this book. She’s legit crazy, but her general methods work. Ok, now that we have that out there. Truly you only need to read chapter 2 of this book. The first is her background in tidying and the rest are tips like: how dare you leave a sponge out to dry or create a shrine. But! I loved the idea of handling each item you own and thinking if each item sparks joy, her order of how to tidy was very helpful, and I agree wholeheartedly with her main idea: a tidy home/space makes for a tidy mind, body and soul. I wanted to finish the book first and give myself a solid amount of time to actually follow through with the ideas. I’ll let you know how it goes but I think the main areas I will tackle are my clothing, craft room and kitchen.

This book is for you if you have no idea of where to start when it comes to cleaning/organizing your own and/or you need an extra dose of motivation to get you started.

Next up: I Am Pilgrim (we are listening together and are 92% finished and we are completely obsessed), All the Light We Cannot See and The Last Winter of Dani Lancing.

What are you reading?

Ps. More book reports here and more on ScribD Here and the free code for you here.