Review of What Happy Women Know, by Dan Baker and Cathy Greenberg


What Happy Women Know

How New Findings in Positive Psychology Can Change Women’s Lives for the Better

by Dan Baker, PhD, and Cathy Greenberg, PhD, with Ina Yalof

Rodale, 2007.  252 pages.

Starred review

Awhile back, I read and loved the book How We Choose To Be Happy, by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks ( ), so I was already familiar with the science of positive psychology.

What Happy Women Know did not present new ideas to me, but it did provide a fresh look at some extremely good ideas.  Reading this book was a huge encouragement.

I’m in the middle of divorce negotiations, for a divorce I didn’t choose and don’t want.  But I firmly believe that I can still live a happy life, if that is what I choose.  I even found a t-shirt to buy that says “Happy Woman” surrounded by the pink circles from the book’s logo!  ( )  I DO choose to be a happy woman!

The authors begin the book by saying,

“How happy are you right now?  Do you even know?

“Most women know what makes their partners, children, or friends happy, but when it comes to recognizing what lights up their own lives, they often come up short.  If you’re looking for happiness, you have to start with the relationship you have with yourself.  Is it healthy, loving, and nurturing?  Or do you defer to your nay-saying inner critic, as so many women are prone to do? . . .

“Why not dream about a joyous life?  Why not overcome the self-constructed barrier between what your life is and what you want it to be?. . .

“What Happy Women Know is intended to help you understand the importance of positive emotions and to make it easier for you to find your own happy place.  It is also meant to point out how easy it is to fall into the many traps that hinder women in their quest for happiness.

“A “happiness trap” is something that appears to offer the key to happiness but does just the opposite:  It promises happiness but doesn’t deliver.  In fact, it often becomes more of a trap because when happiness doesn’t ensue, people respond by redoubling their efforts. . . .

“Woven throughout the chapters is a series of tools — instructions or prescriptions that offer ways to avoid falling into a trap or ways to pull yourself out if you find yourself in one.  There are single tools for some of the traps and multiple options for others.  Not every tool fits every person, so as you work your way through this mosaic, select the ones you believe will work best for you.”

The book looks at six happiness traps:  perfectionism, wanton wanting, people-pleasing, revenge, “I’m nothing without him,” and inability to separate life and career.  They close off the book talking about loss, health and happiness.

“The subject of loss may seem misplaced in a book about happiness, but in fact just the opposite is true.  Over the course of our lifetimes, we will all lose someone we love, someone we will grieve for.  This chapter suggests ways to transcend grief by celebrating life — giving it meaning and purpose and making count those precious moments you spent with the person for whom you now grieve.”

This book was lovely, uplifting, and encouraging.  The perfect book to read when you’re going through a difficult time, to help you see beyond the trouble to bright new horizons.  Okay, it sounds trite when I put it like that, but this book gave me hope of going on to a joyful, vibrant life and in fact living that joyful life right now.  It reminded me of things that, as a happy woman, I already know myself and do not have any intention of forgetting.

I love the t-shirt because I’m proud to be a happy woman!

This book had lots of quotable lines and sections.  Here are ones that especially hit me:

The authors say:

What Happy Women Know is intended to provide a blueprint to help you find happiness in your life without having to win the lottery or marry Mr. Right or whittle yourself down to a perfect size 2.  In fact, I hope you are already a happy woman and that you’re reading this book to broaden your blissful horizons.”

I like that.  Broaden your blissful horizons and read this book!

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Review of The Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan


The Maze of Bones

The 39 Clues, Book One

by Rick Riordan

Scholastic, 2008.  220 pages.

This is not a book, it’s a product — but a good one.  Scholastic has gotten some outstanding children’s authors to write ten books in The 39 Clues series.  The captions on the back of the book say, “Read the Books, Collect the Cards, Play the Game, Win the Prizes.”  All the books come with collectible cards in the front (though they’ve been removed from the library copies).

I haven’t tried the game and haven’t seen the cards, so I will only comment on this story as a book.

The book is a good one.  Another fun adventure yarn for kids.  I probably shouldn’t have read it so soon after The Mysterious Benedict Society, Larklight, or Lionboy, but this book is right in that same vein.  A good clean adventure for kids.

The Maze of Bones has some of the flavor of The Da Vinci Code, without the religious aspects, because we have a powerful family with clues planted hundreds of years ago in actual places all over the world.

Amy and Dan Cahill thought they were their grandmother’s favorites.  But they aren’t so sure, when, at the reading of her will, a contest is announced.  Amy and Dan don’t seem to have any advantages.

They have a choice:  They can take a million dollars or the first clue.  The clue is regarding “a quest of vital importance to the Cahill family and the world at large.”  The winner may become the most powerful person in the world.

The Cahill family is enormous, and several teams form, choosing to take the clue.  How can Amy and Dan, two orphans without resources, possibly follow the clues and take on such powerful opponents?  Is there anyone they can trust to help them?

This book is well-written, and the adventure, full of narrow escapes and a trip to Paris, is compelling.  If Scholastic did half as good a job with their contest, this is an impressive feat indeed.

It’s interesting, though.  My reaction is not, “I loved this book,” but rather, “I think kids will like this book a lot.”  As I said, maybe I’ve been reading too many kids’ adventure novels lately, but although I enjoyed it, it didn’t really reach out and grab me.  And I wish that Amy and Dan’s relatives weren’t all so mean.

It will be interesting to see how well a varied group of authors can do in keeping the thread and feel of the series.  Gordon Korman has written Book Two, and I am confident he is up to the challenge.

I will definitely be watching how this series unfolds.

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Review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart


The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart

read by Del Roy

Listening Library (Random House), 2007.  13 hours, 17 minutes.  11 compact discs.

I had not one but two parents tell me that their kids loved this book.  When I saw it on audiobook, I thought I’d give it a try.  Audiobooks are working well for me for light-hearted fiction that I can enjoy in small doses.

Renny Muldoon is a brilliant orphan who knows he is completely different from other children.  When he sees an ad offering a test for gifted children looking for special opportunities, he goes to the test and begins the adventure of a lifetime.

Renny ends up on a team with other exceptional children who are offered a dangerous mission with the fate of the world at stake.  The mysterious Mr. Benedict explains why only children can save the world now.

The adventure yarn that follows is a lot of fun.  Sure, there are several coincidences and several places where believability is strained.  However, it’s definitely an entertaining and exciting story.

Del Roy’s voice sounds like a kindly grandfather telling you a story, and I quickly thought of his voice as coming from Mr. Benedict himself.

This book is excellent for upper elementary age children who will enjoy some good, clean, and clever fun.

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Review of The Trouble Begins at 8, by Sid Fleischman


The Trouble Begins at 8

A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West

by Sid Fleischman

Greenwillow Books, 2008.  224 pages.

Sid Fleischman here pulls off an entertaining, interesting biography, in the spirit of Mark Twain himself.

He begins:

“Mark Twain was born fully grown, with a cheap cigar clamped between his teeth.

“The even took place, as far as is known, in a San Francisco hotel room sometime in the fall of 1865.  The only person attending was a young newspaperman and frontier jester named Samuel Langhorne Clemens.”

It turns out that Mark Twain told different versions of his life story at different times.  I like the way Sid Fleischman sorts through these to the likely truth, but makes it clear that this may be embellished.

The book is peppered with photographs and illustrations from the time period, making it even more interesting.  Mark Twain lived an exciting and colorful life, and this biography is anything but dull reading.

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Review of Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend



When to Say YES

When to Say NO

To Take Control of Your Life

by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Zondervan Publishing House, 1992.  304 pages.

I finally read this book that I have heard recommended or referred to many, many times.  It struck me as the Christian version of Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More.  Boundaries deals with many of the same issues, but I do think that the term “boundary” is easier to understand than the term “codependency.”

What are boundaries, anyway?  Drs. Cloud and Townsend say:

“Any confusion of responsibility and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries.  Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t.”

“Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.  If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like.  Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options.  However, if I do not ‘own’ my life, my choices and options become very limited.”

The authors definitely take a Christian perspective.

“The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God.  God defines himself as a distinct, separate being, and he is responsible for himself.  He defines and takes responsibility for his personality by telling us what he thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes, and dislikes.”

Often, Christians think that we are supposed to be “nice” to everyone, and it doesn’t feel nice to hold onto our boundaries.  The authors are good at showing why this doesn’t truly help anyone.

“Two aspects of limits stand out when it comes to creating better boundaries.  The first is setting limits on others.  This is the component that we most often hear about when we talk about boundaries.  In reality, setting limits on others is a misnomer.  We can’t do that.  What we can do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right.

“Our model is God.  He does not really ‘set limits’ on people to ‘make them’ behave.  God sets standards, but he lets people be who they are and then separates himself from them when they misbehave, saying in effect, ‘You can be that way if you choose, but you cannot come into my house.’…

“Scripture is full of admonitions to separate ourselves from people who act in destructive ways (Matt. 18:15-17; I Cor. 5:9-13).  We are not being unloving.  Separating ourselves protects love, because we are taking a stand against things that destroy love.

“The other aspect of limits that is helpful when talking about boundaries is setting our own internal limits.  We need to have spaces inside ourselves where we can have a feeling, an impulse, or a desire, without acting it out.  We need self-control without repression. 

“We need to be able to say no to ourselves.  This includes both our destructive desires and some good ones that are not wise to pursue at a given time.  Internal structure is a very important component of boundaries and identity, as well as ownership, responsibility, and self-control.”

It’s struck me that there are several boundary issues going on in my life right now.  The big one is negotiating a divorce settlement.  I started feeling guilty that we might have to go to court.  But then I realized that if I don’t stand up for what I need and deserve, who will?  Sometimes if being “nice” means allowing yourself to be mistreated, it’s not really very nice at all.

The authors warn us,

“No weapon in the arsenal of the controlling person is as strong as the guilt message.  People with poor boundaries almost always internalize guilt messages leveled at them; they obey guilt-inducing statements that try to make them feel bad….

Do not explain or justify.  Only guilty children do that.  This is only playing into their message.  You do not owe guilt senders an explanation.  Just tell what you have chosen.  If you want to tell them why you made a certain decision to help them understand, this is okay.  If you wish to get them to not make you feel bad or to resolve your guilt, you are playing into their guilt trap.”

I also like what they have to say about blamers:

“Blamers will act as though your saying no is killing them, and they will react with a ‘How could you do this to me?’ message.  They are likely to cry, pout, or get angry.  Remember that blamers have a character problem.  If they make it sound as though their misery is because of your not giving something to them, they are blaming and demanding what is yours.  This is very different from a humble person asking out of need.  Listen to the nature of other people’s complaints; if they are trying to blame you for something they should take responsibility for, confront them.”

I wasn’t particularly impressed with the writing in this book; I still find Melody Beattie’s books more inspiring.  However, the concepts are basic and important and life-changing.  This book deserves its status as a classic.

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Review of The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama


The Audacity of Hope

Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream,

by Barack Obama

read by the author

Books on Tape (Random House Audio Publishing Group), 2006.  Abridged.  6 hours, 8 minutes, 5 compact discs.

I’ve been meaning to getting around to reading Obama’s second book ever since I read Dreams from my Father.  Finally, I decided to listen to it, even though our library only has the abridged version in audiobook form.  Read by the author, it occurred to me that he is the first presidential candidate in a long time whose voice I can actually enjoy listening to for several hours!

This book is still autobiographical, about Obama’s life when entering politics.  Along the way, he talks about all kinds of issues that face politicians in America today.

My reaction?  Wow!  I am abundantly impressed with this man.  I am impressed with his thinking about what politics should be and how politicians should serve the people of America.

When Obama was running for state legislature, he talked to people from all over the state, in all walks of life.  I feel like he gets it, he understands what people want, what people are concerned about, what they want government to do for them.

I like the way he talks about the values that Americans share.  Here’s someone who can actually see the good in people who disagree with him.

I liked the discussion of the Constitution.  He has actually taught constitutional law.  As President, he would not usurp the powers of the executive branch.  He has respect for the Constitution that is refreshing to hear.

But don’t take my word for it.  I highly recommend this book.  If you want to know who is the real Barack Obama, I think you can learn much about him from hearing his thoughts on beginning a life in politics.  Here is someone who truly seems to have entered politics in order to serve.

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Review of You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise L. Hay


You Can Heal Your Life

by Louise L. Hay

Hay House, 2004.  First published in 1984.  251 pages.

I picked up this book from the library’s New Books shelf with some embarrassment.  I tried to carry it to my desk and check it out unobtrusively.  After all, that New Age mumbo-jumbo is ridiculous nonsense, right?  Or worse yet, with demonic roots?  What will people think if they see me reading it?

I had some of the same misgivings when I thought about reviewing this book.  But, bottom line, there are some tremendously helpful ideas in this book.  I’m definitely not the least bit worried that there might be an evil source.  Perhaps the book doesn’t seem “scientific,” and perhaps I’m not completely convinced that affirmations can heal all your diseases, but I am sure that I’ve gleaned some good from this book, and perhaps others can do the same.

The basic premise of this book is similar to teaching I found in Christel Nani’s writings:  Your deep-seated beliefs, beliefs so ingrained you think they are fact, can dramatically affect your body and your health.  You can heal your body by changing your thinking.

Now, I’m not sure how much I believe that we “choose” the things that happen to us.  However, I do find some things interesting.  When she describes the beliefs that can contribute to ailments I have had, they do ring true.

For example, soon after my husband left me, I had major gynelogical troubles.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  But I’m sure it didn’t hurt me to examine and confront my beliefs about how only bad people get divorced.  This was from Christel Nani’s writings, but the same ideas are reflected here.  Louise Hay recommends the affirmation, “I rejoice in my femaleness.  I love being a woman.  I love my body.”  Even if this does not to any good, it certainly doesn’t do any harm!  And to me, those words even feel healing.

Another example is my lifetime struggle with headaches.  Louise Hay says, “Migraine headaches are created by people who want to be perfect and who create a lot of pressure on themselves.”  Now, that description certainly fits me and has fit me since I was a child.  (And I have gotten migraines that long, too.)

However, for the past few years, also about the time my husband left me, my headaches have gotten dramatically better, and I rarely get a bad one.  Now, I’d been attributing that to a change in preventative medication.  However, in the past I’d experimented with preventative medication after preventative medication, and nothing ever worked.  Currently, I’ve used three different ones, and they have all worked beautifully.  It does make sense to suspect that something further might be going on.

If Louise Hay is right, and migraines are created by perfectionism, then I’m attributing my cure to Flylady. (  Her messages about Finally Loving Yourself and “You are not behind; you do not need to catch up,” are truly healing me from perfectionism.  Maybe it’s no coincidence that my headaches left at about the same time.

I do realize that it would be dangerous to start applying these ideas to other people and their illnesses!  That’s all we need — diagnosing other people’s beliefs that are making them sick!  But for self-analysis, this book has plenty of food for thought.

Now, you may not agree that “Every thought we think is creating our future.”  However, even if you don’t agree that it goes so far, surely you can only do yourself good by doing as she recommends and releasing resentment and self-criticism.

She lists “Some Points of My Philosophy” at the front of the book.  Some that stood out to me are:

Resentment, criticism, and guilt are the most damaging patterns.

Releasing resentment will dissolve even cancer.

We must release the past and forgive everyone.

We must be willing to begin to learn to love ourselves.

I’m facing a divorce that will most likely be finalized in the next few months.  Her teachings are helping me to purpose to let go of anger and resentment about it, to choose to forgive.  And I’ve got to start my new life not looking at myself as damaged goods.

This completely fits with Christian teaching.  Forgiveness is key and God forgives us.  C. S. Lewis has stated that “Joy is the hallmark of the Christian.”  If Louise Hay is right, Joy is also a key to good health.

How do you examine your beliefs about yourself and about life?  How do you change thinking that isn’t good for you?

It does take practice.  This book is full of affirmations:  New, healing messages you can fill your mind with.

I just looked at the author’s website,, and read the affirmation of the day:

“Forgiveness is a gift to myself.  I forgive, and I set myself free.”

Whether all the author’s claims are true or not, I certainly don’t think that telling yourself a message like that can do you anything but good.

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