Flavia de Luce Novels by Alan Bradley

It’s been a while since I wrote up my thoughts on Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, so it’s high time for another Nelly Book Review.

Nowadays I am drawn to various types of non-fiction, mostly how-to type books…they are instructional and straightforward. Really, the physical manifestation of a college lecture in your hands. Many people file these types of book under ‘boring.’

You will find me reading a book on how to improve my writing, strategies for overcoming anxiety or how to parent.   I am drawn to these guidebooks for life as I crave better and more information about how to do more things better (Dude, I know…it makes me exhausted just reading that too).

But we can only take so much instruction, am I right? Even the most serious and dedicated among us must step out of our own mind once in a while. I know I need a break from my mind. I NEED lots of breaks…I take a couple.

Which brings me to Flavia.

Flavia de Luce is the protagonist of a delightful series of mystery novels by Alan Bradley. I came upon the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, completely by chance. I was going through a highly (HIGHLY) anxious period a few years ago and I had quite a bit of insomnia. I was looking for audio books to lull me to dreamland and the title The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie intrigued me.

Well, it did not disappoint. This book soothed and relaxed me, offering a pleasant escape from my worries and fears. I have listened to The Sweetness countless times…sometimes it would indeed comfort me to sleep. Other times, it would keep me company while I was the only one in the world still awake. Either way, this book did a lot for me — and still does.

I ventured on from the first book and read Book #4 I am Half-Sick of Shadows, this time in hardcop….

Nelly, interrupting: “Wait…What? You read the 1st book, and then you read…the 4th book? WHY?!?!! For the love of God, why?!?!?!   How could you not read the 2nd book next? Weren’t you confused? Did you even know what was going on in book #4? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!?!”

I know. {cringing} I’m sorry. Sometimes these things just happen. Aren’t you proud of me, though, for breaking the mold and throwing my OCD to the wind? Yah…Alan Bradley is that good!

I will explain. Nelly must explain. Actually, I didn’t even know it was a series until I discovered my mom’s copy of Book #4, Half-Sick of Shadows. I couldn’t wait so I cracked it open immediately. But, rest assured — now that I have read book #2 The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, I am back on the straight and narrow and I will re-read Book #4 after I read Book #3 – A Red Herring Without Mustard.

As Gus from My Big Fat Greek Wedding would say in his heavy accent, “There you go.”

So…back to Flavia. I don’t want to give away too much of the series or the characters because it is really such a delight to discover them for yourself..but I will give you a small taste.

Flavia is not your typical mystery narrator/protagonist. She’s not a detective or a lawyer…She’s an eleven-year-old girl. Flavia has a deep love and respect for chemistry…particularly in distilling poisons!

Cool, right? She’s ahead of the trend of chicks in S.T.E.M.

Flavia also has a less than ideal home situation. Her two sisters are downright mean to her and her father largely keeps to himself. And her mom…well, you have to read it!

A big part of the reason why I love Flavia is because she is true to herself – pursuing her passions and interests no matter what the obstacles and no matter the naysayers. This is really remarkable for such a young girl.

She is smart and funny with an indomitable spirit. She takes risks and makes mistakes, learning as she goes. She also reveals her vulnerability from time to time, especially when her sister says something awful to her. I mean really, really awful.

In addition to Flavia, I quite enjoy Bradley’s storytelling. He is so engaging and subtly funny. He transports me, anxious mind and all, into another world where I can forget my worries and maybe learn some things.

Ok, I’m not going to tell you anything else!!

I highly recommend any and all of the Flavia de Luce novels. I believe there are currently 7. I know I am anxious (haha) to read the rest.

I am thinking of doing my first “Giveaway” of a Flavia de Luce novel – What do you think? If you’d be interested, let me know in the comments. I’d also like to hear the “just for fun” books that you love…just to take your mind off your mind!

Please share in the comments so we can all get more ideas 🙂

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The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

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Keeping with the theme of Ownership for this month, I’m going to talk about The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I plan to do regular book reviews as a part of this blog, since there are so many fantastic books out there that we can tap into for knowledge and inspiration.

Being comfortable owning the ‘less desirable’ parts of myself requires a change in perspective, which is exactly what this book offers. Just consider the title, The Gifts of Imperfection. Brown is about to show us how being less than perfect is a good thing! Such a good thing, in fact, that it earns us presents! I don’t know about you, but I love presents 🙂

Like a lot of people with anxiety, I often (very often) fall into the perfectionism trap.   Perfectionism sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? It’s the safe answer to that terrible interview question “tell me about a weakness you have.” I know because I used to use it myself! (Covers eyes with hand).   It comes across like – “I am such a hard worker and I’m not willing to stop unless the project/task is completed to the highest, most discerning standards.” Sounds great, right? No. Not right.

Actually, what I am coming to realize through this book as well as other resources, is that perfectionism is not a positive at all – it is a dangerously compelling Siren Song that pulls you away from doing what you need to be doing. This seemingly positive ‘quality’ coaxes you out of the churning waters of life, over to its ‘safe’ harbor –where you wait. You wait until you feel comfortable competing with the other boats out there, that are passing you by, sailing away, having adventures. Perfectionism keeps you from making any progress at all. It is a hiding place. I know that I have hunkered down in the Perfect Harbor many a time in order to avoid those unpredictable waters. The Siren Song of Perfectionism is a farce. It is to be ignored, shunned and rejected. You WANT to be out in the choppy, churning, wild waters…that is where real life and real empowerment happens.

Which brings me back to the presents! The central focus of Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, is that, in order to live a wholehearted life – a life in which we can be truly authentic and fully engaged with the world around us, we need to embrace our imperfections. Owning the flaws and insecurities that we work so hard to hide from the world is the key to living a life of peace and contentment.

It sounds strange. Counterintuitive. And scary. Mostly scary. I, for one, don’t want the bad stuff, so why would I give it more attention? I don’t want to be fearful and anxious and I definitely don’t want others to see me as such, so my instinct is to ignore these feelings. But as Brown explains, this strategy only makes the negative feelings worse:

“When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness – that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging – lives inside of our story.”  – Brown Pg 23.

Tucking away my scary feelings and instead focusing on “performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving” is exactly the strategy I have been using for most of my life. To see it for what it is, to stop spinning my wheels for a moment and honestly identify HOW I am owning my life makes me…………sad. I am heartbroken to realize that, for so many years, I have been living to please other people. I have been living to create an appearance of myself that others will accept.

According to Brown, being vulnerable – letting down your guard and being your real imperfect self — gets you these gifts: Courage, Compassion and Connection.

These are precisely the things I long for:

  • Courage to be myself ALL THE TIME.
  • Compassion for my own difficulties.
  • Connection with others – a feeling of belonging. Just as I am.

Whaaatttt?!?!?!?! I’ve always worried that being my true self would get me odd looks, criticism and avoidance. In order to get these things I long for, it turns out I need to do the exact OPPOSITE of what I have been doing!

Mind blown.

Instead of hiding imperfections…retreating into the Perfect Harbor until I feel adequate enough to compete, I need to OWN my imperfections. This means accepting my anxiety. It means giving loving attention to my fears. And it means sitting with and consoling my worries.

If any of this rings true for you, I highly recommend reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. There are so many more great insights than I have space to communicate here (I took six pages of notes)! I will definitely be reading this book again.

Nelly Take-Away: Authenticity is a better goal than approval. I’d rather live this life as a unique, imperfect me, than as a cookie-cutter shadow of what I think others want to see.

So, what do YOU think? Do you ever get stuck in the Perfect Harbor? Would you be willing to change the way you own your imperfections, by treating them more compassionately and lovingly? Share you thoughts below! And make sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss future posts!

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