Reading List

Books #36

New year! Last year I exceeded my goal of 120 books  and ended up reading 165 books. So for 2019 I am going to set my goal to 165! I mean, why not? Do you have any reading goals for 2019?

1 ) The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

What an excellent whodunit! I had no idea who the culprit was. I had my guesses and it changed several times as the story unfolded.

Celeste and Benji are an unlikely couple. Benji comes from money–a lot of it. His mom comes from money and is a best selling mystery writer. Celeste comes from a more modest background but they meet and fall in love. Benji proposes and they decide to get married at his family’s property on Nantucket. They even move up the date because Celeste’s mom is dying from an aggressive cancer that has spread.

Except the morning of the wedding, Celeste discovers the body of her maid of honor. How did she die? Was she murdered? Was it an accident? The way the story is told is pretty brilliant. The time frame shifts flawlessly and the story is woven in and out of each person’s involvement in the wedding, the crime, and the months leading up to the morning of the murder.

What the chief of police investigating this mystery discovers is that no one is innocent in this crime, each person has played even a small part in it and that everyone has secrets. No couple is perfect, as they may seem on the surface.

I absolutely loved this book and was sad when it ended! So well written!

2 ) Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

This story takes place in 1931–the time of Prohibition, mobs, breadlines, and severe poverty. Ellis Reed is an up and coming reporter in Philly. Lily is a secretary at the newspaper who wants to be a writer as well. Ellis is out in the country chasing a story and comes across a sign that says “Kids for Sale” at a poor farmhouse. He takes the photo and back at the newsroom, develops the photo and Lily shows it to the boss, who wants the story and wants it published.

Except, a mishap happens and the photos is destroyed. Ellis is struggling to keep his job and make his mark, so he goes back out to the farmhouse to find the family gone. He decides to recreate the photo at a different farm with a different poor family. He thinks it’s an innocent photo reflecting on the poverty and aftermath of the Big Crash. Except…the story and photo get published and he finds out that that stand-in family ends up actually selling the two kids.

He realizes that can’t be right and he does some detective work and finds out the mistake and goes out to fix it because he realizes it was all his fault. I won’t give any more details than that.

I guess this book appealed to me because my grandfather was given up for adoption at an older age (I don’t know a lot of details but I am assuming poverty was the reason) around a similar time frame. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking idea–to be given up when you are old enough to understand it.

3 ) Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

It started as a school assignment for 13 year old Trevor. He invented the “movement” Pay it Forward. Doing something good and nice for someone in need just because they need it, with the stipulation that they “pay it forward”. Trevor helped his elderly neighbor by fixing up her garden. She loved it and it made her happy to finally see her garden in it’s glory again. Sadly, she passed away but her “pay it forward” good deed was to split her life insurance money three ways between the woman at the cat shelter and the two cashiers at the local grocery store who always asked how she was and actually listened. And then those three people paid it forward. It caught on and suddenly it was spreading everywhere!

There was more to the story, but I don’t want to give it all away. I know this is an older book and a lot of people have already read it and have probably seen the movie based on the book, but the ending was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. I loved the book!

4 ) Becoming by Michelle Obama

What a beautiful, compelling, powerful read! This is an incredible book! The book is long, so be prepared, but it’s incredibly detailed and reflective. She writes about her childhood, growing up on the South Side of Chicago in a small upstairs apartment attached to her aunt and uncle’s house. Her aunt taught piano lessons to neighborhood kids. She came from hard working people around her who taught her values and life lessons that she carried the rest of her life.

“So far in my life, I’ve been a lawyer. I’ve been a vice president at a hospital and the director of a nonprofit that helps young people build meaningful careers. I’ve been a working-class black student at a fancy mostly white college. I’ve been the only woman, the only African American, in all sorts of rooms. I’ve been a bride, a stressed-out new mother, a daughter torn up by grief. And until recently, I was the First Lady of the United States of America—a job that’s not officially a job, but that nonetheless has given me a platform like nothing I could have imagined.”

She writes about all the people that came into her life and taught her lessons that helped her in some way. She wrote about taking bus rides for hours across Chicago to go to a better school, then going to college and law school. She was clearly driven and smart.

She also includes thoughts on racism and how racism and misogyny deeply effected her own life.

“…taken down as an “angry black woman.” I’ve wanted to ask my detractors which part of that phrase matters to them the most—is it “angry” or “black” or “woman”?”

Her love and respect for her parents was obvious throughout the book. Her parents sounded like pretty amazing people and amazing parents. I didn’t know that her dad had MS. And even in his worst condition, he masked it so his family wouldn’t see how far gone he was. It was more important for him to spend time with his family and pass on pearls of wisdom like this:

“Time, as far as my father was concerned, was a gift you gave to other people.”

“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result.”

And her mom was the family’s rock.

“…when I showed up at home, there’d be food in the fridge, not just for me, but for my friends. I knew that when my class was going on an excursion, my mother would almost always volunteer to chaperone, arriving in a nice dress and dark lipstick to ride the bus with us to the community college or the zoo. In our house, we lived on a budget but didn’t often discuss its limits. My mom found ways to compensate.

Her goal was to push us out into the world. ‘I’m not raising babies,’ she’d tell us. ‘I’m raising adults.’ “

She and my dad offered guidelines rather than rules. It meant that as teenagers we’d never have a curfew. Instead, they’d ask, “What’s a reasonable time for you to be home?” and then trust us to stick to our word… the quiet confidence that she’d raised us to be adults. Our decisions were on us. It was our life, not hers, and always would be.”

I just love that!

Michelle wrote about her experiences in college:

“Princeton was extremely white and very male. There was no avoiding the facts. Men on campus outnumbered women almost two to one. Black students made up less than 9 percent of my freshman class.”

She wrote about her early life as an attorney, how she met Barack Obama, their long-distance relationship while he finished law school and her struggles with how unfulfilling she found being a lawyer. She wanted more.

She also wrote about what it was like for their marriage and the early life of their children when Barack was in the senate and spending so much time away from them:

“I was too busy resenting Barack for managing to fit workouts into his schedule, for example, to even begin figuring out how to exercise regularly myself. I spent so much energy stewing over whether or not he’d make it home for dinner that dinners, with or without him, were no longer fun.”

She revealed that they went to marriage therapy, and it helped, and that she needed to change her way of thinking, too. She decided that she made a strict schedule for her and her daughters of dinner time, bath time and bedtime routines and if Barack didn’t make it back in time, too bad.

“…also unaccommodating to any form of old-school patriarchy: I didn’t want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn’t wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us.”

Of course, the most exciting part of the book was once they went to the White House. It was so fascinating reading the ins and outs and the little details of what life was like there!

“The truth was that Washington confused me, with its decorous traditions and sober self-regard, its whiteness and maleness, its ladies having lunch off to one side.”

“I was now Mrs. Obama in a way that could feel diminishing, a missus defined by her mister. I was the wife of Barack Obama, the political rock star, the only black person in the Senate—the man who’d spoken of hope and tolerance so poignantly and forcefully that he now had a hornet buzz of expectation following him.”

She went into detail about the Let’s Move! campaign she started and the White House vegetable garden, in addition to all the other wonderful things she started. It was so cool to read about and the challenges she faced.

“I knew the stereotype I was meant to inhabit, the immaculately groomed doll-wife with the painted-on smile, gazing bright-eyed at her husband, as if hanging on every word. This was not me and never would be. I could be supportive, but I couldn’t be a robot.”

Michelle was criticized for being outspoken, for her facial expressions, for being “too serious” etc etc etc. Basically–not “knowing her place”. She was “female, black, and strong, which to certain people, maintaining a certain mind-set, translated only to “angry.””

“It was another damaging cliché, one that’s been forever used to sweep minority women to the perimeter of every room, an unconscious signal not to listen to what we’ve got to say. I understood already that I’d be measured by a different yardstick. As the only African American First Lady to set foot in the White House, I was “other” almost by default.”

It was infuriating to read the racism and roadblocks she was up against! But, she persevered.

This book was so damn good, so powerful to read and so engrossing. I could not put it down. It took me about a week to read. I was continually impressed as I read about the things Michelle Obama accomplished in her life, before and after becoming First Lady. Her ideas were inspiring and when I finished the book I really wanted to be a better person and do more good for people.

5 )  The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

I am almost reluctant to recommend this book because there were parts of this book that were so repugnant…and yet…I could not put this book down.

Daphne Parrish has the perfect life. Married to the amazing and rich Jackson Parrish. Two daughters. Lives in a mansion with hired help and doesn’t have to work. She spends her time in the gym and on committees and running her own charity for Cystic Fibrosis in honor of her late sister.

Amber Patterson is a nobody. A mousy, invisible woman of no means who is determined to change that. She does her research–finds her mark–Jackson Parrish–and decides she will become the next Mrs. Parrish. In order to do this, she befriends Daphne at the gym, making up her own story of a sister who died of CF. She infiltrates their family with her sights set on stealing Daphne’s husband.

Daphne is such a sweet, nice person, and you feel really grossed out by the duplicity and lying of Amber but then all of a sudden the narrative changes and you find out what really happens behind closed doors. I don’t want to give too much away and spoil it. But I will say there could be some hard, triggering domestic violence themes in this book, but the ending was very satisfying!

Happy reading!

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Books #35

This will probably be my last book post of the year! Enjoy!

1 ) Dead Souls (DI Kim Stone #6) by Angela Marsons

Excellent book! It started off a little weird–it felt like there were so many story lines happening all at once and it was kind of confusing. It was definitely a different format than the usual books in this series and there was less about Kim and more about the other cops on her team. But in the end it all pulled together and all the weird, random story lines came together into one.

Kim is instructed by her boss to join a nearby precinct’s task force. So Kim has to take a back seat from being in charge, and work with DI Travis, whom there is a lot of bad history with.  While Kim is working with this other team, her team is working on a few other cases without her. She feels torn in both places.

The story is about hate crimes and it was definitely chilling. It tackles some heavy subjects! This was definitely a page turner once the book picked up momentum.

 

2 ) And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell

I really liked this book a lot. I felt like it was something I could have written in my postpartum days. The writing was funny and real and sometimes brutal.

Meaghan and Dustin are young, living in New York City and focusing on their careers, newly engaged, when she gets pregnant. Meaghan is excited but scared, which is normal I think.

“I spent most of my life being just a little bit fat and always figured that pregnancy would be a nice reprieve. [pg 49]”

“I had this image in my mind of how I’d look pregnant, mostly based on the type of woman who posed on lifestyle blogs and looked ‘like a beanpole swallowed a bowling ball.’ [pg 49]”

I laughed out loud at the part. It’s so true. I can remember being kind of jealous of this stick thin women who get pregnant and gain basically no weight except for the basket ball stomach. The author doesn’t write a ton about the pregnancy, but she gives highlights. And then she described the birthing process, which was dramatic for her.

“I had drunk the Kool-Aid. I had wanted a ‘natural labor and birth’ for reasons that, now that I was actually living through natural labor, I no longer related to. [pg 87]”

What interested me most about the memoir was the postpartum stories she shared. I could relate to so many of them. The zombie-like existence from lack of sleep and most interestingly, her struggle with Postpartum Anxiety.

“We slept in short bursts. Whether the baby was crying or not, I woke up with a start and rushed over to him to make sure he was alive. Day and night bled into each other, coalescing into one big nightmare. [pg 114]”

“At night, whether he was crying or not, I woke up every hour or so with a gasp and shone the light of my phone over his face, put my fingers under his nose to feel for breath. [pg 164]”

“What’s neurosis and what’s maternal instinct? [pg 172]”

It was weird that she never called it PPA in the book. I don’t recall that she saw a therapist or was diagnosed with it, but she most definitely had it. I went through that same exact thing: waking up to check on the baby and make sure they are still breathing, being afraid to sleep, checking on them when they make noises and when they don’t.

I feel like the author had a real opportunity to shine a light on something people don’t talk much about. There is so much focus of PPD and I think a lot of women suffer from PPA and don’t even know it. I wish I had known it earlier on, maybe I could have managed some of the anxiety in a better way. So in that regard, I was disappointed in the book. I wish she’d really delved deeper in that topic.

Another topic she brushed on (but didn’t elaborate on and should have) was how much your relationships and friendships change with people once you are a mom–especially if your friends don’t have kids.

“My body would never be the same. My life would never be the same. My relationship with these women would never be the same. I couldn’t make sense of it yet, even to myself, but I felt like there was a glimmer of understanding between us. [pg 128]”

Another part of the memoir I laughed about (which I can laugh NOW about, but not at the time) was her struggles with breastfeeding. This is another postpartum topic that is NOT discussed much. I know books I read barely wrote about it, the birthing class I took spent 15 minutes on breastfeeding and that was it. I went into the whole thing thinking it would be this perfect moment, easy and without struggle, where the baby would just latch on and everything would work like magic–with cherubs and angels singing. Yeah. Nope.

“I couldn’t remember what The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding said anymore. Breastfeeding at this point didn’t feel like a success so much as an assault, something coming at me faster than I could cope with, happening almost constantly. [pg 139]”

“As soon as the baby latched on, I burst into tears–of relief, of rage. I’d had this idea of what breastfeeding would be like. Not the physical experience, but the lived reality, the timing, the way it was supposed to fit between other things. I thought it would be something happening in the background while I went about my actual life. [pg 142]”

Breastfeeding is HARD and there’s a reason why statistic show a large majority of women quit after 6 weeks. When I heard that statistic in my labor class, I was shocked and confused. When the time came to breastfeed my tongue-tied baby? I totally understood. When breastfeeding doesn’t work like magic? It kind of sucks. It’s hard, it can be painful, your supply can be so bad that it’s not even worth it…and then there is all the society pressure of “breast is best”. The guilt that moms feel when they have to (or chose to) use formula. If I had to do it again, I would not have stressed so much. Breastfeeding LITERALLY becomes your entire life: feeding, pumping, cleaning the pump supplies, storing the milk, defrosting milk, living by the rigid schedule of breastfeeding or pumping every two hours, or if your baby is cluster feeding, all the time.

“It was hard to see this time with our son for what it was: an investment in another person, the sacrifice at the start of a long, rewarding project. It was like a hazing ritual, with all the hardest parts at the beginning. [pg 207]”

I really liked the above quote. It was a good reminder that yes, pregnancy and raising a kid is tough but it’s a rewarding investment. A good reminder for those sleepless nights. 😉

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. I’d give it 5 (I did love it a lot) but I really wish she’d written more about clinical postpartum anxiety. (Especially reading the reviews on Goodreads where some people said she was “whiny”– I mean really??? PPD and PPA is not whining. I think people are really ignorant on these topics.)

 

3 ) The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

This was an odd book. It was a domestic thriller, I guess, but it was subtle. The unnamed young woman, in her late 20’s, lives and works in the Cayman Islands and is swept off her feet by an older man. Max Winter, a recent widow, a rich politician from New York, he brings her back to his home, Asherly, in the Hamptons. It’s a stark change from the sunny, warm beauty of the Caribbean. Especially when she meets Max’s spoiled teenage daughter, Dani.

The narrator tries her best to become friends with Dani, to show that she’s not just some gold digger trying to replace her dead mother. But Dani is spoiled, evil and trying to punish her. So you think. The story unravels slowly, but it draws you in and keeps you guessing. I did not expect the ending at all!

4 ) The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

What a gut-wrenching, excellent, heart-breaking book.

It’s a memoir, told by Ruthie, about her childhood growing up in a polygamist Mormon family. Her mom was married to one of the prophets and moved down to Mexico to live in the “colony”. When her husband is murdered, she remarries Lane, who has several wives and keeps collecting wives…and having children.

The whole book is just horrible. I mean, it’s well written and evokes a lot of emotions–some good. You really fall in love with the innocent children in Ruthie’s family. The kids are survivors, that much is true. But it’s also so sad to read about a childhood of violence, abuse, sexual abuse, girls being married off as teens, women pumping out dozens of children for “God” when their husbands are basically deadbeats who can’t take care of the kids they have. They lived in squalor with no running water or indoor plumbing, ate rice and beans and traveled back and forth between Mexico and Texas to get their food stamps and government assistance. The neglect was palpable. Yet…more children are being born.

It was hard to read about, but Ruthie was such a strong girl and you really rooted for her to succeed and get out of that hellhole. The ending of the book was a shock and came out of nowhere for me. It was sad and tragic, but I’m glad I read the book because in some ways it was inspiring. The author is a true survivor.

5 ) A Borrowing of Bones: Mercy & Elvis Mystery #1 by Paula Munier

This was a great book and a good start of a new series! Mercy is a retired Army MP who has returned home to Vermont to heal and grieve after losing her fiance in Afghanistan. But she’s not entirely alone. She has Elvis, her fiance’s bomb-sniffing dog who is also retired from the Army. Elvis has PTSD from the war and from losing his master but he’s slowly getting better. One of the things that helps is the daily hikes he takes in the Vermont wilderness with Mercy.

Except one day, Elvis discovers an abandon baby in the woods. Along with some old bones and possibly a bomb. This unravels a mystery that Mercy can’t ignore.

The book sucks you in right away, you really like the characters and it keeps you guessing til the end. I really loved Elvis and Mercy and can’t wait to read book 2!

6 ) Little Comfort (Hester Thursby Mystery #1) by Edwin Hill

This was an interesting little mystery thriller. Hester is a librarian at the Harvard Library. As a side job, she’s also a kind of private investigator who finds people. Her new client, Lila, asks her to find her long lost brother, Sam, who ran away with his childhood friend, Gabe, after a mystery incident in their teens.

It doesn’t take Hester more than a few days to find Sam, who over the years has changed his name half a dozen times, moved around the country and infiltrated rich communities with his new identities. Basically, making lonely rich women fall in love with him. But Hester’s investigation takes a deadly turn and soon she’s worried about her own safety.

The book is a page turner and the ending was very exciting. This was a good first book in a series!

 

7 ) Jar of Heats by Jennifer Hillier

I don’t even know where to start! This book was so good! I could not put it down.

Georgina “Geo” Shaw, is an executive and rising star in a Seattle pharmaceutical company, engaged to the CEO’s son, wears expensive suits and drives a Range Rover. The book opens with Georgina in a courtroom, testifying to her part in a murder 14 years prior, where her old high school boyfriend is on trial. Geo’s expensive, fancy life is falling apart. Her ex-boyfriend is the SweetBay Strangler, convicted of murdering multiple women–starting with Geo’s best friend in high school, Angela. And now Geo is headed off to prison for 5 years to pay for her part in keeping quiet for all these years. She got a “sweet” deal for agreeing to testify, but…that doesn’t mean her life isn’t over.

The book is a fascinating read and flawlessly flashbacks to the high school time before Angela is murdered, when Geo is in an abusive relationship with Calvin (before he turns into a serial killer), to the five years Geo is in prison–who she makes friends with inside, how she survives–and what happens when she gets released from prison.

Geo returns home to Seattle to live with her father. Except with multiple degrees and an impressive pedigree–and money–she can’t get a loan for a house, or a job. No one in the city will even talk to her and she walks around like the Scarlet Letter since getting released. A mysterious neighbor is spray painting horrific things on her father’s garage door and her car on a daily basis. The harassment feels overwhelming. You definitely feel sympathy for her–until the story starts to unravel a little more. What other secrets is Geo keeping?

The book is well written, has a good plot, well-developed characters and the events are shocking. This book is not for the faint of hearts but if you love a good thriller, you will fly through this book! Dark, twisted, compelling and surprising!

Happy reading!

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