Book review

Books #20

It’s that time of year…dark, rainy, cold weather that makes you just want to snuggle up with a good book. Well, this post is for you! Book recommendations galore.

1 ) Down A Dark Road (Kate Burkholder #9) by Linda Castillo

The newest book in the series and it was a good one. Kate is back as the Chief. She receives word that a childhood friend who was sent to prison for killing his wife, has escaped. She goes to the house where his kids are living now, just in case, and is ambushed by Joseph. She’s taken hostage in the house. But it’s not your typical hostage situation. He claims he didn’t kill his wife and was framed. Sure, typical of prisoners–but Kate is let go and has a nagging feeling that things don’t add up.

So the book is about Kate re-opening the investigation and finding things that aren’t quite right about the investigation. The book is about friendship, corrupt cops and Kate doing her due diligence. It was a fast read!

 

2 ) The Last Place You Look (Roxane Weary #1) by Kristen Lepionka

What a really good read! I was pleasantly surprised by how great this book was (and I read it in about a day and a half! Could not stop reading). I can’t wait for book #2!

Roxane is a private detective. Her cop father died a few months ago and her life is falling apart a bit. But she gets a case that intrigues. Brad, an African American poet, is about to be executed for brutally murdering his girlfriend’s parents. And maybe the girlfriend? She disappeared the same night as the murders, never found. But Brad’s sister insists he’s innocent and wants Roxane to prove it before it’s too late. She starts to uncover things that made it unlikely that Brad is the murderer, but will she solve the crime in time to save him? (And the ending was not expected!)

The story was well-crafted. The characters were really well written and they felt real to me. I really liked Roxane, who was smart and witty. The author wrote about a bisexual woman in a real and respectful way, too, even though that wasn’t what the book was about. It just flowed well and made the character well-rounded. Roxane is also an alcoholic, which was a bummer for the book because you REALLY want her to fix her life and be successful.

3 ) Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #13) by Louise Penny

Another book in the series that does not disappoint!

This one was a different type of storytelling, a slight departure from her usual style. In this book, there is a murder in Three Pines that Armand and Jean-Guy investigate but the story is told in a unique way: the story unfolds through testimony in the murder trial (never revealing who was on trial for the murder), then instead of bogging down the story with testimony to tell the whole story, they flashback to describe what happened in Three Pines. On top of that, there is also a major, clandestine, investigation going on about drugs being run through the border by Three Pines.

The story is unique and riveting and because there are so many threads and so much double-speak you really have to pay attention. The ending was a surprise and left off for the next book in the series to continue what happens to the main characters we love, but it wasn’t a frustrating ending, it felt very satisfying. Another well done book!

 

4 ) Something Like Happy by Eva Woods

This was a delightful, tear-jerker, sweet, enduring book. The main character, Annie, is stuck. Her life sucks. Her jobs sucks. She’s divorced and some other tragedies in her past are keeping her stuck in this cycle of self-pity and depression. She’s at the hospital visiting her mom, who has Alzheimer’s, when she runs into Polly–this vibrant, colorful, full of life and energy woman who also happens to be dying of cancer.

Polly kind of forces Annie into a friendship and in the next 80 days or so they spend most of their time together kind of ticking things off Polly’s “Bucket List”. But Polly has ulterior motives–she wants her last gift to Annie and the people in her life to be for them to realize how much time they have and they should be happy and do things that MAKE them happy.

It’s really an uplifting book that makes you reconsider things in your own life.

5 ) There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secret for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids) by Linda Akeson McGurk

I enjoyed this book. It’s about a Scandinavian mom living in Indiana with her two small daughters and how she moves back to Sweden for 6 months to care for an ailing family member. She brings her daughters with her and they get to go to school in Sweden and experience the culture.

The book is a fascinating read about the differences between the Scandinavian countries and America.

“As my daughter’s pediatrician puts it: A generation ago, there were maybe one or two overweight or obese children in a class of twenty. Today, being overweight is so common that the normal kids sometimes are the ones that stand out. Our expectations have changed: Overweight is the new normal. [pg 21]”

It’s really sad how little kids play outside. I see it even in my own neighborhood. When I first moved there, there were tons of kids on the street. But there aren’t that many anymore. Some have grown up but I feel like a lot of the kids just don’t even come outside anymore. It’s always slightly startling when you DO see kids!

“When I ask Kristoffer, a Swedish father of two young children, what he expects his children to learn between now and when they start formal schooling at age six, his answer is swift and affirmative: ‘I expect them to be children. Soon enough they’ll be in school and they’ll get the rest there. [pg 89]”

The difference in Sweden was striking. The kids are all very active and play outside a lot. No matter what the weather! The motto is to have good clothes! Who cares about the weather? The author described an outdoor birthday party in the middle of winter where all the kids invited showed up in snow pants and they spent all afternoon outside sledding and then had roasted hot dogs for a meal. The kids were ecstatic–and I doubt you’d see that here. You definitely wouldn’t see that in Portland!

“If my son wants to play soccer he can, but I’ll never make him. It has to come from him, and it will when he’s ready for it. Not everybody likes team sports, and if he doesn’t we’ll have to find something that’s a better fit. [pg 97]”

I could really relate to that approach. When I was a kid, I was forced to do piano lessons, soccer, gymnastics…a lot of stuff that wasn’t my personality. I hated it all. I hated being on display. I hated team sports. I was afraid of heights so gymnastics was awful but…I loved swimming. That was the thing that I wanted to do.

The kids in Sweden also go to “forest” school. I actually have a friend who’s daughter goes to something sort of similar here in Portland and I find it fascinating and so cool! The kids spend tons of time outside, they have gardens and grow fruits and vegetables that they eat and learn how to prepare the food. I think that’s amazing and I definitely want to do that with my kid.

“Children who spend a lot of time in nature have stronger hands, arms and legs and significantly better balance than children who rarely get to move freely in natural areas. In nature children use and exercise all the different muscle groups. [pg 101]”

We are so happy that Logan loves going outside. Since he was only a few months old he’s been out with us hiking! And now that he’s mobile, we are taking him on little “hikes” in the forests and parks in our city. He can “hike” on a trail and explore–pick up pinecones and sticks and smell the fresh air and he feels independent. It’s amazing watching him in the woods. 🙂

“…she doesn’t scold them for getting just about every square inch of their clothes and bodies dirty, including the lining of their nostrils. I’m not surprised. Messy, wild play is seen as a perfectly natural, even cherished, part of childhood in Scandinavia, and the way I was raised, muddy hands, piles of filthy clothes, and wet boots were almost considered badges of honor, a testament to a day filed with adventure, new experiences and lots of trial and error. [pg 145]”

I SO want that for Logan! I just need to get over my clean OCD/germphobia… 😉

“…risky play is nature’s way for children to teach themselves emotional resilience and learn how to manage and overcome their fears. [pg 189]”

The book was a fast read and it was really interesting. The author didn’t bog it down with too much facts/research/data but sprinkled that in throughout very nicely. She also had tips for ideas and stuff to try with your own kids. Definitely recommend!

6 ) Come Away With Me by Karma Brown

Wow. What a heavy book. I had mixed emotions about it as I was reading it but it pulled the whole story together at the end. The story is about Tegan, a mid-twenties woman who just got married and is about 6 months pregnant when her and her husband Gabe are in a horrific car crash right before Christmas.

Tegan loses the baby and is swallowed up by her grief. She is barely holding on to reality, choosing to stay in bed grieving instead. Everyone in her life is trying to help her.

“It’s amazing how one-dimensional my grief is. I am only capable of feeling numb. Even the pain, which used to be so sharp, has gone dull.”

Gabe and Tegan had a jar of “bucket list” type of trips and activities they wanted to do. So they decided to go to Thailand, Italy and Maui. The hope is that the trips shake Tegan out of her grief.

“If I want to make this work, I have to spend less time focusing on everything I lost that night and more time figuring out how to live without it.”

Tegan has a lot of anger towards Gabe because he was the one driving the car that night. It seems like she will never be able to let it go and forgive him and I thought, “Hmm I guess this is a book about divorce, too” but there is a twist at the end and the book is really about grief, how the mind heals and redemption.

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Like I said, it’s a very heavy book. This author writes about grief very well. The pain is palpable–and that might be too much for some readers to handle. But overall the book was very well done.

7 ) Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Scott Sampson is a judge. The book starts with a bang when he realizes his six year old twins have been kidnapped. Where are there? Who took them? Who can they trust? Judge Sampson is forced to comply with the kidnapper’s demands, making certain judgments on trials he’s in, all in hopes of having his kids returned safely.

The book had many suspects, lots of suspense, lots of ups and downs. At the heart of the story it was about power and revenge and about parents trying to save their kids. The book is well written and full of tension, and not just regarding the kidnapping! The story hits the ground running and never lets up. The ending was really good, too. .

Happy Reading!

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Books #19

I’ve been reading a lot of really great books lately! I’ve got a ton of new ones added to my “to read” list on Goodreads . Last year I barely made it anywhere near my goal for the year (new baby!) but this year I’ve already surpassed my goal of 65 books.

Now on to the reviews!

1 ) Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

I have mixed feelings about this book. It was definitely a good read and I read it in about two days. I had a hard time putting it down. However, I should probably add a trigger warning because this book pretty graphically (and accurately) describes domestic violence. I can see this book being too hard for some people to be able to read. So be warned in that.

Lindsey marries the love of her life, Andrew, and she thinks her life is great…but slowly things start to change. Andrew becomes controlling and possessive and eventually violent and abusive. The way the author unveils the story is well-written. She tells the story of the abuse in flashbacks and balances it out with present-day. So just as it starts to feel a bit overwhelming to read about the horrific abuse Lindsey is enduring, you get a little relief as a reader.

The present-day story is about Lindsey and her daughter Sophie, 10 years later. She escaped the abuse with her daughter and Andrew spent a decade in prison. But now he’s out and he’s found them.

Like I said, the book was a good, fast, engrossing read, but a bit an emotional roller-coaster that may not be for everyone. The ending and the twist regarding Andrew and his post-prison stalking was unexpected.

2 ) We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

This book is SO damn funny! Like laugh out loud until your sides ache funny. It’s a collection of essays by blogger/comedian Samantha Irby. I was not familiar with her before I got this book, and honestly I’m not sure how it got on my radar but I’m glad it did because I loved her voice. She is a hilarious writer!

“I don’t wear evening gowns and booty shorts every day. I wear daytime pajamas and orthopedic shoes, and lately I’ve become a big fan of the “grandpa cardigan.” [Loc 231]

I could relate to a lot of her stories. She talked about her upbringing and what her 20’s were like as a plus-sized woman. The stories were always funny, even the ones that had a little dark edge to them, you never felt bummed out reading about her hardships because her humor and resilience got her through everything.

“Words like ‘outdoor music festival’ are why I am so glad summer in Chicago lasts approximately seven minutes. I nearly wept tears of seasonal affective disordered joy as I pulled out my North Face boots at the end of last November…summer can be an exercise in torture (but not an exercise in actual exercise, duh, it’s too humid) if you don’t want to do crazy shit like ‘wear sleeveless shirts’ and ‘enjoy close proximity to actively sweating strangers’. [Loc 1275]”

I laughed so hard at her struggles with her weight and dieting. I could relate to that and it was funny, not depressing.  She was charming and self-deprecating but not negative.

“Dieting is crazy and turns most of us jerks into insufferable babies. Either (1) you’re a crabby asshole on the verge of tears all day long because you’re desperate for a handful of Cheetos, or (2) you’re perched atop a high horse made of fewer than 1200 daily calories, glaring down your nose at me and pointing out how much saturated fat is in my unsweetened iced tea. [Loc 1911]”

“You need bitches to write about comfortable maternity jeans are for women who aren’t really pregnant. And sexy ways to remove a bra that has four hooks. [Loc 1932, “Fuck It Bitch, Stay Fat”]”

She talks about her serious health conditions (she has Crohn’s, depression, and arthritis and maybe something else because she has to wear braces on her wrists and has orthopedic shoes–that even in her poverty she happily spent $375 on each year).

“Working out is a bummer. Walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes while listening to the same Metallica playlist over and over and trying to read the closed captioning of a television show you don’t even care about is a total drag. The elliptical machine makes uncoordinated people like me look stupid. The stair machine reduces mere mortals to tears within four minutes. The stationary bike feels like uncomfortable butt sex. [Loc 1951]”

“Staying committed to things is hard. I have seven different body washes lining the edge of my bathtub right now. [Loc 2060]”

LOL! That’s totally me.

“I spent too much time trying to mold myself to fit the romantic ideals of humans who proved themselves unworthy of that effort, and I regret it. Never again will I be with someone who is unwilling to accept me as I am, or who has any desire to mold me into something that makes me uncomfortable. [Loc 3539]”

Her writing was real and hilarious and deeply honest, sometimes very vulnerable. I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out her blog!

3 ) The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

First word that comes to mind: DIABOLICAL!

I was unsure of what the book was really about…the description was a little vague. The story starts out interestingly enough: a large family who loses their matriarch and each member of the family has something big going on in their lives. Sophie is about to give birth to her fourth child when she discovers her husband cheated on her. Felix was disfigured as a kid and suddenly has a new girlfriend, who is odd herself. The patriarch of the family is grieving the death of his wife. The family comes together for a holiday weekend at their country home to scatter the mother’s ashes when everything starts to go awry.

But the story kind of stops there. The middle part of the book switches to a different point of view and it turns out that someone in their midst is not who they say they are and in fact, this person has been plotting to destroy their whole family for years. I don’t want to give away any spoilers because the “reveal” in the middle of the book was quite jolting! I was not expecting it at all!

The rest of the book was so so good!!

 

4 ) The Boy in the Woods by Carter Wilson

This book premise immediately sucked me in–when I read the blurb I had to read the book immediately and I’m so glad it lived up to the blurb! That doesn’t usually happen!

The book opens with a bang — it’s 1981 in Oregon and three fourteen-year-old boys witness a horrific murder. They are forced into a cover-up and they swear never to talk about what happened. Flash forward 30 years: Tommy Devereaux has become a bestselling author or serial killer mystery books.

He is ready to tell his story but disguises it as his new fiction book. He is approached by a woman who asks for his autograph, leaving behind a note which reads: ‘You didn’t even change my name.’  Chilling!

The book was a super fast read (read it it in two days) and even though there were parts of the story that seemed a little ridiculous, it was pretty enthralling and I kept reading. Be prepared, the subject matter is pretty dark.

 

 

5 ) Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy

I heard about this book on a podcast. Apparently the author let her 10 year old take the Subway by himself and it made the news…and then blew up on her, where everyone was criticizing her parenting. She ended up starting a blog about raising “free-range” kids.

“Any risk is seen as too much risk. A crazy, not-to-be-taken, see-you-in-the-local-news risk. [pg 5]”

“Normal childhood has become just too risky to permit. [pg 45]”

I’ve been noticing this change for awhile, but especially now that I have a child. I think back to my own childhood memories and how my parents let me be somewhat “free-range.” I grew up in Seattle, in the suburbs, and I used to walk to the bus stop three blocks away, by myself. I never lived close to my school, so I never really walked to school by myself, but I wasn’t under constant supervision. If I wanted to hang out with a friend who lived in the neighborhood, I walked there by myself. I remember going trick-or-treating as a kid and young teen with a friend and no adult supervision.

When I was growing up, I used to spend a week or two in Oregon on my aunt’s farm with my cousins. She literally kicked us out of the house, locked the door and said we had to go play outside until lunchtime. My cousins and I spent all day running around free outside on the farm, getting into mischief, exploring, creating our own games and fun and just hanging out. It was liberating! Especially for a city kid!

I think these things are really important for kids and their development, but it doesn’t happen much these days, and that’s really sad.

“What’s worst about about this kind of defensive thinking is that eventually it seeps into our own parenting decisions. We start to wonder if it’s OK to let our kids do anything, because….what if? [pg 47]”

There is a lot of fear-mongering these days. And not only that, there’s a ton of JUDGMENT. Judgment from complete strangers–especially on the internet. It’s gross.

“Blamers thrive on shame. Take away their power. Do not be ashamed of making parenting choices based on who your kid is, rather than on what the neighbors will say. Why are they talking about you anyway? [pg 58]”

I remember a facebook friend posting a panicked status about seeing a dog locked in a car. It was like February and maybe 60 degrees. Clearly not unsafe. But she was in a complete panic and posted “should I break the window?? Should I call the police??” And commenters on her FB were like “calm down the dog is fine.” I mean really, it’s like no one has common sense anymore and it’s all this “gotcha” society thinking.

“The idea is that if you’re worrying, then you’re doing the right thing. Worrying is ‘like a demonstration to yourself that you’re being responsible.’ It has become our national pastime. [pg 94]”

The book is really interesting and it debunks a lot of the paranoia people have about child abductions and all sorts of horrific things that could happen if you let your kids walk three blocks to school by themselves. It also discussed a lot of the absolutely ridiculous things that are happening –like how school buses won’t drop off kids at their bus stop unless there’s a parent standing there (seriously, it takes the kid back to school and the parent is called).

“But the whole new thinking about happiness (and maturity) is that these qualities come from actually doing things. Creating. Exploring. Being independent. [Loc 278]”

“The cell phone keeps the parent-child relationships back where it was when the kids were very young and needed constant supervision. When parents are always available to tell their kid what to do, they will, even when otherwise the kid would start making decisions himself. [pg 96]”

It’s so important for kids to explore and problem-solve and I feel like currently, our society is taking all that away and we’re raising giant adult-babies that can’t really do anything for themselves. 🙁

“Childhood is supposed to be about discovering the world, not being held captive. [pg 193]”

“We want out children to have a childhood that’s magical and enriched, but I’ll bet that your best childhood memories involve something you were thrilled to do by yourself. These are childhood’s magic words: ‘I did it myself!’ [pg 193]”

It was a really good book and I liked reading it. The stories made me kind of angry and dreading our future interaction with “other” parents who are fear-mongering. But the book gave lots of good tips to make change happen.

 

6 ) See Jane Die by Erica Spindler

I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this book. The two main characters are artist Jane and her homicide detective sister, Stacy. When they were teens, Jane was horribly disfigured in a freak accident and years of plastic surgery have helped her heal (on the outside). The sisters have been estranged for awhile, but when Jane’s husband is suddenly suspected and arrested of murder, the sisters reunite to find the real killer.

There were a lot of twists in this book, nothing super shocking, but I thought I had guessed who the real killer was and was surprised by the ending and the reveal. It was a pretty good mystery/thriller book and I read it in one day.

 

7 ) Arrowood  by Laura McHugh

What an excellent book!

Arden is a 20-something student trying to finish her master’s degree when she gets word that her estranged father has passed away and the home in Iowa that has been in her family for a century is suddenly hers. Reluctantly she goes home to a house she hasn’t been in since she was 8 years old and her twin sisters tragically disappeared–an event that tore her family apart.

Home, she is suddenly haunted by the memories of her sister’s disappearance and wrecked with guilt because she was watching them when they were kidnapped. Her sisters were never found. Could they still be alive? Were they murdered? She suddenly starts doubting what she saw that day.

This is your quintessential gothic mystery novel that is so very well done and the story is great, the ending is very satisfying and I loved this book!

Happy Reading!

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