Mar 172015
 

It’s always a bummer when you go through a bunch of REALLY good books that you love and then read one dud after another. I read some poor books, a few that were just so poorly written and boring that I gave up and stopped wasting my time with them. Then I found another batch of some good reads. This post is a few of my favorites lately!

1. The Martian by Andy Weir

This kept popping up online and on book lists so I put it on hold at the library. It was a nice change in reading topic for me after reading a bunch of mysteries and some nonfiction books. I didn’t know much about this book when I started reading it and honestly, I thought it was a YA book…My first thought was “this is the first YA book that actually reads like a YA book!” (The Hunger Games and Divergent series didn’t read like teen books to me and as an adult I enjoyed reading them.) Then I looked online and yeah…it’s NOT a YA book… Ooops.

So the one downside to this book for me was that the writing style see-sawed between feeling very juvenile and feeling a bit over my head. The story is about an astronaut that accidentally gets left behind on Mars during a mission gone wrong. I don’t to give away too many details and spoil it. But there were definitely times the book got really scientific and my eyes started to glaze over. Despite the disparity in writing style, I really really liked this book. It was exciting and had me on the edge of my seat so many times!

The story is about the astronaut surviving on Mars for like 2 years. The stuff he goes through is mind-boggling and it’s definitely a different kind of “survival” story! I also see that it’s being made into a movie with Matt Damon and Kristin Wiig! I am super excited about the movie! The book read like a screenplay more than a novel for me.

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2. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

I got sucked into this book on page one. I absolutely loved the author’s writing style and voice. It’s part memoir and part biography of his mother. His mother’s parents came to America from Poland in the late 20’s. Her family was Orthodox Jewish and her father was a rabbi, her mother was handicapped due to polio. She fell in love with a black man and ended up having 12 children. The story is about her life in Queens, the only white woman around. The author describes growing up in this environment in the 60’s, not understanding why his mother looked different.

He describes his mother, Ruth driving around Queens on an old, rusted, rattling bicycle: “She was already white, that was bad enough, but to go out and ride an old bike that went out of style a hundred years ago? And a grown-up no less? I couldn’t handle it. As a boy, I always thought my mother was strange. [pg 8]”

The book is told by McBride but alternating chapters that are told by his mother. His mother’s family eventually moved to the south where she encountered the KKK as a child. She got pregnant in the South in the 1936 and left for New York to live with her extended family. It sounded like they were upper-class (much wealthier than her other family) and her aunt got her an abortion in Manhattan. She later met her husband whom she had 8 kids with, then when he died she remarried a few years later and had 4 more kids.

She was big on education. She made sure all her kids were in school and doing well. Once the author asked:

“Am I black or white?” 

“You’re a human being,” she snapped. “Educate yourself or you’ll be a nobody!”

“Will I be a black nobody or just a nobody?”

“If you’re a nobody,” she said dryly, “it doesn’t matter what color you are.” [pg 92]”

She was a smart lady. All her kids went to college and eventually became professionals–doctors, nurses, teachers…impressive!

The author talks about his stepfather with so much love and admiration he just sounded like such a wonderful man–a kind, gentle man who took on 8 kids that weren’t his but treated them exactly the same as the four additional kids the couple had.

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Ruth was a feisty, neurotic, loving woman and I loved every single page of this book. Out of 5 stars I’d give it a 10. I can’t describe how much I loved this book. I didn’t want it to end–I wanted to keep reading more about Ruth’s amazing life. Trust me, read this book and you’ll feel a warm glow! It’s such an uplifting book, despite the hardships they all went through. Amazing, amazing book.

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3. Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Oh.My.God. Don’t read this book at night. Don’t read this book in the dark or when you are alone!

I’m not sure how this book got on my radar but I’m really glad it did. It was such a dark, unique, scary book and it was definitely one of those “stay up too late reading” kind of books and then regretting it when you are too freaked out to go to sleep!

The book is being compared to The Road and I definitely saw some similarities. It also reminded me of a book my book club read last year, Blindness, where there’s a “virus” that makes everyone blind. So this book is post-apocalyptic but it’s different than the typical book in this genre. Around the world people are being “changed” by something they see. Maybe it’s a creature, or something else, no one knows. But when they see this THING, it infects them and they become psycho-killers that kill their loved ones and then “self-destruct.” The solution to this was for people to go into hiding and wear blindfolds whenever they go outside.

Malorie is the main character. Her sister dies when she self-destructs and Malorie flees to a safe house where she lives with a bunch of other people. The windows are blocked, they only go outside blindfolded to get water from the well and they live in this house for awhile, unaware of what is going on outside. Malorie and one other woman in the house are pregnant, too. Fast-forward four years and suddenly Malorie is alone with two small children and for some reason they need to leave that safe house. For years she’s trained the kids to fine-tune their hearing skills and they always wear blindfolds. They flee from the house and get in a rowboat on a nearby river and are rowing somewhere (you don’t know where for a long time) blindfolded. They hear the creatures, they hear everything, but never see what is going on. It’s haunting and chilling and trust me when I say, don’t read this book in the dark! It’s freaky!

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4. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The story takes place in the Ozark Mountains when a developmentally disabled girl is found dead after being missing for almost a year. The main character, Lucy, is a teenager and was Cheri’s only friend. She spends her summer trying to solve the mystery of what happened to her friend, whom no one seemed to care about, and the mystery of her own mother’s dead when she was a child. The chapters alternate between present time, told by Lucy, and her mother Lila’s story. The book is a page-turner and while the subject matter is rather dark (human trafficking and murder) it’s a good story. The characters were well-rounded and well-written. The story kept me wanting to read more. This is the author’s first novel and it’s a good one!

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5. The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai by John Tayman

Years ago I read “In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir” about the leper colony in Louisiana. It was an excellent book and I definitely recommend you read it if you’re looking for some history and information about leper colonies. I really didn’t know much about the disease or the history of it and years later when I went to Maui for our honeymoon a kayak tour guide told us stories about the leper colony on Molokai. I had no idea the island had been a colony!

This book is the story of how the lepers in Hawaii were shipped to Molokai–essentially arrested and treated as prisoners–with basically nothing. The inhabitants built up a village and community, a place where they could live freely without judgment from people who were afraid to go near them. Even though they were prisoners, many of them thrived on the island. The segregation started in the late 1800’s and the Catholic church even sent a priest, Father Damien, who eventually ended up contracting leprosy, died in 1889 at the age of 49 and became a Saint as a result.

Kalaupapa was named a national park in 1980, yet people still lived in the colony into the 2000’s. The book tells the story of how the island came to be, the fear and persecution people felt, the community they built up on the island, and the author told the stories of some of the major characters. The famous patient Olivia Breitha, who wrote her memoirs, said: “Even if my skin is insensitive,” she once wrote, “my heart and soul are not”.

Makia Malo, who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1947 when he was 12, is one of the patients who a found life on the outside of Kalaupapa. Leprosy stole his sight and the feeling from his hands which prevented him from learning Braille, but he was a gifted storyteller and even became a professor.  Malo moved to Honolulu and enrolled at the University of Hawaii at age 37 and even found love with someone who did not have leprosy. It was a sweet story.

It was hard not to feel the pain of the prisoners. It was reminiscent of reading about Nazi camps and Japanese internment camps…And then in the 1980’s there was actually a politician that wanted to send the AIDS patients to Molokai just like they did with the lepers. So horrifying! Despite the sad subject, it was a good book and the story was about survival and redemption.

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6. One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

For some reason this book reminded me of the movie Little Miss Sunshine. The book was about a struggling single mom, Jess, who had two kids (the teenage boy being bullied by the neighbor boys) and a daughter who is a math whiz. She’s working multiple jobs to make ends meet and her deadbeat husband has taken off. The daughter has the opportunity to get a scholarship for a private school that specializes in math. Even with a scholarship they can’t afford it. Until she has a chance to win some money doing a math test in Scotland. With the help of a man Jess meets, they drive from London to Scotland for her daughter to take the test. Of course the worst things that could happen, happen. I don’t want to give away the ending because it was really sweet but it was a good book!

 

7. Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Not sure where to begin with this book. It was really, REALLY good but so dark and at times really hard to read. The topic was domestic violence. The main character, Cathy, tells the story of her life before and her life now…each chapter alternates between THEN and present day. She meets this dashing, dark and slightly dangerous man that all her friends love and think is perfect. Lee is mysterious but romantic and she’s sucked into his world quickly and then suddenly she’s overcome by him. He literally takes over everything and the story of the descent into a domestic violence situation is truly scary and sometimes hard to read. You don’t get the whole story right away, it’s told in bits and pieces.

The “present day” story is about Cathy’s recovery of being kidnapped and nearly killed by Lee. He’s been sent to prison for it, she moved and changed her identity, but she lives in fear every moment of her life. This story is about her fear, her terrible OCD and paranoia. This is also hard to read but there is some hope, some hope that she is going to recover and her life will get better.

Then Lee gets released. The second half of the book is still telling the story of what Lee did, but it’s also about her realizing that Lee is back and has found her. Again, a very dark book, but it was a good one! I couldn’t stop reading it.

 

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Feb 252015
 

You know that feeling you get when you find a really good book and just can’t put it down? You want to devour the book and read it all in one sitting but at the same time you don’t want it to end! Because then what? Will you find another book just as gripping that will suck you in like that one did? Lately I’ve read several books like that. I wanted to share a few of the “oh my god, this book was amazing” reads and a few of the “this was pretty good” reads. Here goes:

1. Shadow Man by Cody McFadyen

I accidentally read book 4 first. I liked it so much I went back and read book 1. It was great! As with the other one I read, I loved the characters and the world the author created. It was gritty but human. The main character is strong and compelling, healing emotionally without being weak. The story itself was pretty good (despite generally thinking a killer believing he’s decent of Jack the Ripper being silly).

The reason this book gets 4 not 5 stars is because I HATE the Callie character. She calls everyone “honey love” and it’s THE MOST ANNOYING THING I’ve ever read in a book. It’s constant and it makes me cringe. I find myself skipping over dialogue by Callie just to avoid reading any more honey love sh*t. Where is this author’s editor? Why didn’t they say “take this out, it’s an annoying tick and is close to ruining the book”? Despite that, I still liked the story. The ending had a twist and I hadn’t expected who the killer was. Good writing.

2. Hell is Empty (Walt Longmire #7) by Craig Johnson

This was one of the best books in the series I think. It was one of the episodes on the TV show but the book was slightly different so it felt like a new story to me. A group of convicted killers were being transported by the Sheriff and meeting the FBI because one of them said he could take them to the location of a body he buried. As you can guess, things go awry. They escape and Walt is tromping through the mountains in a blizzard trying to catch them and rescue the hostages.

“Life is like that. You collect things are you go–the things you think are important–and soon they weigh you down until you realize that these things you cared so much about mean nothing at all. Our natures are our natures. And they are all we are left with. [pg 217]”

The book is a fast read and the writing is always great. You get sucked into the story and then all of a sudden it feels like you are reading beautiful poetry because the writing just becomes so wonderful. It also weaves in some mysticism without being goofy or unbelievable. Great read!

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3. The Face of Death (Book #2) by Cody McFadyen

This is the second book in the series and it was a thrilling ride. It was also VERY very very dark. Probably one of the darkest books I’ve ever read–there were several pages I had to skip because it got too dark and too graphic for me. And I have a strong stomach when it comes to separating myself from reality and books/tv. It wasn’t necessarily gross graphic, just so evil and tragic it was almost too much to take to read. Despite skipping some pages here and there when it got too much, the story was edge-of-your-seat exciting, so much so I stayed up way too late too many nights because I couldn’t put the book down.

Still love almost all of the characters in the book and once again the main character, Smoky, was a strong, dominant woman that really made me want to keep reading. She wasn’t a flimsy/flat main character and her voice was genuine (the author is a man, and he can write women well!). The one complaint I had with the other books I’ve read (the Callie character flaw) was toned down and not much of an issue in this book. Maybe someone told him to lay off on the “honey love” shit. Anyways, I’m really enjoying this series and glad I discovered a new author to take note of.

4. The Last Season by Eric Blehm

This is a great read! It’s an account of a backcountry forest ranger, Randy Morgenson, who knew the Sierra Nevadas like the back of his hand…and then in 1996 he disappeared without a trace. He’d done the job for 28 years and spent more time living in the middle of nowhere, all alone, patrolling the wilderness and rescuing injured and lost hikers.

The book is about his life and it’s fascinating. His parents were bankers in 1930 that longed to live another life and eventually they quit their jobs (which was unheard of in that time) and moved to Yosemite to live and work in the park. His father became a walking encyclopedia about Yosemite, Half Dome, all the animals, trails and plants in the park and Randy grew up with this same passion. He worked in the park as a teen, eventually left college for the Peace Corp where he lived in the Himalayas for two years and learned how to traverse mountains. He returned to become the backcountry ranger where he lived in a tent with all his supplies for the 3-6 month stints and a radio. That was it.

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The book was truly fascinating to read and the passion he had for the wilderness was romantic and enticing. The outcome was sad but overall it was a compelling read.

5. Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass by Donnie Eichar

In 1959 a group of 9 experienced hikers disappeared in the Ural Mountains in Russia. There was a search and rescue attempt and their bodies were found–but everything surrounding the incident was mysterious, eerie and unexplained. They were all found outside of their tent in various stages of dress–some without socks and shoes, one had two pairs of socks on one foot. One was near naked. None of them were dressed for the February blizzard weather. What happened? Was it a person? An animal? Did they see something they shouldn’t have (one theory was they saw military testing of weapons and the KGB murdered them). Apparently Yeti and aliens were also part of the mix. :P There were a dozen conspiracy theories, but what really happened to these 9 people?

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In 2012 a documentary filmmaker and writer decided to find out what happened and book was his research. He even retraces their steps on the hike, in the winter, with a guide and the lone survivor of the expedition. The book is told in three time periods–the 1959 story of the hikers as they prepared for the trip, and started hiking (based on family accounts and the hiker’s journals). Then there is the time shift of after they were found dead and it was being investigated. Finally, the story is told in current time describing the research and investigation the author does for the book.

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“What you’re really trying to do is reverse-engineer a tragic event without any witness.” At first I thought the mystery was NOT going to be solved but with all the research, the author came up with a pretty compelling explanation of what happened on that frozen mountain. The last chapter was a re-creation of what he thinks happened to the 9 hikers based on all the scientific evidence he gathered and had analyzed by qualified scientist. I bought it. I think his explanation makes sense and it’s absolutely HAUNTING.

6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I don’t even know where to start. The word “wow” comes to mind but that doesn’t properly illustrate how good this book was.

It was compared to “Gone Girl” and I went in skeptical but quickly realized, oh yeah. It’s like Gone Girl. It’s like GG in that it is so dark, so unique you can’t stop thinking about it. How do you read a book where the main character is just so despicable that it’s almost painful to read? You get sucked in by good writing and you can’t put the book down. This one succeeded in that.

I loved how the author slowly rolled out the story. The first few chapters are just about this girl, Rachel, on a train. The same morning train, and the same evening train, going into London for work. The train goes by a group of houses and she creates a story in her head about the people living in one of the houses–even gives them a name. Rachel sees a new pink curtain in the window of another house and it makes her sad, but you don’t realize until several chapters later why.

Turns out, she used to live in the house with the new pink curtain. Until her husband Tom kicked her out and moved in his mistress, Anna, who became his new wife and they had a daughter. Turns out, Rachel is a raging alcohol who blacks out and doesn’t remember anything she does or says when drunk. Turns out she’s harassing Tom and Anna when she blacks out–phone calls, harassing notes, stalking them at the house–her old house. Turns out, she’s been fired from her job long ago, but still takes the train into London every day like she has a job so her roommate doesn’t know.

I don’t want to give anymore away because the story twists and turns in such a brilliant way. This is probably one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time. I could not stop reading it and even now, finished with the book, I feel so many different emotions!!

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7. The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes by Scott Wallace

I love adventure stories. The Indiana Jones movies were my favorites as a kid. I’ve read some books by and about explorers–historical accounts and more “modern” stories. Somehow they usually fall short for me. This book did not. It was a long book and it took me a long time to read (for me) and there were definitely parts of the book that could have been edited down to move quicker…but the story was told in an interesting way.

The author was a National Geographic writer who go the opportunity to join a team of 34 men lead by the Brazilian explorer Sydney Possuelo that was going deep into the Amazon rainforest to search for a tribe of Indians they called the “Arrow People.” It was a harrowing journey, not meant to make contact with this tribe that has never been seen by outsiders, but to figure out how to protect them from whites, loggers, etc. Possuelo was a larger than life character who’s life mission was to protect the land and lives of isolated tribes from invasion. He later became the director of the Department of Unknown Tribes at the FUNAI (National Indian Foundation of Brazil).

“Once you make contact, you begin the process of destroying their universe. [pg 250]”

The first half of the book was the story of their journey into the Amazon. Most interesting was ALL THE THINGS THAT CAN KILL YOU. Seriously terrifying people. There’s the “trucandeira“, or bullet ant, furry caterpillars with poisonous hair that has no cure. There’s a tree frog that can cripple and kill you. There’s bushmaster snakes, jararacuçu snakes that are “hyper-aggressive”, fer-de-lance snakes (pit vipers that can extend 6 FEET with inch-long fangs OH MY GOD). There was a story about a native Brazilian who climbed a ladder into a rubber tree to harvest it and a JAGUAR climbed up into the tree, grabbed him, pulled him down and ate him. They fished for catfish to use as bait for giant piranhas to eat. The rivers were full of Caimans. But there were also really amazing things there too, like an endangered pink Amazon River Dolphin.

So yeah, I won’t be going to the Amazon anytime soon. But the book was fascinating to read. I learned a lot and I googled A LOT of stuff while I was reading it. I mean, who knew that dolphins could live in freshwater rivers? I sure didn’t.

The group planned on spending 3 months in the Amazon looking for the Arrow People. Around the half-way mark of the book they find them.

“Our exotic fact-finding mission suddenly had become a run for our lives, the hunters now the hunted. We stumbled over roots, ripped through overhanging branches, anything to dodge the potential line of sight of an Indian taking aim with an arrow–poison-tipped or otherwise. [pg 263]”

The book is really, really good and it was exciting in so many places. If you are interested in anthropology I definitely recommend this book! The last few chapters could have been taken out, but other than that it was a good book.

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I’ve read a few “fun” mystery books lately and I’ve got a bunch of books I’m excited about on hold with the library. Will have another post soon I hope!

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