Mar 082016
 

I wanted to get this post out because it might be awhile before I get around to posting it — or reading books!! Who knows. ūüôā¬†Here are my¬†past book reviews: ¬†Book Reviews. And now for some recent reads I wanted to recommend:

1 ) The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

I was looking for a fast read, something kind of “mindless” and fluffy and saw good reviews of this book so I gave it a try. It’s a¬†better than average chick-lit book. It takes place in the South — there’s socialites and old money and then a skeleton is found under a peach tree on the grounds of a majestic old house that’s being remodeled into a fancy inn.

I enjoyed the story and the characters. I felt like the “mystery” wasn’t the main focus of the story like it sounded from the description but it was still a pleasant, fun read. The “magical” aspect wasn’t necessary at all in my opinion. But if you’re looking for a nice, romantic chick-lit type of book this is a good one.

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2 ) My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

A charming story about 7 year old Elsa. Her 77 year old crazy grandmother is basically her best friend and fills her head with stories of adventure and make-believe kingdoms. Then her grandma dies and leaves Elsa a bunch of letters and asks her to deliver these letters to people. It’s another adventure and Elsa takes it on secretly, deceiving her parents in order to deliver these apology letters.

This book was not as good as “A Man Called Ove“–which I LOVED–but it was still charming in its own way. This author does cranky and crazy old people well. You just love them. The two flaws in this book — I wish the grandma hadn’t died so early on in the story because she was awesome. And the make-believe kingdom/fairytale stuff went on a little too long for my tastes. But the actual story about Elsa and all the people in her world, made up for that. The ending was really excellent, too.

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3 ) Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

I LOVE this book so much! It was such a good read. It was a definite “feel good” book just in general. It was really well written and not dry or boring like a biography can sometimes be. The way it was written was interesting and fast-paced and kept you engrossed.

Reading about Ruth Bader-Ginsberg was refreshing, inspiring and just awesome. What an amazing person. Her drive and independence started young.¬†Her mother’s advice: “Always be independent.” And she was.¬†She broke down barriers on so many fronts, but especially for women’s rights.

“Every time she thought she could just do her work, RBG was reminded again that she didn’t belong there. ‘You felt in class as if all eyes were on you and that if you didn’t perform well, you would be failing not only for yourself, but for all women.’ Some professors held Ladies’ Day, when they would call only on women, with humiliating questions.”

“RBG firmly believed that for women to be equal, men had to be free.”

She comes across as a thoughtful, progressive, decisive person who wants equality for all, not just women. But the amazing things she did for women? Impressive.

“This wonderful woman whose statue I have in my chambers, Eleanor Roosevelt, said ‘ Anger, resentment, envy. These are emotions that just sap your energy. They’re not productive and don’t get you anyplace, so get over it.'”

“I think that men and women, shoulder to shoulder, will work together to make this a better world. Just as I don’t think that men are the superior sex, neither do I think women are. I think that it is great that we are beginning to use the talents of all of the people, in all walks of life, and that we no longer have the closed doors we once had.”

The book was about her life, going to college and law school, breaking down barriers and becoming the first tenured female¬†professor at Columbia, co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, and was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia before joining the Supreme Court.

The book was also about her marriage to Marty, a tax attorney who loved cooking and taking care of Ruth. They were together for 60 years before he died and you could really tell that they absolutely adored, respected and loved each other. It was so sweet.

“RBG’s use of the phrase¬†life partner was a marriage in which the woman didn’t lose herself and her autonomy, in which two humans shared their lives and goals on equal footing.”

“Marty would tell her that if she went to bed, in the morning everything would be clearer. ‘He was right,’ RBG said after Marty’s death. ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m in a maze, then go to sleep thinking about the way out, and when I wake up in the morning, I see the path. But now there’s no one telling me it’s time to quit.”

The entire book was awe-inspiring and humbling. It was humorous and serious, interesting and informative. It included some analysis of some of her decisions in court. It showed the softer side of her life, her close friendship with Scalia, and even included the fitness routine she does with her personal trainer. This teeny tiny woman that is a firecracker in all aspects of life has a trainer helping her do one-legged squats! It was such a joy to read this book and I cannot recommend it enough!

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4 ) Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller

This was a really interesting book, not all that uplifting though. It’s been on my to read list for awhile and finally read it. It was a memoir about the author’s life in¬†Rhodesia/Zimbabwe with her parents and sister. But it was more about her marriage and the end of her marriage. So like I said, kind of dark, but still a good read.

Her parents were hilarious and one of the highlights of the book, for me. Her dad was funny and often had insightful comments to share:

“The problem with most people, is that they want to be alive for as long as possible without having any idea whatsoever how to live. [pg 9]”

How true is that statement?? And then her mother, who was bipolar, made this comment about the author’s¬†epic¬†long birth of her first child:

“About once every three hours, Mum looked at her watch and said, ‘This has been a biblically long pregnancy, Bobo. Why don’t you drink some Epsom salts and hop up and down?’ [pg 149]”

The author met her husband, Charlie, in Africa. He was an American who was living there as a river guide. They met and fell in love, got married (where the author came down with Malaria on her wedding day) and they lived in Africa together for a few years and had a baby together. Then they moved to the States.

“Motherhood – the way too many of us do it alone now – without an exaltation of female relatives, without a heft of knowing matrons to buoy us up, is unnatural. [pg 156]”

That quote made me a little sad. She was comparing the difference between giving birth to their first child while still in Africa and having the support of other women in the village, to their second child after they were in America.

Things were not great in America. Work was scarce for both of them and I think the author both missed her parents and the African life she had grown up in. She never really felt like she adjusted to living in Wyoming, where her husband was from. This is where the book turned into more about the decline of her marriage to Charlie. She compared her own marriage to that of her parents:

“Together they had lost three children, a war, a few farms, and for awhile my mother had seriously lost her mind. And yet they incorporated these losses into their marriage along with what they had gained, assigning very little in the way of either blame or praise almost anywhere. They put no more weight on despair than they did on joy. The way they did love was also the way they did tragedy, as if it was all an inevitable part of the gift of being alive. [pg 74]”

“Ours had contracted into a grocery list relationship – finances, children, housekeeping. We concentrated on logistics, cautiously withholding, careful of what we said to one another in case it was used against us later. And instead of disclosing our souls, we recounted complaints and kept score of the ways in which we had irritated one another or let each other down. After that we had nothing left to say. [pg 81]”

They were married nearly 20 years and had three kids, and things weren’t always bad. She wrote about the good times, too. But as their careers started to improve and things got a little better for them, it seemed like they were growing apart quickly. One time Charlie went back to Africa for a little while for work as a guide again and he called her with this story:

“‘I was almost eaten by a lion last night,’ he said. I said, ‘Oh.’ ‘Two of them. I was stalked. They followed me into camp.’…and perhaps there was more to the story than that, but none of it seemed to matter then because the fact of Charlie having been stalked by lions changed nothing. He sounded no more alive, or grateful, or excited for having been nearly dead. And his inability to get hurt by animals had long ago ceased to impress me. [pg 209]”

As a reader, that was pretty much the turning point in my eyes. I read that and the lack of emotion from both parties said to me: this relationship is doomed/over.

Despite the book being about the end of her marriage, it wasn’t entirely depressing or negative. There was enough positivity in it and enough interesting anecdotal stories about Africa that I didn’t feel bummed out reading the book and I found it really, really fascinating. So don’t let the theme of divorce turn you off from reading this memoir!

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5 ) Remember Me This Way by Sabine Durrant

Same author that wrote “Under Your Skin” — which I LOVED and was really, really good.¬†In comparison this one was not as strong, but still worth a read. The concept is creepy and the villain of the story is super creepy as it all unfolds. It makes your skin crawl.

The story is about Lizzie, a widow who is starting to wonder if maybe her husband isn’t really dead. As you read you feel sorry for her and the tragedy of losing her husband…until things start to come out and you slowly realize it wasn’t the love affair/tragedy you think it is. ¬†You¬†really like the main character as you read it and it kind of keeps you guessing until the very end.

A lot of books these days compare themselves to “Gone Girl” and this is the first one like that that actually did feel reminiscent of Gone Girl.

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6 ) Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

I didn’t quite know what to expect from this book. Reading the summary it sounded like an upper-middle class married mom from Chicago rescues a homeless teen from the streets who has an infant that is clearly suffering from an illness and malnutrition. Of course, the girl and baby are not what they seem… But the book is so much more about that.

Heidi brings Willow and baby Ruby home to her posh condo in Chicago, where her 12 year old daughter Zoe and husband Chris are, saying that they are going to stay with them for just one night. It turns into a lot longer and each chapter is told from either Chris, Heidi or Willow, and the REAL story unfolds. Little by little you realize there is more to the story–both Heidi’s and Willow’s stories–and by the end you are both shocked and saddened once the story is told. It was an excellent story, very well-written, and kind of haunting!

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Feb 092016
 

I accomplished my reading goal for 2015! I read 150 books and my goal was 140.

Each year I’ve set a reading goal for myself because I’m pretty goal-oriented and each year the number of books I wanted to read grew. It definitely became easier to read more books once Michael got me a Kindle for Christmas a few years ago. Not having to wait for library books, or finding time to go to the library, was a huge relief in my schedule and having access to ebooks through my library (and Amazon Prime) was also helpful.

But 2016 is going to be a¬†slightly busier year I think. ūüôā I made the goal of reading 80 books this year.

1 ) Make Me (Jack Reacher #20) by Lee Child 

Woohoo! This is a series I anxiously await every new book release. It finally came in at the library and as usual, I read it lickity-split. This time Reacher was on a train going through middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma on his way to Chicago when he decides to get off in a tiny town called Mother’s Rest. The name sparked his interest and his spontaneity. There he met Chang, who ended up being a former FBI agent, now PI, who was in Mother’s Rest looking for her partner who has disappeared. Reacher decides to help her out.

The story was a bit odd and made me slightly skeptical about the story…but the ending had such a good twist, it was worth it. The ending (no spoilers) was dark and a cool “ah ha!” moment.

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2 ) After The Storm (Kate Burkholder #7) by Linda Castillo 

This recent book starts out with a tornado ripping through the town. Chief of Police, Kate, is working around the clock to help her town recover after the storm when some long-dead remains are found. There are actually three story lines happening in this book and it seems like someone is out to kill Kate and trying their hardest to take her out.

I liked this story a lot. Each book is a little bit better than the previous one and I felt like this one in particular was really well-rounded and brought some more personal aspects to the series as one of the story lines involved Kate and her boyfriend. The ending was well-done and satisfying.

3 ) Bed by David Whitehouse

Mal Ede is an odd kid that grows into an even weirder adult but it looks like he’s finally “getting it together”. He has a girlfriend, Lou, and they live together. Then he turns 25 and something happens. He goes to bed and never gets out again. He grows into England’s fattest man. So fat that his parents have to take out walls in their house and put together multiple beds in order for him to fit.

“Morbid obesity. Morbid. No other human condition comes prepackaged with an introductory sentiment. This is because, technically at least, obesity is self-imposed. It implies that there is an alternative kind of obesity, a jolly obesity perhaps, or a merry obesity. The kind that middle-aged single people with a good sense of humor have for a brief time before they become so huge and therefore unlovable as to be classified as morbid. Whether Mal is morbid or not was difficult to tell. Selfish obesity would probably have been more suitably coined. [pg 53]”

The story is told by his younger brother, whom from childhood has been in love with Lou and pining away for her. This story is really, really odd and sometimes gross, sometimes really charming and enduring. It’s sad how codependent and enabling Mal’s family becomes but really the story is more about the younger brother learning how to live and emerge from Mal’s shadow. It was a good book and a fast read.

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4 ) Hikikomori and the Rental Sister: A Novel by Jeff Backhaus

Another odd book, but a good one.

“hikikomori, n. h?kik?’mo?ri; literally pulling inward; refers to those who withdraw from society.

Inspired by the real-life Japanese social phenomenon called hikikomori and the professional ‚Äúrental sisters‚ÄĚ hired to help”

For three years Thomas has hid in his bedroom following the tragic death of his young son. His wife is at the end of her rope. She tries to coax him out. She occasionally feeds him to try and get him out of the room but he won’t talk to her and only leaves in the middle of the night to go to a nearby Bodega to buy frozen food he keeps in his room. The grief has paralyzed him.

As a last resort, his wife hires Megumi, a young immigrant from Japan who is hiding from her own grief after her brother dies. Megumi manages to get Thomas out of the room and slowly he returns to life and faces the grief he’s been hiding from.

The book is about grief and how a married couple finds their way back to each other in a different way. It was a really touching read and I liked it a lot.

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5 )  The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

Since I was a kid, I was fascinated with the Oregon Trail and Lewis and Clark expeditions. I guess I can blame the video game. ūüėČ

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I heard about this book on a podcast that interviewed the author and I had to read it! It was kind of a long wait for it at the library and finally it came and I was really excited to read it. It was a “Travel Memoir” of sorts…where Rinker and his quirky brother Nick, along with Nick’s Jack Russell Olive Oyl, set out to recreate the Oregon Trail adventure in modern times–but in a covered wagon pulled by mules.

“Mules have a slightly larger cranial cavity than horses, and thus larger brains, and are more intelligent and judgmental. Mules also posses, from their donkey side, a more feral, self-preservationist nature, and intensely dislike putting themselves in danger. A mule won’t do that until it considers the next step safe, or through experience has seen the same situation a few times. [pg 36]”

Even though Rinker grew up “roughing it” with his family, riding horses and doing stuff like that, he ¬†had unrealistic expectations of what crossing the country would be like in a covered wagon and his brother Nick picked through all the stuff he packed and threw away at least half of it before they set off on the trail. It was pretty funny.

“I had packed my Brooks Brothers bathrobe. Walking back and forth in camp every morning to carry hay to the mules, I would look so fetching in a Brooks Brothers bathrobe. And look at this! A can of Niagra Spray Starch! For ironing shirts! {pg 114]”

I loved Rinker and his brother’s interactions. Nick was probably the best “character” in the book and the dog was a great addition. The brothers faced immense challenges along the trail and tried, to the best of their ability, to recreate the Oregon Trail route. They stopped a long the way to camp and people who heard through the grapevine about their adventures invited them to stay on their farms and ranches when they needed breaks. It was fascinating reading about the trail and everything it took to do it.

“Adventure gets pretty stale after a while and you’re not much of a romantic after a month on the trail. No one would do this, day after day, unless he had to. [pg 190]”

There were parts of the book that were a little slow and dry. The author included a lot of historical information and while I am interested in the personal stories of people who did the Oregon Trail, it felt crow-barred into the book instead of flowing naturally. I wish he had found a way to include historical stories in a more creative, interesting way. That was the one flaw of the book for me.

“My habitual impatience was suspended to deal with frustration after frustration on the trail. [pg 414]”

Overall it was a good read. There was a lot of personal growth for both brothers and you grew to love the mules and the dog and the people they met along the trail.

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6 ) When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 

Wow, what a book. It was so moving and brought up a lot of emotions for me as I read it. It was a fast read, too. Read it in about two days. A friend recommended it after reading a review on it and it immediately interested me.

“What makes life meaningful enough to go on living? [pg 71]”

Paul is a neurosurgeon, 36 years old and married to another doctor when he’s diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. He saw the signs (rapid weight loss, horrible back pain) and despite his medical training he tried to ignore the signs and then he couldn’t anymore.

“Grand illnesses are supposed to be life-clarifying. Instead, I knew I was going to die – but I’d known that before. My state of knowledge was the same, but my ability to make lunch plans had been shot to hell. The way forward would seem obvious, if only I knew now many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d spend time with my family. Tell me one year, I’d write a book. Give me ten years, I’d get back to treating diseases. The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help. What was I supposed to do with that day? [pg 161]”

“Part of the cruelty of cancer, though, is not only that it limits your time; it also limits your energy, vastly reducing the amount you can squeeze into a day. [pg 196]”

This profound memoir is about his life as a doctor, how he found neuroscience, his time at Stanford University, and how he faced the death diagnosis of his own. It’s a really eloquent book and the author draws a lot from his background in philosophy and literature (which he pursued before medical school). It’s about the struggles of marriage that got strengthened in the face of this horrible news.

“At home in bed a few weeks before he died, I asked him ‘Can you breathe okay with my head on your chest like this?’ His answer was ‘It’s the only way I know how to breathe.’ [pg217]”

It was a really hard book to read, but I’m glad I did. It brought up a lot of memories for me about people in my life I’ve lost, some to cancer, some to other things. It made me think of our friend Chad who died a few months ago from cancer–often making me think “Is this what they went through?” when the author detailed treatments he was enduring.

I loved the book, the story, Paul’s¬†optimism and frankness faced with his diagnosis. I was bawling by the end of the book, so be prepared.

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