Recommendations

Books #47

I like a lot of the books I’ve read lately. I discovered some new authors/series and got caught up on some favorite authors. Here are some of my favorites:

#1 The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

This was an interesting story. It turned out to be more of a courtroom drama but it was interesting and kept me reading. I liked it a lot and it was well written.

Chloe is a rich a famous New York magazine executive and feminist figurehead. She’s married to Adam, a lawyer. Except her past is a little more sketchy. Turns out, Adam was married to her sister Nicky before they got divorced and Chloe and Adam married. And Ethan is Chloe’s stepson, and also her nephew. But more comes to light when Adam is murdered and the trial brings out all the dirty secrets.

#2 Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

This was an excellent book! It was a heavy topic, but it wasn’t dry or bogged down with lots of dry facts and figures. The statistics were scattered around the book in an unobtrusive way and the way it was written was engrossing. The author wrote about several people and you got sucked into their stories and were interested in the outcomes.

“These days, there are sheriff squads whose full-time job is to carry out eviction and foreclosure orders.”

He followed several people in Milwaukee, WI, who were poor and struggling to keep a roof over their head. It was a mixture of races, ages and sexes. Some had families, some were single. One was a male nurse who had gotten addicted to opiates and due to drug abuse, lost his job, nursing license, and struggled to stay in his trailer.

“Today, the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates over 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on…Fewer and fewer families can afford a roof over their head. This is among the most urgent and pressing issues facing America today…”

This book was definitely eye-opening. I had no idea how a lot of this stuff worked. I definitely had to face my own privilege reading this book and know that I never had to deal with the realities that a lot of Americans have to deal with. Deciding whether to feed their kids or pay their rent.

“It was a common strategy among cash-strapped renters. Because the rent took almost all of their paycheck, families sometimes had to initiate a necessary eviction that allowed them to save enough money to move to another place. One landlord’s loss was another’s gain.”

The book really does an excellent job describing such a broken system.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out… Men often avoided eviction by laying concrete, patching roofs, or painting rooms for landlords. But women almost never approached their landlord with a similar offer. Some women—already taxed by child care, welfare requirements, or work obligations—could not spare the time. But many others simply did not conceive of working off the rent as a possibility. When women did approach their landlords with such an offer, it sometimes involved trading sex for rent.”

One of the people he followed was a landlord, Sherrena. I found that really fascinating. Sometimes you got a glimpse of someone who had a heart and was really kind and actually cared…one single mother with two boys moved in to one of her units and she brought them a box of food when they first moved in. And yet…she ended up evicting them later because of police activity at that unit.

“Every month Sherrena collected roughly $20,000 in rent. Her monthly mortgage bills rounded out to $8,500. After paying the water bill, Sherrena—who owned three dozen inner-city units, all filled with tenants around or below the poverty line—figured she netted roughly $10,000 a month, more than what Arleen, Lamar, and many of her other tenants took home in a year.”

The other thing that was super frustrating was that a lot of the poor people were on SSI or SSD or welfare and given a certain amount of money each month. But they were never able to get ahead. If they had too much money in their bank account, they lost their services. It really doesn’t make people want to try and get out of poverty. Talk about a broken system! Thankfully Oregon doesn’t have that, they have a savings account program for people on benefits so that they can TRY and save and get out of poverty levels.

“She was allowed to have up to $2,000 in the bank, not $1,000 like she thought, but anything more than that could result in her losing benefits. Larraine saw this rule as a clear disincentive to save.”

“If Arleen and Vanetta didn’t have to dedicate 70 or 80 percent of their income to rent, they could keep their kids fed and clothed and off the streets. They could settle down in one neighborhood and enroll their children in one school, providing them the opportunity to form long-lasting relationships with friends, role models, and teachers. They could start a savings account or buy their children toys and books, perhaps even a home computer.”

I think this should be required reading in schools, honestly. It was so so good and so eye opening.

#3 The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

Olivia Shaw is a food editor in San Francisco, in a dying engagement, struggling with the recent death of her mother and recovering from a car accident that has left her with chronic pain. The surprise news that she’s inherited a castle in England, is not what she’s expecting. It turns out she knew nothing about her mother’s past.

Olivia goes to England to settle things up and as the story unfolds, she realizes how much she didn’t know. She also realizes just how much she needed a “redo” for her life.

The book is surprisingly good for a romance. It’s not usually my type of book. It doesn’t feel like a “fluffy” romance book. It definitely deals with grief and healing. The topic of renovating the old estate was fascinating and the romance between the two main characters was very well written. I liked this story a lot!

#4 Passion on Park Avenue by Lauren Layne

This was a cute, fun little read. Naomi is a 30-something CEO of her own company and when her boyfriend dies and she finds out he was actually married, she decides it’s time to get her personal life in order.

There was a nice romance in the book that was well written (enemies into soul mates kind of a thing) and the book was funny and charming. I liked the characters!

#5 Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family by Catherine Newman

I absolutely LOVED this book. It was laugh out loud funny. I was cracking up the entire time I read the book and I could also relate to everything. It felt like she was writing my story. It was a great book about becoming a mother, being pregnant:

“This pregnant tiredness is so unearthly. I stagger into work and sit down at my computer, and it’s all I can do not to crawl under my desk immediately and go to sleep on the floor. I crave recumbency.”

… and the crazy time postpartum is:

“The postpartum period is like The Perfect Storm: all the wild forces of new-babyhood collide to make you ragingly, epically nuts. I know that I’ll look back on this period and understand the equation perfectly. I understand it even now: hormones + mewling subhuman + strange, sore body + moping older child – sleep=utter lunacy. I am an utter lunatic.”

…and how new babies change marriages:

‘ “Wow,” he’d say, “now that was a great night, right? Ben’s a great sleeper.” “Honey,” I’d say, “you had a great night. You’re a great sleeper. I nursed Ben every hour. I now have no choice but to leave you.” ‘

And then she wrote about having the second baby and what life was like with a toddler.

“…what I love about three-year-olds? They’re just so flexible. So come-what-may. Nothing needs to look a certain way or be done in a particular order. They’re always like, “Hey, Mom, however you want to do it. That’s just great with me.” ” LOL

I just couldn’t put the book down and I didn’t want it to end.

#6 A Dangerous Man (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #18) by Robert Crais

One of my favorite series! This was a great read in the series. I read it in one day and I couldn’t put the book down.

Isabel is a 20-something bank teller just living her life when she leaves work for lunch one day and is grabbed by two strange men. Pike is leaving the bank and sees the attempted kidnapping and intervenes. He saves Isabel but then finds himself embroiled in a mystery of who is trying to kidnap Isabel and why.

The outcome was very interesting! I liked the story and was happy to have beloved characters back. Definitely recommend.

#7 Inherit the Bones by Emily Littlejohn

Really strong start to a new series. Detective Gemma Monroe is 6 months pregnant and having relationship issues. She’s handed a new case that unravels the entire town.

Gemma is a strong lead character. I liked that she was vulnerable but not whiny or dependent on a man. The story isn’t too gruesome. There were plot points that were well done and believable. The mystery was well-written, good/believable dialogue and surprise ending. I liked the book and can’t wait to read the next one.

Happy Reading!

These posts have Amazon affiliate links.

Books #44

Ok, I have some good ones to recommend! A few deep, heavy books and a few light reading. A good mix, I’d say. 🙂

  1. Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan

Jessica is a Chinese American who lived in Australia and Beijing and now lived in London with her British husband. A self-proclaimed introvert/borderline recluse, she found that she was feeling lonely and lost.

“I’m really good at other things, like loitering palely in dark doorways. Disappearing into couch corners. Leaving early. Feigning sleep on public transportation.”

All of her friends had moved away, married, had kids, moved on and she wanted to challenge herself to becoming an extrovert. She was impressed with her friends who were extroverts and she wanted to mirror what they did.

“Willow had stopped to pet a woman’s dog in Prospect Park: she ended up spending the day with the woman, going to a jazz club with her until 4 a.m., and later landing her dream job through one of her new friend’s connections. She’d met her boyfriend in a line for the bathroom at a festival. She discovered she had hypoglycemia by talking to a doctor at a party. Her entire life has been shaped by these random encounters. All because she chooses to talk and listen to people she has just met, rather than run away from them at full speed muttering, “I don’t speak English!” “

So she sought out advice from experts in the field. She went to class, therapy, she took an improv course. She took a class in stand-up comedy that resulted in her having to actually perform. She spoke to random strangers everywhere she went.

“In London, I learned quickly that if you talk to a stranger in public, they look at you like you’ve slapped them in the face: shocked and aggrieved. Betrayed as well, because you have broken the social contract that we all agreed to follow in public: no one exists but you.”

She went to networking events:

“I make a few rules before each event. Go with an intention. Talk to three people, with Richard’s advice in mind, and aim to really bond or connect with one person. Psychologists also say that it takes time for shy people to warm up, so if you always leave after ten minutes, you’re never giving yourself the chance to actually succeed. Stay for at least an hour.”

I found the book really fascinating and funny. The writer is hilarious and her sense of humor is dry. I enjoyed the book and I enjoyed reading about her journey and the growth she went through.

“…over the course of the year, I’d simply found that it was easy to get into Deep Talk with other women. Maybe it was because we usually had more in common, maybe it was because we’re generally encouraged to talk more openly about our feelings—I don’t know why, but it just seemed like every time I took that leap into the uncomfortable unknown, women would leap right in after me.”

The book also made me think of my own life and how often I say “no” to events because of anxiety or fear. And it made me question how my life could be enriched if I said yes more often.

#2 Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews

It was predictable but enjoyable.

Drue is in her mid-thirties. Her life is not going as planned. She’s a jock that has to give up her sport due to an injury and her drifter-type lifestyle comes to an end when she gets fired as a bartender. Her mom dies and her estranged dad offers her a job in his law office. Since she’s down and out she decides to take it. She needs the money.

The story is about Drue reconnecting with her dad, repairing the relationship, discovering she’s pretty good at being a private investigator, and uncovering who murdered one of their clients.

The book is pretty good. There were some slow parts in the middle and some parts that needed some editing down for brevity sake but overall I liked the character, I liked the story and the world that was created.

#3 The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan

I enjoyed this book a lot. Zoe is a single mom to Hari, who is 4 and doesn’t speak yet. She’s struggling in London. Her job isn’t great, she barely makes any money to get by, her flat is horrible and living in London is busy, crowded and dirty. Her ex-boyfriend is no help. She’s at her wit’s end and a friend reaches out and gives her a lifeline. She decides to pack everything up and move to Scotland to be a nanny and help out Nina with her book mobile in Scotland.

The three kids she’s a nanny for are terrible. She’s “Nanny Number 7”. They live in a big castle in the middle of nowhere. The housekeeper is a curmudgeon. The father is a recluse and rarely around. But Zoe is determined to make it work.

The book is charming and you really picture the environment. I liked it a lot.

#4 Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

This was a very interesting, well-written book. It spans a few decades, but focuses on the 1980s. Dana is a teenager in Atlanta, being raised by her mother who is “married” to James Witherspoon, a bigamist. Dana and her mother are aware of his first family, wife Laverne and daughter Chaurisse. But the first family has no idea they exist.

The book is a fascinating read about African America culture in the 80s, the history of racism in the south, and how bigamy “works” (or doesn’t). Dana and Chaurisse tell their stories, and of course, the two worlds collide and the truth comes to light. It’s so well written and I could not put it down! I didn’t like the ending but the rest of the book was excellent.

#5 Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra

I heard about this book on a podcast and it was a very interesting read! The author is a first generation Indian, living in Memphis, which is apparently a very segregated city. She writes a lot about race and what it was like being brown in a very white city.

“I came of age not feeling fully at home in either black or white spaces… I
was born brown in a city divided into black and white… I started to resent being treated as a one-woman diversity show.”

“… white classmates asking for bindis after Gwen Stefani started wearing them on the red carpet in 1998 was stressful. None of us knew what “cultural appropriation” was yet, but I could feel the specter of it pulsing around the edge of my life.”

Eventually she came out as bisexual and married a white woman and they adopted an African American baby boy. She writes about the struggles she has living in the south as an Indian-American, a lesbian, and a mother of a black boy who might be transgender.

“… when the act of explaining your family structure becomes a part of every day of your life, you grow tired of being gracious.”

“That’s always the message: You can be gay as long as you aren’t too gay. Or you can be gay in private. We’ll let you stay if you live a compartmentalized life; keep the freaky stuff where we can’t see it.”

It’s a very deep and thoughtful book; very revealing and honest. And despite the heavy topics of race, racism, homophobia and trans-phobia, the book didn’t feel dark or heavy or depressing. It felt like an honest reflection of one woman’s experience, without anger or resentment, as she tries to live her best life in a space that doesn’t understand “different.”

#6 The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Holy smokes! This is by the best book I’ve read this year. It was so engrossing, so exciting, so fascinating, I COULD.NOT.PUT.IT.DOWN. And when I finished reading it, I was bummed out.

It’s a non-fiction book about a lost city in Honduras. The writer talks about the mythology around the lost city and what cultures may have lived there, Maya or something else?

“Somewhere in this impassable wilderness, it is said, lies a “lost city” built of white stone. It is called Ciudad Blanca, the “White City,” also referred to as the “Lost City of the Monkey God.” “

He writes about all the different attempts to find the city. And he also explains the history of Honduras and South America that adds a lot of depth to the story without bogging it down and making it slow or boring to read. NO editing needed! It was perfect.

He joins a group of scientists and filmmakers who are trying to find the lost city with new technology.

“It was the first time our expedition had come together in one room, a rather motley crew of scientists, photographers, film producers, and archaeologists, plus me, a writer. We all had widely varying experience in wilderness skills. Catacamas was a dangerous city, controlled by a violent drug cartel; no one was to leave the hotel without an armed military escort. We were to keep our mouths shut about what we were doing here. We were not to engage in conversation about the project within hearing of hotel staff, or leave papers lying around our rooms referring to the work, or conduct cell phone calls in public.”

I was super fascinated by all the horrors in the jungle, too.

“It has pools of quickmud that can swallow a person alive. The understory is infested with deadly snakes, jaguars, and thickets of catclaw vines with hooked thorns that tear at flesh and clothing… As for the hazards we would face in the jungle, venomous snakes were at the top of the list. The fer-de-lance, he said, is known in these parts as the barba amarilla (“yellow beard”). It kills more people in the New World than any other snake. It comes out at night and is attracted to people and activity. It is aggressive, irritable, and fast. Its fangs have been observed to squirt venom for more than six feet…The venom is deadly; if it doesn’t kill you outright through a brain hemorrhage, it may very well kill you later through sepsis. If you survive, the limb that was struck often has to be amputated, due to the necrotizing nature of the poison… He told us to wear our Kevlar snake gaiters at all times, including—especially—when we got up to pee at night.”

“… disease-bearing insects we might encounter, including mosquitoes** and sand flies, chiggers, ticks, kissing bugs (so called because they like to bite your face), scorpions, and bullet ants, whose bite equals the pain of being shot with a bullet.”

After much planning the group went into the jungle and had security with them at all times. Then they had Honduran security camped nearby to keep the cartel away from them).

“On a hard day’s travel they were lucky to make one or two miles. Steve and his crew ate MREs, while the Indian guides ate iguanas. At one point the guides became agitated; taking out their weapons, they confided that the group was being tracked by jaguars. They frequently ran into venomous snakes and were assaulted day and night by insects.”

The book also discusses how untouched that particular Honduran rain forest was. “The spider monkeys, he said, were another sign of an uninhabited area, as they normally flee at the first sight of humans, unless they are in a protected zone. He concluded, “I don’t think the animals here have ever seen people before.”

And the tragic reality: “The Honduran rainforests are disappearing at a rate of at least 300,000 acres a year. Between 1990 and 2010, Honduras lost over 37 percent of its rainforest to clear-cutting.”

I will leave off here because I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book but I will say this: if you are looking for a fantastic read, exciting Indian-Jones-esque book packed with history and culture, read this book. It was SO good. So so good. One of my favorites!

Happy Reading!

These posts have Amazon Affiliate Links.