Review

Books #18

I’ve been reading a lot lately. With all the stuff that’s been going on in my life recently, I really needed the distraction.

1 ) Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

What a crazy roller-coaster ride of a book! It was SO GOOD! If you’re going to pick up a book to read, this is the one you should check out. I read it in a day and a half and could not put it down.

The story is dark–Gwen/Gina’s life is turned upside down. The idyllic home life she thought she had, married with two small kids, was not what it seemed when it turns out that her husband is a serial killer. The story isn’t necessarily about the discovery or the trial, or him going to prison to sit on death row, it’s about her survival and it’s about the rabid internet trolls that are trying to hunt her down to make her pay. They are convinced that she was an accomplice.

So she goes on the run with her kids, moving and changing identities whenever she thinks the stalkers and trolls are getting too close to finding them. But now she’s settled in Tennessee on a quiet lake with her teen kids. She’s still diligent, but starting to relax. And that’s when her past catches up to her. It’s such a fast, exciting story. Trust me when I say you cannot stop reading this book once you start!

 

 

2 ) The Choices We Make by Karma Brown

This is a story about friendship, motherhood and grief. Hannah and Kate have been best friends most of their lives. Hannah has been trying to have a baby for years, unsuccessfully, and Kate does the selfless thing of offering to be a surrogate. It’s not an easy road for any of them. Kate’s husband isn’t on board with it, there are complications and twists of fate that change their lives forever. But the story is heartwarming, as well as tragic.

I really liked the character development. You could really feel the close friendship between Hannah and Kate and the author describes grief very well. It was a good book that I read in two days.

3 )  Cold Earth (Shetland Island #7) by Ann Cleeves

This series kind of dropped off my radar for about a year. Then I remembered about it and got the newest book. It was fairly easy to pick it back up and the story starts out in a pretty exciting way.

Detective Jimmy Perez is back and he’s at a funeral for a local friend who died of old age. During the service at the cemetery, there is a landslide of mud, water and peat that crashes into a nearby house. They all watch in horror as it sweeps down the hillside. Then Jimmy discovers a body. They all assume that it was the landslide that killed her, but it turns out to be murder.

There were lots of twists and turns, and another murder, and I liked the book and it was a fast read…but the ending was a bit flimsy for me. The murderer was not who I was expecting it to be, which in a murder mystery is usually pretty good, but in this case I didn’t quite buy it. Other than that, I enjoyed the story.

4 ) Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery

This was a really fascinating read about how cities and suburbs are designed and how they fail. The author discusses different cities — Bogota was especially fascinating in how they turned it around and also interesting was the San Joaquin Valley in California (and how it was completely destroyed by the housing crash).

So why are the citizens in Bogota so much happier?

“‘And what are our needs for happiness?’ he asked. ‘We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.’ [pg 6]”

It really is worth reading the book just for these two scenarios that are discussed, although the author talks about other countries and cities that have tried to make changes. 

“A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both. [pg 7]”

The story of Bogota was particularly interesting to me because Portland is going through something similar. There is SO much growth, so much building, so many condos and apartments and high rises…and no parking, horrible traffic, and people rallying on the side of biking rights to transform the city to something more livable. I saw a lot of parallels and I hope that our city leaders can try and find some kind of balance to make Portland…better….?

The horror-story of California was also an interesting read. Lots of people moved to this community and commuted to San Jose/San Francisco and their commutes were 2 HOURS EACH WAY! I cannot even imagine enduring that.

“A Swedish study found that people who endure more than a 45 minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce. People who live in mono-functional, car-dependent neighborhoods outside of urban centers are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walk-able neighborhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services, and places to work. [pg 55]”

I can definitely relate. We live in the suburbs of Portland and for years our neighborhood, while nice, didn’t exactly feel like a great neighborhood. We had to drive everywhere to do anything. There are no restaurants nearby, no bars, nothing really within walking distance. But once I had Logan and we started going on frequent walks (and runs) together, I started stopping by a local coffee-shop on our route. I chat with the people that work there, I chat with other patrons in the coffee-shop, people comment on my baby, and it’s a friendly experience. I also noticed that I started seeing the same people on our route who were also out walking/running/etc. We’d smile and say hi and it felt a little more like a community. It’s not quite the same because it would be nice to be able to walk to a restaurant close to the house. But it’s getting there.

The book was really interesting and gave me a lot to think about. It also made me think of what I want to look for in our next home/community. Having stuff within walking distance is a must have!

5 ) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

What a really great book! The story unfolds slowly, but you are engrossed the entire time. Eleanor is slightly weird…she’s very particular about things, is very black and white–has a routine and never deviates from that, and seems to have maybe some autistic tendencies but the book doesn’t really address that. She most certainly struggles with social skills and norms. But it’s quaint and funny.

She starts to become friends with Raymond, a coworker. Her and Raymond help a complete stranger, Sammy, an elderly man who collapses in the street. This series of events brings Eleanor out of her shell and forces her to re-evaluate her social life. Everything is off-kilter for her, but she starts making small changes and before she realizes it, her life is completely different. In a good way!

I absolutely loved the characters and the story. Eleanor is weird but charming and you are rooting for her the entire time. The ending was very shocking and unexpected, too. This is a really special book that I would recommend to anyone.

6) Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

I really liked this book! It had just the right amount of politics and humor. Al Franken writes briefly about his upbringing, his family and his career at SNL. Then he moves on to what made him decide to run for senate. The bulk of the book is about the campaign but he does spend some time writing about what it is like being a senator.

“And that’s how it’s supposed to be for every kid in America. You’re not supposed to have to be rich or lucky to have a chance to do great things…Democrats aren’t just the party of equality for all–we’re the party of opportunity for all. [pg 9]”

I also love how much “behind the scenes” stories he shares. They were interesting and funny. It was interesting to get more information on politics and how stuff happens and how the left and right actually do sometimes try to work together.

He also talked about the 2016 election and the aftermath, so there is relevant information in there, too. He ended his book with advice, too.

“Keep showing up and keep speaking out. The Women’s March didn’t force Trump to resign. It didn’t even stop any of his Cabinet nominees from going through. But it really, really mattered. It sent a clear message to the president (and to Republicans in Congress) that the American people won’t surrender their rights or their core values without a fight–and it sent a clear message to Democrats that, when we stand up to Trump, people will have our backs. [pg 382]”

He encourages people to come out at mid-elections and actually get involved and vote and try. Keep trying.

“This comeback starts with standing up for our values and making it clear that no president has a mandate to spread bigotry or roll back the clock on progress (especially not one who lost the popular vote by three million). It continues through next year, when we have a chance to punish Republicans for enabling this disaster and take back governorship and state legislatures all across the country. [pg 384]”

It’s worth a read!

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Fiery 3rd Anniversary

So Michael and I both had to think for a second to try and remember which anniversary it was…we’ve been together over 9 years now but this September we celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary! We must be getting old (or maybe it’s just baby/toddler/brain fog) because it’s hard to remember. LOL

We planned on spending our anniversary staying at Edgefield in The Gorge. We stayed there in January for my birthday and loved it! We loved the food and wine tasting and the hotel was great. We were bummed that we didn’t get to check out the soaking pool (because it was the middle of an ice/snow storm) and wanted to go back to try it.

I’m not sure if anyone else in the country is aware of what’s going on here in the NW, especially with Harvey and Irma and all the other natural disasters happening everywhere (!!!), but there have been tons of wild fires burning all over Oregon and Washington.

It is so absolutely heartbreaking and devastating the damage that has been done. The Gorge is a wonderful, beautiful, picturesque place to visit. I’ve been hiking in The Gorge too many times to even count. For awhile there, Multnomah Falls was being threatened by the fires. I was glued to Twitter and newsfeeds looking for updates, holding my breathe and hoping that the fires wouldn’t completely destroy everything. Thankfully the fire department was able to save the Lodge and Falls.

We are 35 miles from Multnomah Falls and the next day we woke up to our cars covered in ash, the air thick with smoke and ash. In the days after the fires started, there have been many harrowing stories. This one in particular is a good read and a GOOD REMINDER (even to me, who already knows “be prepared in the woods” and has ignored it many times) to be prepared for EVERYTHING. Read this.  How amazing is this below photo?

We had plans to stay at Edgefield for our anniversary but in light of the wildfires, we weren’t sure if we should cancel or not. We decided to wait it out and watch the news and weather. I’m really glad we didn’t cancel (although my first instinct was to) because by Sunday (8 days after the fires started), the air was clear, the skies were blue, it had rained in the Gorge a bit and the fires were more contained.

It was so weird driving out to the Gorge and then getting of I-84 at Troutdale because 84 was closed! It’s been closed for a week and I think it will be closed even longer. We stopped by my aunt’s house to see everybody for a short visit (they were in Evacuation Level 2 — Level 3 was GO!) and then we headed to Edgefield for our anniversary. We were happy to discover no smoky air, no ash, and clear blue skies! (My parents were down from Seattle to babysit Logan overnight.)

We had a nice room — a King sized bed with three windows overlooking the trees. It was a nice room and super comfy bed. We were right by one of the 2nd floor balconies, which we enjoyed several times. It’s European Style, so the bathrooms were down the hall.

We checked in and dumped our bags and then walked around the grounds. We didn’t get to do that much back in January (snow and all) so it was cool to just walk around and see everything. There were several cute little bars tucked away in different parts of the grounds. Michael got an Old Fashioned at one of the hidden bars by the concert area.

We walked around a bit more. It was nice because you could walk around the grounds with your drinks. Then we did the wine tasting. It was part of the package and came with a tasting, a snack plate and free bottle to take home.

We picked the Syrah as our bottle to take home.

After wine tasting we changed and went down to the soaking pool! They give you big, fluffy robes in your room. So we put on our suits and made the short walk down to the spa.

The soaking pool was SO amazing! We LOVED it! It was really big, my photos don’t do it justice. It’s kind of like a lazy river. The water was 102 degrees and felt amazing. We were there about 6pm or so. We ended up spending almost 2 hours in there.

We relaxed in the pool with our drinks. I got a sort of pina colada and Michael got something called funkadelic. LOL We just chilled–for the first time in a long time. 😉

After spending two hours in the pool, we cleaned up and then walked down to find something for dinner. We ended up at one of the outdoor restaurants. It was really nice out, warm and romantic and there were lights all over.

Michael got a burger and I got the BBQ pork slider with coleslaw on it and tater tots. My dinner was incredibly salty, which was disappointing. Last time we were there the food was pretty good. I was disappointed with the food in general this time. But the atmosphere was perfect outside.

We shared a dessert, brownie with ice cream and caramel drizzled on top. The brownie was piping hot. It was really good! We were totally stuffed!

The next day we got to SLEEP IN! Until like 8:30!!!! I can’t remember the last time that happened and it was so nice!

We went down and had breakfast and then packed up our stuff. We checked out and then went over to the spa.

We had appointments at the spa but before that we got to enjoy the soaking pool again. We had the pool to ourselves, too! We spent about 1 hour in the soaking pool and then got ready for our massages. They had showers and tons of towels and robes for spa guests, so it wasn’t hard to clean up since we checked out already.

We got the couple’s massage. I got the relaxation massage and Michael got the cyclists massage. It was so nice to just unwind and relax. After our massages we got beers (for lunch lol!) and relaxed on the deck. I was pretty stuffed from breakfast so didn’t get food. The place was pretty empty since it was a Monday and after checkout so it was nice to just chill with no one around. We laid back and enjoyed our beers and eventually had to make our way home. 😉

Here are a few photos of some of the art from around Edgefield:

I’m really glad we didn’t cancel our trip and I’m glad the fires are more contained. I am crossing my fingers that the damage won’t be too severe. I think hiking in the Gorge will be closed for a long time, sadly.

It was nice to get away but it was nice to be home, too. I missed my little buddy. 🙂