Books #24

I hate it when you read a bunch of REALLY good books in a row and then you hit a dry patch and all of a sudden, every book you pick is a dud. I’ve read some duds lately. Bummer. But here is a list of some good ones you should check out!

 

1 ) Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

I loved this book so much!

It’s a beautifully written, sweet and emotional book written by Heather Harpham about saving her daughter’s life. The book starts out about Heather and Brian, dating in New York. Both writers, Heather is also an actress of some sort. She becomes pregnant and Brian makes it clear that he doesn’t want kids.

“Maybe I’d been viewing his resistance too narrowly. Maybe Brian’s fear of being a father was not about losing his identity as a writer. Maybe he was afraid to love another human being as profoundly as one loves a child. [pg 27]”

So Heather packs up her life and moves to California to live with her mom while she’s pregnant. It’s a rough road, she’s depressed and heart broken and then this tiny baby arrives and she’s in love.

“Each forearm was a cushion of plush velvet I could rub or kiss for hours. The only thing that alarmed me was that her body now existed outside my own. Harm could come to her without passing through me first; amateur design flaw. [pg 51]”

Except Gracie, they soon discover, has a blood disorder. Her body doesn’t make red blood cells. As a newborn she is immediately shipped off to a special hospital in San Francisco and thus begins the story of trying to keep Gracie alive.

“New motherhood strips you down to the studs. Almost everything I enjoyed doing in the evenings, pre-baby, like reading books or writing emails or watching CSI or walking to the park, was now an irrelevant luxury. All I needed in this refashioned life were brownies and baby and sleep. [pg 53]”

Every 3-4 weeks Gracies goes into the hospital for blood transfusions. Heather is stressed, obviously, but has a great support system in California.

“I’d been running for the last few months, and people had begun to say, ‘Hey, you are getting your body back,’ which, though I was flattered every time, also offended me. It sounded as if my body, while pregnant, had been missing. Or on hiatus. [pg 103]”

Then Brian decides to fly out and meet the daughter he didn’t think he wanted. It’s definitely a hard read in that aspect. You feel for Heather and you dislike Brian–I mean you abandons someone like that? I don’t know…throughout the book, even though Brian redeems himself and they become a real family, I could understand the author’s anger and resentment that he wasn’t there in the beginning, or when Gracie was really sick.

They are now together and Brian flies back and forth from New York to California while they discuss whether or not to do a bone marrow transplant. Apparently the odds were not in Gracie’s favor. The specialist they see suggests they have another child and use the cord stem cells for the transplant. This was apparently early days of the procedure.

They decide no way–no more kids. What if the second kid had the same unnamed disorder? And then, you guessed it, they get pregnant accidentally. Long story short–their son is born and is a perfect match for Gracie. They bank the cord blood and wait. Wait and see…until finally they are convinced they need to do it. Gracie’s life depends on it.

“Every day prior to transplant is expressed negatively. Every day after transplant, positively. Days -10 to -1 are spent ingesting the chemo drugs. This is time before time. Day 0 is Transplant Day, ground zero, when patients reset their clock. Are made new. After transplant, time is expressed once more in positive numbers because each day forward is a gift. A bonus. These are days your child might not have been allotted. Days received as grace. [pg 221]”

They temporarily move to Durham, NC and basically live at the hospital while Gracie goes through the treatment necessary to get the transplant, and then recover from the transplant. The second half of the book is about that.

She doesn’t go into too many details about the other kids on the transplant ward, but does mention two, who pass away, and it is absolutely devastating.

“Losing a child makes time reverse direction, flow backward. To survive loss on that scale, I imagine, you have to become someone you make up, whole cloth, to impersonate you, for the rest of your life. [pg 227]”

“If what you’ve been is a mother or a father and your child is now gone, there is no word for who you are. If you lose a spouse, you’re a widow or a widower. But if you lose a child, you go on being a mother or a father. There is no word because we refuse to cede that much authority to the possibility. It is literally the indescribable pain. If we can’t call its name, it can’t come. Only it can. [pg 289]”

Thankfully Gracie is ok. The book is a roller-coaster ride of emotions but it’s never too daunting or too difficult to read. The writing style is really beautiful and often poetic. She is a very good writer and her story is important and eye opening about what happens to a relationship under intense stress, how you make life-changing decisions for your kids, how you stay strong for your kids and how you find the happiness in the little things. Beautiful book!

 

2 ) Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

What a weird, delightful little book that makes you laugh out loud the whole time…yet it’s not a comedy. I’m not even sure I can describe this book and do it justice.

Graham is married to his second wife, Audra, who was the mistress he cheated with on his first wife, Elspeth. Audra and Elspeth couldn’t be more complete opposites.

“He was thinking that maybe people weren’t meant to get married twice; it only led to comparisons. [pg 193]”

“And wasn’t that the weird thing–sorry, one of the million weird things–about marriage? That the familiarity that drove you so crazy at times–Audra had a particular three-tiered yawn that Graham thought might cause him to throw himself out the window if he heard it again–was the very thing you longed for in the end. [pg 199]”

Audra and Graham have an almost teenage son who has Asperger’s and is obsessed with origami. He joins and origami club, where the quirky and sometimes on-the-spectrum members welcome him with open arms.

“And then Graham understood that it was almost too late. He had spent so much time wishing Matthew were different, wondering how to make Matthew different, when it was actually the process of living that did it. Life forced you to cope. Life wore down all your sharp corners with its tedious grinding on, the grinding that seemed to take forever but was actually as quick as a brushfire. What Graham had to do was to love Matthew right now, right this instant–heart, get busy–before Matthew grew up and turned into someone else. [pg 245]”

Graham is the narrator of this story and there isn’t much of a story…like nothing really happens, but it’s such a good, fun read that you keep going. Audra is weird in her own right. She is a gossip and talks non-stop about everything to everyone. She encourages Graham to reach out to Elspeth and they all become friends. Odd, right?

I liked this book so much and I loved the characters and the world the author created. It felt very real. It was a good book!

 

3 ) The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

I loved this book so much! This is the first time reading this author and the book sucked me in right away. Leia is a comic book writer/artist who hooks up with Batman at a ComicCon, so unlike her, she’d thrown away his name and phone number the next day, and then she discovers she’s pregnant.

At the same time, she gets dozens of phone calls and texts from the townspeople down in Birchville, Alabama, where her elderly grandmother, Birchie, lives. Apparently Birchie is losing her marbles. Leia goes down to Alabama to help her grandmother and put her affairs in order, clean up the old house that’s been in the family forever, and hopefully move her north to a nursing home near where Leia lives.

There is a great cast of characters, Birchie and her best friend, who is African American, Wattie, live in the house together and Leia discovers that Birchie’s health has been declining for years and Wattie has covered it up so they wouldn’t be separated.

This is a book about friendship, love, family, family secrets and racism/Southern history. There is a black church and white church in the small town and Birchie and Wattie go trade off going to one church one week, and then they go to the other church the next week–together. There seems to be quiet segregation still happening.

“My son was going to be black. Even when he was nursing in my arms, I would be a white woman with a black kid. There was no such thing as mixed-race in the South, or in America for that matter. The whole country called a mixed-race man our ‘first black president’. [pg 276]”

The story is about so much more but the story unfolds with the discovery of old bones in a trunk that Birchie and Wattie were trying to run away with. Who are those bones? Did Birchie murder someone? Will her dementia end up protecting her from spending her last days in prison?

I really loved all the characters and the story and I didn’t want it to end. I loved how everything ended (no spoilers!)

 

4 ) Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp #9) by Vince Flynn

The Mitch Rapp series has been a bit hit or miss for me lately and then I got to this book (the last one was really good, too) and it was SO good I couldn’t stop reading it.

A presidential candidate’s limo motorcade is hit with a bomb by terrorists. The nation is under attack and as a result, he seems to get the sympathy vote and is elected president. Except…there is something kind of fishy about the whole thing. Enter Mitch and the CIA to figure out who was actually behind the attack.

5 ) Body Full of Stars: Female Rage and My Passage into Motherhood by Molly Caro May

This is a very important book and I wish I had read it two years ago, when I was in the middle of the post-partum haze. I could relate to this book SO MUCH. I think it’s an injustice to women that the modern birth and pregnancy books don’t really talk about post-partum issues much. Sure, they might give you a checklist of PPD signs but they don’t talk about much of the issues that can happen…

“Because we are a culture focused on the singular act of birthing, no one tells you what comes before or after birth. Not really. How can they? It’s different for every woman. There may not be one narrative. However, there is no truth. Before and after are not times where all you do is glow. [Loc 400]”

…Like post-partum incontinence (thankful I never had this issue but the author goes into great deal of what sounded like a living hell for her peeing ALL THE TIME no matter what she did), prolapse (again, I didn’t really have this issue but I did have pelvic floor issues that I had to do PT exercises for), among other things. None of the books I read went into detail about these issues, and the pregnancy/labor class I took didn’t cover it, either. They BARELY covered breastfeeding and the issues that can cause.

“I can’t bounce (the baby). Bouncing makes my vagina “fall out”–and pee, lots of pee, oceans of urine. If I put her down, she screams a baby dinosaur scream I can’t handle yet. There is no way for me to be with her and have my hands free. [Loc 308]”

So I think this memoir is a must-read for new moms. The author talks about not being a “radiant” pregnant woman, how she felt at war with her body during the entire pregnancy because she was sick all the time. She had a fairly traumatic birth experience, as well, and that caused a lot of issues for her AND her husband.

“Little do I know this moment is the middle of the beginning of a 2 year quest for my health, a crawl across the parched desert where I will question everything I once knew about my body, about it means to heal, about the woman-mother I so wanted to become. I’m about to lose my whole sense of self. [Loc 437]”

She talks about how the arrival of their daughter changed her marriage, sometimes for the worse, but they got through it. She talked about how far away she felt from her husband and he told her that it was “hard to move toward a person who snarls.”

I highlighted A LOT of quotes from this book. I won’t share them all here. I think it’s more significant to read the book and experience the author’s journey to fully understand it. I could relate to a lot of stuff. There were definitely subjects that didn’t speak to my birth/post-partum experience, but it was an eye-opening read anyways.

 

6 ) Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

What a quirky, weird little book! Lars and Cindy live in the midwest in the 70’s and have baby Eva. Lars is a great chef and can’t wait for little Eva to be old enough to learn how to eat and cook great food. And then when Eva is a few months old, Cindy leaves them both and disappears. She just doesn’t want to be a mother.

The story of Eva is told in a unique and weird way. The beginning is told by Lars, then fast forward to Eva in her teens and she’s learning how to cook and gets her first kitchen job. Then after that, each chapter is told from a different person’s point of view–one chapter is her highschool boyfriend, another is the highschool boyfriend’s stepmom, and so on. It’s a very cool way to tell the story of Eva from all the people in her life that helped form her being.

Highly recommend, especially if you are a foodie!

Happy Reading!

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