Books #36

New year! Last year I exceeded my goal of 120 books  and ended up reading 165 books. So for 2019 I am going to set my goal to 165! I mean, why not? Do you have any reading goals for 2019?

1 ) The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

What an excellent whodunit! I had no idea who the culprit was. I had my guesses and it changed several times as the story unfolded.

Celeste and Benji are an unlikely couple. Benji comes from money–a lot of it. His mom comes from money and is a best selling mystery writer. Celeste comes from a more modest background but they meet and fall in love. Benji proposes and they decide to get married at his family’s property on Nantucket. They even move up the date because Celeste’s mom is dying from an aggressive cancer that has spread.

Except the morning of the wedding, Celeste discovers the body of her maid of honor. How did she die? Was she murdered? Was it an accident? The way the story is told is pretty brilliant. The time frame shifts flawlessly and the story is woven in and out of each person’s involvement in the wedding, the crime, and the months leading up to the morning of the murder.

What the chief of police investigating this mystery discovers is that no one is innocent in this crime, each person has played even a small part in it and that everyone has secrets. No couple is perfect, as they may seem on the surface.

I absolutely loved this book and was sad when it ended! So well written!

2 ) Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

This story takes place in 1931–the time of Prohibition, mobs, breadlines, and severe poverty. Ellis Reed is an up and coming reporter in Philly. Lily is a secretary at the newspaper who wants to be a writer as well. Ellis is out in the country chasing a story and comes across a sign that says “Kids for Sale” at a poor farmhouse. He takes the photo and back at the newsroom, develops the photo and Lily shows it to the boss, who wants the story and wants it published.

Except, a mishap happens and the photos is destroyed. Ellis is struggling to keep his job and make his mark, so he goes back out to the farmhouse to find the family gone. He decides to recreate the photo at a different farm with a different poor family. He thinks it’s an innocent photo reflecting on the poverty and aftermath of the Big Crash. Except…the story and photo get published and he finds out that that stand-in family ends up actually selling the two kids.

He realizes that can’t be right and he does some detective work and finds out the mistake and goes out to fix it because he realizes it was all his fault. I won’t give any more details than that.

I guess this book appealed to me because my grandfather was given up for adoption at an older age (I don’t know a lot of details but I am assuming poverty was the reason) around a similar time frame. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking idea–to be given up when you are old enough to understand it.

3 ) Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

It started as a school assignment for 13 year old Trevor. He invented the “movement” Pay it Forward. Doing something good and nice for someone in need just because they need it, with the stipulation that they “pay it forward”. Trevor helped his elderly neighbor by fixing up her garden. She loved it and it made her happy to finally see her garden in it’s glory again. Sadly, she passed away but her “pay it forward” good deed was to split her life insurance money three ways between the woman at the cat shelter and the two cashiers at the local grocery store who always asked how she was and actually listened. And then those three people paid it forward. It caught on and suddenly it was spreading everywhere!

There was more to the story, but I don’t want to give it all away. I know this is an older book and a lot of people have already read it and have probably seen the movie based on the book, but the ending was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. I loved the book!

4 ) Becoming by Michelle Obama

What a beautiful, compelling, powerful read! This is an incredible book! The book is long, so be prepared, but it’s incredibly detailed and reflective. She writes about her childhood, growing up on the South Side of Chicago in a small upstairs apartment attached to her aunt and uncle’s house. Her aunt taught piano lessons to neighborhood kids. She came from hard working people around her who taught her values and life lessons that she carried the rest of her life.

“So far in my life, I’ve been a lawyer. I’ve been a vice president at a hospital and the director of a nonprofit that helps young people build meaningful careers. I’ve been a working-class black student at a fancy mostly white college. I’ve been the only woman, the only African American, in all sorts of rooms. I’ve been a bride, a stressed-out new mother, a daughter torn up by grief. And until recently, I was the First Lady of the United States of America—a job that’s not officially a job, but that nonetheless has given me a platform like nothing I could have imagined.”

She writes about all the people that came into her life and taught her lessons that helped her in some way. She wrote about taking bus rides for hours across Chicago to go to a better school, then going to college and law school. She was clearly driven and smart.

She also includes thoughts on racism and how racism and misogyny deeply effected her own life.

“…taken down as an “angry black woman.” I’ve wanted to ask my detractors which part of that phrase matters to them the most—is it “angry” or “black” or “woman”?”

Her love and respect for her parents was obvious throughout the book. Her parents sounded like pretty amazing people and amazing parents. I didn’t know that her dad had MS. And even in his worst condition, he masked it so his family wouldn’t see how far gone he was. It was more important for him to spend time with his family and pass on pearls of wisdom like this:

“Time, as far as my father was concerned, was a gift you gave to other people.”

“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result.”

And her mom was the family’s rock.

“…when I showed up at home, there’d be food in the fridge, not just for me, but for my friends. I knew that when my class was going on an excursion, my mother would almost always volunteer to chaperone, arriving in a nice dress and dark lipstick to ride the bus with us to the community college or the zoo. In our house, we lived on a budget but didn’t often discuss its limits. My mom found ways to compensate.

Her goal was to push us out into the world. ‘I’m not raising babies,’ she’d tell us. ‘I’m raising adults.’ “

She and my dad offered guidelines rather than rules. It meant that as teenagers we’d never have a curfew. Instead, they’d ask, “What’s a reasonable time for you to be home?” and then trust us to stick to our word… the quiet confidence that she’d raised us to be adults. Our decisions were on us. It was our life, not hers, and always would be.”

I just love that!

Michelle wrote about her experiences in college:

“Princeton was extremely white and very male. There was no avoiding the facts. Men on campus outnumbered women almost two to one. Black students made up less than 9 percent of my freshman class.”

She wrote about her early life as an attorney, how she met Barack Obama, their long-distance relationship while he finished law school and her struggles with how unfulfilling she found being a lawyer. She wanted more.

She also wrote about what it was like for their marriage and the early life of their children when Barack was in the senate and spending so much time away from them:

“I was too busy resenting Barack for managing to fit workouts into his schedule, for example, to even begin figuring out how to exercise regularly myself. I spent so much energy stewing over whether or not he’d make it home for dinner that dinners, with or without him, were no longer fun.”

She revealed that they went to marriage therapy, and it helped, and that she needed to change her way of thinking, too. She decided that she made a strict schedule for her and her daughters of dinner time, bath time and bedtime routines and if Barack didn’t make it back in time, too bad.

“…also unaccommodating to any form of old-school patriarchy: I didn’t want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn’t wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us.”

Of course, the most exciting part of the book was once they went to the White House. It was so fascinating reading the ins and outs and the little details of what life was like there!

“The truth was that Washington confused me, with its decorous traditions and sober self-regard, its whiteness and maleness, its ladies having lunch off to one side.”

“I was now Mrs. Obama in a way that could feel diminishing, a missus defined by her mister. I was the wife of Barack Obama, the political rock star, the only black person in the Senate—the man who’d spoken of hope and tolerance so poignantly and forcefully that he now had a hornet buzz of expectation following him.”

She went into detail about the Let’s Move! campaign she started and the White House vegetable garden, in addition to all the other wonderful things she started. It was so cool to read about and the challenges she faced.

“I knew the stereotype I was meant to inhabit, the immaculately groomed doll-wife with the painted-on smile, gazing bright-eyed at her husband, as if hanging on every word. This was not me and never would be. I could be supportive, but I couldn’t be a robot.”

Michelle was criticized for being outspoken, for her facial expressions, for being “too serious” etc etc etc. Basically–not “knowing her place”. She was “female, black, and strong, which to certain people, maintaining a certain mind-set, translated only to “angry.””

“It was another damaging cliché, one that’s been forever used to sweep minority women to the perimeter of every room, an unconscious signal not to listen to what we’ve got to say. I understood already that I’d be measured by a different yardstick. As the only African American First Lady to set foot in the White House, I was “other” almost by default.”

It was infuriating to read the racism and roadblocks she was up against! But, she persevered.

This book was so damn good, so powerful to read and so engrossing. I could not put it down. It took me about a week to read. I was continually impressed as I read about the things Michelle Obama accomplished in her life, before and after becoming First Lady. Her ideas were inspiring and when I finished the book I really wanted to be a better person and do more good for people.

5 )  The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

I am almost reluctant to recommend this book because there were parts of this book that were so repugnant…and yet…I could not put this book down.

Daphne Parrish has the perfect life. Married to the amazing and rich Jackson Parrish. Two daughters. Lives in a mansion with hired help and doesn’t have to work. She spends her time in the gym and on committees and running her own charity for Cystic Fibrosis in honor of her late sister.

Amber Patterson is a nobody. A mousy, invisible woman of no means who is determined to change that. She does her research–finds her mark–Jackson Parrish–and decides she will become the next Mrs. Parrish. In order to do this, she befriends Daphne at the gym, making up her own story of a sister who died of CF. She infiltrates their family with her sights set on stealing Daphne’s husband.

Daphne is such a sweet, nice person, and you feel really grossed out by the duplicity and lying of Amber but then all of a sudden the narrative changes and you find out what really happens behind closed doors. I don’t want to give too much away and spoil it. But I will say there could be some hard, triggering domestic violence themes in this book, but the ending was very satisfying!

Happy reading!

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