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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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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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