book list

Books #38

I read some pretty heavy books lately, so I apologize I don’t really have any light and fluffy recommendations for this month!

1 ) White Oleander by Janet Fitch

A compelling, dark, sometimes heart-warming read about Astrid’s difficult childhood. It starts with her life with her eccentric, but clearly mentally ill, mother in LA.

“Always learn poems by heart,” she said. “They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they’ll make your soul impervious to the world’s soft decay.”

The relationship between Ingrid and Astrid is both endearing and disturbing. Even at a young age, Astrid seemed older than her years.

“I tried not to make it worse by asking for things, pulling her down with my thoughts. I had seen girls clamor for new clothes and complain about what their mothers made for dinner. I was always mortified. Didn’t they know they were tying their mothers to the ground?”

Ingrid is a brilliant poet but ends up murdering her ex-boyfriend and goes to prison. This begins Astrid’s story of being bounced around foster homes. Each place she goes she learns something different about herself, survival, life, family and love.

“Honey, this is what happens when you fall in love. You’re looking at a natural disaster.” I vowed I would never fall in love.”

It’s not your typical book. The book is written beautifully, painting pictures for the reader that will not be forgotten.

Wherever Astrid goes, she finds solace in someone. In the first house, a trailer-trash type place, she befriends one of the young boys there. In the next place she befriends one of the neighbors who teaches her a lot about life and love.

“Isn’t it funny. I’m enjoying my hatred so much more than I ever enjoyed love. Love is temperamental. Tiring. It makes demands. Love uses you. Changes its mind.”

“When you started thinking it was easy, you were forgetting what it cost.”

There was one foster home where this wealthy interior designer had a beautiful home and had several foster kids, teenage girls. It seemed like it was a wonderful home. But looks were deceiving. As soon as the social worker left, Astrid found out the foster mom was basically starving all the teenagers. The kitchen was locked and they were allowed to eat dinner and that was it. Astrid began stealing food at school from the garbage because she was literally starving to death.

There were so many horrible things in the book, but it’s balanced by some glimpses of beauty and humanity. I loved this book!

2 ) If You Knew Her by Emily Elgar

What an interesting concept! Frank is in a coma in a hospital. Alice is the nurse in the coma wing. Cassie comes in to that wing in a coma as well and the mystery of what happened to put Cassie into that coma starts to unravel. It turns out that Frank is regaining his consciousness and is hearing everything that goes on around him. He’s hearing all the visitors that Cassie has, hearing the confessions, deducing who ran her down and put her into that coma. But will he be able to regain consciousness in time to warn everyone?

The way the story is told is really well done and I did not guess the ending or who had done it! I thought I had and was wrong. Very good! I could not put it down.

3 ) The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan

This was a good, solid ghost story!

Maggie is an up-and-coming artist in London. Mike is her agent/dealer. After a horrible domestic violence event that puts Maggie in the hospital, she decides she needs to get away to clear her head and get some space and get away from her abusive ex-boyfriend. On her wandering road trip across Ireland, she decides to buy an abandoned, run-down cottage in a tiny seaside town. She hires some local contractors to fix it up and install electricity and plumbing, and once it’s inhabitable, she moves in.

She invites Mike and two other friends, Liz and Maggie, to her cottage for a weekend to celebrate her new abode. After spending a fun day exploring the tiny towns nearby, drinking in pubs and eating good food, they open up the whisky and someone brings out a ouija board. This is where the fun night takes a very creepy, dark turn.

The cottage is haunted by the original inhabitant. The four friends unknowingly invite an unfriendly spirit into their circle and Maggie becomes a changed person.

The book is short, and that’s the only flaw. I think it could have been made longer and really drawn out the suspense. But the book is rich in creepiness. I mean it’s Ireland, full of ghosts and spirits and druids and lush history. The cottage itself is creepy–out in the middle of nowhere. It all works! Great book!

4 ) Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

“They say when an adult dies you bury the past; when a child dies you bury the future.”

I don’t even know where to start. Every time I try to write a review, or think about this book, I get choked up. It was beautifully written by Trayvon’s parents. They were eloquent and emotional, but direct and focused.

“I could never have imagined that my son would become, in death, a symbol for injustice.”

They perfectly described the events leading up to the death of their son, the blurry fog of disbelief after, the rage of injustice with the Florida’s justice system and the lack of humanity with the police who refused to arrest The Killer.

As a mother, I don’t know how I thought I could read this powerful book and not be a crying mess the entire time. I felt all the range of emotions Sybrina and Tracy felt. I read this book in short burst because it was so emotionally heavy I just couldn’t read it for long periods of time.

“When I became a parent, I would tell my sons, “Hey, racism is alive and well, and you have to watch out for it all of the time.”

“My mother always advised her kids, “If you see somebody coming at you with any kind of racism, run.”

“So just like my mother told me, I told my kids, including Trayvon: “If you see yourself about to get into a racial confrontation, eliminate yourself from the equation.”

“Run, because the confrontation isn’t worth it. Run, because the confrontation may escalate. Don’t stop to discuss it. This is NOT the time to have a conversation about race. If you have to protect yourself, do so. But if you can, just run.”

The most interesting part of the book was about the movement that began and spread all over the country, protesting the fact that the police refused to arrest George Zimmerman. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson got involved. There were marches and peaceful protests and speeches and rallies. All of that was really empowering to read (and frustrating). It was also encouraging how many celebrities got behind the movement.

” ‘If they can bear the pain to stand up for us, then we can take the pain to stand up with them. They have woke America up. And they have shown something that this world needs to see. And that is we love our children, like everyone else loves their children. We may not have as much as others have, but we have each other, and we are not going to let anyone take our children from us.’ ”

“You are risking going down as the Birmingham and Selma of the twenty-first century!” he said. “You are making the world know you as a place of racial intolerance and double standards. “For one man, would you risk the reputation of a whole city? Zimmerman is not worth the history of this city.”

It even went to the White House. I remember watching Obama make a statement about Trayvon.

“I felt he was speaking not only as a parent but as an African American parent of African American children in a country where black children are still so vulnerable to violence of all kinds. Our children can’t just be kids; they have to be so much more. Our children don’t always feel safe in their own communities.

Later, President Obama would speak again about Trayvon’s death, at another press conference: “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me thirty-five years ago.”

The second half of the book was the inside details of the trial. This part was long and sometimes redundant, but I think also important because it showed just how absurd the trial was. The issue of racial profiling wasn’t even allowed to be discussed in the trial. I don’t even understand how the judge ruled on that. That goes to the heart of what happened.

I still can’t wrap my brain around how the killer could invoke Stand Your Ground Laws when he was FOLLOWING TRAYVON IN HIS CAR. If he was so “threatened” he could have just driven away. The entire trial was a travesty.

“The problem that I had with this was: If this was a Stand Your Ground case, if the killer was in true and immediate fear for his life, why did he follow my son? Why did he trail and confront the person who caused such fear?”

“Stevie Wonder announced he would not play another concert in Florida until the state government repealed its Stand Your Ground law. (Florida still hasn’t repealed the law.)”

But in the end, Trayvon’s parents found grace and healing with their strong faith and the support of their community. They created a foundation and with the help of celebrities and activists, are doing GOOD WORK to help other parents who lost children to gun violence and try and change the Stand Your Ground laws.

“Trayvon’s spirit was still with us, but not just us. His spirit was motivating a movement.”

It was an excellent book. But you should be emotionally prepared to be gutted.

5 ) We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

This was a fascinating read!

It’s three stories in one, about several generations of a family. It starts with Elizabeth Balsam in current times. She’s a reporter in Detroit. She is approached by a local man and asked to deliver a box of photos and an old camera to a relative she didn’t know she had. She says no but then she loses her job after screws up an investigation and she decides she needs a change of scenery.

So she goes out into the country somewhere in between Detroit and Flint, and stays with her great aunt Nora Balsam in a 150 year old farmhouse. And that’s where Nora’s story picks up. Nora’s story takes place in the 1960’s in Detroit. Nora comes from money. She meets an African American photographer, William, and they fall in love but it’s during a time period when interracial marriages is not ok. Nora is disowned by her family. Faced with poverty and racism, Nora and William flee Detroit and live in this old farmhouse that has been her family for centuries.

It turns out, this farmhouse has a lot of history. Nora’s distant relative, Mary Balsam, was using that farmhouse as part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. She was taking in freed slaves that fled the South, giving them a home, jobs and basically a family.

It was a super fascinating, heartbreaking, honest story about race, racism, history and love.

Happy Reading!

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Books #31

Don’t you hate it when you read a bunch of books and they are disappointing? Especially if it’s a trusted author that you like! I’ve read a few duds lately but finally had a stretch of some noteworthy books. Here are a few to check out!

1 ) Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

This book may not be for everyone–it’s particularly timely for what is going on in our world with immigrant kids being separated from their families. This book also describes child abuse, so this may not be the book for a lot of people.

It’s fiction, but based on a true store. Rill is the oldest of several kids “river rats” living on a boat in the south in the 1939. Her mother goes to the hospital to give birth to twins and while Rill’s parents are away, they are basically kidnapped and taken to a Children’s Home. The book is based on the real life Georgia Tann, who ran an illegal adoption agency (basically stealing babies and kids from poor people and then selling them to the rich). The paperwork was falsified, names were changed and she’d shake down the rich adoptive parents later for more money claiming the birth parents want to change their minds on giving up their rights.

The whole thing is horrific and there was child abuse that takes place at the “children’s home”. It’s hard to read about and the idea of kids and babies being ripped from their families is truly awful. But the book describes the real history well. And it takes place in current times, too, and that part was interesting. It’s a really good, emotional book.

 

2 ) If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin

I think this is a really important book to read about our current society. It’s about mob-mentality, online trolls and just how far it can go to break people.

Jackie is a single mom enjoying her life for the most part. Her teenage sons are growing distant, especially Wade, her oldest. He’s distant and moody and she breaks a rule she told herself she’d never do–she snoops in his room and his phone.

At the same time, there’s a tragic accident in their small town and one of Wade’s classmates, Liam, is killed stopping a carjacker. Online rumors and mob mentality take over and soon Wade is the target of the town’s hatred. Jackie is asked to take a leave from her real estate job she’s had for over a decade because of the bad press, Wade’s car is trashed, they are harassed and they all lose friends. Jackie loses 50 Facebook friends in one day when Wade is arrested.

Do we really know our kids? Can we really rely on our friends? Or is it just about the social media boosting and popularity that people care about? This is a very stressful read! But a good one.

 

3 ) You, Me, Everything by Catherine Isaac

This was an interesting story. It starts out kind of like a chick lit/beach read but there are definitely some more serious aspects to the book.

Jess is a single mom living in England. Her son William is 10 years old and barely knows his father, Adam, who lives in France. Jess and Adam were together and it sounded like they were each other’s soulmate but when she got pregnant he freaked out and the relationship ended.

Now, her mom is dying of a horrible disease and Jess is faced with some bad news about herself and realizes it’s very important for William to get to know his father. So William and Jess spend the summer at Adam’s hotel in France so father and son can bond.

It’s a really nice story, definitely has some heavy topics in it, but I loved the book a lot!

4 ) Hurricane Season by Lauren Denton

This was an interesting book with layers to it.

Betsy is a “farmers wife” in Alabama. Her husband Ty runs a dairy farm and their marriage seems a bit strained. You don’t find out why for awhile, but they’ve been facing infertility for a few years.

Betsy’s sister, Jenna, is a twenty-something single mother to two small girls who gets the opportunity of her lifetime: to go to an artist’s retreat in Florida for two weeks. She abandoned her art when she became a mother and she’s feeling like she missed out on her life and is stuck in a rut of paycheck to barely paycheck life. Her mentor gets her into this elite retreat — and a scholarship. She just needs to find someone to watch her kids while she’s gone.

So Jenna basically drops of her girls at Betsy and Ty’s house with no notice and goes on her retreat. Two weeks later when she’s supposed to be back, she’s decided to stay longer at the retreat. Betsy starts to wonder if the answer to her prayers of having a kid is taking over for Jenna while she “finds herself.”

It’s a sweet story about sisters and relationships and motherhood. I liked the story and the characters.

5 ) The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

I almost gave up on this book but I’m glad I didn’t because it turned out to be really good and tackled some important issues.

The story is about a new mom’s group that meets once a week with their babies to get support and friendship navigating the craziness of newborns. The group decide to go out for drinks on the 4th of July to get some downtime away from being a mom. That’s when something terrible happens: one of the mom’s babies is taken. Midas was left with a nanny but she gets home to find him gone. The nanny fell asleep. Where is baby Midas?

The group of friends band together to try and support each other and help Winnie, Midas’s mom. But the press gets wind of the fact that the women were out drinking when Midas was kidnapped and now it’s a media frenzy plus public outrage and mob mentality about “how dare those mothers go out drinking” (so many eye rolls but you can totally see that happening in our social media culture). And of course secrets start coming out about each of the women in the group.

Spoiler alert: Midas is ok. This was one of the reasons I almost gave up on the book. They implied that maybe Winnie had postpartum depression and possibly killed her own baby and that was too upsetting for me so I almost stopped reading. I just can’t deal with the topic of babies being hurt or dying but THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN so don’t worry.

I liked the book a lot. It tackled a lot of really important issues: motherhood, postpartum depression and anxiety, breastfeeding, going back to work, lack of maternity leave, lack of maternal support, how hard newborns are on marriages, the EXHAUSTION of being a new mother…so many things I could relate to.

It was a super fast read, I read it in about a day and a half and while the first part of the book is a bit slow and confusing, the second half is so good you can’t put it down. And I did not guess the ending!

6 ) The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian

John and Ella have been married for over 50 years. They now have adult children and several grandchildren. Unfortunately, John has Alzheimer’s and his lucid moments are becoming few and far between.

“After a while, just staying alive becomes a full-time job. No wonder we need a vacation. [pg 18]”

Not only that, Ella has cancer. Ella decides that at her age it doesn’t make sense to try and treat the cancer. So they “escape” from their adult children, ignore the doctors recommending they don’t do this, and hit the road in their “Leisure Seeker”.

She describes how vacations used to be–rush, rush, rush– and “Now, there’s all the time in the world. Except I’m falling apart and John can barely remember his name. But that’s all right. I remember it. Between the two of us, we are one whole person. [pg 12]”

They take the Route 66 road from Michigan to California. The book is about the people they meet along the way, the adventures they have (good and bad) and their loving relationship. It’s also about life, death, losing your friends to death along the way and cherishing your memories.

“[Going through the address book] Names and numbers and addresses scratched out. Page after page of gone, gone, gone. The sense of loss that you feel isn’t just for the person. It is the death of your youth, the death of fun, of warm conversations and too many drinks, of long weekends, of shared pains and victories and jealousies, of secrets that you couldn’t tell anyone else, of memories that only you two shared. It’s the death of your monthly pinochle game. [pg 125]”

Ultimately, this book is about love and choosing death with dignity.

“But then, that’s the sad ending. One of us without the other. It’s what would happen if I didn’t end the story this way. [pg 272]”

“After a long boring stretch of malls, storefronts, and construction, we finally arrive in Santa Monica. It looks like a nice town, but we’re not here to see the sights. We’re here for one thing only–to get to the end of the road. [pg 244]”

Apparently there is a movie based on this book! I can’t wait to see it.

7 ) The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen 

Very solid, good mystery! Looking forward to a sequel.

Ellery Hathaway is a 28 year old cop in a small Massachusetts town with secrets. 14 years ago she was the lone survivor of a serial killer. Ellery hasn’t told anyone of her past and changed her name to protect her past.

Three people disappear in her town and her chief isn’t interested in her theories. But she’s seen this before, obviously, yet she doesn’t want to tell her cop coworkers why she has a bad feeling about these missing people. She finally decides to call the FBI agent who rescued her 14 years ago to ask him for help. Agent Reed Markham, struggling in his own life, immediately flies to Ellery to help.

The book is written very well and is compelling and hard to put down. I didn’t particularly love Ellery, she was a bit naive and wishy-washy at times, but I did like the story a lot and didn’t guess the ending!

Happy reading!

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