book recommendations

Books #28

So we went camping over the weekend and I FORGOT MY KINDLE AT HOME. How does that even happen? It’s one of the first things I always pack for trips! I was really bummed. So I had a few days break from reading. (Boo.)

Here are the latest reads:

1 ) Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

This was a really interesting book. Clara has a 4 year old daughter and a new baby, just 4 days old, when her husband is killed in a car accident. Her daughter was in the car, too, but ok. Clara is told it was an accident–Nick was driving too fast. But then her daughter starts having night terrors and bad dreams about a “bad man in a black car chasing” them.

The book is told in alternating chapters of current day with Clara dealing with the grief, disbelief and then suspicion and then chapters told from her husband’s point of view,  the months leading up to Nick’s death. This one really did have me guessing until the very end.

It was suspenseful and there was a twist, it was well-written but could have used a little bit of editing down in places…other than that, great read!

 

2 ) The Echo Killing (Harper McClain #1) by Christi Daugherty

Excellent book! I’m excited to read book #2!

Harper is a 20-something crime reporter who works nights and is kind of an adrenaline junkie. She lives in Savannah, Georgia. When she was 12 years old, she discovered the brutally murdered body of her mother–a crime that was never solved. She was definitely traumatized as a kid, but she’s a strong female character that you like a lot. She’s not the typical cliched “alcoholic female protagonist that has problems”.

I liked that she had such a good relationship with the local cops. It seemed that they had all kind of taken her under their wing when she was a kid. There was a love interest in the story that definitely had some palpable chemistry (I rarely feel like “love” stories in mystery books have chemistry but this was done well).

15 years ago her mother was murdered and now, there’s a new murder that is remarkably similar to that one. Harper is writing the story for the newspaper and sees the similarities, and of course goes off the books to do her own investigation.

It was a riveting, fast, fun read and I really loved all the characters!

3 ) The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley

Rory and Arden are cousins, only a few months apart. They grew up more like sisters and look a lot alike. Of course, there are family secrets and issues that make this story a powerful read.

Rory’s dad and Arden’s mom are co-owners and chefs of their own restaurant, which we find out is failing. As a result, Rory and Arden do not get to go to the colleges of their choice (Harvard and art school in California). Instead they end up going to a local university and share a dorm together. Conflicts arise between Rory and Arden and between Vince and Natalie.

The story is told from the point of view of Natalie, Rory and Arden, and you don’t find out what really happen to cause the horrific fire that landed both girls in the hospital unconscious. The ending was an interesting twist. Very compelling and suspenseful read.

 

4 ) The Last Child (Johnny Merrimon #1) by John Hart

I almost gave up on this book a few times. It was pretty slow to start. The first half of the book felt like it dragged, but all of a sudden the story took off and it never slowed down.

Johnny is 13 years old and his twin sister, Alyssa went missing a year ago. His father was supposed to pick Alyssa up from the library and forgot and that tore the family apart. Now Johnny’s mom is a drunk, depressed woman in an abusive relationship with a local rich guy who is keeping her on pills. Johnny spends every waking moment he has searching for his sister. He knows she’s still alive.

Detective Hunt has also been searching for Alyssa for the last year and his obsession with finding her broke up his own marriage.

This is a story about faith and loyalty, lies, family, obsession and crime. If you can stick with it, the last half of the book is stellar!

5 ) The One by John Marrs

What a creepy book! I don’t want to give too much away because it was a really unique book. But the short description: it takes place in England and there is a groundbreaking dating service that pairs couples based on their DNA matches. It’s 99% accurate. The problem? It broke up a lot of marriages when people “for fun” checked their DNA matches and found out they had another match somewhere else in the world.

This book tells a few different stories of couples that get matched. The ending was such a shocker, that I don’t want to spoil it. But let me tell you, this book was creative, unique, SUPER creepy and a great read!

 

6 ) Savage Season (Hap and Leonard #1) by Joe R. Landsdale

How did I not know about this author? He’s such a good writer! The book immediately hooks you because the characters jump off the page and feel so real and the writing style is beautiful. It’s classified as “mystery noir” and it definitely has that feel to it.

Hap was a hippy, anti-war guy who went to Leavenworth because he refused to go to Vietnam. Leonard is a black Vietnam Vet who also happens to be gay and is Hap’s best friend. Trudy is Hap’s ex-wife who apparently has a hold on every man she’s ever slept with. They all pair up to find some money that someone else stole and hid.

It’s a fast-paced read with lots of quirky humor, interesting character development and ahead-of-its-time progressive attitude about race, gays, and war.

 

Happy Reading!

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Books #27

Sometimes I read some really bad books. I try and give reviews here for books that stand out for me, or are particularly enjoyable to read. Some of the really bad ones? Often times they have great reviews and high ratings on Goodreads and Amazon! Which baffles me.

The Perfect Nanny – GREAT reviews, didn’t even get past the first page. It described in great detail the brutal murder of a baby and I just couldn’t do it. Nope nope nope.

The Help – I hated the way the book was written. Couldn’t finish it.

The Other Widow – Again, very high ratings but I didn’t read more than about 25% because the writing was so bad. 

Where’d You Go Bernadette – Boring, pointless, couldn’t get into it. 

The Goldfinch – So many people rave and RAVE about Donna Tartt and I’ve tried several of her books but they are pretentious, boring, not for me. 

Exit West – Started out really good and interesting and then took a really weird turn into Fantasy that was NOT for me. Gave up. 

What are some of the worst books you’ve read?

Now onto some GOOD reads!

1 ) Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

This book should probably have a trigger warning. It’s about domestic violence. The author does describe some abuse but the book itself is pretty light and almost chick-lit-like so I don’t think it’s too much dark. And there was some humor mixed in to lighten it up.

Rose Mae was introduced in the book Gods in Alabama as a minor character and this book tells her story. She had a hard life: her dad was abusive and her mom left them. She always felt angry and hurt her mom didn’t take her with her. When she was old enough, Rose Mae left and never looked back.

Except she found herself married to Thom, an abusive asshole. The writer does a very good job describing how domestic violence relationships work–the abuse followed by the apology and the “honeymoon” period then the walking on eggshells anticipating another mood change that leads to abuse…

“Thom and I didn’t have friends, neither of us. He came to me for food, for sex, for talk, for play, for violence, and he had no other needs. We were closed together like two halves of a clam’s shell. If I had a friend, she would notice long sleeves and scarves in summer, and unlike Mrs. Fancy, women in my generation had not been trained to look the other way. [pg 78]”

Rose Mae gets the idea to plan her escape. “…and suddenly nothing is as sweet as this. When you’ve been in a desert, nothing is more basic and more necessary, nothing is better, than water. [pg 304]” It was a very good, real book. I really liked the ending. It worked well for me. I could also see this book as a movie.

 

2 ) The Leavers by Lisa Ko

What an excellent book! It was gut-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time.

Polly is about 16 when she gets pregnant and tries to get an abortion, but apparently in China it’s very difficult to get an abortion.

“Yi Ba thought anything bad that happened to a woman was her fault…if a woman was unmarried it was her fault for being ugly or independent; if a woman was too devoted to her husband it was her fault for being mushy and desperate; if a husband had a girl on the side it was the wife’s fault for driving him away and both the mistress and wife’s fault for letting themselves get taken advantage of. [pg 132]”

“You’re not eligible for medical care here because you are not a registered city person. Your hukou is rural, so you can only go to a rural hospital. Go to the one in your village district. [pg 133]”

Instead, she gets a huge loan from a loan shark and is smuggled from China to Canada and then New York.

“In America, you could live anywhere you wanted to;it didn’t matter if you had rural or urban hukou. They wouldn’t care about things like pregnancy permits either. [pg 137]”

“I had also heard of married couples being fined for unauthorized pregnancies, forced to pay the equivalent of five years’ worth of the average provincial salary. For an unmarried woman the fine would probably be steeper. [pg 134]”

She lives in horrific conditions, sleeping on the floor smashed in a tiny apartment with dozens of other illegal immigrants, and gets a job in a sweatshop sewing jeans.

She has her son, Deming, and quickly realized WHY the women send their babies back to China to live with family for the first few years. Because there is no such thing as daycare for illegal immigrants who need to work 12+ hours a day to pay their rent, buy food, and send money home to the loan shark to pay off their debts.

“The city was filled with girls like me, girls who swore we’d never go home again. I wanted to work my way up to a better factory, a bigger dormitory, and eventually my own apartment…[pg 128]”

So Polly send Deming back to China for 5 years to live with her father. It’s the hardest thing she’s ever done but focuses on her goal of working hard, saving money and paying off her debt.

“We ate pretty well. The fish Yi Ba caught supplemented the vegetables that our assigned plot grudgingly produced, and when there wasn’t enough food, he’d push his portions on me. [pg 122]”

Fast forward 5 years, they are reunited in NYC. She has a great boyfriend and they live in a small apartment with his sister and her son, Michael, who is the same age as Deming. Life seems pretty good. She leaves the sweatshop and gets work at a salon.

The salon is another scam — she’s not paid for her “internship” where she learns how to do mani/pedis. Eventually she is but it sounds like she basically only gets tips because she has to pay to work there. (I had no idea this was the case!). But still, she’s doing ok. Then the salon is raided by ICE.

Polly disappears, no one knows where she is, Deming is heartbroken for his mom and things he did something wrong for her to “go away.” After several months, his mother’s boyfriend can’t take care of him and goes back to China to work. His sister tries to take care of Deming but can’t afford it and puts him in Foster Care.

He’s adopted by a white, upper-middle class couple who live in upstate New York and are both professors at the local university. Deming is now Daniel. He’s the only Asian kid in town and he never quite fits in with anyone.

“…they wanted him to succeed in the ways that were important to them because it would mean that they had succeeded, too. [pg 27]”

I’m not going to give everything away but I will say that the descriptions of Polly’s time (almost 2 years) in ICE custody in basically a camp that sounds an awful lot like WW2 the internment camps, was horrific and heartbreaking and just SO wrong.

“There’s a woman named Mary who’s lived in America since she was six months old. Born in Sudan. Was in college, had a travel visa, got arrested at the airport after coming home from studying in France. The government says her parents never adjusted her immigration status when she was a baby and she needs a physical examination to complete her application…of course, an exam costs three hundred bucks and they won’t give that to her at Arsleyville. And she can’t access her bank account because ICE put a hold on her name. [pg 296]”

The book is beautifully written, long and spanning about 20 years, and you feel so badly for the immigrant experience…it’s sometimes hard to stomach but I think a very important read.

3 ) Dead People Suck: A Guide for Survivors of the Newly Departed by Laurie Kilmartin

What a hilarious book! I didn’t know what to expect in this memoir about her father’s death from cancer, but it was a funny book.

“My dad smoked three or four packs a day for 30 years, back when doctors prescribed cigarettes for the flu. [Loc 160]”

“He died on Sunday, March 2, ensuring that Mom got both her and Dad’s March Social Security checks. Ron Kilmartin was diligent like that. [Loc 177]”

The author is a stand-up comic and wrote for the Conan Show. I laughed out loud many times reading this book. It was definitely gallows humor, but sometimes in the middle of the worst time in someone’s life, humor is best. She gives tips for people who are newly diagnosed with cancer and given not much time.

“Is your loved one ill but still alive? If yes, get their passwords. Plus their passcodes, usernames, the last four of their social. And write down the answers to all their security questions. That knowledge is about to vanish. [pg 19]”

She goes on to say if you can only get one password, the email address is the one to get. Because then you can reset everything else and still access the email for password resets. Sure the book is meant to be comical, but the above advice was actually pretty good.

She gives tips for the survivors on things like:

“Are you an Old Man with Daughters? Please shred your porn. [pg 7]”

“Label yourself in old photos, label everyone. [pg 11]”

“Like running, sobbing feels awful while you do it, but great afterward. It’s like your inside took a shower and scrubbed the sadness off. One night, I sobbed so hard I tightened my core. [pg 68]”

She has advice for doctors and how they give patients the bad news:

“Take away their Costco card. Gently explain that they don’t need a year’s supply of anything, anymore. If they still balk, give them a travel-size bottle of shampoo and say, ‘This is all the Suave you’ll ever need, you’re about to go on a trip.’ [pg 27]”

I thought this was pretty funny when she described how she wanted to be cremated:

“For kindling, use the hundreds of personal journals I’ve kept since age fourteen; 70% of their content is dissatisfaction with my weight. It is fitting that the written despair about my body should fuel the fire that burns it. [pg 81]”

Dark, but hilarious and I could totally relate. LOL If you are sensitive, the dark humor might be offensive, but I wasn’t offended by anything in the book and I could relate to a lot of it.

Finally this last quote:

“You always want just one more day. [pg 59]”

 

4 ) The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell

This was an interesting story. Daniel was a French doctor with a sad past when he needed to make some money and donated his sperm. Fast forward years later and Daniel has cancer and is dying. He finds out that because of his donation he has four children somewhere in England and wants to meet them. His girlfriend registers him on the Donor Registry.

The story is about his children, grown now, finding out they have siblings, meeting the siblings and meeting the donor. It was a really beautiful story about family. I liked it a lot. The ending was very satisfying for me.

 

5 ) This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick

This book was kind of perfect for me. It’s a “self-help” book and if you liked the “Happiness Project” you will probably like this book. It’s in the same vein.

I am definitely guilty of feeling restless, wanting to move, feeling like the “grass is greener” somewhere else. Which is weird because the Pacific NW is one of the most desirable places to live in the US AND it’s literally very green. But I get this thing in my head that I would be “happier” if I lived in ________.

“I’d come to see each new city in a new state as an irresistible blank slate. Moving offered absolution for whatever failures I’d amassed in my present town: the disappointing friendships, the inescapable, guilt-inducing commitments, the taunting list of unfinished home renovation projects. [pg 2]”

“There’s true psychic power in a clean slate. [pg 3]”

I grew up in Seattle, moved to Portland at 19 with a boyfriend, where we lived together for 2 years. When we broke up I moved back home to regroup, then moved back to Portland all on my own, definitely a clean slate. And yet, this quote describes me to a T:

“Clicking through Realtor.com listings was my mid-thirties suburbanite version of crystal meth — a filthy habit I couldn’t quit. [pg 4]”

I definitely spend a crazy amount of time on Redfin and Zillow looking. Looking everywhere. Comparing, researching, wondering.

This book is about the author’s family and how often they moved and how they made a final move for a job at Virginia Tech and she decided to try a project to make herself love where she was currently and try to put down roots and “attachment.”

“My family’s average stay in any city to that point was 3.2 years. I was starting to lose confidence in our ability to live anywhere for long. [pg 6]”

The book talks a lot about the restlessless of Americans, in jobs, neighborhoods, etc.

“Americans are as restless in employment as we are in geography, switching workplaces about every four and a half years. Often we chase our new gigs around the country. Most Americans, it seems, spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about where we wish we lived. [pg 7]”

Each chapter has a goal of the author for trying to like where she lived. It had suggestions and tips for readers to do in their own town, too. Things like volunteer, learn about the off-the-beaten-path sites in your town, shop locally, meet your neighbors.

“My friend, Jen, who as an army wife knows a thing or two about moving, told me, ‘It is an incredibly conscious decision to love where you love. I have seen so many families become miserable because they hate where they are when they move to a new place. You have to choose to love it.’ [pg 23]”

“I was beginning to understand the value of meeting our neighbors face-to-face, even when, especially when, they’re not like us. In many cities, neighborhoods are self-segregating, often by income, race and culture, and sometimes by age, profession, or religion as well. [pg 78]”

It was really interesting and had good suggestions.

“Sixty percent of home buyers wanted walkable, bikeable neighborhoods. To lure this 60%, cities and towns are cranking out urban redesign plans that emphasize greenways and bike lanes. [pg 24]”

One chapter I really liked was about shopping locally. I am definitely guilty of being a compulsive Amazon Prime shopper. It’s fast, it’s easy, I can compare a dozen similar projects at one time to get the best one, price check, etc. And one of the problems is that there are a lot of things I just don’t know where to buy locally because I use Amazon so much.

“Unlike the well-trained but generically pleasant big-box store employees, Paula seemed authentically grateful for my business. My purchases made a difference for her. [pg 63]”

“Place attachment research shows that many of the good feelings we have about the cities where we live stem from the sense that we have relationships there. [pg 70]”

But it makes a difference. Small businesses are pushed out when people don’t shop there. There are a dozen stories of Walmart or Amazon pushing out small businesses. That makes me sad. The author suggested that once a month we all spend $50 at a small business for items we normally buy online or in big-box stores. I am going to consciously try to do this.

The book was good and I liked the suggestions she had and I want to try and do some of them.

“Unpack your life wherever you are. [pg 255]”

Happy reading!

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