book recommendations

Books #21

Are you looking for a good book to get for a Christmas present? Check out my old book reviews here. Getting books under the tree is always a joy (in my book!). 😉

This group of books seems to have a theme: lost children and finding people! I don’t know how that happened. But there were several very good books that I read lately, so here they are:

1 ) The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

I don’t know if I can do this book justice. It’s not what it seemed. It wasn’t a mystery novel, not really, even though there is a mystery. It wasn’t gritty, even though the subject matter is gritty. It was a beautiful, artful, passionate and dark book that ends with light and happiness and hope. This was an amazing story, an amazing book, almost like poetry.

Naomi is “the child finder.” She has an ability to find missing children, even if it’s not a happy ending when she finds them. Why is she such a good investigator? Because she was once a missing child, too. The story is about Naomi’s past (which I wish they had spent a little more time fleshing out) and Naomi trying to find two separate kids. The story also takes place in the glacier wilderness of Oregon, which I enjoyed. I loved the story, I loved the ending, I loved the characters. They were so well-written. My only problem with the book is that it was too short–I read it in ONE day–and I wanted more!

2 ) Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste by Bianca Bosker

“Wine is the intellectual part of the meal.” – Alexandre Dumas

Bianca Bosker was a writer who decided to change her career and study to become a sommeliers. It’s an exclusive club, a difficult journey, and an expensive one. For the next year and a half she befriended other sommeliers (and ones that were trying to become certified as sommeliers) to learn everything she could from them.

It’s a memoir about her journey, what she learned, the process of becoming a sommelier and the people she met along the way. She shared lots of informative things about wine and the restaurant business for readers:

“I now understood that restaurants would generally charge me as much for a glass of wine as they’d paid wholesale for a bottle, and I’d be charged about four times that to buy the bottle from them. [pg 21]”

She described “gimme” wines:

“They could charge more because most drinkers see a familiar grape, go on autopilot, and think, Give it to me; I don’t care what it costs. Those wines were status symbols and safe standbys. [pg 21]”

She went to a lot of tastings with professional and budding-professional sommeliers. The advice? “Do not swallow or you will be dead. [pg 44]”

What I liked about the book was the interesting information about wine tasting, how to wine taste, how to discover a wine just by taste and sight (she went to a lot of blind tastings, which sounds fun and interesting!). I wanted to share some of her tips for the process here:

“Step One: Look at it. Thick slow tears with clear definition suggest the wine has higher alcohol levels, where thin, quick tears, or wine that falls in sheets, hint at lower alcohol levels. 

Next: smell. Always.

Now you can sip. Swish the wine around your mouth, then purse your lips like you’re about to say “oh no” and suck in air over the wine so it feels like it’s bubbling on your tongue. “Aerating” the wine.”

Next, spit it out or swallow. Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and pay attention to how much you salivate. A lot or a little? Swimming pool or sprinkler? If you opened your mouth would you drool? If so, you’re tasting a higher-acid wine. If not, it’s likely a lower-acid wine.

The more a drink burns, the more alcohol it contains. 

Tannins are more a texture than a taste, and therefore distinct from whether the wine is “dry,” which refers to the absence of sweetness. Tannins leave your mouth feeling dried out and grippy. [pg 46]”

It was cool to read about that and have things explained I’ve always wondered about.

Overall, the book was pretty good. It was really interesting and descriptive and made me want to take a class to learn more about the process of tasting (other than just drinking LOL). The one thing I didn’t like about the book was that it felt a little long and rambling in some places. It definitely needed some editing down. Despite that, I recommend the book.


3 ) The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon

I’m not sure how to rate this book, honestly. I read it for my book club and it was a decent book. I feel like it’s worth reading because of the experience Brent went through but it definitely reads like a YA novel, so the voice feels very juvenile.

In 1991 Brent was 14 or so and had been preoccupied with suicide and fire. Seemingly unprompted, he douses his bathrobe with gasoline and sets himself on fire. He’s rescued and the memoir is about his different experiences in the hospitals and burn units he spent the next 7 months in.

I found the descriptions of the healing process interesting. I don’t know a lot about what burn victims go through, so that was informative. The story is told in a raw, but juvenile, way and I think any reader would feel like they were transported to their own teen years when your life revolved around friends, school, cliques, dramas, bad grades, etc.

The one thing that really bugged me most about the book was, though, was that the author never really expressed exactly what caused him to want to kill himself. He had friends, he seemed popular in school, there was nothing that really stood out as a red flag to me for depression…maybe the author just chose not to include what was really going on and what led him to want to kill himself? If that was the case, then it seems to me that the author never really addressed it and that made the story seem a little emotionally stunted to me.

There were glimpses throughout Brent’s time in the burn unit (and in group therapy) where he realizes that life is worth fighting for and that suicide is not the option. He lives with a deep regret for what he did to his family, and to his body, even if he’s not very good at expressing it out loud to his family members.


4 ) He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

I absolutely LOVED her other book, “The Burning Air”. This new book was pretty good. The author writes revenge really well.

This particular story felt very relevant. The book starts out in 1999 in Cornwall. Kit and Laura are in their early 20’s and travel to a festival to see a total eclipse. Laura interrupts a rape and helps the woman, Beth. The story unfolds from there–Beth is appreciative and Laura becomes friends with her, feeling sorry for her plight. But Beth is not what she seems. Laura and Kit begin to regret allowing Beth into their lives.

After some scary things happen, Kit and Laura change their names, move away and go off the grid. But Beth finds them again.

The story is told in flashbacks and current times and from Laura and Kit’s point of view, so each chapter is a little bit of the puzzle. I was completely surprised by the twist at the ending and it was really, really good!

5 ) The Child by Fiona Barton

An old house in London is being torn down and the workers find a tiny skeleton. Kate Waters is a journalist with her job on the line–in the days of online media, print journalism is on it’s way out and half the reporters are being laid off. She needs a big story in a big way. The discovery of a dead newborn that may or may not be the infamous “Baby Alice” is just the investigation she needs.

The story is told from several points of view. The main character is Kate, the investigative journalist who uncovers a lot of creepy threads to this story. The next is Angela, the distraught mother of baby Alice who was kidnapped when she was only 1 day old and never found. There are a few other characters and you aren’t sure quite how their stories fit in, but at the end it makes total sense and it was really well done!


6 ) I Found You by Lisa Jewell

What an unexpected surprise! I was on the fence about the book. This was another story told by different points of views in different time periods and while I find that method of storytelling somewhat tired and overdone, the ending of this book was quite a surprise, so it worked.

In the current story time, Alice discovers a strange man on the beach by her house in England who can’t remember who he was or where he came from. She takes him in and gives him shelter, trying to help him remember who he was.

At the same time, in London, Lily discovers her new husband has vanished. She is worried and calls the police, only to find out that his passport and name are fakes. Who is her husband? Where is he?

Then the story flashbacks 20-something years where two teens, (brother and sister Gray and Kirsty), are tortured by a psychopath who has become obsessed with Kirsty.

Like I said, I was on the fence with the book at the beginning, mostly because I couldn’t tell yet why the Gray and Kirsty storyline was important but once I did, the book really took off. I absolutely loved the way the end wrapped everything up. Very well done.

7 ) After the Party by Lisa Jewell

Ralph and Jem have been together for a decade, through their fun-loving party days in their 20’s to having kids. The romantic nights just the two of them change with the addition of a few little ones and they find themselves growing up and growing apart from each other. Ralph, an artist, is preoccupied with his lifestyle and doesn’t help out with the kids like he should. Jem feels like she’s losing who she used to be before kids.

I liked a lot of aspects about this book. I feel like anyone in a long-term relationship with little kids can relate to a lot of this book. That’s why I’d recommend it. It wasn’t necessarily an outstanding book, though, so just know going in that it’s a bit chick-lit. (I guess this is a sequel, too, but I didn’t know that when I got the book and it didn’t seem to really matter that I hadn’t read book #1.)

Happy Reading!

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Books #20

It’s that time of year…dark, rainy, cold weather that makes you just want to snuggle up with a good book. Well, this post is for you! Book recommendations galore.

1 ) Down A Dark Road (Kate Burkholder #9) by Linda Castillo

The newest book in the series and it was a good one. Kate is back as the Chief. She receives word that a childhood friend who was sent to prison for killing his wife, has escaped. She goes to the house where his kids are living now, just in case, and is ambushed by Joseph. She’s taken hostage in the house. But it’s not your typical hostage situation. He claims he didn’t kill his wife and was framed. Sure, typical of prisoners–but Kate is let go and has a nagging feeling that things don’t add up.

So the book is about Kate re-opening the investigation and finding things that aren’t quite right about the investigation. The book is about friendship, corrupt cops and Kate doing her due diligence. It was a fast read!


2 ) The Last Place You Look (Roxane Weary #1) by Kristen Lepionka

What a really good read! I was pleasantly surprised by how great this book was (and I read it in about a day and a half! Could not stop reading). I can’t wait for book #2!

Roxane is a private detective. Her cop father died a few months ago and her life is falling apart a bit. But she gets a case that intrigues. Brad, an African American poet, is about to be executed for brutally murdering his girlfriend’s parents. And maybe the girlfriend? She disappeared the same night as the murders, never found. But Brad’s sister insists he’s innocent and wants Roxane to prove it before it’s too late. She starts to uncover things that made it unlikely that Brad is the murderer, but will she solve the crime in time to save him? (And the ending was not expected!)

The story was well-crafted. The characters were really well written and they felt real to me. I really liked Roxane, who was smart and witty. The author wrote about a bisexual woman in a real and respectful way, too, even though that wasn’t what the book was about. It just flowed well and made the character well-rounded. Roxane is also an alcoholic, which was a bummer for the book because you REALLY want her to fix her life and be successful.

3 ) Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #13) by Louise Penny

Another book in the series that does not disappoint!

This one was a different type of storytelling, a slight departure from her usual style. In this book, there is a murder in Three Pines that Armand and Jean-Guy investigate but the story is told in a unique way: the story unfolds through testimony in the murder trial (never revealing who was on trial for the murder), then instead of bogging down the story with testimony to tell the whole story, they flashback to describe what happened in Three Pines. On top of that, there is also a major, clandestine, investigation going on about drugs being run through the border by Three Pines.

The story is unique and riveting and because there are so many threads and so much double-speak you really have to pay attention. The ending was a surprise and left off for the next book in the series to continue what happens to the main characters we love, but it wasn’t a frustrating ending, it felt very satisfying. Another well done book!


4 ) Something Like Happy by Eva Woods

This was a delightful, tear-jerker, sweet, enduring book. The main character, Annie, is stuck. Her life sucks. Her jobs sucks. She’s divorced and some other tragedies in her past are keeping her stuck in this cycle of self-pity and depression. She’s at the hospital visiting her mom, who has Alzheimer’s, when she runs into Polly–this vibrant, colorful, full of life and energy woman who also happens to be dying of cancer.

Polly kind of forces Annie into a friendship and in the next 80 days or so they spend most of their time together kind of ticking things off Polly’s “Bucket List”. But Polly has ulterior motives–she wants her last gift to Annie and the people in her life to be for them to realize how much time they have and they should be happy and do things that MAKE them happy.

It’s really an uplifting book that makes you reconsider things in your own life.

5 ) There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secret for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids) by Linda Akeson McGurk

I enjoyed this book. It’s about a Scandinavian mom living in Indiana with her two small daughters and how she moves back to Sweden for 6 months to care for an ailing family member. She brings her daughters with her and they get to go to school in Sweden and experience the culture.

The book is a fascinating read about the differences between the Scandinavian countries and America.

“As my daughter’s pediatrician puts it: A generation ago, there were maybe one or two overweight or obese children in a class of twenty. Today, being overweight is so common that the normal kids sometimes are the ones that stand out. Our expectations have changed: Overweight is the new normal. [pg 21]”

It’s really sad how little kids play outside. I see it even in my own neighborhood. When I first moved there, there were tons of kids on the street. But there aren’t that many anymore. Some have grown up but I feel like a lot of the kids just don’t even come outside anymore. It’s always slightly startling when you DO see kids!

“When I ask Kristoffer, a Swedish father of two young children, what he expects his children to learn between now and when they start formal schooling at age six, his answer is swift and affirmative: ‘I expect them to be children. Soon enough they’ll be in school and they’ll get the rest there. [pg 89]”

The difference in Sweden was striking. The kids are all very active and play outside a lot. No matter what the weather! The motto is to have good clothes! Who cares about the weather? The author described an outdoor birthday party in the middle of winter where all the kids invited showed up in snow pants and they spent all afternoon outside sledding and then had roasted hot dogs for a meal. The kids were ecstatic–and I doubt you’d see that here. You definitely wouldn’t see that in Portland!

“If my son wants to play soccer he can, but I’ll never make him. It has to come from him, and it will when he’s ready for it. Not everybody likes team sports, and if he doesn’t we’ll have to find something that’s a better fit. [pg 97]”

I could really relate to that approach. When I was a kid, I was forced to do piano lessons, soccer, gymnastics…a lot of stuff that wasn’t my personality. I hated it all. I hated being on display. I hated team sports. I was afraid of heights so gymnastics was awful but…I loved swimming. That was the thing that I wanted to do.

The kids in Sweden also go to “forest” school. I actually have a friend who’s daughter goes to something sort of similar here in Portland and I find it fascinating and so cool! The kids spend tons of time outside, they have gardens and grow fruits and vegetables that they eat and learn how to prepare the food. I think that’s amazing and I definitely want to do that with my kid.

“Children who spend a lot of time in nature have stronger hands, arms and legs and significantly better balance than children who rarely get to move freely in natural areas. In nature children use and exercise all the different muscle groups. [pg 101]”

We are so happy that Logan loves going outside. Since he was only a few months old he’s been out with us hiking! And now that he’s mobile, we are taking him on little “hikes” in the forests and parks in our city. He can “hike” on a trail and explore–pick up pinecones and sticks and smell the fresh air and he feels independent. It’s amazing watching him in the woods. 🙂

“…she doesn’t scold them for getting just about every square inch of their clothes and bodies dirty, including the lining of their nostrils. I’m not surprised. Messy, wild play is seen as a perfectly natural, even cherished, part of childhood in Scandinavia, and the way I was raised, muddy hands, piles of filthy clothes, and wet boots were almost considered badges of honor, a testament to a day filed with adventure, new experiences and lots of trial and error. [pg 145]”

I SO want that for Logan! I just need to get over my clean OCD/germphobia… 😉

“…risky play is nature’s way for children to teach themselves emotional resilience and learn how to manage and overcome their fears. [pg 189]”

The book was a fast read and it was really interesting. The author didn’t bog it down with too much facts/research/data but sprinkled that in throughout very nicely. She also had tips for ideas and stuff to try with your own kids. Definitely recommend!

6 ) Come Away With Me by Karma Brown

Wow. What a heavy book. I had mixed emotions about it as I was reading it but it pulled the whole story together at the end. The story is about Tegan, a mid-twenties woman who just got married and is about 6 months pregnant when her and her husband Gabe are in a horrific car crash right before Christmas.

Tegan loses the baby and is swallowed up by her grief. She is barely holding on to reality, choosing to stay in bed grieving instead. Everyone in her life is trying to help her.

“It’s amazing how one-dimensional my grief is. I am only capable of feeling numb. Even the pain, which used to be so sharp, has gone dull.”

Gabe and Tegan had a jar of “bucket list” type of trips and activities they wanted to do. So they decided to go to Thailand, Italy and Maui. The hope is that the trips shake Tegan out of her grief.

“If I want to make this work, I have to spend less time focusing on everything I lost that night and more time figuring out how to live without it.”

Tegan has a lot of anger towards Gabe because he was the one driving the car that night. It seems like she will never be able to let it go and forgive him and I thought, “Hmm I guess this is a book about divorce, too” but there is a twist at the end and the book is really about grief, how the mind heals and redemption.

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Like I said, it’s a very heavy book. This author writes about grief very well. The pain is palpable–and that might be too much for some readers to handle. But overall the book was very well done.

7 ) Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Scott Sampson is a judge. The book starts with a bang when he realizes his six year old twins have been kidnapped. Where are there? Who took them? Who can they trust? Judge Sampson is forced to comply with the kidnapper’s demands, making certain judgments on trials he’s in, all in hopes of having his kids returned safely.

The book had many suspects, lots of suspense, lots of ups and downs. At the heart of the story it was about power and revenge and about parents trying to save their kids. The book is well written and full of tension, and not just regarding the kidnapping! The story hits the ground running and never lets up. The ending was really good, too. .

Happy Reading!

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