Book review

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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Books #29

Here is a new book list! Enjoy!

1 ) After Anna by Alex Lake

Mild spoilers–but you can guess them pretty early on.

Julia is a divorce attorney who recently told her husband she wants a divorce. Nothing sordid–she just doesn’t love him anymore. He doesn’t take it well but things kind of get set aside when their 5 year old daughter, Anna, goes missing. Julia was late picking her up from school.

The story is about looking for Anna, who is missing for 7 days, but really it’s more about what happens when she is returned and how Julia’s life is turned upside down. There seems to be a campaign in the media to paint her as a horrible mother…and of course that leads to a custody battle.

I won’t give any more away. The ending was really good. The book was well written and as a mother you definitely feel the rollercoaster ride of emotions–the terror and fear of a missing child and then the rage and outrage of the custody issues later. You will not be able to put this book down.

 

2 ) I’m Fine…and Other Lies by Whitney Cummings

I’ve been a fan of Whitney for a long time. Back in the day before she got big, she was on Howard Stern a lot and used to do the Comedy Central Roasts and she was brutally funny. I also loved her TV show and was bummed when it got cancelled!

The book is good. It’s about her life and her journey (more internal stuff than a typical memoir) and while she covers some heavy issues, it’s very, very funny.

She writes about her struggles with being codependent.

“Codependents have low self-esteem and would rather focus on the needs of others than their own…Codependents are people pleasers who have an extreme need for approval, feel a sense of guilt when standing up for themselves, and can’t tolerate the discomfort of others. [pg 29]”

“…as adults we tend to re-create whatever happened to us as kids so our minds can maintain the chemical equilibrium that we’ve acclimated to. Being disappointed was my comfort zone so my brain would choose familiar insanity over unfamiliar sanity every time. [pg 35]”

While I don’t think I’m codependent, I could relate to this quote a lot:

“As a codependent, I mastered the art of giving my energy away. Before I got a handle on this nasty beast, I was always exhausted. [pg 40]”

I feel like I often give, give, give and then I end up feeling depleted and drained and stressed out. I used to have a hard time saying no to people and things I didn’t want to do. But having a kid gave me a built in “out.” 😉 Some people are just energy vampires and I’ve learned the older I get to weed those people out–the people that make me feel drained and tired after spending time with them, instead of feeling energized or happy. I think we can all think of people like that in our lives.

Whitney writes a lot about that and how she overcame it, and how she’s currently working on herself. It was really interesting to read about and I could relate to a lot of stuff she described. She writes about her experiences dating, her experiences with sexism in Hollywood (and elsewhere), among other things. She also wrote about a very infuriating experience she had a coffee shop that I could TOTALLY relate to:

“Like every woman I know, I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe by aggressive men at one point or another, but this was the first time since my childhood that I felt literally unseen. These men didn’t harass me, they just ignored me completely. I realized that day that it’s very hard to defend yourself against someone who doesn’t know you exist. [pg 85]”

Whitney also wrote about being anorexic.

“From fourteen to eighteen, I ate mostly rice cakes, nonfat yogurt and apples. I became irrationally terrified of fat…Eating disorders can be all-consuming brain take-overs that blind you to reality, so my brain became a labyrinth of self-deception. [pg 119]”

She is also an animal rights activist and dog-rescuer. I’ve followed her on instagram for a long time and love that she has pitbulls. She writes a chapter about her dogs and the pitbulls she’s rescued. She also described the accident she had with one of her dogs (she almost lost her ear) and what she learned about dog training and behavior because of her accident. It’s really fascinating stuff.

Overall I loved the book. Once in awhile she’d get a little woo-woo with her various therapies and psychics (LOL) but she seems very down to earth and like she’s trying her best to figure her shit out and improve herself.

3 ) Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

This was such an odd book…I’m not even sure I could describe it well enough to do it justice. Carl Feldman was once a great photographer but then he was tried and acquitted for the murder of a young woman. It’s now current day and he’s in a halfway house for people with dementia.

Grace is the mysterious woman who takes Carl on a road trip to the old scenes of crimes she suspects him of committing. And one of the missing girls she thinks he killed was her sister, Rachel. She’s trying to jog his memory so he will tell her where Rachel’s body is buried.

Except that the road trip kind of bonds them together and she discovers so many other secrets that she wasn’t expecting. The story is a bit murky but it’s pretty unique and engaging!

4 ) I’m Just Happy To Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering by Janelle Hanchett

Right before she was supposed to graduate from college, 20 year old Janelle discovered she was pregnant. She was young, stupid, and the father was someone she’d been dating for 3 months. It sounded like her childhood was equal parts chaotic and nurturing, with what we later learn in the book sounds like a bipolar mom.

Janelle and Mac decide to keep the pregnancy. This book is a memoir of Janelle’s life, her decent into postpartum depression and her struggle with addiction. A few months after giving birth, they get married at the courthouse and she is so miserable in her new body she wears black:

“But motherhood, motherhood is a trap. It’s like the goddamn ‘Hotel California’: You can check out, but you can never leave. [pg 47]”

“…I had recently given birth and felt betrayed by my body, with its giant belly hanging low, withered and stretched beneath alien milk tits. So I bought a black skirt and blouse, as if it were a funeral, though I merely wanted to hide behind cotton shadows. [pg 48]”

Postpartum depression seemed to be the beginning of her alcoholism, but maybe it was always there. She eventually got help and medication for the depression but that didn’t really fix the underlying issues of addiction she was beginning to have.

“…despite continued daily declarations of not tonight, not tonight, not tonight, the thought came to me. Janelle, maybe you are an alcoholic. If I am, so be it.  Because by then, the consequences of not drinking were far greater than anything that could have happened from drinking. Internally, that is, because I drank to repair my inner self. [pg 113]”

This is a gritty, raw, hard to read memoir and Janelle is NOT a likeable character. But she’s a damn fine writer and she describes her addiction to alcohol and cocaine very well.

She has an up and down, tumultuous relationship with her husband; they separate several times, get back together and have kids and she’s sober for 9 months and then back at it. Family tries to help but to no avail. She has a codependent relationship with her husband Mac, who also gets addicted to drugs and alcohol.  Eventually she goes to rehab (He does too, for 90 days). Her roommate in rehab is Alice, an older woman who can’t afford to stay for the full month.

“I thought of Alice and how she couldn’t even stay for the whole month [in rehab], and how drugs were the great leveler until it came to outcomes. To treatment. To the world opening itself to help. Nobody cared if Alice lived or died. Nobody would even notice if she were gone. [pg 164]”

It was a sad reflection on addiction services.

“I was living, breathing, thinking and eating recovery. I got stronger. I lost weight. My mind grew clearer while my family delighted in my “progress.” I had a whole army of activities, mental health workers, family, and friends encircling me, blocking me from the siren song of alcohol. [pg 165]”

Like I said, Janelle wasn’t a very likeable person. You wanted her to get her act together and stop being such an asshole to everyone in her life. But she never really got that. In the book she reflects on it and how she’d thought she’d be a better person once she was sober–but nope, she was still an asshole. Just sober.

“Meanwhile, Mac was a beaming light of sobriety, living back at the dome and apprenticing as an ironworker. Without me, he found a new career. My father was still sober and spending more and more time with my children. Everybody seemed to be getting better except me. [pg 171]”

She seemed resentful of everyone in her life.

“In those meetings they told me. ‘One day, alcohol will stop working for you.’…in that trailed I learned it was true. I learned that one day I would grow physically drunk–stumbling, vomiting, slurring my words–but my mind would remain clean, stripped and still starving. The relief alcohol once brought would never return. Like a rat on a wheel, I would frantically chase a drifting memory. [pg 178]”

“[Mac] had not taken a drink since March of 2007. When we would have lunch together, I’d suggest we order Coronas, and he’s say ‘No, thanks. One is too many and a thousand never enough.’ He had found sobriety in those rooms for drunks I knew were full of lies. [pg 183]”

But she eventually finds a friend and sponsor who tells her what she needs to hear to get sober.

“Until then, I had spent my entire adult life drunk, in the aftermath of drunk, in the pursuit of drunk, in the avoidance of drunk, or in the precarious hell of in-between drunk. [pg 198]”

“‘Alcohol was never your problem, it was your solution. If alcohol were the problem,’ he’d say, ‘rehab would be churning out winners. And yet, people like us always drink again. Every relapse starts with a sober grain. So where’s your problem? In sobriety?’ [pg 231]”

This book isn’t for everyone, and might be triggering for some people, but it was a really well-written and candid book about addiction and mental illness. It’s sometimes abrasive, sometimes blunt, but it also makes you look at things in a different way.

5 ) The House of Tides by Hannah Richell

Oh man…this book! I thought maybe it would be “Beach Read” type of family drama but it was definitely heavier than I was expecting. It was SO good, though, definitely read it.

Dora is the youngest daughter of a family that is struggling with a tragedy a decade ago. She lives in London with her fiance and then she discovers she’s pregnant and it brings up a lot of anxiety and fear about becoming a mother because of a tragedy that happened. Her older sister vanished after the tragedy and Dora is estranged from her mother, Helen.

The tragedy is so heart-wrenching it was hard for me to read. It hit too close to home, having a toddler of my own, but the book was SO well written and emotional and compelling. All the characters have depth and deal with their pain in their own way.

It’s the type of book you don’t want to put down. It flashes back and forth between past and present but it’s not confusing. You grow to love each character that shares their point of view of the tragedy. The family is full of secrets and it’s so complex and emotional. Excellent.

 

6 )  What You Want To See (Roxane Weary #2) by Kristen Lepionka

The second book in the series. I really enjoyed the first book and I like the character Roxane. She’s flawed by strong and interesting. She’s compelling to read and you want to know her in real life.

In this book, she’s hired by a man who wants her to follow his fiance, Marin, because he thinks she’s cheating. But then Marin is shot to death and her future husband, Arthur, is the number one suspect. Roxane knows there’s something off about the case so she keeps digging.

The plot was well thought out and interesting and honestly kept me guessing until the very end. Very good read!

7 ) Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

This is a YA book. Not usually my thing but it was really good and I liked it a lot. Lina is 16 and her mom dies of pancreatic cancer pretty quickly. She goes to Florence, Italy for the summer to live with the father she never knew she had. This was her mother’s last wish–to experience living in the city that she loved so much as a college student.

She arrives and a friend of her mother’s gives Lina an old journal. She starts to read about her mother’s love affairs in Florence and what resulted in her getting pregnant with Lina. At it’s heart the book is about young love and of course, there is a love story for Lina, too. This was definitely a feel good, romantic, beach-read type book!

Happy Reading!

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