book reviews

Books #41

I’ve been so busy lately, the book reading has slowed down, but I am still reading. So here are a few to add to your list:

  1. A Beautiful Corpse: Harper McClain #2 by Christi Daugherty

This is the second book in the series. Harper is back, front and center, still the crime reporter for the flailing newspaper in Savannah. Her personal life is also flailing a little bit. Her ex is back in town, but they aren’t really back together and things are weird between them. She’s also dealing with the aftermath of what happened in the first book–and the whole police force is kind of punishing her for it. Which makes her job harder.

Harper is just trying to do her job when she gets a story that changes everything. Naomi Scott is a law student who also works as a bartender to make ends meet. She works at the same bar as Bonnie, Harper’s best friend. Naomi is murdered and Harper is convinced the police are on the wrong path.

This was another good book. I really enjoyed the story. All the characters come to life, you really picture the world created. I couldn’t put the book down.

#2 One Day in December by Josie Silver

This is a typical far-fetched, rom-com/chick lit book with vibes of Bridget Jones.

Laurie is on a bus in London, going home from work in December. She sees a guy standing outside at a bus stop, he looks up, they make eye contact, sparks fly, she thinks He’s The One. Then the bus drives away. She can’t get him out of her mind. Months later, her best friend and roommate, Sarah, brings home her new boyfriend, Jack, and of course it’s the guy from the bus stop. But Laurie doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t want to wreck anything for her best friend.

The book spans years, many relationships, marriages, divorces, will Laurie and Jack ever be together? I liked the characters and the writing style. Overall, I enjoyed the book, it was easy to read. I don’t know that it’s a super memorable book but I liked it.

#3 Educated by Tara Westover

I’m not even sure where to start with this book…it’s a memoir. Tara describes what it’s like growing up in rural Idaho in the mountains with a deeply religious family, bordering on cult-ish behavior, where her and her siblings are “home-schooled” but not really. It doesn’t seem like they get any schooling beyond learning basics.

“Grandma thought we should be in school and not, as she put it, ‘roaming the mountain like savages.’ Dad said public school was a ploy by the Government to lead children away from God. ‘I may as well surrender my kids to the devil himself,’ he said, ‘as send them down the road to that school.’ [pg 4]”

Her father is a right wing End of Days nutjob who is thinks schooling is the work of the devil. It’s clear early on he has some severe mental illness and his wife is compliant, or bullied. There’s hints of domestic violence, too. Randy Weaver and the Ruby Ridge incident happened nearby them and that fueled Tara’s father’s paranoia.

“…by the time I was ten, the only subject I had studied systematically was Morse code, because Dad insisted that I learn it. ‘If the lines are cut, we’ll be the only people in the valley who can communicate.’ [pg 45]”

Then one of Tara’s older brother’s goes away to college, despite their father’s refusal. Tyler had figured out a loophole: being “homeschooled” didn’t keep them from being able to go to college.

“There’s a world out there, Tara. And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear. [pg 120]”

So that plants the seed. Tara decides she wants to go to college, even though she’s had no formal schooling, hasn’t even learned math…she gets some books, studies for the ACT, takes the test and fails, then takes it again. And lies about her age (she’s 16) and gets into BYU. She’s definitely a fish out of water. She goes to college and for the first time in her life she’s discovering things are not as her father said they were. And she’s learning things she was never taught–like The Holocaust.

The first half of the book is about her growing up in the horrific environment of insanity, lies and mental illness. The second half is about her going to school, learning EVERYTHING normal people learn in a short period of time and then ridding herself of the shackles she’s had her whole life (her family).

It was a great book, very compelling, but I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable reading…it was definitely intense reading!

#4 Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly

Marianne is accomplished in her career, married with an adult daughter, living a posh life in London. Then she goes back home to her rundown town to help care for her mother who is suffering from dementia. She is faced with the dark secrets she left behind.

Her husband surprises her by buying a flat in a newly renovated building that used to be the insane asylum in her hometown. He thinks this is a good thing since they are going to be there for awhile taking care of her ailing mother. But Marianne is suddenly faced with her secret past and everything is threatening to be revealed and ruin her life.

The book was told in a very interesting way. I enjoyed it a lot and liked the unique writing style. The book starts slow but picks up the pace and get pretty good.

#5 The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

I loved this book!

It’s 1943. Tess lives in Little Italy in Baltimore with her mom. She’s finishing nursing school. She’s engaged to the love of her life, Vincent, who is a doctor. Her life is planned out and she thinks things are going the way they should. Then Vincent goes off to Chicago for what they believe will be a few weeks, to help out with a polio outbreak. A few weeks turns into months. Their relationship suffers. Tess is lonely, starting to have doubts about Vincent and whether he still loves her.

Tess and Gina go to Washington DC for a weekend of fun and to get Tess’s mind off her worries. Tess makes one mistake and ends up cheating on Vincent and getting pregnant. Since she’s a “good Catholic” girl, she can’t end the pregnancy. She decides to leave Baltimore and find the one night stand to see if he’ll give her some money so she could disappear with her baby. Instead, Henry proposes. Tess decides this is the best option. Her baby will have a name. So she leaves Vincent, Baltimore, everything she knows, and moves to North Carolina, marries Henry and realizes she made a huge mistake.

The book is compelling and an easy read. You get sucked in immediately. It discusses WWII, race issues, polio, women’s issues, women’s independences, so many things. It was really, really interesting!

#6 Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern

I’m not sure how to rate this book. I’m a huge fan. I’ve been a faithful radio listener for 20+ years. So of course I pre-ordered the book. But this book, I feel, is not necessarily for the faithful listeners. This book is clips and transcripts of some of Howard’s best interviews over the years, with some thoughts and such in between. He reveals some personal stuff in the book but it’s not necessarily a “tell all” type of memoir. So if you’ve listened to the interviews and heard every show (like me) then this is all stuff you’ve already heard.

BUT, it is very good and it’s very interesting because he chose interviews that were very compelling. Where guests really revealed intimate or tragic things about themselves and their lives. So even if you aren’t a Howard Stern fan, you could read this book and enjoy every word of it because you will learn things about celebrities you wouldn’t learn anywhere else.

He talks about a LOT of heavy topics, too. Like how Pamela Anderson was gang raped. Lena Dunham was raped. Stephen Colbert’s father and two brothers were killed in a plane crash. Rosie O’Donnell talked about the really hard childhood she had losing her mother at a young age. Howard wrote:

“…she announced she was gay. That really struck a chord with me. I had an older cousin, Stacy, who came out in the 1950s, when he was thirteen. This was in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, but my family was very accepting. My mother would set him up on dates, and even as a little kid I appreciated how courageous Stacy was. The same went for Rosie. I couldn’t imagine how much guts it took for her to come out, especially considering the potential risk to her career, yet she did it. “

Several celebrities discussed their run-ins with Harvey Weinstein. And Howard shared his interview with Harvey (where Harvey lied outright about the casting couch rumors).

Courtney Love talked about what it was like losing her husband to suicide. “No, he was weak. He was weak. Howard: Does that bother you that you guys weren’t on good terms when he died? Courtney: We were on good terms. He was just really weak. Howard: He couldn’t fuck at that point or think about anything other than his own condition. Courtney: He couldn’t think of anything but drugs. Howard: It is sad. So sad.”

Chris Cornell talked about his addiction to Oxy. “Yeah, it’s—you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t feel anything. Kicking it is so hard because all of a sudden your whole body comes to life, and you’ll have had all of these physical problems you didn’t realize you had because you don’t feel a damn thing. And so your knees will hurt. Your joints ache. Your brain hurts. It’s very depressing. It’s very hard to stay off. Getting off isn’t as hard as staying off. “

The interviews were really heavy at times. “Sometimes the conversations can be funny, like Snoop Dogg and Seth Rogen talking about their love of weed. Sometimes it can get dark, like hearing about Anthony Kiedis and Drew Barrymore being exposed to drugs when they were just kids.” And then it could be funny–like Alex Trebek revealing that he went to a party in Malibu and ate a bunch of Hash brownies because he has a sweet tooth. LOL!

And of course, Howard talks a lot about the animal rescue him and his wife do. He opened up about his cat, Leon: “We had Leon for eight years. We were never sure how old he was. This past September, the vet found a large tumor. We had to get it removed or else Leon would die. The surgery was routine, we were told, and he was expected to come through it fine. I had this strange feeling. A few days before he went to the hospital, I had a long talk with him. I said, “Leon, you’re going in for an operation. I can’t lose you. You’ve been with me through thick and thin. Don’t worry, you’re going to be all right. We’re going to be spending a lot more time together.” But deep in my mind I knew this could be it. Sadly, he died on the operating table. The tumor was even bigger than they thought, and he lost too much blood during the procedure. We had Leon cremated, and we put the small box containing his remains in a large Chinese vase in our bedroom. In that vase we keep the remains of our dog Bianca and all our resident cats who have passed away: Apple, Charlie, Sophia, and now Leon. Inside Leon’s box is also his collar with contact information in case he ever got out of the house. “My name is Leon Bear Stern,” it read. “Here is my phone number in case I am lost.” I was the one who had been lost—lost until I found Leon.”

I still cry whenever I read about his experiences losing his pets (they’ve lost a few cats over the years). It touches me pretty deeply.

Anyways, the book is excellent.

Happy Reading!

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Books #35

This will probably be my last book post of the year! Enjoy!

1 ) Dead Souls (DI Kim Stone #6) by Angela Marsons

Excellent book! It started off a little weird–it felt like there were so many story lines happening all at once and it was kind of confusing. It was definitely a different format than the usual books in this series and there was less about Kim and more about the other cops on her team. But in the end it all pulled together and all the weird, random story lines came together into one.

Kim is instructed by her boss to join a nearby precinct’s task force. So Kim has to take a back seat from being in charge, and work with DI Travis, whom there is a lot of bad history with.  While Kim is working with this other team, her team is working on a few other cases without her. She feels torn in both places.

The story is about hate crimes and it was definitely chilling. It tackles some heavy subjects! This was definitely a page turner once the book picked up momentum.

 

2 ) And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell

I really liked this book a lot. I felt like it was something I could have written in my postpartum days. The writing was funny and real and sometimes brutal.

Meaghan and Dustin are young, living in New York City and focusing on their careers, newly engaged, when she gets pregnant. Meaghan is excited but scared, which is normal I think.

“I spent most of my life being just a little bit fat and always figured that pregnancy would be a nice reprieve. [pg 49]”

“I had this image in my mind of how I’d look pregnant, mostly based on the type of woman who posed on lifestyle blogs and looked ‘like a beanpole swallowed a bowling ball.’ [pg 49]”

I laughed out loud at the part. It’s so true. I can remember being kind of jealous of this stick thin women who get pregnant and gain basically no weight except for the basket ball stomach. The author doesn’t write a ton about the pregnancy, but she gives highlights. And then she described the birthing process, which was dramatic for her.

“I had drunk the Kool-Aid. I had wanted a ‘natural labor and birth’ for reasons that, now that I was actually living through natural labor, I no longer related to. [pg 87]”

What interested me most about the memoir was the postpartum stories she shared. I could relate to so many of them. The zombie-like existence from lack of sleep and most interestingly, her struggle with Postpartum Anxiety.

“We slept in short bursts. Whether the baby was crying or not, I woke up with a start and rushed over to him to make sure he was alive. Day and night bled into each other, coalescing into one big nightmare. [pg 114]”

“At night, whether he was crying or not, I woke up every hour or so with a gasp and shone the light of my phone over his face, put my fingers under his nose to feel for breath. [pg 164]”

“What’s neurosis and what’s maternal instinct? [pg 172]”

It was weird that she never called it PPA in the book. I don’t recall that she saw a therapist or was diagnosed with it, but she most definitely had it. I went through that same exact thing: waking up to check on the baby and make sure they are still breathing, being afraid to sleep, checking on them when they make noises and when they don’t.

I feel like the author had a real opportunity to shine a light on something people don’t talk much about. There is so much focus of PPD and I think a lot of women suffer from PPA and don’t even know it. I wish I had known it earlier on, maybe I could have managed some of the anxiety in a better way. So in that regard, I was disappointed in the book. I wish she’d really delved deeper in that topic.

Another topic she brushed on (but didn’t elaborate on and should have) was how much your relationships and friendships change with people once you are a mom–especially if your friends don’t have kids.

“My body would never be the same. My life would never be the same. My relationship with these women would never be the same. I couldn’t make sense of it yet, even to myself, but I felt like there was a glimmer of understanding between us. [pg 128]”

Another part of the memoir I laughed about (which I can laugh NOW about, but not at the time) was her struggles with breastfeeding. This is another postpartum topic that is NOT discussed much. I know books I read barely wrote about it, the birthing class I took spent 15 minutes on breastfeeding and that was it. I went into the whole thing thinking it would be this perfect moment, easy and without struggle, where the baby would just latch on and everything would work like magic–with cherubs and angels singing. Yeah. Nope.

“I couldn’t remember what The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding said anymore. Breastfeeding at this point didn’t feel like a success so much as an assault, something coming at me faster than I could cope with, happening almost constantly. [pg 139]”

“As soon as the baby latched on, I burst into tears–of relief, of rage. I’d had this idea of what breastfeeding would be like. Not the physical experience, but the lived reality, the timing, the way it was supposed to fit between other things. I thought it would be something happening in the background while I went about my actual life. [pg 142]”

Breastfeeding is HARD and there’s a reason why statistic show a large majority of women quit after 6 weeks. When I heard that statistic in my labor class, I was shocked and confused. When the time came to breastfeed my tongue-tied baby? I totally understood. When breastfeeding doesn’t work like magic? It kind of sucks. It’s hard, it can be painful, your supply can be so bad that it’s not even worth it…and then there is all the society pressure of “breast is best”. The guilt that moms feel when they have to (or chose to) use formula. If I had to do it again, I would not have stressed so much. Breastfeeding LITERALLY becomes your entire life: feeding, pumping, cleaning the pump supplies, storing the milk, defrosting milk, living by the rigid schedule of breastfeeding or pumping every two hours, or if your baby is cluster feeding, all the time.

“It was hard to see this time with our son for what it was: an investment in another person, the sacrifice at the start of a long, rewarding project. It was like a hazing ritual, with all the hardest parts at the beginning. [pg 207]”

I really liked the above quote. It was a good reminder that yes, pregnancy and raising a kid is tough but it’s a rewarding investment. A good reminder for those sleepless nights. 😉

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. I’d give it 5 (I did love it a lot) but I really wish she’d written more about clinical postpartum anxiety. (Especially reading the reviews on Goodreads where some people said she was “whiny”– I mean really??? PPD and PPA is not whining. I think people are really ignorant on these topics.)

 

3 ) The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

This was an odd book. It was a domestic thriller, I guess, but it was subtle. The unnamed young woman, in her late 20’s, lives and works in the Cayman Islands and is swept off her feet by an older man. Max Winter, a recent widow, a rich politician from New York, he brings her back to his home, Asherly, in the Hamptons. It’s a stark change from the sunny, warm beauty of the Caribbean. Especially when she meets Max’s spoiled teenage daughter, Dani.

The narrator tries her best to become friends with Dani, to show that she’s not just some gold digger trying to replace her dead mother. But Dani is spoiled, evil and trying to punish her. So you think. The story unravels slowly, but it draws you in and keeps you guessing. I did not expect the ending at all!

4 ) The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

What a gut-wrenching, excellent, heart-breaking book.

It’s a memoir, told by Ruthie, about her childhood growing up in a polygamist Mormon family. Her mom was married to one of the prophets and moved down to Mexico to live in the “colony”. When her husband is murdered, she remarries Lane, who has several wives and keeps collecting wives…and having children.

The whole book is just horrible. I mean, it’s well written and evokes a lot of emotions–some good. You really fall in love with the innocent children in Ruthie’s family. The kids are survivors, that much is true. But it’s also so sad to read about a childhood of violence, abuse, sexual abuse, girls being married off as teens, women pumping out dozens of children for “God” when their husbands are basically deadbeats who can’t take care of the kids they have. They lived in squalor with no running water or indoor plumbing, ate rice and beans and traveled back and forth between Mexico and Texas to get their food stamps and government assistance. The neglect was palpable. Yet…more children are being born.

It was hard to read about, but Ruthie was such a strong girl and you really rooted for her to succeed and get out of that hellhole. The ending of the book was a shock and came out of nowhere for me. It was sad and tragic, but I’m glad I read the book because in some ways it was inspiring. The author is a true survivor.

5 ) A Borrowing of Bones: Mercy & Elvis Mystery #1 by Paula Munier

This was a great book and a good start of a new series! Mercy is a retired Army MP who has returned home to Vermont to heal and grieve after losing her fiance in Afghanistan. But she’s not entirely alone. She has Elvis, her fiance’s bomb-sniffing dog who is also retired from the Army. Elvis has PTSD from the war and from losing his master but he’s slowly getting better. One of the things that helps is the daily hikes he takes in the Vermont wilderness with Mercy.

Except one day, Elvis discovers an abandon baby in the woods. Along with some old bones and possibly a bomb. This unravels a mystery that Mercy can’t ignore.

The book sucks you in right away, you really like the characters and it keeps you guessing til the end. I really loved Elvis and Mercy and can’t wait to read book 2!

6 ) Little Comfort (Hester Thursby Mystery #1) by Edwin Hill

This was an interesting little mystery thriller. Hester is a librarian at the Harvard Library. As a side job, she’s also a kind of private investigator who finds people. Her new client, Lila, asks her to find her long lost brother, Sam, who ran away with his childhood friend, Gabe, after a mystery incident in their teens.

It doesn’t take Hester more than a few days to find Sam, who over the years has changed his name half a dozen times, moved around the country and infiltrated rich communities with his new identities. Basically, making lonely rich women fall in love with him. But Hester’s investigation takes a deadly turn and soon she’s worried about her own safety.

The book is a page turner and the ending was very exciting. This was a good first book in a series!

 

7 ) Jar of Heats by Jennifer Hillier

I don’t even know where to start! This book was so good! I could not put it down.

Georgina “Geo” Shaw, is an executive and rising star in a Seattle pharmaceutical company, engaged to the CEO’s son, wears expensive suits and drives a Range Rover. The book opens with Georgina in a courtroom, testifying to her part in a murder 14 years prior, where her old high school boyfriend is on trial. Geo’s expensive, fancy life is falling apart. Her ex-boyfriend is the SweetBay Strangler, convicted of murdering multiple women–starting with Geo’s best friend in high school, Angela. And now Geo is headed off to prison for 5 years to pay for her part in keeping quiet for all these years. She got a “sweet” deal for agreeing to testify, but…that doesn’t mean her life isn’t over.

The book is a fascinating read and flawlessly flashbacks to the high school time before Angela is murdered, when Geo is in an abusive relationship with Calvin (before he turns into a serial killer), to the five years Geo is in prison–who she makes friends with inside, how she survives–and what happens when she gets released from prison.

Geo returns home to Seattle to live with her father. Except with multiple degrees and an impressive pedigree–and money–she can’t get a loan for a house, or a job. No one in the city will even talk to her and she walks around like the Scarlet Letter since getting released. A mysterious neighbor is spray painting horrific things on her father’s garage door and her car on a daily basis. The harassment feels overwhelming. You definitely feel sympathy for her–until the story starts to unravel a little more. What other secrets is Geo keeping?

The book is well written, has a good plot, well-developed characters and the events are shocking. This book is not for the faint of hearts but if you love a good thriller, you will fly through this book! Dark, twisted, compelling and surprising!

Happy reading!

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