books

Books #49

My goal for 2020 is to read 150 books. A little less than last year. Usually I try and read more books each year but last year I just barely made the goal. 🙂

1 – Save Me The Plums: A Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

I loved this book! It was so interesting! I was legitimately sad when the book ended and this might be one I buy and read again someday.

I’ve been a fan of Ruth for awhile. I’ve read one of her other books and liked it and I always liked it when she was a guest judge on Top Chef. Her critiques were thoughtful and interesting.

This is a memoir of her decision to leave her job as a restaurant critic and become the editor of Gourmet Magazine in the early 2000’s. It was the height of the magazine world but Gourmet, part of Conde Nast, was kind of floundering. The business side of the magazine was mismanaged, the ideas were stale. She came in and turned everything around at a time when chefs were becoming famous like rock stars.

Every chapter was a fascinating glimpse into the behind the scenes life of a food magazine. I loved reading about the test kitchen and how they created recipes. The chapter on 9/11 was a gripping and emotional read, written by someone who was there at Ground Zero, and after the fact fed the first responders.

“I’d learned an important lesson: When something frightens me, it is definitely worth doing.”

Her writing was excellent, descriptive, poetic and every time she described food I could taste it, smell it and desired it, and yet it wasn’t verbose or overdone. She didn’t drone on, I was never bored, I never skimmed. It was excellent!

2 – The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of September 11, 2001 by Garrett M. Graff

Wow, what an intense read. This book is definitely not for everyone. It’s a huge emotional roller-coaster. Anyone of a certain age remembers that day like it was yesterday. Those images will be etched in our memories forever. That is not something you ever get over or ever forget.

“It looked like a ticker-tape parade.”

The book is a first hand recounting of that day from people that were there. People that were on the flights that crashed (one of the flight attendants called in for help when it was hijacked and the book had the transcripts). It was transcripts of people that left voicemails from the hijacked planes (I totally cried reading those):

“Hey Jules, this is Brian. Ah, listen… I’m on an airplane that has been hijacked… if things don’t go well, and they’re not looking good, I want you to know that I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, have good times, same with my parents. I’ll see you when you get here. I want you to know that I totally love you. Bye, babe, I hope I will call you.”

It was first hand telling from firefighters, police, nurses, doctors, regular people that were just going to work that day. People that SURVIVED the towers falling (their stories were INCREDIBLE).

“…jet fuel blasted out of the central elevator bank and mushroomed everywhere. People were—20 yards from me—lifted on this fireball and thrown through those lobby windows and incinerated.”

I literally could not put the book down. I could not stop reading it. It was SO INTENSE.

“One of the firemen from Rescue 1 looked up and said, “We may not live through today.” We looked at him, and we looked at each other, and we said, “You’re right.” We took the time to shake each other’s hands and wish each other good luck and “Hope I’ll see you later,” which is especially poignant for me because we all had that acknowledgment that this might be our last day on earth and we went to work anyway.”

The book is powerful, emotional, heartbreaking and just so gut-wrenching but really, really important to read.

“Ultimately, 60 of the FDNY personnel killed on 9/11 were supposed to be off-duty that morning.”

“Frederick Terna, Holocaust survivor and Brooklyn resident: As ashes were falling, I was back in Auschwitz, with ashes coming down. In Auschwitz, I knew what the ashes were. Here, I assumed I knew what the ashes were- it was a building and human remains.”

This is a book that will stay in my memory for a long time. Incredible.

#3 – Anyjar by Jaimie Gusman

I don’t know where to begin with this review. It’s a book of poetry and it’s so raw and so beautiful. It took me about 4 months to read it (and it’s not a long book). I read each poem slowly, savoring each word, picturing the poems and stories the author was trying to tell.

The book of poetry is beautiful. With poetry, of course, it’s open to interpretation, but to me it seemed largely about grief and healing. But the imagery in the book was vast; oceans and birds and love and sex and memories and family. It was deep and had levels within levels.

I loved the book and will reread it again.

#4 Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

This was a really engrossing read. It spanned several generations. The story starts out in the early 70’s when two young guys become cops in New York and start families. They live next door to each other in the suburbs and then after some time has past, a tragic event happens that forever ties these two families and their kids together.

The story is really good and told well. It flows through the years and even as new characters are introduced, you are still interested and keep reading. In the end the book about is about forgiveness, love and life. I loved the ending. It felt right.

#5 – Dear Girls : Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong

I love Ali Wong. Her standup is biting and hilarious and sometimes raunchy. This book is all of that. I found myself laughing out loud so many times and I could totally hear her voice while I was reading the book.

It was funny and she had some interesting life advice. It was sort of a memoir, but not really, in letter form to her daughters. Basically talking about her life as a single girl, what it’s like being an Asian American comic/actress and talked about her culture and heritage and family, but with humorous stories. I’ve read a lot of books by comics and they aren’t always funny. This one was.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters about pregnancy. (And if you’ve seen her stand up, you know.)

“Before I got pregnant, I was determined to have a kumbaya hippie birth in water, surrounded by a Santa Monica sorceress named Owlfeathers and lots of chanting. One TV director gave me her meditation CDs that were meant to guide you through an epidural-free labor. (Fun fact: You can’t meditate your cervix to open wider so don’t waste your time!)”

“Bring a nice blanket, something soft and cozy that feels like the inside of an Ugg boot or a Care Bear’s vagina. Hospital bedding does not spark joy.”

“Babies are often born with fingernails so disturbingly long it made me wonder why nobody told me there had been a raccoon living inside my uterus.”

#6 Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey

I heard a podcast about Isabella recently and wanted to know more about her so I got this book. It was long, very detailed but totally fascinating!

Isabella was a strong, powerful woman even when she was a teenager and defied her brother and married King Ferdinand in secret. She had a lot of forethought and wisdom at a young age.

She was also the Queen that financed Columbus’s adventures but she was also a kind, religious person who wanted the Native people to be treated with kindness. She was not too happy to hear the reports of how Columbus and the other explorers were treating the people they discovered in the new world.

There were a lot of facts and history so it’s a slow read but very fascinating.

Happy Reading!

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Books #47

I like a lot of the books I’ve read lately. I discovered some new authors/series and got caught up on some favorite authors. Here are some of my favorites:

#1 The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

This was an interesting story. It turned out to be more of a courtroom drama but it was interesting and kept me reading. I liked it a lot and it was well written.

Chloe is a rich a famous New York magazine executive and feminist figurehead. She’s married to Adam, a lawyer. Except her past is a little more sketchy. Turns out, Adam was married to her sister Nicky before they got divorced and Chloe and Adam married. And Ethan is Chloe’s stepson, and also her nephew. But more comes to light when Adam is murdered and the trial brings out all the dirty secrets.

#2 Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

This was an excellent book! It was a heavy topic, but it wasn’t dry or bogged down with lots of dry facts and figures. The statistics were scattered around the book in an unobtrusive way and the way it was written was engrossing. The author wrote about several people and you got sucked into their stories and were interested in the outcomes.

“These days, there are sheriff squads whose full-time job is to carry out eviction and foreclosure orders.”

He followed several people in Milwaukee, WI, who were poor and struggling to keep a roof over their head. It was a mixture of races, ages and sexes. Some had families, some were single. One was a male nurse who had gotten addicted to opiates and due to drug abuse, lost his job, nursing license, and struggled to stay in his trailer.

“Today, the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates over 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on…Fewer and fewer families can afford a roof over their head. This is among the most urgent and pressing issues facing America today…”

This book was definitely eye-opening. I had no idea how a lot of this stuff worked. I definitely had to face my own privilege reading this book and know that I never had to deal with the realities that a lot of Americans have to deal with. Deciding whether to feed their kids or pay their rent.

“It was a common strategy among cash-strapped renters. Because the rent took almost all of their paycheck, families sometimes had to initiate a necessary eviction that allowed them to save enough money to move to another place. One landlord’s loss was another’s gain.”

The book really does an excellent job describing such a broken system.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out… Men often avoided eviction by laying concrete, patching roofs, or painting rooms for landlords. But women almost never approached their landlord with a similar offer. Some women—already taxed by child care, welfare requirements, or work obligations—could not spare the time. But many others simply did not conceive of working off the rent as a possibility. When women did approach their landlords with such an offer, it sometimes involved trading sex for rent.”

One of the people he followed was a landlord, Sherrena. I found that really fascinating. Sometimes you got a glimpse of someone who had a heart and was really kind and actually cared…one single mother with two boys moved in to one of her units and she brought them a box of food when they first moved in. And yet…she ended up evicting them later because of police activity at that unit.

“Every month Sherrena collected roughly $20,000 in rent. Her monthly mortgage bills rounded out to $8,500. After paying the water bill, Sherrena—who owned three dozen inner-city units, all filled with tenants around or below the poverty line—figured she netted roughly $10,000 a month, more than what Arleen, Lamar, and many of her other tenants took home in a year.”

The other thing that was super frustrating was that a lot of the poor people were on SSI or SSD or welfare and given a certain amount of money each month. But they were never able to get ahead. If they had too much money in their bank account, they lost their services. It really doesn’t make people want to try and get out of poverty. Talk about a broken system! Thankfully Oregon doesn’t have that, they have a savings account program for people on benefits so that they can TRY and save and get out of poverty levels.

“She was allowed to have up to $2,000 in the bank, not $1,000 like she thought, but anything more than that could result in her losing benefits. Larraine saw this rule as a clear disincentive to save.”

“If Arleen and Vanetta didn’t have to dedicate 70 or 80 percent of their income to rent, they could keep their kids fed and clothed and off the streets. They could settle down in one neighborhood and enroll their children in one school, providing them the opportunity to form long-lasting relationships with friends, role models, and teachers. They could start a savings account or buy their children toys and books, perhaps even a home computer.”

I think this should be required reading in schools, honestly. It was so so good and so eye opening.

#3 The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

Olivia Shaw is a food editor in San Francisco, in a dying engagement, struggling with the recent death of her mother and recovering from a car accident that has left her with chronic pain. The surprise news that she’s inherited a castle in England, is not what she’s expecting. It turns out she knew nothing about her mother’s past.

Olivia goes to England to settle things up and as the story unfolds, she realizes how much she didn’t know. She also realizes just how much she needed a “redo” for her life.

The book is surprisingly good for a romance. It’s not usually my type of book. It doesn’t feel like a “fluffy” romance book. It definitely deals with grief and healing. The topic of renovating the old estate was fascinating and the romance between the two main characters was very well written. I liked this story a lot!

#4 Passion on Park Avenue by Lauren Layne

This was a cute, fun little read. Naomi is a 30-something CEO of her own company and when her boyfriend dies and she finds out he was actually married, she decides it’s time to get her personal life in order.

There was a nice romance in the book that was well written (enemies into soul mates kind of a thing) and the book was funny and charming. I liked the characters!

#5 Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family by Catherine Newman

I absolutely LOVED this book. It was laugh out loud funny. I was cracking up the entire time I read the book and I could also relate to everything. It felt like she was writing my story. It was a great book about becoming a mother, being pregnant:

“This pregnant tiredness is so unearthly. I stagger into work and sit down at my computer, and it’s all I can do not to crawl under my desk immediately and go to sleep on the floor. I crave recumbency.”

… and the crazy time postpartum is:

“The postpartum period is like The Perfect Storm: all the wild forces of new-babyhood collide to make you ragingly, epically nuts. I know that I’ll look back on this period and understand the equation perfectly. I understand it even now: hormones + mewling subhuman + strange, sore body + moping older child – sleep=utter lunacy. I am an utter lunatic.”

…and how new babies change marriages:

‘ “Wow,” he’d say, “now that was a great night, right? Ben’s a great sleeper.” “Honey,” I’d say, “you had a great night. You’re a great sleeper. I nursed Ben every hour. I now have no choice but to leave you.” ‘

And then she wrote about having the second baby and what life was like with a toddler.

“…what I love about three-year-olds? They’re just so flexible. So come-what-may. Nothing needs to look a certain way or be done in a particular order. They’re always like, “Hey, Mom, however you want to do it. That’s just great with me.” ” LOL

I just couldn’t put the book down and I didn’t want it to end.

#6 A Dangerous Man (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #18) by Robert Crais

One of my favorite series! This was a great read in the series. I read it in one day and I couldn’t put the book down.

Isabel is a 20-something bank teller just living her life when she leaves work for lunch one day and is grabbed by two strange men. Pike is leaving the bank and sees the attempted kidnapping and intervenes. He saves Isabel but then finds himself embroiled in a mystery of who is trying to kidnap Isabel and why.

The outcome was very interesting! I liked the story and was happy to have beloved characters back. Definitely recommend.

#7 Inherit the Bones by Emily Littlejohn

Really strong start to a new series. Detective Gemma Monroe is 6 months pregnant and having relationship issues. She’s handed a new case that unravels the entire town.

Gemma is a strong lead character. I liked that she was vulnerable but not whiny or dependent on a man. The story isn’t too gruesome. There were plot points that were well done and believable. The mystery was well-written, good/believable dialogue and surprise ending. I liked the book and can’t wait to read the next one.

Happy Reading!

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