Books #44

Ok, I have some good ones to recommend! A few deep, heavy books and a few light reading. A good mix, I’d say. 🙂

  1. Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan

Jessica is a Chinese American who lived in Australia and Beijing and now lived in London with her British husband. A self-proclaimed introvert/borderline recluse, she found that she was feeling lonely and lost.

“I’m really good at other things, like loitering palely in dark doorways. Disappearing into couch corners. Leaving early. Feigning sleep on public transportation.”

All of her friends had moved away, married, had kids, moved on and she wanted to challenge herself to becoming an extrovert. She was impressed with her friends who were extroverts and she wanted to mirror what they did.

“Willow had stopped to pet a woman’s dog in Prospect Park: she ended up spending the day with the woman, going to a jazz club with her until 4 a.m., and later landing her dream job through one of her new friend’s connections. She’d met her boyfriend in a line for the bathroom at a festival. She discovered she had hypoglycemia by talking to a doctor at a party. Her entire life has been shaped by these random encounters. All because she chooses to talk and listen to people she has just met, rather than run away from them at full speed muttering, “I don’t speak English!” “

So she sought out advice from experts in the field. She went to class, therapy, she took an improv course. She took a class in stand-up comedy that resulted in her having to actually perform. She spoke to random strangers everywhere she went.

“In London, I learned quickly that if you talk to a stranger in public, they look at you like you’ve slapped them in the face: shocked and aggrieved. Betrayed as well, because you have broken the social contract that we all agreed to follow in public: no one exists but you.”

She went to networking events:

“I make a few rules before each event. Go with an intention. Talk to three people, with Richard’s advice in mind, and aim to really bond or connect with one person. Psychologists also say that it takes time for shy people to warm up, so if you always leave after ten minutes, you’re never giving yourself the chance to actually succeed. Stay for at least an hour.”

I found the book really fascinating and funny. The writer is hilarious and her sense of humor is dry. I enjoyed the book and I enjoyed reading about her journey and the growth she went through.

“…over the course of the year, I’d simply found that it was easy to get into Deep Talk with other women. Maybe it was because we usually had more in common, maybe it was because we’re generally encouraged to talk more openly about our feelings—I don’t know why, but it just seemed like every time I took that leap into the uncomfortable unknown, women would leap right in after me.”

The book also made me think of my own life and how often I say “no” to events because of anxiety or fear. And it made me question how my life could be enriched if I said yes more often.

#2 Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews

It was predictable but enjoyable.

Drue is in her mid-thirties. Her life is not going as planned. She’s a jock that has to give up her sport due to an injury and her drifter-type lifestyle comes to an end when she gets fired as a bartender. Her mom dies and her estranged dad offers her a job in his law office. Since she’s down and out she decides to take it. She needs the money.

The story is about Drue reconnecting with her dad, repairing the relationship, discovering she’s pretty good at being a private investigator, and uncovering who murdered one of their clients.

The book is pretty good. There were some slow parts in the middle and some parts that needed some editing down for brevity sake but overall I liked the character, I liked the story and the world that was created.

#3 The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan

I enjoyed this book a lot. Zoe is a single mom to Hari, who is 4 and doesn’t speak yet. She’s struggling in London. Her job isn’t great, she barely makes any money to get by, her flat is horrible and living in London is busy, crowded and dirty. Her ex-boyfriend is no help. She’s at her wit’s end and a friend reaches out and gives her a lifeline. She decides to pack everything up and move to Scotland to be a nanny and help out Nina with her book mobile in Scotland.

The three kids she’s a nanny for are terrible. She’s “Nanny Number 7”. They live in a big castle in the middle of nowhere. The housekeeper is a curmudgeon. The father is a recluse and rarely around. But Zoe is determined to make it work.

The book is charming and you really picture the environment. I liked it a lot.

#4 Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

This was a very interesting, well-written book. It spans a few decades, but focuses on the 1980s. Dana is a teenager in Atlanta, being raised by her mother who is “married” to James Witherspoon, a bigamist. Dana and her mother are aware of his first family, wife Laverne and daughter Chaurisse. But the first family has no idea they exist.

The book is a fascinating read about African America culture in the 80s, the history of racism in the south, and how bigamy “works” (or doesn’t). Dana and Chaurisse tell their stories, and of course, the two worlds collide and the truth comes to light. It’s so well written and I could not put it down! I didn’t like the ending but the rest of the book was excellent.

#5 Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra

I heard about this book on a podcast and it was a very interesting read! The author is a first generation Indian, living in Memphis, which is apparently a very segregated city. She writes a lot about race and what it was like being brown in a very white city.

“I came of age not feeling fully at home in either black or white spaces… I
was born brown in a city divided into black and white… I started to resent being treated as a one-woman diversity show.”

“… white classmates asking for bindis after Gwen Stefani started wearing them on the red carpet in 1998 was stressful. None of us knew what “cultural appropriation” was yet, but I could feel the specter of it pulsing around the edge of my life.”

Eventually she came out as bisexual and married a white woman and they adopted an African American baby boy. She writes about the struggles she has living in the south as an Indian-American, a lesbian, and a mother of a black boy who might be transgender.

“… when the act of explaining your family structure becomes a part of every day of your life, you grow tired of being gracious.”

“That’s always the message: You can be gay as long as you aren’t too gay. Or you can be gay in private. We’ll let you stay if you live a compartmentalized life; keep the freaky stuff where we can’t see it.”

It’s a very deep and thoughtful book; very revealing and honest. And despite the heavy topics of race, racism, homophobia and trans-phobia, the book didn’t feel dark or heavy or depressing. It felt like an honest reflection of one woman’s experience, without anger or resentment, as she tries to live her best life in a space that doesn’t understand “different.”

#6 The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Holy smokes! This is by the best book I’ve read this year. It was so engrossing, so exciting, so fascinating, I COULD.NOT.PUT.IT.DOWN. And when I finished reading it, I was bummed out.

It’s a non-fiction book about a lost city in Honduras. The writer talks about the mythology around the lost city and what cultures may have lived there, Maya or something else?

“Somewhere in this impassable wilderness, it is said, lies a “lost city” built of white stone. It is called Ciudad Blanca, the “White City,” also referred to as the “Lost City of the Monkey God.” “

He writes about all the different attempts to find the city. And he also explains the history of Honduras and South America that adds a lot of depth to the story without bogging it down and making it slow or boring to read. NO editing needed! It was perfect.

He joins a group of scientists and filmmakers who are trying to find the lost city with new technology.

“It was the first time our expedition had come together in one room, a rather motley crew of scientists, photographers, film producers, and archaeologists, plus me, a writer. We all had widely varying experience in wilderness skills. Catacamas was a dangerous city, controlled by a violent drug cartel; no one was to leave the hotel without an armed military escort. We were to keep our mouths shut about what we were doing here. We were not to engage in conversation about the project within hearing of hotel staff, or leave papers lying around our rooms referring to the work, or conduct cell phone calls in public.”

I was super fascinated by all the horrors in the jungle, too.

“It has pools of quickmud that can swallow a person alive. The understory is infested with deadly snakes, jaguars, and thickets of catclaw vines with hooked thorns that tear at flesh and clothing… As for the hazards we would face in the jungle, venomous snakes were at the top of the list. The fer-de-lance, he said, is known in these parts as the barba amarilla (“yellow beard”). It kills more people in the New World than any other snake. It comes out at night and is attracted to people and activity. It is aggressive, irritable, and fast. Its fangs have been observed to squirt venom for more than six feet…The venom is deadly; if it doesn’t kill you outright through a brain hemorrhage, it may very well kill you later through sepsis. If you survive, the limb that was struck often has to be amputated, due to the necrotizing nature of the poison… He told us to wear our Kevlar snake gaiters at all times, including—especially—when we got up to pee at night.”

“… disease-bearing insects we might encounter, including mosquitoes** and sand flies, chiggers, ticks, kissing bugs (so called because they like to bite your face), scorpions, and bullet ants, whose bite equals the pain of being shot with a bullet.”

After much planning the group went into the jungle and had security with them at all times. Then they had Honduran security camped nearby to keep the cartel away from them).

“On a hard day’s travel they were lucky to make one or two miles. Steve and his crew ate MREs, while the Indian guides ate iguanas. At one point the guides became agitated; taking out their weapons, they confided that the group was being tracked by jaguars. They frequently ran into venomous snakes and were assaulted day and night by insects.”

The book also discusses how untouched that particular Honduran rain forest was. “The spider monkeys, he said, were another sign of an uninhabited area, as they normally flee at the first sight of humans, unless they are in a protected zone. He concluded, “I don’t think the animals here have ever seen people before.”

And the tragic reality: “The Honduran rainforests are disappearing at a rate of at least 300,000 acres a year. Between 1990 and 2010, Honduras lost over 37 percent of its rainforest to clear-cutting.”

I will leave off here because I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book but I will say this: if you are looking for a fantastic read, exciting Indian-Jones-esque book packed with history and culture, read this book. It was SO good. So so good. One of my favorites!

Happy Reading!

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Books #42

It will probably be a little while before I post another book post! I’ll be busy moving/packing/unpacking…I have no idea if I’ll actually have time to read. I sure hope so. But either way, here are a few books I’ve read lately you might want to check out:

#1 The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

This was an interesting read. It was based on interviews from survivors and apparently based on real people. Lale is a Slovakian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Nazis discover he speaks multiple languages and so they use that to their advantage (and in the end, to his) and he is now the Tattooist. His job is marking all the prisoners with their numbers.

He is in the concentration camp for two and a half years. But he’s treated fairly well and given more rations, because he is the tattooist. He also figures out how to smuggle in more food and supplies, which he gives to other people. He meets a woman, Gita, when he is working and they fall in love. The book is about their love story and about their survival in the camp.

It’s a good read. The book doesn’t delve too much into the gruesome details of the concentration camps or the death and torture, so that’s good. I didn’t feel like the book was an amazing read, but it was decent. I enjoyed it enough.

#2 If She Wakes by Michael Koryta

This is the second “girl in a coma but she can hear everything around her” type of book I’ve read lately and I almost didn’t read it because the premise didn’t interest me, but the author is one I’ve read before and I really liked the other book I read by him.

It turned out to be a unique, interesting book full of hitmen and exciting twists and turns. Tara Beckley is a senior in college in Maine. She is driving a visiting professor to a conference when there is a car accident that leaves the professor dead and Tara in a coma. Abby is an insurance investigator hired by the college to look into the accident. Except, Abby used to be a stunt driver in Hollywood and she immediately sees that something isn’t right about the accident.

It turns out that Tara is the key to the mystery, but she’s in a vegetative state. And there are two hitmen trying to get to what Tara knows.

#3 Life Will Be the Death of Me: and you too! by Chelsea Handler

I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of Chelsea Handler. I never watched her shows, I haven’t read any of her other books. But I recently heard her interviewed on Howard Stern about her new book and she really opened up and was vulnerable and emotional about what this book was about and I decided to give it a chance. I’m really glad I did. The book is excellent!

It’s a memoir, with some humor, but it’s a deeply personal book about a few topics: her year of self-discovery in intensive therapy to become a better person and come to peace about her brother’s death. He was her best friend and died when she was 9 years old and that death was definitely traumatic and shaped her entire personality.

“Chet was my very first breakup. That my nine-year-old brain had no ability to distinguish between death and rejection. That my nine-year-old brain didn’t understand that my brother didn’t choose to die. That Chet didn’t find another family with a little sister he liked more.”

She put up so many walls and put everyone in her life at arm’s length her entire life because of this trauma and the therapy helped her realize this.

“I learned from Dan that being in motion was a way for me to avoid sitting still with my feelings. You can’t let anyone see you cry, so you move. “

“Well, you probably loved him still, but you were hurt, and it sounds like you turned that hurt into anger, because, as I said, anger is motion, and it allows you to avoid sitting with your feelings. In a sense, you felt that your father had broken up with you too. That must have been really scary for a little girl. No one helped you with your pain, you were too young to deal with it on your own, and it sounds like when everyone around you disengaged, your pain turned into anger, which turned into motion, and from everything you’re telling me, you haven’t stopped moving since.”

She wrote about how she’d become so codependent and also unable to do anything on her own.

“How did I become so useless? And how many assistants did I actually have? I did live in a bubble, inside a bigger bubble, which was inside an even bigger bubble. Three bubbles. Two assistants, two cleaning ladies (who are more like my nannies), a driver, a pool guy, a landscaper, a florist, a houseman.”

She also talked a lot about her relationships with her dogs, which I loved reading about, since I’m a dog lover.

The book is dark, honest, insightful, and sometimes really hilarious. I got a lot out of it for myself, too.

#4 Have You Seen Luis Velez? By Catherine Ryan Hyde

Raymond is a 16 year old kid in New York City that doesn’t really fit in. His only friend moves away. He doesn’t like his mother’s new husband and his half siblings. His dad’s new wife doesn’t really like him. He doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere.

One day he’s leaving for school when an elderly lady stops him in the hallway, asking for help. It turns out that Luis Velez, a caretaker that used to stop by and take her shopping and check in on her, has disappeared. She’s all alone, down to her last can of food that she’s rationing out and she’s also blind, so she can’t go to the store herself. So Raymond takes it upon himself to help Millie and then to track down Luis and find out what happened to him.

Along the way, Raymond and Millie become good friends. Raymond finds his voice and discovers who he really is and shows the world how important it is to reach out and care about people around us. It’s a story about love, compassion, empathy, kindness and friendship.

#5 Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin

I enjoyed this book a lot. I guess this author was a blogger at some point but I’d never heard of her or read her blog. The first 60% of the book is a memoir of her life and childhood. She had a really rough life. Her mom was a single mom raising her and her older brother, Michael. I suspect her mom had some mental health issues, maybe bipolar, but it wasn’t addressed in the book.

They were dirt poor. Her mom was a great cook and taught Sasha the love of food and cooking. “There’s a difference between poverty of resources and poverty of spirit. For a long time, Michael and I were oblivious to hardship because of Mom’s determined efforts.”

Eventually, Sasha and her brother are taken away from her mother and put into foster care for awhile. Her mother tries to get them back but can’t and so she writes letters to everyone she knows asking for someone to take in her kids. Her college friend agrees. Their kids are mostly grown and they have money. So Sasha and Michael now have guardians who can provide anything they will ever need. They travel, live in Europe, go to good schools. But things aren’t all great. It’s still a pretty rough childhood.

Later in the book, Sasha writes about going to college and culinary school and starting her blog about cooking. The last part of the book felt a little disjointed and almost like a different book altogether but that didn’t ruin the book for me. I still enjoyed it and devoured the book in just a few days. I highly recommend this!

Happy Reading!

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