books I’m reading

Books #45

I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately. I read some good books (see below) and then had a rash of duds. Books I just could not get into at all and gave up before finishing. And they were recommended books! So I don’t know. Maybe my head wasn’t in the right space for them or something.

But here are a few good ones to add to your list.

#1 Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

A friend recommended this book and I liked it a lot! Lori is a therapist in LA. She has an 8 year old son, she’s supposed to be writing a book on happiness. She’s engaged. And then her boyfriend breaks up with her and she finds herself in her mid-40s suddenly floundering.

“I’m convinced that Boyfriend has quickly transitioned into his post-me life completely unscathed. It’s a refrain I recognize from divorcing couples I see in which one person is struggling mightily and the other seems fine, happy even, to be moving on.”

She has writers block, she’s depressed and crying all the time, she’s having some health issues the doctors can’t seem to diagnose. So, even though she’s a therapist, she ends up going to therapy.

“We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.”

It’s a very interesting read. She writes about some of her clients (names changed, of course) and it was interesting to read about the journey people had in therapy. Even if you can’t relate to her clients there is a little tidbit in each other their stories that I think most people can relate to. Grief. Loss. Big life changes.

“One of the most important steps in therapy is helping people take responsibility for their current predicaments, because once they realize that they can (and must) construct their own lives, they’re free to generate change.”

While I didn’t find her own therapy sessions as interesting as the clients she shared about (Julie in particular), I enjoyed the book a lot!

#2 Women’s Work: A Reckoning with Work and Home by Megan Stack

I liked most of this book. I found it really interesting from a cultural standpoint. There were definitely parts of it I didn’t like, but overall it was a good read.

It’s a memoir about a reporter, Megan, who is living in China with her husband when she gets pregnant and quits her reporting job. They decide to hire help (housework and help with the baby) so she could write a book. She writes about her struggle as a new mom, the lack of sleep that caused some insanity. I could totally relate to that and remembered the haze of early motherhood.

Then, pregnant again, her husband gets a job in India and they move there. She hires help in India, too. She struggles with the realities of having help and the cultural differences and what happens when you try and help “the help” based on your culture.

There were some parts of the book that were definitely uncomfortable. Her privilege definitely came through and was gross, but at the same time, I’m a middle-class white woman with privilege (even though I don’t have hired help), so maybe it’s uncomfortable to read because of that? Who knows. Either way, there were some “icky” parts but some really interesting parts.

#3 Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

I liked this book a lot. I read it in one day! There is a sequel coming out this fall, that I am dying to read, too.

Irene is a 50-something woman with two grown boys and a husband who is away a lot for work. She gets a shocking, and mysterious, phone call on New Year’s Day that her husband died in a helicopter crash in the Caribbean. She’s confused because he was supposed to be in Florida for work. Why was he in the Caribbean?

She flies down there to discover that not only was he lying about where he was most of the time, he had a villa and another life–complete with a mistress and a love child. Irene, with her adult boys, are trying to piece together who he really was because Russ Steele apparently lied about everything.

It was a good book and a fast read.

#4 From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

I loved this book. It was so well written and heart-felt and passionate and sad.

Tembi is an African American actress. When she was in college, she spent some time abroad in Italy for her her Art History degree, where she met and fell in love with her future husband, Saro. They had a long distance relationship for awhile and then got marriage, despite Saro’s family’s displeasure–which caused a family rift.

Saro and Tembi were in love for a long time, focused on their careers and then he got cancer. She nursed him back to health, tried to broker a family reunion to fix whatever drama was going on, and when Saro was well they adopted a baby daughter. Years later, he dies of cancer and Tembi is now faced with healing, dealing with grief, raising their daughter alone, and going back to Sicily once a year to be with Saro’s family.

It’s a truly heart-felt book. You definitely feel for the young widow, feel for the daughter, the mother…She’s trying her best to heal her own grief, while helping her daughter with the loss of her father.

“‘Children, especially those your daughter’s age, are prone to magical thinking. You will need to help her understand what is happening because her brain will want to forget. Her brain and heart will not be able to hold it. One day when she’s sixteen and all her grief is new and fresh, triggered by all the ways he is not in her life, she will be angry and hurt and confused. And mad at you, mad at life. She may say, ‘And you never let me say good-bye to my dad’ or ‘I never got to go to his memorial service.’ And she won’t be making it up. It will be real to her. Children can bury what is too big to bear. That is why you will have the picture.’ “

The descriptions of Sicily are magical. The book is about grief and healing and it’s just really well done.

“…they sat in front of Saro’s childhood home waiting for us. They were prepared for mourning. They had done this before, many times—for themselves, for family, for neighbors, perhaps since the dawn of time. Sicilians were accustomed to welcoming home the dead.”

I can’t recommend it enough.

#5 The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

The premise of this book is absurd and unrealistic but totally delightful. Suspend reality, be ready to just read fluff and enjoy it. I read it camping and finished the book in one day.

Olive and Ami are twin sisters. Ami is getting married to Dane. But at the last minute, almost the entire wedding party gets sick, including the bride and groom, so Ami insists that Olive goes on her honeymoon for her. It’s non-refundable, afterall.

So Olive and the groom’s brother, Ethan, whom Olive dislikes a great deal, pretend to be new husband and wife for a free trip to Hawaii. Absurd and predictable, you can totally see where this is going and where it ends up. But still, I liked it. I needed something fun and light and not a deep think and this hit the spot.

#6 Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

This was an interesting story. Molly and Aidan are 30-something and unfortunately, suffered a loss at 20-something weeks pregnant and Molly had to have a hysterectomy. Now they are going the adoption route, which has it’s own ups and downs. But it’s bringing up a lot of ghosts for Molly.

The book spends most of the time in the past, describing one summer in Molly’s childhood. At first I wanted the story to stay in present day but the story sucked me in. It was a good read and a compelling story.

Happy Reading!

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Books #39

I’ve read some pretty good books lately. Here is the latest installment:

1 ) The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The whole time I was reading this book, I wondered if it was made into a movie. It felt like it and after I finished I looked it up and apparently it was!. It reads so quick and beautifully and you are immediately transported to 1964 South Carolina. The racism, the segregation, the heat of the south, the taste of fresh honey, the bonds of friendship. The book is beautiful and emotional.

Lily is 14 years old, raised by her sort of abusive (verbally) and definitely distant and neglectful father and Rosaleen, her black sort of nanny/stand-in mother on a peach farm. When blacks get the right to vote, Lily goes with Rosaleen to the nearby town to register when they are harassed by racist assholes and both of the ladies end up in jail. Lily’s dad bails her out but leaves Rosaleen in jail (where she ends up getting beaten almost to death by the racist assholes). So Lily decides to run away from her father and the peach farm and the secrets surrounding her mother’s death, breaks Rosaleen out of the hospital and the two of them run away.

They find themselves finding refuge on a honey farm where they make friends with the African American ladies who live there and their lives are forever changed. The book is fantastic and I loved the story and all the characters!

2 )  The Hunger by Alma Katsu

What a CREEPY and good book! It was absolutely riveting. Maybe because I grew up in the 80s playing the Oregon Trail video game. Maybe because I grew up in the northwest, fascinated by the Oregon Trail? I don’t know, but this book was absolutely fascinating.

It was a “re-imagining” of the Donner Party story. Think the Donner Party/Oregon trail wagon story with a horror/supernatural twist. Something dark and evil is following the wagon trail. The pioneers don’t see it but they can sense it and as time is running out before they can cross over the pass before they run out of food, water and summer weather people on the wagon trail are dying. Or going insane. It was super creepy and well written and I read it one day!

 

3 ) Talk to Me by John Kenney

Ted Grayson is a 59 year old TV news anchor. He’s been popular for 20 years. Think Brokaw, Dan Rather, Brian Williams. But one night before his broadcast, he has a very public meltdown that someone records with their phone. It goes viral and that starts the downfall of Ted’s career. Suddenly the masses are out to get him. His fall from grace is fast, furious and painful.

The book is about a man’s fall from grace. But it’s also a commentary on the cancel culture of our current times. The blood-thirsty social media that is apparently more powerful than corporations. It doesn’t seem to matter that someone had a shining 20+ year career with high ratings and Emmy’s — the TV execs just care about the comments on social media. So Ted gets the ax. It really is a sad commentary on how gross our culture is now. No one has a path to redemption–one mistake and you are OUT.

 

4 ) Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Ginny Moon is 14 years old and autistic. When she was 9 years old she was taken away from her drug addicted, abusive and neglectful mother and put in foster care. She is now with her fourth family, her “Forever Family”. She’s in therapy and learning how to be attached. She’s in the Special Olympics and has friends at school. She has to eat exactly 9 grapes with breakfast. She’s obsessed with approximate time, takes everything literally and loves Michael Jackson.

But she’s obsessed with how she left her Baby Doll behind with her mother when she was taken away. No one can get her to let it go. She has a one-track mind about her Baby Doll. The story unfolds, told from Ginny’s child-like point of view. She is determined to escape from her Forever Family and return to her mother to rescue her Baby Doll.

Ginny has a lot of set backs in her journey of both learning how to manage her autism and her emotions and how to be reunited with her Baby Doll. But she definitely shows some growth by the end of the book. It’s a heartwarming, heartbreaking look at autism and the challenges the kids and parents face.

 

5 ) The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

This was an excellent, poignant, emotional book! I highly recommend it!

It’s a story about the Butler Family. Althea, the eldest of the Butler family, and her husband Proctor were pillars of the community. They raised money to help victims of a flood. They ran a local restaurant. But then it comes out that they were stealing the money they raised and stealing food stamps to help keep their restaurant afloat in the dying town. There’s a trial and they get sentenced to federal prison, leaving behind their teenage twin daughters.

Althea’s sister Lillian takes the twins. But the twins are struggling because they are pariahs in the town and subject to abuse by the townspeople. Lillian doesn’t know how to help them so she calls her other sister, Viola, to come help.

There are a lot of big issues in this book: what happens when family goes to prison, anorexia and bulimia, abuse, grief, how to break old cycles and healing. The author does an amazing job slowly revealing the story in layers and showing the humanity of this family.

6 ) The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

After reading “The Hunger” (fictional story about the Donner Party), I was curious and had questions so I looked around at what non-fiction was out there and this new-ish book was highly rated.

“The entwining of religion with the ideology of Manifest Destiny served as a creation myth for the country. It soon became so ingrained in the national consciousness that many Americans still accept it to this day. The belief that God intended for the continent to be under the control of Christian European-Americans became official U.S. government policy.

“It helped to fuel incentive to take the land from those who were considered inferior to white Americans—indigenous tribal people characterized as savages and Mexicans…”

Why I liked the book: because I am forever fascinated by the history of the pioneers and Lewis & Clark and people making that journey out west. My ancestors made that journey from Minnesota to Oregon (my grandma’s family settled in Bend, Oregon and built a ranch in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s) and I love reading about the hardships, the pilgrimage, what they overcame to make a new life.

“The America they were leaving behind was a nation of some 20 million people, including Indians and others held in bondage as slaves.”

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was almost part of the Donner Party? He changed his mind at the last minute. But his wife’s nephew was part of a pilgrimage that went west right before the Donner Party.

The first 20% of the book was dry, slightly boring, and a lot of background–the details and history of all the people in the Donner-Reed Party. There were actually a lot of different families and hired hands on the trip in 1846 that made that journey to pursue the “American Dream.” So if you can get past the first part of the book that is a bit slow, it gets pretty good.

The story really gets enthralling once they leave Fort Bridger, Wyoming. This is where shit gets real and things start falling apart. There are illnesses, deaths, injuries, in-fighting, bad advice, running out of supplies, starvation, a war with Mexico, curious Native Americans…the list is endless.

“The Donner Party’s collective dream, however, tragically morphed into a collective nightmare. Poor timing, terrible advice, and even worse weather meant that only about half of those who started the journey reached their final destination.”

The guide they were supposed to meet up with (Hastings) turned out to be a con-artist. Trail tradition held that wagon trains had to reach Independence Rock by the Fourth of July if they wanted to arrive safely in California and Oregon before winter. This did not happen. They were behind schedule.

The Donner-Reed party eventually splintered. Some decided to go to Oregon, some decided to go to California. The short cut that they decided to take turned out to be a bad idea.

“It did take almost a week for all the members of the wagon train to reach Pilot Peak and partake of the refreshing water from a spring that would one day be renamed for the Donners. All the emigrants survived the hellish days and nights in the desert, including the newborn Keseberg baby, but many oxen, cattle, and horses were dead or missing. Reed lost eighteen animals, and other members of the company could not account for twenty more.”

The splintered groups both ended up getting stranded in the snow, maybe 6-10 miles apart from each other. Some found some shanty cabins that they hunkered down in. The Donner Party was forced to camp out in their wagons and tents in the horrific snow storms. After weeks of this weather, starving, some of the more able-bodied people decided to build snowshoes and try to hike out of the canyon to get help.

This is where I will end the descriptions. If you know even the littlest bit of the history, you know what happens next and it’s not easy to read about. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. And very real.

“The children of the Donner Party never forgot what it was like trying to survive in their prisons made of snow. They had no interest ever again in snowball fights, building snowmen, or riding in a horse-drawn sleigh beneath a winter moon. For them, freshly fallen snow was no longer beautiful.”

After you get through the first part of the book, the rest of the story is so enthralling, heart-breaking and shocking, you cannot put it down. The author does a very good job painting the picture of what it was like for those people that were stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, freezing and starving. He described in detail what happened to the body and the mind. It was truly sad.

I’m glad I read this historical book about what happened. I think reading the fictional story first was good and then reading the actual account (with letters, diaries and other things from the people in the parties) helped fill in the gaps.

Happy Reading!

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