books I’m reading

Books #17

I’ve been reading some good books lately! Several of them have been rather “heavy” so to speak, and I wrote individual posts about those books. But I have been reading a lot of other types of books lately. So here is another post with some recommendations.

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1 ) The Third Option (Mitch Rapp #4) by Vince Flynn

In this book, Mitch Rapp is back and working on a mission in Germany to assassinate a dirty Count. The mission goes wrong and his partners attempt to kill him. He goes on the run, not sure who to trust, and then eventually makes it back to the States to confront the higher ups in his organization. It turns out there’s a leak in the department and someone is out to get Mitch and his handler, Irene. It’s a really fast story and well written. The ending was both exciting and frustrating because it was a bit of a cliff hanger! Another good book in the series!

2 )  The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway #9) by Elly Griffiths

The last book in this series was a dud–major let down since I love the series. But this book turned it around. It was back to focusing on Ruth and her adventures.

This particular story was unique and creepy and fun to read. A homeless woman goes missing and suddenly several homeless men are murdered. At the same time, two women from the community go missing and there are rumors of kidnapping and underground societies.

It was an interesting story and I loved the ending and where it left off! Can’t wait for the next book!

3 )  The One-In-A-Million Boy by Monica Wood

Man, did I love this book! It was so good. I loved the characters–they came alive in this book and I felt the pain, sorrow, and happiness that the characters felt. I would describe this book as a cross between “A Man Called Ove” and “Take Me With You” by Catherine Ryan Hyde. So if you liked either of those books, you’ll like this one.

The story is told in different ways–Ona is 104 years old and “the boy” comes to her house every Saturday to help her and to work on his Boy Scout’s badge where he interviews her about her life.

Then the boy dies unexpectedly (heart-breaking!! get your Kleenex) and his estranged father, Quinn, takes over his quest to help Ona each Saturday. They basically become family and the entire family heals, and tries to fulfill the boy’s goal of getting Ona into the Guiness Book of World Records.

It’s a tear-jerker, but often in a happy way. The book is beautiful written and I did not want it to end. I wanted the story to keep going.  This book was so excellent! Read it!

4 ) Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

What a beautiful, heart-warming and heart-breaking book! The book is told from two points of view. The first is Soli, a 20 year old who is trying to escape the poverty in Mexico to cross the border into America. The story is about her journey, the absolutely horrific things she endures to cross the border, and the love she finds on her journey. She arrives in Berkeley, California, pregnant, poor, and safe. She lives with her cousin and gets a job as a housekeeper/nanny.

The second story is Kavya and Rishi, Indian-Americans living in Berkeley who want a child and try and try unsuccessfully to get pregnant or go to term. The desire to be a mother is palpable through the pages.

“Having a child was like turning inside out and exposing to the world the soft pulp of her heart. If something happened to Ignacio–if illness took him or an accident, she herself would never recover. If the night stole his breath away, as sometimes happened to the very very young, her own breath would never return. At night, thoughts like this sat vigil around her bed. [pg 181]”

Through a horrible twist of fate, Soli’s son is taken into DHS custody and Kavya gets the opportunity to become a mother. She is immediately in love with little Ignacio. This is a story of a very lucky boy, loved by two mothers.

“Why did people love children who were born to other people? For the same reason they lived in Berkeley, knowing the Big One was coming: because it was a beautiful place to be, and because there was no way to fathom the length or quality of life left to anyone, and because there was no point running from earthquakes into tornadoes, blizzards, terrorist attacks. Because destruction waited around every corner, and turning one corner would only lead to another…She’d built her love on a fault line, and the first tremors had begun. [pg 350]”

Rishi is a little slower to fall in love with the boy. He was afraid of getting too close, since they were temporary foster parents and knew the mother could try to get Ignacio back. But eventually, something clicks, and he becomes his son.

“Being a father made him a part of this place, Rishi realized. He was no longer just a scientist, a pizza eater, a line dweller, a street crosser. Ignacio rooted him to the hum of this sidewalk. Ignacio brought him to Earth. [pg 327]”

It was interesting to read the cultural differences between Soli and her Mexican heritage and Kavya and her Indian culture, a culture that apparently is not welcoming to the idea of adoption. Biological children were very important to her parents–but even her parents eventually fall in love with Ignacio. How could they not??

“In her gaze, even from this distance, Soli could see a mist of love. She couldn’t deny this, and it shrank her inside, the love. [pg 417]”

Reading about the horrible treatment of illegal immigrants by ICE was absolutely awful and revolting. It made me really angry. The book was very well-written and I did NOT want the book to end. I didn’t like the ending, really, but there wasn’t an easy answer on how the story should end. Throughout the book you feel very strongly and root for Soli to win in the end–but at the same time you are rooting for Kavya and Rishi because they love Ignacio like he was their own. So it was truly a no-win situation. 🙁

“Grief was a solitary practice, though they would cling to each other that day and in the days to come. [pg 461]”

As a mother, the book was very hard to read but it was so so good. I absolutely loved it. When I got towards the end of the book, I felt a panic and raced to daycare to pick up Logan. All I wanted was to pick him up and hug him and never let him go. 

5 ) The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews

After reading several super heavy, dark, difficult reads, I needed something light and fluffy to give myself a break. I read another chick lit type of book, that wasn’t very good, and then picked up this one from the library. I actually really enjoyed it! For a “chick lit” book it was pretty well-written.

Dempsey is a lobbyist in DC who loses her job, and could possibly be heading to prison, after a boss with her scandal breaks. Perfect timing: a distant, elderly relative died and left his house to her father. She decides to go down to Georgia to fix up the house, called Birdsong, and get it ready to sell, while she figures out how to fix her life.

She gets down to the house and it’s a mess. Overgrown yard, house falling apart, piles and piles of junk and magazines. Plus–an ornery old squatter! So the book is basically about her fixing up this house, meeting someone down in Georgia, clearing her name from the scandal and figuring out what she wants to do with her life.

It was a very satisfying read and the characters were well-developed. The story was good, even for a fluffy book! I liked the book a lot.

6 )  Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

This book starts out with a bang! LOVED the writing style, the crisp, fun writing and the way the author reveals parts of the story in bits and pieces in a shocking way. The first chapter is one the best first chapters I’ve read in a long time and it instantly sucked me in and made me want to read the whole book in one sitting.

This is a story about Georgia, about to get married and move to London to start a new job. She goes home to wine country, and finds her whole family in shambles. Everyone in her life is having relationship issues.

” ‘Because that’s the only way to get somewhere better.” He shrugged. “If you fight, you work it out. If you don’t fight, you move into your own corners, and nothing gets decided there.'[pg 146]”

She’s conflicted about getting married in a week. Everyone in her life has advice for her.

” ‘I stopped paying attention to her. I stopped doing the things that someone does for the person he loves. Because I was tired. Because other things always seemed to matter a little bit more…That doesn’t happen overnight, you know. It happens slowly. You should be careful of that. You should be careful not to take the person you love for granted. Not only because they’ll notice. But you’ll notice too. You’ll think it means something it doesn’t.’ [pg 239]”

There is a lot of “will they, won’t they” in the middle of the book, back and forth on the wedding, but the story is so well written and engaging that it wasn’t cliqued. And I absolutely LOVED the ending! I wanted the book to keep going, I wanted more. I loved the world and characters this author created. I will definitely be reading more of her work. And I hope they make this book into a movie!

Happy reading!

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Adventure and Mystery!

You know that feeling you get when you find a really good book and just can’t put it down? You want to devour the book and read it all in one sitting but at the same time you don’t want it to end! Because then what? Will you find another book just as gripping that will suck you in like that one did? Lately I’ve read several books like that. I wanted to share a few of the “oh my god, this book was amazing” reads and a few of the “this was pretty good” reads. Here goes:

1. Shadow Man by Cody McFadyen

I accidentally read book 4 first. I liked it so much I went back and read book 1. It was great! As with the other one I read, I loved the characters and the world the author created. It was gritty but human. The main character is strong and compelling, healing emotionally without being weak. The story itself was pretty good (despite generally thinking a killer believing he’s decent of Jack the Ripper being silly).

The reason this book gets 4 not 5 stars is because I HATE the Callie character. She calls everyone “honey love” and it’s THE MOST ANNOYING THING I’ve ever read in a book. It’s constant and it makes me cringe. I find myself skipping over dialogue by Callie just to avoid reading any more honey love sh*t. Where is this author’s editor? Why didn’t they say “take this out, it’s an annoying tick and is close to ruining the book”? Despite that, I still liked the story. The ending had a twist and I hadn’t expected who the killer was. Good writing.

2. Hell is Empty (Walt Longmire #7) by Craig Johnson

This was one of the best books in the series I think. It was one of the episodes on the TV show but the book was slightly different so it felt like a new story to me. A group of convicted killers were being transported by the Sheriff and meeting the FBI because one of them said he could take them to the location of a body he buried. As you can guess, things go awry. They escape and Walt is tromping through the mountains in a blizzard trying to catch them and rescue the hostages.

“Life is like that. You collect things are you go–the things you think are important–and soon they weigh you down until you realize that these things you cared so much about mean nothing at all. Our natures are our natures. And they are all we are left with. [pg 217]”

The book is a fast read and the writing is always great. You get sucked into the story and then all of a sudden it feels like you are reading beautiful poetry because the writing just becomes so wonderful. It also weaves in some mysticism without being goofy or unbelievable. Great read!

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3. The Face of Death (Book #2) by Cody McFadyen

This is the second book in the series and it was a thrilling ride. It was also VERY very very dark. Probably one of the darkest books I’ve ever read–there were several pages I had to skip because it got too dark and too graphic for me. And I have a strong stomach when it comes to separating myself from reality and books/tv. It wasn’t necessarily gross graphic, just so evil and tragic it was almost too much to take to read. Despite skipping some pages here and there when it got too much, the story was edge-of-your-seat exciting, so much so I stayed up way too late too many nights because I couldn’t put the book down.

Still love almost all of the characters in the book and once again the main character, Smoky, was a strong, dominant woman that really made me want to keep reading. She wasn’t a flimsy/flat main character and her voice was genuine (the author is a man, and he can write women well!). The one complaint I had with the other books I’ve read (the Callie character flaw) was toned down and not much of an issue in this book. Maybe someone told him to lay off on the “honey love” shit. Anyways, I’m really enjoying this series and glad I discovered a new author to take note of.

4. The Last Season by Eric Blehm

This is a great read! It’s an account of a backcountry forest ranger, Randy Morgenson, who knew the Sierra Nevadas like the back of his hand…and then in 1996 he disappeared without a trace. He’d done the job for 28 years and spent more time living in the middle of nowhere, all alone, patrolling the wilderness and rescuing injured and lost hikers.

The book is about his life and it’s fascinating. His parents were bankers in 1930 that longed to live another life and eventually they quit their jobs (which was unheard of in that time) and moved to Yosemite to live and work in the park. His father became a walking encyclopedia about Yosemite, Half Dome, all the animals, trails and plants in the park and Randy grew up with this same passion. He worked in the park as a teen, eventually left college for the Peace Corp where he lived in the Himalayas for two years and learned how to traverse mountains. He returned to become the backcountry ranger where he lived in a tent with all his supplies for the 3-6 month stints and a radio. That was it.

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The book was truly fascinating to read and the passion he had for the wilderness was romantic and enticing. The outcome was sad but overall it was a compelling read.

5. Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass by Donnie Eichar

In 1959 a group of 9 experienced hikers disappeared in the Ural Mountains in Russia. There was a search and rescue attempt and their bodies were found–but everything surrounding the incident was mysterious, eerie and unexplained. They were all found outside of their tent in various stages of dress–some without socks and shoes, one had two pairs of socks on one foot. One was near naked. None of them were dressed for the February blizzard weather. What happened? Was it a person? An animal? Did they see something they shouldn’t have (one theory was they saw military testing of weapons and the KGB murdered them). Apparently Yeti and aliens were also part of the mix. 😛 There were a dozen conspiracy theories, but what really happened to these 9 people?

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In 2012 a documentary filmmaker and writer decided to find out what happened and book was his research. He even retraces their steps on the hike, in the winter, with a guide and the lone survivor of the expedition. The book is told in three time periods–the 1959 story of the hikers as they prepared for the trip, and started hiking (based on family accounts and the hiker’s journals). Then there is the time shift of after they were found dead and it was being investigated. Finally, the story is told in current time describing the research and investigation the author does for the book.

Dyatlov Pass incident
Dyatlov Pass incident

“What you’re really trying to do is reverse-engineer a tragic event without any witness.” At first I thought the mystery was NOT going to be solved but with all the research, the author came up with a pretty compelling explanation of what happened on that frozen mountain. The last chapter was a re-creation of what he thinks happened to the 9 hikers based on all the scientific evidence he gathered and had analyzed by qualified scientist. I bought it. I think his explanation makes sense and it’s absolutely HAUNTING.

6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I don’t even know where to start. The word “wow” comes to mind but that doesn’t properly illustrate how good this book was.

It was compared to “Gone Girl” and I went in skeptical but quickly realized, oh yeah. It’s like Gone Girl. It’s like GG in that it is so dark, so unique you can’t stop thinking about it. How do you read a book where the main character is just so despicable that it’s almost painful to read? You get sucked in by good writing and you can’t put the book down. This one succeeded in that.

I loved how the author slowly rolled out the story. The first few chapters are just about this girl, Rachel, on a train. The same morning train, and the same evening train, going into London for work. The train goes by a group of houses and she creates a story in her head about the people living in one of the houses–even gives them a name. Rachel sees a new pink curtain in the window of another house and it makes her sad, but you don’t realize until several chapters later why.

Turns out, she used to live in the house with the new pink curtain. Until her husband Tom kicked her out and moved in his mistress, Anna, who became his new wife and they had a daughter. Turns out, Rachel is a raging alcohol who blacks out and doesn’t remember anything she does or says when drunk. Turns out she’s harassing Tom and Anna when she blacks out–phone calls, harassing notes, stalking them at the house–her old house. Turns out, she’s been fired from her job long ago, but still takes the train into London every day like she has a job so her roommate doesn’t know.

I don’t want to give anymore away because the story twists and turns in such a brilliant way. This is probably one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time. I could not stop reading it and even now, finished with the book, I feel so many different emotions!!

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7. The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes by Scott Wallace

I love adventure stories. The Indiana Jones movies were my favorites as a kid. I’ve read some books by and about explorers–historical accounts and more “modern” stories. Somehow they usually fall short for me. This book did not. It was a long book and it took me a long time to read (for me) and there were definitely parts of the book that could have been edited down to move quicker…but the story was told in an interesting way.

The author was a National Geographic writer who go the opportunity to join a team of 34 men lead by the Brazilian explorer Sydney Possuelo that was going deep into the Amazon rainforest to search for a tribe of Indians they called the “Arrow People.” It was a harrowing journey, not meant to make contact with this tribe that has never been seen by outsiders, but to figure out how to protect them from whites, loggers, etc. Possuelo was a larger than life character who’s life mission was to protect the land and lives of isolated tribes from invasion. He later became the director of the Department of Unknown Tribes at the FUNAI (National Indian Foundation of Brazil).

“Once you make contact, you begin the process of destroying their universe. [pg 250]”

The first half of the book was the story of their journey into the Amazon. Most interesting was ALL THE THINGS THAT CAN KILL YOU. Seriously terrifying people. There’s the “trucandeira“, or bullet ant, furry caterpillars with poisonous hair that has no cure. There’s a tree frog that can cripple and kill you. There’s bushmaster snakes, jararacuçu snakes that are “hyper-aggressive”, fer-de-lance snakes (pit vipers that can extend 6 FEET with inch-long fangs OH MY GOD). There was a story about a native Brazilian who climbed a ladder into a rubber tree to harvest it and a JAGUAR climbed up into the tree, grabbed him, pulled him down and ate him. They fished for catfish to use as bait for giant piranhas to eat. The rivers were full of Caimans. But there were also really amazing things there too, like an endangered pink Amazon River Dolphin.

So yeah, I won’t be going to the Amazon anytime soon. But the book was fascinating to read. I learned a lot and I googled A LOT of stuff while I was reading it. I mean, who knew that dolphins could live in freshwater rivers? I sure didn’t.

The group planned on spending 3 months in the Amazon looking for the Arrow People. Around the half-way mark of the book they find them.

“Our exotic fact-finding mission suddenly had become a run for our lives, the hunters now the hunted. We stumbled over roots, ripped through overhanging branches, anything to dodge the potential line of sight of an Indian taking aim with an arrow–poison-tipped or otherwise. [pg 263]”

The book is really, really good and it was exciting in so many places. If you are interested in anthropology I definitely recommend this book! The last few chapters could have been taken out, but other than that it was a good book.

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I’ve read a few “fun” mystery books lately and I’ve got a bunch of books I’m excited about on hold with the library. Will have another post soon I hope!