books I’m reading

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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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.

If you want to follow me on Goodreads, here I am. You can also read old book reviews here.

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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