good reads

Books #38

I read some pretty heavy books lately, so I apologize I don’t really have any light and fluffy recommendations for this month!

1 ) White Oleander by Janet Fitch

A compelling, dark, sometimes heart-warming read about Astrid’s difficult childhood. It starts with her life with her eccentric, but clearly mentally ill, mother in LA.

“Always learn poems by heart,” she said. “They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they’ll make your soul impervious to the world’s soft decay.”

The relationship between Ingrid and Astrid is both endearing and disturbing. Even at a young age, Astrid seemed older than her years.

“I tried not to make it worse by asking for things, pulling her down with my thoughts. I had seen girls clamor for new clothes and complain about what their mothers made for dinner. I was always mortified. Didn’t they know they were tying their mothers to the ground?”

Ingrid is a brilliant poet but ends up murdering her ex-boyfriend and goes to prison. This begins Astrid’s story of being bounced around foster homes. Each place she goes she learns something different about herself, survival, life, family and love.

“Honey, this is what happens when you fall in love. You’re looking at a natural disaster.” I vowed I would never fall in love.”

It’s not your typical book. The book is written beautifully, painting pictures for the reader that will not be forgotten.

Wherever Astrid goes, she finds solace in someone. In the first house, a trailer-trash type place, she befriends one of the young boys there. In the next place she befriends one of the neighbors who teaches her a lot about life and love.

“Isn’t it funny. I’m enjoying my hatred so much more than I ever enjoyed love. Love is temperamental. Tiring. It makes demands. Love uses you. Changes its mind.”

“When you started thinking it was easy, you were forgetting what it cost.”

There was one foster home where this wealthy interior designer had a beautiful home and had several foster kids, teenage girls. It seemed like it was a wonderful home. But looks were deceiving. As soon as the social worker left, Astrid found out the foster mom was basically starving all the teenagers. The kitchen was locked and they were allowed to eat dinner and that was it. Astrid began stealing food at school from the garbage because she was literally starving to death.

There were so many horrible things in the book, but it’s balanced by some glimpses of beauty and humanity. I loved this book!

2 ) If You Knew Her by Emily Elgar

What an interesting concept! Frank is in a coma in a hospital. Alice is the nurse in the coma wing. Cassie comes in to that wing in a coma as well and the mystery of what happened to put Cassie into that coma starts to unravel. It turns out that Frank is regaining his consciousness and is hearing everything that goes on around him. He’s hearing all the visitors that Cassie has, hearing the confessions, deducing who ran her down and put her into that coma. But will he be able to regain consciousness in time to warn everyone?

The way the story is told is really well done and I did not guess the ending or who had done it! I thought I had and was wrong. Very good! I could not put it down.

3 ) The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan

This was a good, solid ghost story!

Maggie is an up-and-coming artist in London. Mike is her agent/dealer. After a horrible domestic violence event that puts Maggie in the hospital, she decides she needs to get away to clear her head and get some space and get away from her abusive ex-boyfriend. On her wandering road trip across Ireland, she decides to buy an abandoned, run-down cottage in a tiny seaside town. She hires some local contractors to fix it up and install electricity and plumbing, and once it’s inhabitable, she moves in.

She invites Mike and two other friends, Liz and Maggie, to her cottage for a weekend to celebrate her new abode. After spending a fun day exploring the tiny towns nearby, drinking in pubs and eating good food, they open up the whisky and someone brings out a ouija board. This is where the fun night takes a very creepy, dark turn.

The cottage is haunted by the original inhabitant. The four friends unknowingly invite an unfriendly spirit into their circle and Maggie becomes a changed person.

The book is short, and that’s the only flaw. I think it could have been made longer and really drawn out the suspense. But the book is rich in creepiness. I mean it’s Ireland, full of ghosts and spirits and druids and lush history. The cottage itself is creepy–out in the middle of nowhere. It all works! Great book!

4 ) Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

“They say when an adult dies you bury the past; when a child dies you bury the future.”

I don’t even know where to start. Every time I try to write a review, or think about this book, I get choked up. It was beautifully written by Trayvon’s parents. They were eloquent and emotional, but direct and focused.

“I could never have imagined that my son would become, in death, a symbol for injustice.”

They perfectly described the events leading up to the death of their son, the blurry fog of disbelief after, the rage of injustice with the Florida’s justice system and the lack of humanity with the police who refused to arrest The Killer.

As a mother, I don’t know how I thought I could read this powerful book and not be a crying mess the entire time. I felt all the range of emotions Sybrina and Tracy felt. I read this book in short burst because it was so emotionally heavy I just couldn’t read it for long periods of time.

“When I became a parent, I would tell my sons, “Hey, racism is alive and well, and you have to watch out for it all of the time.”

“My mother always advised her kids, “If you see somebody coming at you with any kind of racism, run.”

“So just like my mother told me, I told my kids, including Trayvon: “If you see yourself about to get into a racial confrontation, eliminate yourself from the equation.”

“Run, because the confrontation isn’t worth it. Run, because the confrontation may escalate. Don’t stop to discuss it. This is NOT the time to have a conversation about race. If you have to protect yourself, do so. But if you can, just run.”

The most interesting part of the book was about the movement that began and spread all over the country, protesting the fact that the police refused to arrest George Zimmerman. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson got involved. There were marches and peaceful protests and speeches and rallies. All of that was really empowering to read (and frustrating). It was also encouraging how many celebrities got behind the movement.

” ‘If they can bear the pain to stand up for us, then we can take the pain to stand up with them. They have woke America up. And they have shown something that this world needs to see. And that is we love our children, like everyone else loves their children. We may not have as much as others have, but we have each other, and we are not going to let anyone take our children from us.’ ”

“You are risking going down as the Birmingham and Selma of the twenty-first century!” he said. “You are making the world know you as a place of racial intolerance and double standards. “For one man, would you risk the reputation of a whole city? Zimmerman is not worth the history of this city.”

It even went to the White House. I remember watching Obama make a statement about Trayvon.

“I felt he was speaking not only as a parent but as an African American parent of African American children in a country where black children are still so vulnerable to violence of all kinds. Our children can’t just be kids; they have to be so much more. Our children don’t always feel safe in their own communities.

Later, President Obama would speak again about Trayvon’s death, at another press conference: “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me thirty-five years ago.”

The second half of the book was the inside details of the trial. This part was long and sometimes redundant, but I think also important because it showed just how absurd the trial was. The issue of racial profiling wasn’t even allowed to be discussed in the trial. I don’t even understand how the judge ruled on that. That goes to the heart of what happened.

I still can’t wrap my brain around how the killer could invoke Stand Your Ground Laws when he was FOLLOWING TRAYVON IN HIS CAR. If he was so “threatened” he could have just driven away. The entire trial was a travesty.

“The problem that I had with this was: If this was a Stand Your Ground case, if the killer was in true and immediate fear for his life, why did he follow my son? Why did he trail and confront the person who caused such fear?”

“Stevie Wonder announced he would not play another concert in Florida until the state government repealed its Stand Your Ground law. (Florida still hasn’t repealed the law.)”

But in the end, Trayvon’s parents found grace and healing with their strong faith and the support of their community. They created a foundation and with the help of celebrities and activists, are doing GOOD WORK to help other parents who lost children to gun violence and try and change the Stand Your Ground laws.

“Trayvon’s spirit was still with us, but not just us. His spirit was motivating a movement.”

It was an excellent book. But you should be emotionally prepared to be gutted.

5 ) We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

This was a fascinating read!

It’s three stories in one, about several generations of a family. It starts with Elizabeth Balsam in current times. She’s a reporter in Detroit. She is approached by a local man and asked to deliver a box of photos and an old camera to a relative she didn’t know she had. She says no but then she loses her job after screws up an investigation and she decides she needs a change of scenery.

So she goes out into the country somewhere in between Detroit and Flint, and stays with her great aunt Nora Balsam in a 150 year old farmhouse. And that’s where Nora’s story picks up. Nora’s story takes place in the 1960’s in Detroit. Nora comes from money. She meets an African American photographer, William, and they fall in love but it’s during a time period when interracial marriages is not ok. Nora is disowned by her family. Faced with poverty and racism, Nora and William flee Detroit and live in this old farmhouse that has been her family for centuries.

It turns out, this farmhouse has a lot of history. Nora’s distant relative, Mary Balsam, was using that farmhouse as part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. She was taking in freed slaves that fled the South, giving them a home, jobs and basically a family.

It was a super fascinating, heartbreaking, honest story about race, racism, history and love.

Happy Reading!

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Books #34

I’ve read a few books lately that did not make the cut for me but I wanted to share a few of them anyways because they are apparently popular! The first was “The Party” by Robyn Harding. The characters were all so horrible I had a hard time liking the book. “Something in the Water” by Catherine Steadman was another one with unlikable characters. It was a story of things going horribly wrong because of one small decision. It kind of reminded me of that AWFUL movie “Very Bad Things.” And finally, “Sometimes I Lie” by Alice Feeney. Another popular book right now and I just didn’t get it. It was confusing and convoluted.

Anyways, let’s get to some of the GOOD books I’ve read lately…

 

1 ) Burning Ridge (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #4) by Margaret Mizushima

Another good book in the series! In the latest installment, Mattie and her K-9 dog, Robo, are on a case when a charred foot in a boot is found in the forest. Robo leads them to uncover a horrific grave–a burned body. And that lead to more graves up in the forest being uncovered. Who are the bodies?

This case uncovers a lot of secrets and shocking things in Mattie’s own past that she didn’t know. It also brings her closer to Cole, the local veterinarian she’s been seeing.

The story is fast-paced and I always love reading about Robo and how he tracks bad guys. I also love the relationship she has with her dog partner. Great read!

 

2 ) The Wanted (Elvis Cole #17) by Robert Crais

“It seemed like a simple case before the bodies started piling up…”

Elvis Cole, private detective, is back. He’s contacted by a single mother who found suspicious items in her teen son’s bedroom–a rolex that costs at least $60k and thousands of dollars in cash. She hires Elvis to investigate and find out what is going on with her son. Except Elvis starts to unravel a complicated case involving a burglary ring and witnesses are being murdered. Who is also investigating these crimes and eliminating people?

The story is quick and fun to read. Elvis Cole and his partner Joe Pike are two of my favorite characters ever written in a book, so it was nice having them back. The characters are all well-developed and felt real, even the hitmen.

 

3 ) Tear Me Apart by JT Ellison

What a weird, crazy book!

Mindy is 17 years old and already a world-class skier with her eye on the Olympics. A tragic crash at a meet leads to a broken leg and a surprise diagnosis of leukemia. The cancer is not responding to treatment and she needs a stem cell transplant. Except when they test her parents she discovers that they aren’t related.

There were so many levels to the lies. Mindy’s aunt, Juliet, works for CBI doing blood analysis and tracks down her birth father and the lies and half-truths start unfolding even more. This was a pretty intense book and you really liked (most) of the characters. I guessed pretty early on what was going on but I didn’t guess the entire ending. There was clearly something a little off about Mindy’s mom, Lauren, but the ending was quite a creepy tale.

 

4 ) The Promise (Elvis Cole #16) by Robert Crais

Not sure how I read these out of order…! But This book was outstanding! So good! I could not put it down. The book was an exciting rollercoaster ride and all I wanted to do was sit in a comfy chair and read the book from start to finish.

Elvis was hired by a friend of Amy Breslyn’s. Amy is missing. Her friend Meryl is worried something horrible has happened. Amy’s son was recently killed in the middle east by a suicide bomber and she’s grief-stricken and possibly obsessed with what happened to her son. But as Elvis digs deeper, he uncovers lies by both Amy and Meryl and the real story comes out.

In addition to Joe Pike, super awesome side-kick, there is a K-9 office, Scott,  and his dog, Maggie, who are part of the story and a joyful addition. Love Maggie!

I did not guess the ending of this book at all. Fast-paced, well-written, easy to follow but lots of twists and turns.

5 ) Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf

This was a really good read. I will be giving some spoilers, though, so be prepared and maybe skip it if you don’t want spoilers. The reason I’m giving spoilers is because the subject matter was brutal and there were several parts of the book where I quit and wasn’t going to read it anymore but I kept going back. I’m glad I did.

Ellen is a social worker. She’s spent 20 years of her career taking children away from unfit parents. So that is a difficult subject matter for a reader. The author doesn’t go into explicit detail about child abuse, but it’s a theme in the book, so it might be hard for some people.

One summer morning Ellen is rushing to work, late and frantic, while her husband takes their two older kids to soccer and as Ellen is rushing, she gets a phone call from one of the kids of her clients calls her. The mom’s boyfriend is abusing their mom and the two girls have locked themselves in the bathroom. They are terrified their mother is dead. Ellen jumps into action and turns the car around to go to their house. The police come, Ellen is trying to explain the situation to the cops, a crowd of neighbors gather outside and as the police go inside and rescue the two girls, there’s a commotion behind her. Ellen turns to find that her infant daughter, Avery was in the car seat in her van and she hadn’t known.

This the spoiler because as soon as this happened, I quit the book for a bit. AVERY SURVIVES. I seriously could not deal with an infant dying in a hot car. But thankfully, by the end of the book, she’s ok.

Except Ellen gets arrested for child neglect and investigated for child abuse. There’s a protective order that says she can’t go near Avery while she’s in the hospital. It’s an absolutely horrific situation and you just feel awful for Ellen.

Despite the rough subject matter, it was a well-crafted story with very real characters. I think every parents has that fear that one mistake could lead to something life-changing. So this is very relatable.

Happy reading!

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