GoodReads

Books #41

I’ve been so busy lately, the book reading has slowed down, but I am still reading. So here are a few to add to your list:

  1. A Beautiful Corpse: Harper McClain #2 by Christi Daugherty

This is the second book in the series. Harper is back, front and center, still the crime reporter for the flailing newspaper in Savannah. Her personal life is also flailing a little bit. Her ex is back in town, but they aren’t really back together and things are weird between them. She’s also dealing with the aftermath of what happened in the first book–and the whole police force is kind of punishing her for it. Which makes her job harder.

Harper is just trying to do her job when she gets a story that changes everything. Naomi Scott is a law student who also works as a bartender to make ends meet. She works at the same bar as Bonnie, Harper’s best friend. Naomi is murdered and Harper is convinced the police are on the wrong path.

This was another good book. I really enjoyed the story. All the characters come to life, you really picture the world created. I couldn’t put the book down.

#2 One Day in December by Josie Silver

This is a typical far-fetched, rom-com/chick lit book with vibes of Bridget Jones.

Laurie is on a bus in London, going home from work in December. She sees a guy standing outside at a bus stop, he looks up, they make eye contact, sparks fly, she thinks He’s The One. Then the bus drives away. She can’t get him out of her mind. Months later, her best friend and roommate, Sarah, brings home her new boyfriend, Jack, and of course it’s the guy from the bus stop. But Laurie doesn’t say anything because she doesn’t want to wreck anything for her best friend.

The book spans years, many relationships, marriages, divorces, will Laurie and Jack ever be together? I liked the characters and the writing style. Overall, I enjoyed the book, it was easy to read. I don’t know that it’s a super memorable book but I liked it.

#3 Educated by Tara Westover

I’m not even sure where to start with this book…it’s a memoir. Tara describes what it’s like growing up in rural Idaho in the mountains with a deeply religious family, bordering on cult-ish behavior, where her and her siblings are “home-schooled” but not really. It doesn’t seem like they get any schooling beyond learning basics.

“Grandma thought we should be in school and not, as she put it, ‘roaming the mountain like savages.’ Dad said public school was a ploy by the Government to lead children away from God. ‘I may as well surrender my kids to the devil himself,’ he said, ‘as send them down the road to that school.’ [pg 4]”

Her father is a right wing End of Days nutjob who is thinks schooling is the work of the devil. It’s clear early on he has some severe mental illness and his wife is compliant, or bullied. There’s hints of domestic violence, too. Randy Weaver and the Ruby Ridge incident happened nearby them and that fueled Tara’s father’s paranoia.

“…by the time I was ten, the only subject I had studied systematically was Morse code, because Dad insisted that I learn it. ‘If the lines are cut, we’ll be the only people in the valley who can communicate.’ [pg 45]”

Then one of Tara’s older brother’s goes away to college, despite their father’s refusal. Tyler had figured out a loophole: being “homeschooled” didn’t keep them from being able to go to college.

“There’s a world out there, Tara. And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear. [pg 120]”

So that plants the seed. Tara decides she wants to go to college, even though she’s had no formal schooling, hasn’t even learned math…she gets some books, studies for the ACT, takes the test and fails, then takes it again. And lies about her age (she’s 16) and gets into BYU. She’s definitely a fish out of water. She goes to college and for the first time in her life she’s discovering things are not as her father said they were. And she’s learning things she was never taught–like The Holocaust.

The first half of the book is about her growing up in the horrific environment of insanity, lies and mental illness. The second half is about her going to school, learning EVERYTHING normal people learn in a short period of time and then ridding herself of the shackles she’s had her whole life (her family).

It was a great book, very compelling, but I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable reading…it was definitely intense reading!

#4 Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly

Marianne is accomplished in her career, married with an adult daughter, living a posh life in London. Then she goes back home to her rundown town to help care for her mother who is suffering from dementia. She is faced with the dark secrets she left behind.

Her husband surprises her by buying a flat in a newly renovated building that used to be the insane asylum in her hometown. He thinks this is a good thing since they are going to be there for awhile taking care of her ailing mother. But Marianne is suddenly faced with her secret past and everything is threatening to be revealed and ruin her life.

The book was told in a very interesting way. I enjoyed it a lot and liked the unique writing style. The book starts slow but picks up the pace and get pretty good.

#5 The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

I loved this book!

It’s 1943. Tess lives in Little Italy in Baltimore with her mom. She’s finishing nursing school. She’s engaged to the love of her life, Vincent, who is a doctor. Her life is planned out and she thinks things are going the way they should. Then Vincent goes off to Chicago for what they believe will be a few weeks, to help out with a polio outbreak. A few weeks turns into months. Their relationship suffers. Tess is lonely, starting to have doubts about Vincent and whether he still loves her.

Tess and Gina go to Washington DC for a weekend of fun and to get Tess’s mind off her worries. Tess makes one mistake and ends up cheating on Vincent and getting pregnant. Since she’s a “good Catholic” girl, she can’t end the pregnancy. She decides to leave Baltimore and find the one night stand to see if he’ll give her some money so she could disappear with her baby. Instead, Henry proposes. Tess decides this is the best option. Her baby will have a name. So she leaves Vincent, Baltimore, everything she knows, and moves to North Carolina, marries Henry and realizes she made a huge mistake.

The book is compelling and an easy read. You get sucked in immediately. It discusses WWII, race issues, polio, women’s issues, women’s independences, so many things. It was really, really interesting!

#6 Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern

I’m not sure how to rate this book. I’m a huge fan. I’ve been a faithful radio listener for 20+ years. So of course I pre-ordered the book. But this book, I feel, is not necessarily for the faithful listeners. This book is clips and transcripts of some of Howard’s best interviews over the years, with some thoughts and such in between. He reveals some personal stuff in the book but it’s not necessarily a “tell all” type of memoir. So if you’ve listened to the interviews and heard every show (like me) then this is all stuff you’ve already heard.

BUT, it is very good and it’s very interesting because he chose interviews that were very compelling. Where guests really revealed intimate or tragic things about themselves and their lives. So even if you aren’t a Howard Stern fan, you could read this book and enjoy every word of it because you will learn things about celebrities you wouldn’t learn anywhere else.

He talks about a LOT of heavy topics, too. Like how Pamela Anderson was gang raped. Lena Dunham was raped. Stephen Colbert’s father and two brothers were killed in a plane crash. Rosie O’Donnell talked about the really hard childhood she had losing her mother at a young age. Howard wrote:

“…she announced she was gay. That really struck a chord with me. I had an older cousin, Stacy, who came out in the 1950s, when he was thirteen. This was in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, but my family was very accepting. My mother would set him up on dates, and even as a little kid I appreciated how courageous Stacy was. The same went for Rosie. I couldn’t imagine how much guts it took for her to come out, especially considering the potential risk to her career, yet she did it. “

Several celebrities discussed their run-ins with Harvey Weinstein. And Howard shared his interview with Harvey (where Harvey lied outright about the casting couch rumors).

Courtney Love talked about what it was like losing her husband to suicide. “No, he was weak. He was weak. Howard: Does that bother you that you guys weren’t on good terms when he died? Courtney: We were on good terms. He was just really weak. Howard: He couldn’t fuck at that point or think about anything other than his own condition. Courtney: He couldn’t think of anything but drugs. Howard: It is sad. So sad.”

Chris Cornell talked about his addiction to Oxy. “Yeah, it’s—you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t feel anything. Kicking it is so hard because all of a sudden your whole body comes to life, and you’ll have had all of these physical problems you didn’t realize you had because you don’t feel a damn thing. And so your knees will hurt. Your joints ache. Your brain hurts. It’s very depressing. It’s very hard to stay off. Getting off isn’t as hard as staying off. “

The interviews were really heavy at times. “Sometimes the conversations can be funny, like Snoop Dogg and Seth Rogen talking about their love of weed. Sometimes it can get dark, like hearing about Anthony Kiedis and Drew Barrymore being exposed to drugs when they were just kids.” And then it could be funny–like Alex Trebek revealing that he went to a party in Malibu and ate a bunch of Hash brownies because he has a sweet tooth. LOL!

And of course, Howard talks a lot about the animal rescue him and his wife do. He opened up about his cat, Leon: “We had Leon for eight years. We were never sure how old he was. This past September, the vet found a large tumor. We had to get it removed or else Leon would die. The surgery was routine, we were told, and he was expected to come through it fine. I had this strange feeling. A few days before he went to the hospital, I had a long talk with him. I said, “Leon, you’re going in for an operation. I can’t lose you. You’ve been with me through thick and thin. Don’t worry, you’re going to be all right. We’re going to be spending a lot more time together.” But deep in my mind I knew this could be it. Sadly, he died on the operating table. The tumor was even bigger than they thought, and he lost too much blood during the procedure. We had Leon cremated, and we put the small box containing his remains in a large Chinese vase in our bedroom. In that vase we keep the remains of our dog Bianca and all our resident cats who have passed away: Apple, Charlie, Sophia, and now Leon. Inside Leon’s box is also his collar with contact information in case he ever got out of the house. “My name is Leon Bear Stern,” it read. “Here is my phone number in case I am lost.” I was the one who had been lost—lost until I found Leon.”

I still cry whenever I read about his experiences losing his pets (they’ve lost a few cats over the years). It touches me pretty deeply.

Anyways, the book is excellent.

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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