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Books #44

Ok, I have some good ones to recommend! A few deep, heavy books and a few light reading. A good mix, I’d say. 🙂

  1. Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan

Jessica is a Chinese American who lived in Australia and Beijing and now lived in London with her British husband. A self-proclaimed introvert/borderline recluse, she found that she was feeling lonely and lost.

“I’m really good at other things, like loitering palely in dark doorways. Disappearing into couch corners. Leaving early. Feigning sleep on public transportation.”

All of her friends had moved away, married, had kids, moved on and she wanted to challenge herself to becoming an extrovert. She was impressed with her friends who were extroverts and she wanted to mirror what they did.

“Willow had stopped to pet a woman’s dog in Prospect Park: she ended up spending the day with the woman, going to a jazz club with her until 4 a.m., and later landing her dream job through one of her new friend’s connections. She’d met her boyfriend in a line for the bathroom at a festival. She discovered she had hypoglycemia by talking to a doctor at a party. Her entire life has been shaped by these random encounters. All because she chooses to talk and listen to people she has just met, rather than run away from them at full speed muttering, “I don’t speak English!” “

So she sought out advice from experts in the field. She went to class, therapy, she took an improv course. She took a class in stand-up comedy that resulted in her having to actually perform. She spoke to random strangers everywhere she went.

“In London, I learned quickly that if you talk to a stranger in public, they look at you like you’ve slapped them in the face: shocked and aggrieved. Betrayed as well, because you have broken the social contract that we all agreed to follow in public: no one exists but you.”

She went to networking events:

“I make a few rules before each event. Go with an intention. Talk to three people, with Richard’s advice in mind, and aim to really bond or connect with one person. Psychologists also say that it takes time for shy people to warm up, so if you always leave after ten minutes, you’re never giving yourself the chance to actually succeed. Stay for at least an hour.”

I found the book really fascinating and funny. The writer is hilarious and her sense of humor is dry. I enjoyed the book and I enjoyed reading about her journey and the growth she went through.

“…over the course of the year, I’d simply found that it was easy to get into Deep Talk with other women. Maybe it was because we usually had more in common, maybe it was because we’re generally encouraged to talk more openly about our feelings—I don’t know why, but it just seemed like every time I took that leap into the uncomfortable unknown, women would leap right in after me.”

The book also made me think of my own life and how often I say “no” to events because of anxiety or fear. And it made me question how my life could be enriched if I said yes more often.

#2 Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews

It was predictable but enjoyable.

Drue is in her mid-thirties. Her life is not going as planned. She’s a jock that has to give up her sport due to an injury and her drifter-type lifestyle comes to an end when she gets fired as a bartender. Her mom dies and her estranged dad offers her a job in his law office. Since she’s down and out she decides to take it. She needs the money.

The story is about Drue reconnecting with her dad, repairing the relationship, discovering she’s pretty good at being a private investigator, and uncovering who murdered one of their clients.

The book is pretty good. There were some slow parts in the middle and some parts that needed some editing down for brevity sake but overall I liked the character, I liked the story and the world that was created.

#3 The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan

I enjoyed this book a lot. Zoe is a single mom to Hari, who is 4 and doesn’t speak yet. She’s struggling in London. Her job isn’t great, she barely makes any money to get by, her flat is horrible and living in London is busy, crowded and dirty. Her ex-boyfriend is no help. She’s at her wit’s end and a friend reaches out and gives her a lifeline. She decides to pack everything up and move to Scotland to be a nanny and help out Nina with her book mobile in Scotland.

The three kids she’s a nanny for are terrible. She’s “Nanny Number 7”. They live in a big castle in the middle of nowhere. The housekeeper is a curmudgeon. The father is a recluse and rarely around. But Zoe is determined to make it work.

The book is charming and you really picture the environment. I liked it a lot.

#4 Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

This was a very interesting, well-written book. It spans a few decades, but focuses on the 1980s. Dana is a teenager in Atlanta, being raised by her mother who is “married” to James Witherspoon, a bigamist. Dana and her mother are aware of his first family, wife Laverne and daughter Chaurisse. But the first family has no idea they exist.

The book is a fascinating read about African America culture in the 80s, the history of racism in the south, and how bigamy “works” (or doesn’t). Dana and Chaurisse tell their stories, and of course, the two worlds collide and the truth comes to light. It’s so well written and I could not put it down! I didn’t like the ending but the rest of the book was excellent.

#5 Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra

I heard about this book on a podcast and it was a very interesting read! The author is a first generation Indian, living in Memphis, which is apparently a very segregated city. She writes a lot about race and what it was like being brown in a very white city.

“I came of age not feeling fully at home in either black or white spaces… I
was born brown in a city divided into black and white… I started to resent being treated as a one-woman diversity show.”

“… white classmates asking for bindis after Gwen Stefani started wearing them on the red carpet in 1998 was stressful. None of us knew what “cultural appropriation” was yet, but I could feel the specter of it pulsing around the edge of my life.”

Eventually she came out as bisexual and married a white woman and they adopted an African American baby boy. She writes about the struggles she has living in the south as an Indian-American, a lesbian, and a mother of a black boy who might be transgender.

“… when the act of explaining your family structure becomes a part of every day of your life, you grow tired of being gracious.”

“That’s always the message: You can be gay as long as you aren’t too gay. Or you can be gay in private. We’ll let you stay if you live a compartmentalized life; keep the freaky stuff where we can’t see it.”

It’s a very deep and thoughtful book; very revealing and honest. And despite the heavy topics of race, racism, homophobia and trans-phobia, the book didn’t feel dark or heavy or depressing. It felt like an honest reflection of one woman’s experience, without anger or resentment, as she tries to live her best life in a space that doesn’t understand “different.”

#6 The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Holy smokes! This is by the best book I’ve read this year. It was so engrossing, so exciting, so fascinating, I COULD.NOT.PUT.IT.DOWN. And when I finished reading it, I was bummed out.

It’s a non-fiction book about a lost city in Honduras. The writer talks about the mythology around the lost city and what cultures may have lived there, Maya or something else?

“Somewhere in this impassable wilderness, it is said, lies a “lost city” built of white stone. It is called Ciudad Blanca, the “White City,” also referred to as the “Lost City of the Monkey God.” “

He writes about all the different attempts to find the city. And he also explains the history of Honduras and South America that adds a lot of depth to the story without bogging it down and making it slow or boring to read. NO editing needed! It was perfect.

He joins a group of scientists and filmmakers who are trying to find the lost city with new technology.

“It was the first time our expedition had come together in one room, a rather motley crew of scientists, photographers, film producers, and archaeologists, plus me, a writer. We all had widely varying experience in wilderness skills. Catacamas was a dangerous city, controlled by a violent drug cartel; no one was to leave the hotel without an armed military escort. We were to keep our mouths shut about what we were doing here. We were not to engage in conversation about the project within hearing of hotel staff, or leave papers lying around our rooms referring to the work, or conduct cell phone calls in public.”

I was super fascinated by all the horrors in the jungle, too.

“It has pools of quickmud that can swallow a person alive. The understory is infested with deadly snakes, jaguars, and thickets of catclaw vines with hooked thorns that tear at flesh and clothing… As for the hazards we would face in the jungle, venomous snakes were at the top of the list. The fer-de-lance, he said, is known in these parts as the barba amarilla (“yellow beard”). It kills more people in the New World than any other snake. It comes out at night and is attracted to people and activity. It is aggressive, irritable, and fast. Its fangs have been observed to squirt venom for more than six feet…The venom is deadly; if it doesn’t kill you outright through a brain hemorrhage, it may very well kill you later through sepsis. If you survive, the limb that was struck often has to be amputated, due to the necrotizing nature of the poison… He told us to wear our Kevlar snake gaiters at all times, including—especially—when we got up to pee at night.”

“… disease-bearing insects we might encounter, including mosquitoes** and sand flies, chiggers, ticks, kissing bugs (so called because they like to bite your face), scorpions, and bullet ants, whose bite equals the pain of being shot with a bullet.”

After much planning the group went into the jungle and had security with them at all times. Then they had Honduran security camped nearby to keep the cartel away from them).

“On a hard day’s travel they were lucky to make one or two miles. Steve and his crew ate MREs, while the Indian guides ate iguanas. At one point the guides became agitated; taking out their weapons, they confided that the group was being tracked by jaguars. They frequently ran into venomous snakes and were assaulted day and night by insects.”

The book also discusses how untouched that particular Honduran rain forest was. “The spider monkeys, he said, were another sign of an uninhabited area, as they normally flee at the first sight of humans, unless they are in a protected zone. He concluded, “I don’t think the animals here have ever seen people before.”

And the tragic reality: “The Honduran rainforests are disappearing at a rate of at least 300,000 acres a year. Between 1990 and 2010, Honduras lost over 37 percent of its rainforest to clear-cutting.”

I will leave off here because I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book but I will say this: if you are looking for a fantastic read, exciting Indian-Jones-esque book packed with history and culture, read this book. It was SO good. So so good. One of my favorites!

Happy Reading!

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Books #18

I’ve been reading a lot lately. With all the stuff that’s been going on in my life recently, I really needed the distraction.

1 ) Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

What a crazy roller-coaster ride of a book! It was SO GOOD! If you’re going to pick up a book to read, this is the one you should check out. I read it in a day and a half and could not put it down.

The story is dark–Gwen/Gina’s life is turned upside down. The idyllic home life she thought she had, married with two small kids, was not what it seemed when it turns out that her husband is a serial killer. The story isn’t necessarily about the discovery or the trial, or him going to prison to sit on death row, it’s about her survival and it’s about the rabid internet trolls that are trying to hunt her down to make her pay. They are convinced that she was an accomplice.

So she goes on the run with her kids, moving and changing identities whenever she thinks the stalkers and trolls are getting too close to finding them. But now she’s settled in Tennessee on a quiet lake with her teen kids. She’s still diligent, but starting to relax. And that’s when her past catches up to her. It’s such a fast, exciting story. Trust me when I say you cannot stop reading this book once you start!

 

 

2 ) The Choices We Make by Karma Brown

This is a story about friendship, motherhood and grief. Hannah and Kate have been best friends most of their lives. Hannah has been trying to have a baby for years, unsuccessfully, and Kate does the selfless thing of offering to be a surrogate. It’s not an easy road for any of them. Kate’s husband isn’t on board with it, there are complications and twists of fate that change their lives forever. But the story is heartwarming, as well as tragic.

I really liked the character development. You could really feel the close friendship between Hannah and Kate and the author describes grief very well. It was a good book that I read in two days.

3 )  Cold Earth (Shetland Island #7) by Ann Cleeves

This series kind of dropped off my radar for about a year. Then I remembered about it and got the newest book. It was fairly easy to pick it back up and the story starts out in a pretty exciting way.

Detective Jimmy Perez is back and he’s at a funeral for a local friend who died of old age. During the service at the cemetery, there is a landslide of mud, water and peat that crashes into a nearby house. They all watch in horror as it sweeps down the hillside. Then Jimmy discovers a body. They all assume that it was the landslide that killed her, but it turns out to be murder.

There were lots of twists and turns, and another murder, and I liked the book and it was a fast read…but the ending was a bit flimsy for me. The murderer was not who I was expecting it to be, which in a murder mystery is usually pretty good, but in this case I didn’t quite buy it. Other than that, I enjoyed the story.

4 ) Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery

This was a really fascinating read about how cities and suburbs are designed and how they fail. The author discusses different cities — Bogota was especially fascinating in how they turned it around and also interesting was the San Joaquin Valley in California (and how it was completely destroyed by the housing crash).

So why are the citizens in Bogota so much happier?

“‘And what are our needs for happiness?’ he asked. ‘We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.’ [pg 6]”

It really is worth reading the book just for these two scenarios that are discussed, although the author talks about other countries and cities that have tried to make changes. 

“A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both. [pg 7]”

The story of Bogota was particularly interesting to me because Portland is going through something similar. There is SO much growth, so much building, so many condos and apartments and high rises…and no parking, horrible traffic, and people rallying on the side of biking rights to transform the city to something more livable. I saw a lot of parallels and I hope that our city leaders can try and find some kind of balance to make Portland…better….?

The horror-story of California was also an interesting read. Lots of people moved to this community and commuted to San Jose/San Francisco and their commutes were 2 HOURS EACH WAY! I cannot even imagine enduring that.

“A Swedish study found that people who endure more than a 45 minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce. People who live in mono-functional, car-dependent neighborhoods outside of urban centers are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walk-able neighborhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services, and places to work. [pg 55]”

I can definitely relate. We live in the suburbs of Portland and for years our neighborhood, while nice, didn’t exactly feel like a great neighborhood. We had to drive everywhere to do anything. There are no restaurants nearby, no bars, nothing really within walking distance. But once I had Logan and we started going on frequent walks (and runs) together, I started stopping by a local coffee-shop on our route. I chat with the people that work there, I chat with other patrons in the coffee-shop, people comment on my baby, and it’s a friendly experience. I also noticed that I started seeing the same people on our route who were also out walking/running/etc. We’d smile and say hi and it felt a little more like a community. It’s not quite the same because it would be nice to be able to walk to a restaurant close to the house. But it’s getting there.

The book was really interesting and gave me a lot to think about. It also made me think of what I want to look for in our next home/community. Having stuff within walking distance is a must have!

5 ) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

What a really great book! The story unfolds slowly, but you are engrossed the entire time. Eleanor is slightly weird…she’s very particular about things, is very black and white–has a routine and never deviates from that, and seems to have maybe some autistic tendencies but the book doesn’t really address that. She most certainly struggles with social skills and norms. But it’s quaint and funny.

She starts to become friends with Raymond, a coworker. Her and Raymond help a complete stranger, Sammy, an elderly man who collapses in the street. This series of events brings Eleanor out of her shell and forces her to re-evaluate her social life. Everything is off-kilter for her, but she starts making small changes and before she realizes it, her life is completely different. In a good way!

I absolutely loved the characters and the story. Eleanor is weird but charming and you are rooting for her the entire time. The ending was very shocking and unexpected, too. This is a really special book that I would recommend to anyone.

6) Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

I really liked this book! It had just the right amount of politics and humor. Al Franken writes briefly about his upbringing, his family and his career at SNL. Then he moves on to what made him decide to run for senate. The bulk of the book is about the campaign but he does spend some time writing about what it is like being a senator.

“And that’s how it’s supposed to be for every kid in America. You’re not supposed to have to be rich or lucky to have a chance to do great things…Democrats aren’t just the party of equality for all–we’re the party of opportunity for all. [pg 9]”

I also love how much “behind the scenes” stories he shares. They were interesting and funny. It was interesting to get more information on politics and how stuff happens and how the left and right actually do sometimes try to work together.

He also talked about the 2016 election and the aftermath, so there is relevant information in there, too. He ended his book with advice, too.

“Keep showing up and keep speaking out. The Women’s March didn’t force Trump to resign. It didn’t even stop any of his Cabinet nominees from going through. But it really, really mattered. It sent a clear message to the president (and to Republicans in Congress) that the American people won’t surrender their rights or their core values without a fight–and it sent a clear message to Democrats that, when we stand up to Trump, people will have our backs. [pg 382]”

He encourages people to come out at mid-elections and actually get involved and vote and try. Keep trying.

“This comeback starts with standing up for our values and making it clear that no president has a mandate to spread bigotry or roll back the clock on progress (especially not one who lost the popular vote by three million). It continues through next year, when we have a chance to punish Republicans for enabling this disaster and take back governorship and state legislatures all across the country. [pg 384]”

It’s worth a read!

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