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Books #37

2019 is off to a good start in my reading goals! How are your reading goals going?

1 ) The Shadow Wife by Diane Chamberlain

I enjoyed this book a lot.

There were two stories going on in it. The first was back in the 50’s and 60’s about twins Carlynn and Lisbeth Kling–born into money. Carlynn was also born with a gift of healing. She doesn’t understand that gift, but when she touches people, she can heal them. Carlynn ends up going into medicine and becoming a pediatrician and eventually word gets out that she’s also a healer and she ends up starting her own foundation/research clinic. The story about Carlynn and Lisbeth is interesting because of the relationship between the sisters and the social norms during that time period (sexism, racism, etc). I don’t want to give away too much because the way the story unravels is kind of a nice, slow surprise.

The other story takes place in present time and is about Joelle, Mara and Liam. When Joelle was born on a commune thirty-four years ago, she wasn’t breathing. But miraculously there was a doctor nearby that helped–Carlynn–who was also a mysterious healer. So that is how the stories intersect.

Mara, Liam and Joelle all work together in a San Francisco hospital and are best friends. When Mara gives birth to her son, she has an aneurysm and is basically brain dead but still alive. Her husband Liam can’t let go. For a year, Joelle and Liam visit Mara in the nursing home every day, wishing she would recover. They grow closer to each other and can’t deny their feelings for each other. Is it wrong to fall in love? When Mara will never be her old self?

The ending had a good twist I didn’t see coming. I liked it!

 

2 ) Give Me The Child by Mel McGrath

This turned out to be a pretty decent thriller. What a dysfunctional family! Especially considering the main character is a neuro/child psychiatrist.

Caitlin is a doctor does research and treats children who are the worst cases–psychopathic kids who are deep need of treatment. She’s married to what seems like a feckless loser who isn’t really pulling his weight in the marriage or the financial relationship while he’s creating some game that will make them “rich” (so many eye rolls). (I didn’t like the husband from the start.) They have an 11 year old daughter, Freya.

One night, the police arrive on their doorstep with another 11 year old girl. Apparently Caitlin’s husband cheated on her while she was pregnant and this child’s mother is now dead and they are now responsible for taking care of her. Except, there’s something not quite right about her.

The book reminded me a lot of the Girl on the Train with the themes of alcoholism, cheating/dirtbag husbands and gaslighting. It was decent read.

 

3 ) Pachinko by Min Jin Lee 

Fascinating, long read that spans multiple generations in Korea and Japan. It starts in the early 1900’s and details arranged marriage and extreme poverty and starvation. It focuses on the arranged marriage between Hoonie and Yangjin both considered “undesirable” and unable to find someone to marry. Hoonie has a cleft palate and Yangjin is very poor and has many sisters so there’s no dowry. But a matchmaker makes the deal and they find they grow to love each other. They marry and live in a house in a remote area of Busan, Korea that they turn into a boarding house so they could afford to pay the rent and buy food.

They have many children but only one survives: Sunja, a daughter. When Sunja is in her teens, Hoonie dies and Sunja and her mother take in more boarders and desperately try to survive on their own during the Depression. Sunja meets an older man and falls in love and ends up pregnant. Except it turns out he’s married and lives in Japan and has three daughters there. He can’t leave his wife and Sunja refuses to be a mistress in Korea, even though he offers to take care of her and the baby.

Sunja and her mother are rescued by one of their boarders, Isak, a Korean Christian minister who offers to marry her and take her to Japan with him where he has a job as a minister waiting for him. He will raise her child as his and give him a name.

The book is a beautiful, fascinating read that details many generations. Like many of the other reviewers, I loved the first 50-60% of the book. The love story, the struggles, the tragedies, the experiences they had in Japan during World War 2 were all really interesting to read! But the last 1/3 of the book dragged on a bit. I didn’t care as much about the newer generations of the family. I felt like that could have been left out or edited down more.

Despite that, I loved the book. The racism, the poverty, the way the Japanese looked down on the Koreans were all very interesting (and new to me) to read.

 

4 ) That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

This was an interesting, different book. The book takes place in the mid-80’s. Rebecca is a new mother. She’s probably suffering from PPD and feeling overwhelmed. Breastfeeding is difficult, her British husband works for the Embassy and is gone a lot. She’s a poet but after becoming a mother, feels lost.

“Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

“You need to try something. Talk therapy. SSRIs. Meditation. This isn’t helping anyone, or it’s helping them but not you. You can’t disappear into motherhood. It’s not good for you. And I can see that’s what you’re doing. You’ve vanished.”

They decide to hire a nanny, Priscilla, to help out. Priscilla is African American, a few years older than Rebecca, and works for La Leche League and used to be a nanny.

Rebecca is a wealthy white woman that lives in a bubble. She came across as very much oblivious about everything. Money. Race. Privilege. Everything. She just seemed to live in denial. Having Priscilla in her life seemed to help her with her undiagnosed PPD and Rebecca slowly opens her eyes to racism.

“A movie with only one black person, and she’s a servant. You don’t think Priscilla thinks of herself as our servant?”

Her mother-in-law makes this comment:

“I’ve noticed your girl sits with you. When you’re having your lunch.” Elizabeth’s smile was inscrutable. “That wouldn’t have been done, in my day.”

It was very uncomfortable. But Rebecca, even though she’s aware that it’s racist, doesn’t speak up. That’s the common theme in the book.

Then Priscilla announces that she’s pregnant. Rebecca is worried Priscilla will quit. Rebecca lives in denial again and is convinced that Priscilla will continue to be her nanny once she has her own child. When Priscilla unexpectedly dies in childbirth, Rebecca decides to adopt her son, Andrew. And now Rebecca has to figure out how to raise a black son when you are clueless and white.

“You can’t spend your life feeling guilty about your being white and his being black, about you being alive and her being dead.”

One of the most difficult parts of the book was towards the end, when Andrew was around 10 years old. Priscilla’s adult daughter, Cheryl, and her husband Ian, told oblivious Rebecca about how to protect Andrew because he’s almost a black teenage boy. Even though the story was taking place in the late 90’s at this point, it was very relevant to the police shootings that are happening now.

“Black kids don’t get to be kids much longer than twelve, really.”

Overall, it was a good book. I liked Priscilla. I liked that Rebecca adopted Andrew and I liked that the book tackled some of the topics of race. I felt like it just touched the tip of the iceberg of race, though, and I didn’t feel like Rebecca ever got a clue and understood her privilege. That was the only flaw for me.

5 ) My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

I thought this was going to be another typical chick lit book. Charming but predictable. However, the book took an unexpected turn that I did not see coming and it changed the whole feel of the book.

Ella is a spending a year at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Her career at home is politics and education but once she gets to England, her focus changes. She falls in love with poetry and literature and makes new friends. She also meets a man that will change the way she looks at her life and how she keeps everyone at arm’s length. It reminded me a bit of “Me Before You”.

‘Love well those who are dying, so that they may die in love.’

“The hardest thing is love, with no expiration date, no qualifiers, no safety net. Love that demands acceptance of all the things I cannot change. Love that doesn’t follow a plan.”

The writing was really good. I liked the style and the way the book read. I liked the supporting characters a lot. I went back and forth on whether I liked Ella, but the rest of the book was strong enough to make me overlook that.

6 ) Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

This book is a collection of short stories, each chapter a different topic, about Anne’s life and the people in it. The common themes in the book are family, faith, cancer, death, grief and healing.

I’m not religious, and generally turned off by organized religion, but Anne doesn’t come across as pushy or self-righteous in her faith. Her book is enjoyable because she shares how she learns to be a better person, how to get perspective, how to forgive people, how to grow as a person and a mother and a friend.

“When my son was six or seven, and realized that he and I were not going to die at the exact same moment, he cried for a while, and then said that if he’d known this, he wouldn’t have agreed to be born.”

“Redefinition is a nightmare—we think we’ve arrived, in our nice Pottery Barn boxes, and that this or that is true. Then something happens that totally sucks, and we are in a new box, and it is like changing into clothes that don’t fit, that we hate. Yet the essence remains. Essence is malleable, fluid. Everything we lose is Buddhist truth—one more thing that you don’t have to grab with your death grip, and protect from theft or decay. It’s gone. We can mourn it, but we don’t have to get down in the grave with it.”

She had a lot of pearls of wisdom about growth that I enjoyed. The chapter about forgiveness was particularly interesting to me and I liked this realization she had:

“…that I was trying to get her to carry all this for me because it hurt too much to carry it myself.”

“Rumi wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

“Forgiving people doesn’t necessarily mean you want to meet them for lunch. It means you try to undo the Velcro hook. Lewis Smedes said it best: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

She also talked about being an alcoholic, getting sober, about dieting culture and how she tried to heal herself:

“I binged, dieted, and binged, like my mother, but never felt that simultaneous state of being full without being stuffed. And like my father, I began to drink a lot. Like both of them, I had the disease called “More!” and absolutely could not feel gently satisfied.”

“…when I feel like shoveling in food, a man, or expensive purchases, the emptiness can be filled only with love—a nap with the dogs, singing off-key with my church. Or maybe, perhaps, a fig.”

I could really relate to that one. I think a lot of addictions (alcohol, food, drugs, exercise, whatever your addiction is) are trying to fill a hole inside.

The book is funny. Her writing style is relatable and hilarious, thought-provoking and emotional. I teared up many times and could relate to a lot of the stuff she wrote about. Highly recommend!

Happy reading!

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Books #35

This will probably be my last book post of the year! Enjoy!

1 ) Dead Souls (DI Kim Stone #6) by Angela Marsons

Excellent book! It started off a little weird–it felt like there were so many story lines happening all at once and it was kind of confusing. It was definitely a different format than the usual books in this series and there was less about Kim and more about the other cops on her team. But in the end it all pulled together and all the weird, random story lines came together into one.

Kim is instructed by her boss to join a nearby precinct’s task force. So Kim has to take a back seat from being in charge, and work with DI Travis, whom there is a lot of bad history with.  While Kim is working with this other team, her team is working on a few other cases without her. She feels torn in both places.

The story is about hate crimes and it was definitely chilling. It tackles some heavy subjects! This was definitely a page turner once the book picked up momentum.

 

2 ) And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell

I really liked this book a lot. I felt like it was something I could have written in my postpartum days. The writing was funny and real and sometimes brutal.

Meaghan and Dustin are young, living in New York City and focusing on their careers, newly engaged, when she gets pregnant. Meaghan is excited but scared, which is normal I think.

“I spent most of my life being just a little bit fat and always figured that pregnancy would be a nice reprieve. [pg 49]”

“I had this image in my mind of how I’d look pregnant, mostly based on the type of woman who posed on lifestyle blogs and looked ‘like a beanpole swallowed a bowling ball.’ [pg 49]”

I laughed out loud at the part. It’s so true. I can remember being kind of jealous of this stick thin women who get pregnant and gain basically no weight except for the basket ball stomach. The author doesn’t write a ton about the pregnancy, but she gives highlights. And then she described the birthing process, which was dramatic for her.

“I had drunk the Kool-Aid. I had wanted a ‘natural labor and birth’ for reasons that, now that I was actually living through natural labor, I no longer related to. [pg 87]”

What interested me most about the memoir was the postpartum stories she shared. I could relate to so many of them. The zombie-like existence from lack of sleep and most interestingly, her struggle with Postpartum Anxiety.

“We slept in short bursts. Whether the baby was crying or not, I woke up with a start and rushed over to him to make sure he was alive. Day and night bled into each other, coalescing into one big nightmare. [pg 114]”

“At night, whether he was crying or not, I woke up every hour or so with a gasp and shone the light of my phone over his face, put my fingers under his nose to feel for breath. [pg 164]”

“What’s neurosis and what’s maternal instinct? [pg 172]”

It was weird that she never called it PPA in the book. I don’t recall that she saw a therapist or was diagnosed with it, but she most definitely had it. I went through that same exact thing: waking up to check on the baby and make sure they are still breathing, being afraid to sleep, checking on them when they make noises and when they don’t.

I feel like the author had a real opportunity to shine a light on something people don’t talk much about. There is so much focus of PPD and I think a lot of women suffer from PPA and don’t even know it. I wish I had known it earlier on, maybe I could have managed some of the anxiety in a better way. So in that regard, I was disappointed in the book. I wish she’d really delved deeper in that topic.

Another topic she brushed on (but didn’t elaborate on and should have) was how much your relationships and friendships change with people once you are a mom–especially if your friends don’t have kids.

“My body would never be the same. My life would never be the same. My relationship with these women would never be the same. I couldn’t make sense of it yet, even to myself, but I felt like there was a glimmer of understanding between us. [pg 128]”

Another part of the memoir I laughed about (which I can laugh NOW about, but not at the time) was her struggles with breastfeeding. This is another postpartum topic that is NOT discussed much. I know books I read barely wrote about it, the birthing class I took spent 15 minutes on breastfeeding and that was it. I went into the whole thing thinking it would be this perfect moment, easy and without struggle, where the baby would just latch on and everything would work like magic–with cherubs and angels singing. Yeah. Nope.

“I couldn’t remember what The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding said anymore. Breastfeeding at this point didn’t feel like a success so much as an assault, something coming at me faster than I could cope with, happening almost constantly. [pg 139]”

“As soon as the baby latched on, I burst into tears–of relief, of rage. I’d had this idea of what breastfeeding would be like. Not the physical experience, but the lived reality, the timing, the way it was supposed to fit between other things. I thought it would be something happening in the background while I went about my actual life. [pg 142]”

Breastfeeding is HARD and there’s a reason why statistic show a large majority of women quit after 6 weeks. When I heard that statistic in my labor class, I was shocked and confused. When the time came to breastfeed my tongue-tied baby? I totally understood. When breastfeeding doesn’t work like magic? It kind of sucks. It’s hard, it can be painful, your supply can be so bad that it’s not even worth it…and then there is all the society pressure of “breast is best”. The guilt that moms feel when they have to (or chose to) use formula. If I had to do it again, I would not have stressed so much. Breastfeeding LITERALLY becomes your entire life: feeding, pumping, cleaning the pump supplies, storing the milk, defrosting milk, living by the rigid schedule of breastfeeding or pumping every two hours, or if your baby is cluster feeding, all the time.

“It was hard to see this time with our son for what it was: an investment in another person, the sacrifice at the start of a long, rewarding project. It was like a hazing ritual, with all the hardest parts at the beginning. [pg 207]”

I really liked the above quote. It was a good reminder that yes, pregnancy and raising a kid is tough but it’s a rewarding investment. A good reminder for those sleepless nights. 😉

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. I’d give it 5 (I did love it a lot) but I really wish she’d written more about clinical postpartum anxiety. (Especially reading the reviews on Goodreads where some people said she was “whiny”– I mean really??? PPD and PPA is not whining. I think people are really ignorant on these topics.)

 

3 ) The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

This was an odd book. It was a domestic thriller, I guess, but it was subtle. The unnamed young woman, in her late 20’s, lives and works in the Cayman Islands and is swept off her feet by an older man. Max Winter, a recent widow, a rich politician from New York, he brings her back to his home, Asherly, in the Hamptons. It’s a stark change from the sunny, warm beauty of the Caribbean. Especially when she meets Max’s spoiled teenage daughter, Dani.

The narrator tries her best to become friends with Dani, to show that she’s not just some gold digger trying to replace her dead mother. But Dani is spoiled, evil and trying to punish her. So you think. The story unravels slowly, but it draws you in and keeps you guessing. I did not expect the ending at all!

4 ) The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

What a gut-wrenching, excellent, heart-breaking book.

It’s a memoir, told by Ruthie, about her childhood growing up in a polygamist Mormon family. Her mom was married to one of the prophets and moved down to Mexico to live in the “colony”. When her husband is murdered, she remarries Lane, who has several wives and keeps collecting wives…and having children.

The whole book is just horrible. I mean, it’s well written and evokes a lot of emotions–some good. You really fall in love with the innocent children in Ruthie’s family. The kids are survivors, that much is true. But it’s also so sad to read about a childhood of violence, abuse, sexual abuse, girls being married off as teens, women pumping out dozens of children for “God” when their husbands are basically deadbeats who can’t take care of the kids they have. They lived in squalor with no running water or indoor plumbing, ate rice and beans and traveled back and forth between Mexico and Texas to get their food stamps and government assistance. The neglect was palpable. Yet…more children are being born.

It was hard to read about, but Ruthie was such a strong girl and you really rooted for her to succeed and get out of that hellhole. The ending of the book was a shock and came out of nowhere for me. It was sad and tragic, but I’m glad I read the book because in some ways it was inspiring. The author is a true survivor.

5 ) A Borrowing of Bones: Mercy & Elvis Mystery #1 by Paula Munier

This was a great book and a good start of a new series! Mercy is a retired Army MP who has returned home to Vermont to heal and grieve after losing her fiance in Afghanistan. But she’s not entirely alone. She has Elvis, her fiance’s bomb-sniffing dog who is also retired from the Army. Elvis has PTSD from the war and from losing his master but he’s slowly getting better. One of the things that helps is the daily hikes he takes in the Vermont wilderness with Mercy.

Except one day, Elvis discovers an abandon baby in the woods. Along with some old bones and possibly a bomb. This unravels a mystery that Mercy can’t ignore.

The book sucks you in right away, you really like the characters and it keeps you guessing til the end. I really loved Elvis and Mercy and can’t wait to read book 2!

6 ) Little Comfort (Hester Thursby Mystery #1) by Edwin Hill

This was an interesting little mystery thriller. Hester is a librarian at the Harvard Library. As a side job, she’s also a kind of private investigator who finds people. Her new client, Lila, asks her to find her long lost brother, Sam, who ran away with his childhood friend, Gabe, after a mystery incident in their teens.

It doesn’t take Hester more than a few days to find Sam, who over the years has changed his name half a dozen times, moved around the country and infiltrated rich communities with his new identities. Basically, making lonely rich women fall in love with him. But Hester’s investigation takes a deadly turn and soon she’s worried about her own safety.

The book is a page turner and the ending was very exciting. This was a good first book in a series!

 

7 ) Jar of Heats by Jennifer Hillier

I don’t even know where to start! This book was so good! I could not put it down.

Georgina “Geo” Shaw, is an executive and rising star in a Seattle pharmaceutical company, engaged to the CEO’s son, wears expensive suits and drives a Range Rover. The book opens with Georgina in a courtroom, testifying to her part in a murder 14 years prior, where her old high school boyfriend is on trial. Geo’s expensive, fancy life is falling apart. Her ex-boyfriend is the SweetBay Strangler, convicted of murdering multiple women–starting with Geo’s best friend in high school, Angela. And now Geo is headed off to prison for 5 years to pay for her part in keeping quiet for all these years. She got a “sweet” deal for agreeing to testify, but…that doesn’t mean her life isn’t over.

The book is a fascinating read and flawlessly flashbacks to the high school time before Angela is murdered, when Geo is in an abusive relationship with Calvin (before he turns into a serial killer), to the five years Geo is in prison–who she makes friends with inside, how she survives–and what happens when she gets released from prison.

Geo returns home to Seattle to live with her father. Except with multiple degrees and an impressive pedigree–and money–she can’t get a loan for a house, or a job. No one in the city will even talk to her and she walks around like the Scarlet Letter since getting released. A mysterious neighbor is spray painting horrific things on her father’s garage door and her car on a daily basis. The harassment feels overwhelming. You definitely feel sympathy for her–until the story starts to unravel a little more. What other secrets is Geo keeping?

The book is well written, has a good plot, well-developed characters and the events are shocking. This book is not for the faint of hearts but if you love a good thriller, you will fly through this book! Dark, twisted, compelling and surprising!

Happy reading!

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