goodreads books

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 #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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