Goodreads list

Books #40

Someone asked me where I find all my books. There are a lot of places to find book recommendations! Twitter, facebook, anytime I see someone talk about a book, or recommend a book, I add it to my growing Goodreads list. I find a lot of books on Goodreads. They have reading lists and new releases/upcoming releases lists. They also have “if you liked ____, you might like this book” recommendations on there, too.

I follow some different people on Instagram that do book reviews and I follow some book review blogs that help me find things to add to my list. I also look for stuff on my local library website and Amazon/Kindle.

 

1 )  Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke

The author paints a picture of desolation well, which is crucial for a creepy thriller book.

It’s Christmas Day. Holly and Eric oversleep. Eric rushes out the door to get to the airport to pick up his elderly parents. Holly and their adopted daughter, Tatiana, are alone at the house, getting everything ready for a big family Christmas dinner. Then a freak blizzard hits and they are snowed in. Everyone cancels because they are stranded elsewhere. Eric is stranded with his parents.

The story is told in disturbing, erratic bits and pieces and flashbacks to when Holly and Eric adopted a 22 month old Tatiana from a Siberian orphanage. Holly is a little obsessed with the idea that Something followed them home from Russia.

The story is a slow boil. There are parts of the writing that feel a bit repetitive, but once you get to the end of the book, you understand why.

Mild spoiler–I realized early on that Holly was having some kind of psychotic/mental break. I won’t go into any more detail because the ending was so shocking I don’t want to ruin it.

 

2 )  How to Change a Life by Stacey Ballis

Eloise is a personal chef for a few select people. She lives in Chicago with her corgi. She spends time alone, or with a few friends, but overall her life is quiet and kind of lonely. Then she hears that her mentor passes away. She goes to the memorial and is reunited with her high-school best friends, Lynne and Teresa. The three friends pick up where they left off and decide that they all need to revamp their lives in some way. They are all going to be turning 40 in a year and they all realize that they had goals they wanted to achieve before 40 that they abandoned.

This is a well-written chick-lit book about food, friendship, love and finding yourself. The characters were all well-developed and felt very real. The friendships in the book were good. The love story was great. The writing was a little on the wordy side and could use a little bit of editing, but overall I enjoyed the book a lot and it was a good palate cleanser after a lot of really dark, heavy books!

#3 Past Tense (Jack Reacher #23) by Lee Child

The newest Jack Reacher book in the series. Started out a little slow but then it picked up pace and got really, really good! There were two stories going on and they were both compelling and really exciting.

Jack is on the move again, as always, and is hitchhiking on the East Coast. He makes his way through New Hampshire where he sees a sign for a town that sounds familiar. It was where his dad grew up. He decides to stop and see if he can find the house his dad grew up in before he joined the Marines and basically became a nomad, kinda like Jack. Except Jack can’t find any records that his dad even existed. He can’t find anything. And a mystery needs to be solved.

In a nearby town, a couple also traveling through New Hampshire, who had given Jack a ride, stop at a remote motel where they are suddenly being held captive by the motel owners. I won’t give anymore away but the stories intersect and the ending was really good!

#4 The Adults by Caroline Hulse

This was an interesting book. Claire and Matt have been divorced for a few years now. They have a 7 year old daughter, Scarlett, and are co-parenting. Claire has a live-in boyfriend, Patrick, who is a lawyer and wanna-be Ironman. Matt lives with his girlfriend, Alex, who is a scientist.

For Christmas, they all decide to go away together for a holiday for Scarlett. They rent a lodge at the Happy Forest Holiday Park to give Scarlett a “normal” family Christmas. Scarlett brings her imaginary friend Posey, who is a giant rabbit, who happens to hate Alex.

Claire and Patrick plan an itinerary for everyone, “Forced Fun Activities”, and everyone tries to get along. But of course, things don’t go as planned. There is an undercurrent of tension and secrets come out. Things get snarky, biting, dramatic.

The book is a fun read. I enjoyed it. Even though I felt like both Patrick and Matt were misogynistic assholes.

#5 Perfectly Undone by Jamie Raintree

Dr. Michels is an OB/GYN doctor who keeps everyone in her life at arms length. When she was a teenager, her older sister died from a secret pregnancy that was ectopic. This drove her through her career, but also kept her from really enjoying her life in a genuine way. Now her boyfriend is ready to go to the next step in their life, her career is taking off, her family life is in a bit of turmoil and she’s still stuck in the past. She can’t move forward.

I enjoyed this book. I liked that it took place in Portland and the author included local stuff. I liked the story. At first I was annoyed by Dylan, the main character, but she grew on me and redeemed herself in the end. I look forward to reading more by this author. The writing was good.

#6 The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

I heard a podcast with this author and immediately put the book on hold at the library. The Victorian era is super fascinating. I did not know about Joseph Lister, so this was a great book to introduce you to the history and the science behind medicine and how modern medicine evolved.

The book was a combination of a historical recount of the history of science and medicine and Victorian practices, but also kind of a biography of Joseph Lister and how he basically discovered that germs were behind creating infections and killing people who have surgeries or give birth.

At a time when surgeons believed pus was a natural part of the healing process rather than a sinister sign of sepsis, most deaths were due to postoperative infections. “

He invented an “antiseptic”–and of course was faced with a lot of backlash from the medical community all over the world. Doctors everywhere disagreed in his claim about germs and infection and how infection spread. They thought his antiseptic was unnecessary

“Surgeons still lacking an understanding of the causes of infection would operate on multiple patients in succession using the same unwashed instruments on each occasion. Instruments like the amputation knife of Lister’s student days were havens for bacteria. Fashion often trumped function. Many had decorative etchings and were stored in velvet cases, which bore bloodstains from past operations.”

Reading the book now, knowing what we know, it’s absolutely horrifying what people went through back then! This time period was also the time of the invention of anesthesia, which drastically changed medicine. Instead of holding down awake patients to amputate or do surgery, they could put them to sleep. Joseph Lister was also friends with Luis Pasteur and they collaborated.

The book is really interesting, creepy, fascinating! There were parts of the book that were over-detailed and a little wordy/too slow but overall it was a good book and I liked it a lot. I wanted to know more about all of the people in that world.

Happy reading!

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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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