Goodreads recommendations

Books #25

I’ve been reading some great books lately! The downside is that several of them were kind of “heavy” books. I usually try and alternate a dark or serious book with some fluffy chick lit or something a little more light-hearted but I haven’t done that lately. So I apologize in advance that this post is a bit dark in parts.


1 )The Bus 57: The True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

This book is a really important read and I hope a lot of people check it out.

Sasha (Luke) is an “agender” teen living in Oakland. Oakland is pretty accepting of LGBTQ people and Sasha doesn’t really run into too much adversity about becoming Sasha.

“All this time there had been just two rooms: male and female. Now it turned out there was another room–one that could be furnished however you wanted. The more time Sasha spent in this room, the more comfortable it felt. But the person who lived in this new room still had a boy’s name–Luke. By the second half of sophmore year, that name clearly no longer fit. [pg 37]”

They wear a mixture of male and female clothes and use “they and their” pronouns (which is a little confusing to read in the book).

“The outfits weren’t flamboyant, but they made Debbie nervous. She knew Sasha would be fine at school–if anything, the skirts gave them a little extra cachet at Maybeck, where unconventionality was an asset. It was the bus that worried her. Wearing skirts meant that Sasha was shedding that cloak of invisibility. [pg 44]”

Richard is an African American teen who is trying to avoid the common path of ending up in prison (or dead).

“I’m going to make you understand the family motto: Never let your obstacles become more important than your goal. [pg 68]”

“The goals: go to class, get your grades up, graduate, stay out of jail, survive. [pg 76]”

He’s a pretty good kid, trying his best, who has a good family that supports him. He’s struggling in school and seems influenced easily by friends.

“Of the roughly six hundred African American boys who started Oakland High schools as freshmen each year, only about three hundred ended up graduating. The odds of landing in the back of a police cruiser, on the other hand, were much better. African American boys made up less than 30 percent of Oakland’s underage population but accounted for nearly 75 percent of all juvenile arrests. [pg 79]”

It’s a true story–and somehow I don’t remember seeing it in the news. One day on the 57 Bus in Oakland, Richard is egged on by his friends to set Sasha’s skirt on fire. The boys get off the bus and Richard turns around to see the bus pulling away and Sasha freaking out because they are on fire. The bus driver hasn’t realized what is happening yet. Richard immediately realizes his grave mistake and feels terrible.

Sasha survives and goes through extensive burn care. The entire community stands up for Sasha. Richard is arrested and they call it a “hate crime” because Sasha is transgendered. The police ask Richard if he’s homophobic and he says yes–because he thinks homophobic means he’s not gay. He’s just a scared, confused, naive teenager.

The rest of the book is about the trial, the community healing and Sasha’s recovery. Because the author tells both Richard and Sasha’s stories before explaining the incident, you really do feel for both of the kids and while you want justice for Sasha, you don’t want Richard to spend his entire life in prison. There is more to the story than a click-bait title.

“It just seemed like the outside world didn’t grasp how easy it was for kids who grew up in poor neighborhoods to take that wrong turn. [pg 197]”

The book also talks about restorative justice and how much better it can be, especially for juveniles.

“Our system is focused on blame and punishment and not on healing and learning. [pg 238]”

I teared up many many times during this book. It was an emotional journey and you feel heart broken for both teens. By the end you really hope the justice system could change. Excellent book.

2 ) Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I’ve been seeing this book everywhere and when I started it, I didn’t get it. For some reason I couldn’t focus or something…but I’m glad I held in there and kept reading because all of a sudden it got good.

Mia is a single mom and a photographer/artist with a teenage daughter, Pearl. They are kind of nomadic, moving frequently. Mia promises Pearl that this time they’ll stay for good. They rent a small apartment from a rich family, The Richardsons, and Pearl befriends the rich family’s teenage kids.

Mia makes a friend at a part time job, Bebe, who is an Chinese immigrant who gave up her baby. The Richardson’s friends adopt the abandoned baby. But months later, Bebe wants her baby back and the town is divided on who should get the baby. At the same time, the secrets behind Mia’s constant moving comes out and changes everyone’s lives.

The book was well written and the characters were well developed and felt real. I enjoyed the friendships in this book and about half way through, Mia’s secret is revealed and it’s quite shocking. Getting over the slow start, the book hooked me! There were some plot structure faults, but minor enough for me to keep reading and not be annoyed by it. Definitely recommend.


3 ) Columbine by Dave Cullen

The author was one of the first reporters on the scene and he spent almost a decade researching, interviewing and analyzing what happened on April 20, 1999. This book is a heavy read–in more ways than one. The subject matter is of course difficult and I cried several times reading. The book is also very long (or maybe it just felt that way). It took me almost two weeks to read it. There were definitely times when I couldn’t put the book down because it was so compelling.

“Much of the country was watching the standoff unfold. None of the earlier school shootings had been televised; few American tragedies had. The Columbine situation played out slowly, with the cameras rolling. [Loc 1111]”

“The violence intensified in the springtime…Shooting season, they began to call it. The perpetrator was always a white boy, always a teenager, in a placid town few had ever heard of. Most of the shooters acted alone. Each attack erupted unexpectedly and ended quickly, so TV never caught the turmoil. [Loc 291]”

There were school shootings before Columbine. But Columbine was different in a lot of ways. The most significant being that it was televised. I remember where I was on that day. I was at home, getting ready for work, soon to be moving to Portland from Seattle, when I saw it on the news. I couldn’t believe what I was watching and I was horrified and scared and relieved that I wasn’t in high school anymore.

I know the topic of school shootings is a hard one. It’s even harder for me now that I have a child. I think this is a really important book to read, though, because it opened my eyes to a lot of things. The first is that there are a LOT of false things about Columbine. I assumed what everyone else did–the outcast, loser, Goth kids getting revenge. Apparently that was no the case at all.

“The Trench Coat Mafia was mythologized because it was colorful, memorable, and it fit the existing myth of the school shooter as outcast loner…We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the TCM snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping, no targets, no feud…[Loc 2338]”

Eric and Dylan had been popular, actually. They had friends. They had part time jobs. They did well in school. Then…something went wrong and they started going down a path that lead to violence.

“Eric and Dylan had been considering a killing spree for at least a year and a half. They had settled on the approximate time and location a year out: April in the commons. [Loc 596]”

Eric had wanted to top the Oklahoma City Bombing and had wanted to echo the anniversary like Timothy McVeigh did with Waco.

“The Columbine crisis was never a hostage standoff. Eric and Dylan had no intentions of making demands. SWAT teams searched the building for over three hours, but the killers were lying dead the entire time. They had committed suicide in the library at 12:08, 49 minutes after beginning the attack. The killing and the terror had been real. The standoff had not. [Loc 1367]”

The fact that the killing did not last very long, but it took three hours for the SWAT team to discover that was really heartbreaking. There were several victims that could have been rescued had they been discovered in time. I can’t imagine their family’s heartbreak at that news.

The second big eye opening thing about this story was that to me, Eric seemed like the instigator. Dylan was passive and along for the ride. He was a depressive follower and Eric was in control. There were many times that Dylan spilled some details of their plans to people, friends, etc. There were many times this could have been thwarted. I kind of feel like Dylan wanted to get caught. Why else would he be telling people?

“Dylan Klebold was not a man of action. He was conscripted by a boy who was. [Loc 2944]”

Everyone wanted to know WHY? Me too, which is why I read the book.

“The Columbine massacre could have been the work of a psychopath, but Dylan showed none of the signs…None of the usual theories fit. Everything about Dylan screamed depressive…Dylan’s journal read like that of a boy on the road to suicide, not homicide. [Loc 2927]”

Does the book answer the “why” question? Sort of. The fundamental nature of a psychopath is the lack of fear, failure to feel anything and not having any shame. Eric Harris was most definitely a psychopath. You don’t necessarily get that vibe from Dylan, though.

“…somebody needed to take control and Eric was your man. He was like a robot under pressure. Nothing could faze him, not when he cared about the outcome. [Loc 209]”

What I loved about this book was that while it talked about the timeline of what happened and covered the details of the aftermath (the lawsuits, etc), it also focused on the survivors. Not just students were killed or injured, but teachers, too. And the author goes into detail about how everyone dealt with the aftermath, the PTSD, the press, the anniversaries, the healing…many parents of the victims ended up getting divorced. But it wasn’t all negative. A lot of the survivors were very positive and made something amazing out of their lives.

A survivor, Val, said “After ten years, I can look at myself in the mirror and not see the scars.”

The book also talks about Eric and Dylan’s parents. There was no abuse. They weren’t bad parents. In fact, they seemed like really good parents. That just missed…something. The parents were blamed, the parents were ostracized by the community…but they were victims, too.

I think this book is important to read because it details what happened to change the landscape of the teenager shooter/school shooting.

“For decades, terrorists and mass shooters trod their separate paths. Then Columbine. Eric and Dylan fused them. School murders had been done; Eric envisioned a school catastrophe. A template was born. The spectacle murder. Performance without a cause. [Loc 5932]”

What I think about most after reading this book is that yes we need stricter gun laws and we need better mental health counseling for teens–but I think the media needs to stop making school shootings such a spectacle. The bottom line in all these types of events seems to be the killer wanting their 15 minutes of fame.

It’s a chilling, emotional book, but you aren’t left at the end feeling horrified. The phoenix-like transformations of the survivors and the community are pretty uplifting.

4 ) We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories that Are Funny, Complicated and True by Gabrielle Union

I really liked this book! I heard an interview with her on a podcast and while I knew her name and face, I didn’t know much about her. (I remembered her from a few episodes of Friends & 10 Things I Hate About You, back in the day.) Her book sounded interesting so I put it on hold at the library (it was a long wait, too!).

Gabrielle wrote a memoir about her life, growing up outside of Oakland in a white suburb (one of the only black families in the area), her family and their struggles, her sexual assault at age 19, her failed first marriage, her second great marriage…all with hilarious humor, honesty, depth and reflection.

She talked a lot about race. I enjoyed reading her perspective about growing up African American and feeling like she had to fit in in the white community she lived in, how she was always “the friend” and never the “girlfriend” because she was black.

“My parents gave me the pep talk when I started school, the same speech all black parents give their kids: you’re going to have to be bigger, badder and better, just to be considered equal.[pg 7]”

” ‘Oh my god, your hair looks so straight.’ ‘Your hair looks so nice that way!’ Translation: You look prettier the closer you get to white. Keep trying. [pg 48]”

The description of her sexual assault was difficult to read but she wrote it with sensitivity and addressed the PTSD and anxiety she faced, pretty much all the time, and that was really thoughtful and important. It made her very relatable and vulnerable and it took a lot of guts to write about that stuff.

“Now I can appreciate the care with which I was handled (by the cops at the scene). Now, I know it rarely happens that way. And it really rarely happens that way for black women. I am grateful I had the experience I did, wrapped up in the worst experience of my life. [pg 97]”

“The other question I get asked is ‘What were you wearing?’ I got raped at work and people still want to know what role I played in what happened to me. [pg 100]”

That quote filled me with rage. This happens to so many women. They are blamed. They are questioned like they “asked for it.”

“I felt grateful that my rapist was a stranger. It felt like a luxury not knowing the person. Because there was no gray area. [pg 102]”

“After I was raped, in 1992, I didn’t leave my house for a whole year unless I had to go to court or to therapy. I simply did not leave. That spiraled into me not going anywhere that I could be robbed. Anyplace where there was money exchanged, I simply avoided. [pg 104]”

I really appreciated how honest she was about that time in her life. And I’m glad she came out of it and overcame the trauma and even became an activist.

She talked a lot about Hollywood, her successes and failures, being a “mean girl” and a gossip and how that wasn’t enriching her life in any way (“When you’re in a place where you don’t know what makes you happy, it’s really easy to be an asshole [pg 177]”). She also wrote about how much female celebrities are touched and groped by strangers and how as a sexual assault survivor, that’s really difficult for her.

She wrote a lot about race throughout the book. Her second marriage was to Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat basketball player) and she described what it was like being a stepmom to three boys. What I found chilling and sad, and very relevant, was what she called the “Black Bombs”. Basically realities of being African American in this climate. Like when they take the dogs for walks, to put the leash around their thumb so they can spread their fingers and hands if stopped by the cops. (UGH!!!)

The boys went out for the evening (in the dark) and she freaked out on her husband for allowing it because they were in Florida.

” ‘This is an open-carry state, D, a stand-your-ground state, and all our neighborhors have to do to shoot these children is say they feel threatened. What’s more threatening to our neighbors than two black boys ‘lurking’? Do you trust these people to not kill our kids? [pg 211]”

Then she asked her husband what he instructed his kids to say if ever stopped by police. He said their full names and address. Her answer really showed the scary reality of African American kids.

” ‘Wrong answer,’ I say. ‘I’m Dwyane Wade’s kid. That’s what they say.’ [pg 212]”

A lot of the stuff was hard to read but it was important to read and she balanced it out nicely with humor and a very REAL voice throughout the book. I read it in a day and a half and loved it! She’s a really good writer.

Happy Reading!

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Books #19

I’ve been reading a lot of really great books lately! I’ve got a ton of new ones added to my “to read” list on Goodreads . Last year I barely made it anywhere near my goal for the year (new baby!) but this year I’ve already surpassed my goal of 65 books.

Now on to the reviews!

1 ) Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

I have mixed feelings about this book. It was definitely a good read and I read it in about two days. I had a hard time putting it down. However, I should probably add a trigger warning because this book pretty graphically (and accurately) describes domestic violence. I can see this book being too hard for some people to be able to read. So be warned in that.

Lindsey marries the love of her life, Andrew, and she thinks her life is great…but slowly things start to change. Andrew becomes controlling and possessive and eventually violent and abusive. The way the author unveils the story is well-written. She tells the story of the abuse in flashbacks and balances it out with present-day. So just as it starts to feel a bit overwhelming to read about the horrific abuse Lindsey is enduring, you get a little relief as a reader.

The present-day story is about Lindsey and her daughter Sophie, 10 years later. She escaped the abuse with her daughter and Andrew spent a decade in prison. But now he’s out and he’s found them.

Like I said, the book was a good, fast, engrossing read, but a bit an emotional roller-coaster that may not be for everyone. The ending and the twist regarding Andrew and his post-prison stalking was unexpected.

2 ) We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

This book is SO damn funny! Like laugh out loud until your sides ache funny. It’s a collection of essays by blogger/comedian Samantha Irby. I was not familiar with her before I got this book, and honestly I’m not sure how it got on my radar but I’m glad it did because I loved her voice. She is a hilarious writer!

“I don’t wear evening gowns and booty shorts every day. I wear daytime pajamas and orthopedic shoes, and lately I’ve become a big fan of the “grandpa cardigan.” [Loc 231]

I could relate to a lot of her stories. She talked about her upbringing and what her 20’s were like as a plus-sized woman. The stories were always funny, even the ones that had a little dark edge to them, you never felt bummed out reading about her hardships because her humor and resilience got her through everything.

“Words like ‘outdoor music festival’ are why I am so glad summer in Chicago lasts approximately seven minutes. I nearly wept tears of seasonal affective disordered joy as I pulled out my North Face boots at the end of last November…summer can be an exercise in torture (but not an exercise in actual exercise, duh, it’s too humid) if you don’t want to do crazy shit like ‘wear sleeveless shirts’ and ‘enjoy close proximity to actively sweating strangers’. [Loc 1275]”

I laughed so hard at her struggles with her weight and dieting. I could relate to that and it was funny, not depressing.  She was charming and self-deprecating but not negative.

“Dieting is crazy and turns most of us jerks into insufferable babies. Either (1) you’re a crabby asshole on the verge of tears all day long because you’re desperate for a handful of Cheetos, or (2) you’re perched atop a high horse made of fewer than 1200 daily calories, glaring down your nose at me and pointing out how much saturated fat is in my unsweetened iced tea. [Loc 1911]”

“You need bitches to write about comfortable maternity jeans are for women who aren’t really pregnant. And sexy ways to remove a bra that has four hooks. [Loc 1932, “Fuck It Bitch, Stay Fat”]”

She talks about her serious health conditions (she has Crohn’s, depression, and arthritis and maybe something else because she has to wear braces on her wrists and has orthopedic shoes–that even in her poverty she happily spent $375 on each year).

“Working out is a bummer. Walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes while listening to the same Metallica playlist over and over and trying to read the closed captioning of a television show you don’t even care about is a total drag. The elliptical machine makes uncoordinated people like me look stupid. The stair machine reduces mere mortals to tears within four minutes. The stationary bike feels like uncomfortable butt sex. [Loc 1951]”

“Staying committed to things is hard. I have seven different body washes lining the edge of my bathtub right now. [Loc 2060]”

LOL! That’s totally me.

“I spent too much time trying to mold myself to fit the romantic ideals of humans who proved themselves unworthy of that effort, and I regret it. Never again will I be with someone who is unwilling to accept me as I am, or who has any desire to mold me into something that makes me uncomfortable. [Loc 3539]”

Her writing was real and hilarious and deeply honest, sometimes very vulnerable. I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out her blog!

3 ) The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

First word that comes to mind: DIABOLICAL!

I was unsure of what the book was really about…the description was a little vague. The story starts out interestingly enough: a large family who loses their matriarch and each member of the family has something big going on in their lives. Sophie is about to give birth to her fourth child when she discovers her husband cheated on her. Felix was disfigured as a kid and suddenly has a new girlfriend, who is odd herself. The patriarch of the family is grieving the death of his wife. The family comes together for a holiday weekend at their country home to scatter the mother’s ashes when everything starts to go awry.

But the story kind of stops there. The middle part of the book switches to a different point of view and it turns out that someone in their midst is not who they say they are and in fact, this person has been plotting to destroy their whole family for years. I don’t want to give away any spoilers because the “reveal” in the middle of the book was quite jolting! I was not expecting it at all!

The rest of the book was so so good!!


4 ) The Boy in the Woods by Carter Wilson

This book premise immediately sucked me in–when I read the blurb I had to read the book immediately and I’m so glad it lived up to the blurb! That doesn’t usually happen!

The book opens with a bang — it’s 1981 in Oregon and three fourteen-year-old boys witness a horrific murder. They are forced into a cover-up and they swear never to talk about what happened. Flash forward 30 years: Tommy Devereaux has become a bestselling author or serial killer mystery books.

He is ready to tell his story but disguises it as his new fiction book. He is approached by a woman who asks for his autograph, leaving behind a note which reads: ‘You didn’t even change my name.’  Chilling!

The book was a super fast read (read it it in two days) and even though there were parts of the story that seemed a little ridiculous, it was pretty enthralling and I kept reading. Be prepared, the subject matter is pretty dark.



5 ) Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy

I heard about this book on a podcast. Apparently the author let her 10 year old take the Subway by himself and it made the news…and then blew up on her, where everyone was criticizing her parenting. She ended up starting a blog about raising “free-range” kids.

“Any risk is seen as too much risk. A crazy, not-to-be-taken, see-you-in-the-local-news risk. [pg 5]”

“Normal childhood has become just too risky to permit. [pg 45]”

I’ve been noticing this change for awhile, but especially now that I have a child. I think back to my own childhood memories and how my parents let me be somewhat “free-range.” I grew up in Seattle, in the suburbs, and I used to walk to the bus stop three blocks away, by myself. I never lived close to my school, so I never really walked to school by myself, but I wasn’t under constant supervision. If I wanted to hang out with a friend who lived in the neighborhood, I walked there by myself. I remember going trick-or-treating as a kid and young teen with a friend and no adult supervision.

When I was growing up, I used to spend a week or two in Oregon on my aunt’s farm with my cousins. She literally kicked us out of the house, locked the door and said we had to go play outside until lunchtime. My cousins and I spent all day running around free outside on the farm, getting into mischief, exploring, creating our own games and fun and just hanging out. It was liberating! Especially for a city kid!

I think these things are really important for kids and their development, but it doesn’t happen much these days, and that’s really sad.

“What’s worst about about this kind of defensive thinking is that eventually it seeps into our own parenting decisions. We start to wonder if it’s OK to let our kids do anything, because….what if? [pg 47]”

There is a lot of fear-mongering these days. And not only that, there’s a ton of JUDGMENT. Judgment from complete strangers–especially on the internet. It’s gross.

“Blamers thrive on shame. Take away their power. Do not be ashamed of making parenting choices based on who your kid is, rather than on what the neighbors will say. Why are they talking about you anyway? [pg 58]”

I remember a facebook friend posting a panicked status about seeing a dog locked in a car. It was like February and maybe 60 degrees. Clearly not unsafe. But she was in a complete panic and posted “should I break the window?? Should I call the police??” And commenters on her FB were like “calm down the dog is fine.” I mean really, it’s like no one has common sense anymore and it’s all this “gotcha” society thinking.

“The idea is that if you’re worrying, then you’re doing the right thing. Worrying is ‘like a demonstration to yourself that you’re being responsible.’ It has become our national pastime. [pg 94]”

The book is really interesting and it debunks a lot of the paranoia people have about child abductions and all sorts of horrific things that could happen if you let your kids walk three blocks to school by themselves. It also discussed a lot of the absolutely ridiculous things that are happening –like how school buses won’t drop off kids at their bus stop unless there’s a parent standing there (seriously, it takes the kid back to school and the parent is called).

“But the whole new thinking about happiness (and maturity) is that these qualities come from actually doing things. Creating. Exploring. Being independent. [Loc 278]”

“The cell phone keeps the parent-child relationships back where it was when the kids were very young and needed constant supervision. When parents are always available to tell their kid what to do, they will, even when otherwise the kid would start making decisions himself. [pg 96]”

It’s so important for kids to explore and problem-solve and I feel like currently, our society is taking all that away and we’re raising giant adult-babies that can’t really do anything for themselves. 🙁

“Childhood is supposed to be about discovering the world, not being held captive. [pg 193]”

“We want out children to have a childhood that’s magical and enriched, but I’ll bet that your best childhood memories involve something you were thrilled to do by yourself. These are childhood’s magic words: ‘I did it myself!’ [pg 193]”

It was a really good book and I liked reading it. The stories made me kind of angry and dreading our future interaction with “other” parents who are fear-mongering. But the book gave lots of good tips to make change happen.


6 ) See Jane Die by Erica Spindler

I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this book. The two main characters are artist Jane and her homicide detective sister, Stacy. When they were teens, Jane was horribly disfigured in a freak accident and years of plastic surgery have helped her heal (on the outside). The sisters have been estranged for awhile, but when Jane’s husband is suddenly suspected and arrested of murder, the sisters reunite to find the real killer.

There were a lot of twists in this book, nothing super shocking, but I thought I had guessed who the real killer was and was surprised by the ending and the reveal. It was a pretty good mystery/thriller book and I read it in one day.


7 ) Arrowood  by Laura McHugh

What an excellent book!

Arden is a 20-something student trying to finish her master’s degree when she gets word that her estranged father has passed away and the home in Iowa that has been in her family for a century is suddenly hers. Reluctantly she goes home to a house she hasn’t been in since she was 8 years old and her twin sisters tragically disappeared–an event that tore her family apart.

Home, she is suddenly haunted by the memories of her sister’s disappearance and wrecked with guilt because she was watching them when they were kidnapped. Her sisters were never found. Could they still be alive? Were they murdered? She suddenly starts doubting what she saw that day.

This is your quintessential gothic mystery novel that is so very well done and the story is great, the ending is very satisfying and I loved this book!

Happy Reading!

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