reading

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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Books #26

I have a question for you guys. If you could leave a comment on this post and let me know that would be great!

Question: What genre of books do you like to read the best? 

I tend to gravitate towards thriller/mystery/suspense books. I try and alternate “heavy” or dark books with more whimsical books. Sometimes I am not so successful. So I know that sometimes some of these books review posts can be pretty heavy. I know not all subject matters appeal to everyone, but I’m just wondering what people like best from the book reviews I do. Thanks! 🙂

Now, on to some reviews:

1 ) Nearlyweds by Beth Kendrick

After reading a bunch of dark, heavy books lately, I wanted something light and “fluffy” to read and this chick lit book was perfect for that! It was actually REALLY good, too!

Erin, Casey and Stella become unlikely friends. They live in the same town but didn’t really know each other. They all happened to get married the same weekend and used the same pastor. A few months after their wedding day, they get the surprising news: the pastor died before signing the marriage licenses and the three ladies are NOT actually married.

Erin is a doctor and has the mother-in-law from HELL who moves in and tries to wreck her marriage. Casey’s husband almost left her at the altar. And Stella finds out on her wedding night that her new husband had a vasectomy ten years ago. Now all three ladies are wondering whether to walk away and start anew. They aren’t legally married anyways…

The book was fun, lighthearted, relatable, funny and gave me the warm-fuzzies. I will definitely read more by this author.

 

2 ) The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth

I loved this book! It was a tear-jerker at the end, but in a positive way, too.

Alice is a single mother with a 15 year old daughter, Zoe, who has anxiety and crippling panic attacks. For her whole life, Zoe has relied on her mother. They have no family, no one else but each other. Then Alice is diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. She goes through treatment but it’s spreading and infection is making them have to stop chemo.

Kate is one of the nurses who develops a bond with Alice and Zoe and starts helping Zoe out when Alice is having treatments. Sonja is the social worker assigned to Alice and Zoe to help them navigate the process of care. What Alice doesn’t realize at first, is that Kate and Sonja end up being her family.

This sounds like a heavy book but it was encouraging in a lot of ways. It was about trust and creating a community and family when you don’t have one. It’s about Zoe conquering her fears and trying to learn how to control her anxiety and panic disorders. It’s a really sweet, heartfelt book and I enjoyed it a lot. I will read more by this author!

3 ) Our Short Story by Lauren Grodstein

Karen is a single mother in Manhattan, working as a political consultant. This book is written in part story-form and part memoir. It reads like a true story, but I don’t think it was. 6 years ago, Karen was dating a man she thought was the one and accidentally got pregnant. He said he never wanted kids. They split up. She raised Jake on her own.

This book is about a love story–a love between a mother and child–about loss and motherhood.

“…we fell asleep pondering the condition of being mothers, which was, of course, the condition of helping the people you love most in the world leave you. [pg 207]”

A few years before the book begins, Karen finds out she has ovarian cancer–Stage IV. She’s given treatment and has the support of her sister and her family and Jake. But she only has a few years.

“I want them to be your soft place to land. This is, I think, the best thing a family can be. [pg 6]”

She spends half her time in New York and the other half in Seattle with her sister, so that Jake can get close to her sister and his cousins, basically preparing him for when she dies and her sister takes him in. Jake starts asking about his father and reluctantly she reaches out to Dave, who had no idea she had kept the baby. Suddenly, he wants to be very much involved in Jake’s life.

This makes Karen uncomfortable and rightly freaked out that Dave is going to try and take Jake from her because she’s dying. But in the end, everybody kind of makes peace with the past and she lets that go.

“Jake, there will always be days in your life, even if you can’t remember me, that you will miss me. That you’ll need me. A person never stops needing his mother. [pg 63]”

The book is about the story of cancer, treatment, preparing to die, and writing a book for her son telling him her story. She also gives him advice.

“When people are mean to you, remember something is probably lacking in their lives, not yours. Check for lumps. Try to get eight hours of sleep at a stretch as often as possible. Be thoughtful about money, fall in love with the right person, read a lot. Know that your family–they think of you as one of theirs. [pg 138]”

The book was good. There were parts that seemed a little unnecessary (like the stuff about her job that went on a little too long to hold my interest) but overall it was a good read. It sounds like it would be a tear-jerker type of a story, but it honestly wasn’t. There was some hope and closure.

 

4 ) The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

First off, this book is NOT for everyone. It’s very dark and will turn off a lot of people I think.
Second, this book is very very very well-written.

The story is dark and twisted. But the good news is that there weren’t a lot of really gross details. It kind of leaves it up to you to come to conclusions in your minds eye.

Lane is 16, living in NYC with her mother when her mom commits suicide. She’s sent to live with grandparents she never knew down in the South somewhere (Missouri?). She discovers she has a cousin, Allegra, who oddly looks a lot like her.

This is where Lane finds out about the Roanoke girls. All the women in her family died tragically or ran away and disappeared. She spends her summer with Allegra, falls in love with a local boy, and then something happens to make her run far away from Roanoke.

Flash forward about 10 years and Lane gets word that Allegra is missing. She returns reluctantly to Roanoke and tries to find out what happened.

The characters are all written brilliantly. They are complex and feel real and they are flawed and disturbed and the story is compelling. It was such a good read, but definitely not something everyone would like.

 

5 ) Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

This is a sort of memoir, sort of collection of essays about some of the author’s hardest life lessons she’s learned. Some were good lessons, some were about death and grief.

The first lesson in grief was when he dad, whom she described as her hero, passed away:

“I walked next to him in that festival light for almost fifty years and then, one night in February, his hand went still in mine and here I am, same as ever, except quicker to anger and thirteen pounds heavier. [pg 26]”

She shared lots of stories of her father’s advice and wisdom. His biggest piece of advice was that she was “Good Enough.” She struggled a lot growing up and her father never criticized her mistakes, he knew she had to learn the lessons. He just wanted her to know he was there for her no matter what. It was very touching.

“Being in our lives as they are is probably one of the most common struggles people have. [pg 23]”

The next lesson in grief she experienced was when a close friend died after a long battle with cancer. They way the author described the woman, her dying, her family’s grief and healing afterwards, was very poignant and moving. It wasn’t overly sad, but inspiring.

She also wrote about motherhood and I appreciated that. I really liked this quote:

” ‘Thirteen is a pivotal moment, and not just because of mustaches and curves. It’s a time of explosive intellectual and emotional growth. But it’s also when life tends to get treacherous. They are going into the eye of the hurricane. We want our faith, our community, to help them find and feel their own power.’ What he meant by power was specifically the power to participate meaningfully in the world. [pg 204]”

I don’t know why it stood out so much for me, but it did. There were a lot of little tidbits in the book that made you really think.

6 ) Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

This is the second book by this author that I’ve read and even though I was a bit skeptical (and turned off by) the religious theme of the book, I ended up enjoying it a lot. She’s a good writer.  The first line of the book is “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits and also Jesus.” I can’t relate to ANY of those things…but I still liked the book!

Lena fled Alabama and has been living in Chicago going to school and dating an African American lawyer whom she loves and wants to marry but he insists on meeting her family first. She’s reluctant because they are openly racist and she left her hometown because of…something deeply dark and scary. She doesn’t want to go home but she doesn’t want to lose her boyfriend.

The book was funny at times, touching and also a bit uncomfortable (in relation to the open racism). But I liked the well-developed characters, the family, the surprise ending and the main character’s aunt.

Happy Reading!

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