Books #42

It will probably be a little while before I post another book post! I’ll be busy moving/packing/unpacking…I have no idea if I’ll actually have time to read. I sure hope so. But either way, here are a few books I’ve read lately you might want to check out:

#1 The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

This was an interesting read. It was based on interviews from survivors and apparently based on real people. Lale is a Slovakian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Nazis discover he speaks multiple languages and so they use that to their advantage (and in the end, to his) and he is now the Tattooist. His job is marking all the prisoners with their numbers.

He is in the concentration camp for two and a half years. But he’s treated fairly well and given more rations, because he is the tattooist. He also figures out how to smuggle in more food and supplies, which he gives to other people. He meets a woman, Gita, when he is working and they fall in love. The book is about their love story and about their survival in the camp.

It’s a good read. The book doesn’t delve too much into the gruesome details of the concentration camps or the death and torture, so that’s good. I didn’t feel like the book was an amazing read, but it was decent. I enjoyed it enough.

#2 If She Wakes by Michael Koryta

This is the second “girl in a coma but she can hear everything around her” type of book I’ve read lately and I almost didn’t read it because the premise didn’t interest me, but the author is one I’ve read before and I really liked the other book I read by him.

It turned out to be a unique, interesting book full of hitmen and exciting twists and turns. Tara Beckley is a senior in college in Maine. She is driving a visiting professor to a conference when there is a car accident that leaves the professor dead and Tara in a coma. Abby is an insurance investigator hired by the college to look into the accident. Except, Abby used to be a stunt driver in Hollywood and she immediately sees that something isn’t right about the accident.

It turns out that Tara is the key to the mystery, but she’s in a vegetative state. And there are two hitmen trying to get to what Tara knows.

#3 Life Will Be the Death of Me: and you too! by Chelsea Handler

I have to admit, I’ve never been a fan of Chelsea Handler. I never watched her shows, I haven’t read any of her other books. But I recently heard her interviewed on Howard Stern about her new book and she really opened up and was vulnerable and emotional about what this book was about and I decided to give it a chance. I’m really glad I did. The book is excellent!

It’s a memoir, with some humor, but it’s a deeply personal book about a few topics: her year of self-discovery in intensive therapy to become a better person and come to peace about her brother’s death. He was her best friend and died when she was 9 years old and that death was definitely traumatic and shaped her entire personality.

“Chet was my very first breakup. That my nine-year-old brain had no ability to distinguish between death and rejection. That my nine-year-old brain didn’t understand that my brother didn’t choose to die. That Chet didn’t find another family with a little sister he liked more.”

She put up so many walls and put everyone in her life at arm’s length her entire life because of this trauma and the therapy helped her realize this.

“I learned from Dan that being in motion was a way for me to avoid sitting still with my feelings. You can’t let anyone see you cry, so you move. “

“Well, you probably loved him still, but you were hurt, and it sounds like you turned that hurt into anger, because, as I said, anger is motion, and it allows you to avoid sitting with your feelings. In a sense, you felt that your father had broken up with you too. That must have been really scary for a little girl. No one helped you with your pain, you were too young to deal with it on your own, and it sounds like when everyone around you disengaged, your pain turned into anger, which turned into motion, and from everything you’re telling me, you haven’t stopped moving since.”

She wrote about how she’d become so codependent and also unable to do anything on her own.

“How did I become so useless? And how many assistants did I actually have? I did live in a bubble, inside a bigger bubble, which was inside an even bigger bubble. Three bubbles. Two assistants, two cleaning ladies (who are more like my nannies), a driver, a pool guy, a landscaper, a florist, a houseman.”

She also talked a lot about her relationships with her dogs, which I loved reading about, since I’m a dog lover.

The book is dark, honest, insightful, and sometimes really hilarious. I got a lot out of it for myself, too.

#4 Have You Seen Luis Velez? By Catherine Ryan Hyde

Raymond is a 16 year old kid in New York City that doesn’t really fit in. His only friend moves away. He doesn’t like his mother’s new husband and his half siblings. His dad’s new wife doesn’t really like him. He doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere.

One day he’s leaving for school when an elderly lady stops him in the hallway, asking for help. It turns out that Luis Velez, a caretaker that used to stop by and take her shopping and check in on her, has disappeared. She’s all alone, down to her last can of food that she’s rationing out and she’s also blind, so she can’t go to the store herself. So Raymond takes it upon himself to help Millie and then to track down Luis and find out what happened to him.

Along the way, Raymond and Millie become good friends. Raymond finds his voice and discovers who he really is and shows the world how important it is to reach out and care about people around us. It’s a story about love, compassion, empathy, kindness and friendship.

#5 Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin

I enjoyed this book a lot. I guess this author was a blogger at some point but I’d never heard of her or read her blog. The first 60% of the book is a memoir of her life and childhood. She had a really rough life. Her mom was a single mom raising her and her older brother, Michael. I suspect her mom had some mental health issues, maybe bipolar, but it wasn’t addressed in the book.

They were dirt poor. Her mom was a great cook and taught Sasha the love of food and cooking. “There’s a difference between poverty of resources and poverty of spirit. For a long time, Michael and I were oblivious to hardship because of Mom’s determined efforts.”

Eventually, Sasha and her brother are taken away from her mother and put into foster care for awhile. Her mother tries to get them back but can’t and so she writes letters to everyone she knows asking for someone to take in her kids. Her college friend agrees. Their kids are mostly grown and they have money. So Sasha and Michael now have guardians who can provide anything they will ever need. They travel, live in Europe, go to good schools. But things aren’t all great. It’s still a pretty rough childhood.

Later in the book, Sasha writes about going to college and culinary school and starting her blog about cooking. The last part of the book felt a little disjointed and almost like a different book altogether but that didn’t ruin the book for me. I still enjoyed it and devoured the book in just a few days. I highly recommend this!

Happy Reading!

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Books #35

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


3 ) The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

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

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

4 ) The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7 ) Jar of Heats by Jennifer Hillier

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

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