reading list

Books #17

I’ve been reading some good books lately! Several of them have been rather “heavy” so to speak, and I wrote individual posts about those books. But I have been reading a lot of other types of books lately. So here is another post with some recommendations.

If you want to follow me on Goodreads, here I am. You can also read old book reviews here.

1 ) The Third Option (Mitch Rapp #4) by Vince Flynn

In this book, Mitch Rapp is back and working on a mission in Germany to assassinate a dirty Count. The mission goes wrong and his partners attempt to kill him. He goes on the run, not sure who to trust, and then eventually makes it back to the States to confront the higher ups in his organization. It turns out there’s a leak in the department and someone is out to get Mitch and his handler, Irene. It’s a really fast story and well written. The ending was both exciting and frustrating because it was a bit of a cliff hanger! Another good book in the series!

2 )  The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway #9) by Elly Griffiths

The last book in this series was a dud–major let down since I love the series. But this book turned it around. It was back to focusing on Ruth and her adventures.

This particular story was unique and creepy and fun to read. A homeless woman goes missing and suddenly several homeless men are murdered. At the same time, two women from the community go missing and there are rumors of kidnapping and underground societies.

It was an interesting story and I loved the ending and where it left off! Can’t wait for the next book!

3 )  The One-In-A-Million Boy by Monica Wood

Man, did I love this book! It was so good. I loved the characters–they came alive in this book and I felt the pain, sorrow, and happiness that the characters felt. I would describe this book as a cross between “A Man Called Ove” and “Take Me With You” by Catherine Ryan Hyde. So if you liked either of those books, you’ll like this one.

The story is told in different ways–Ona is 104 years old and “the boy” comes to her house every Saturday to help her and to work on his Boy Scout’s badge where he interviews her about her life.

Then the boy dies unexpectedly (heart-breaking!! get your Kleenex) and his estranged father, Quinn, takes over his quest to help Ona each Saturday. They basically become family and the entire family heals, and tries to fulfill the boy’s goal of getting Ona into the Guiness Book of World Records.

It’s a tear-jerker, but often in a happy way. The book is beautiful written and I did not want it to end. I wanted the story to keep going.  This book was so excellent! Read it!

4 ) Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

What a beautiful, heart-warming and heart-breaking book! The book is told from two points of view. The first is Soli, a 20 year old who is trying to escape the poverty in Mexico to cross the border into America. The story is about her journey, the absolutely horrific things she endures to cross the border, and the love she finds on her journey. She arrives in Berkeley, California, pregnant, poor, and safe. She lives with her cousin and gets a job as a housekeeper/nanny.

The second story is Kavya and Rishi, Indian-Americans living in Berkeley who want a child and try and try unsuccessfully to get pregnant or go to term. The desire to be a mother is palpable through the pages.

“Having a child was like turning inside out and exposing to the world the soft pulp of her heart. If something happened to Ignacio–if illness took him or an accident, she herself would never recover. If the night stole his breath away, as sometimes happened to the very very young, her own breath would never return. At night, thoughts like this sat vigil around her bed. [pg 181]”

Through a horrible twist of fate, Soli’s son is taken into DHS custody and Kavya gets the opportunity to become a mother. She is immediately in love with little Ignacio. This is a story of a very lucky boy, loved by two mothers.

“Why did people love children who were born to other people? For the same reason they lived in Berkeley, knowing the Big One was coming: because it was a beautiful place to be, and because there was no way to fathom the length or quality of life left to anyone, and because there was no point running from earthquakes into tornadoes, blizzards, terrorist attacks. Because destruction waited around every corner, and turning one corner would only lead to another…She’d built her love on a fault line, and the first tremors had begun. [pg 350]”

Rishi is a little slower to fall in love with the boy. He was afraid of getting too close, since they were temporary foster parents and knew the mother could try to get Ignacio back. But eventually, something clicks, and he becomes his son.

“Being a father made him a part of this place, Rishi realized. He was no longer just a scientist, a pizza eater, a line dweller, a street crosser. Ignacio rooted him to the hum of this sidewalk. Ignacio brought him to Earth. [pg 327]”

It was interesting to read the cultural differences between Soli and her Mexican heritage and Kavya and her Indian culture, a culture that apparently is not welcoming to the idea of adoption. Biological children were very important to her parents–but even her parents eventually fall in love with Ignacio. How could they not??

“In her gaze, even from this distance, Soli could see a mist of love. She couldn’t deny this, and it shrank her inside, the love. [pg 417]”

Reading about the horrible treatment of illegal immigrants by ICE was absolutely awful and revolting. It made me really angry. The book was very well-written and I did NOT want the book to end. I didn’t like the ending, really, but there wasn’t an easy answer on how the story should end. Throughout the book you feel very strongly and root for Soli to win in the end–but at the same time you are rooting for Kavya and Rishi because they love Ignacio like he was their own. So it was truly a no-win situation. 🙁

“Grief was a solitary practice, though they would cling to each other that day and in the days to come. [pg 461]”

As a mother, the book was very hard to read but it was so so good. I absolutely loved it. When I got towards the end of the book, I felt a panic and raced to daycare to pick up Logan. All I wanted was to pick him up and hug him and never let him go. 

5 ) The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews

After reading several super heavy, dark, difficult reads, I needed something light and fluffy to give myself a break. I read another chick lit type of book, that wasn’t very good, and then picked up this one from the library. I actually really enjoyed it! For a “chick lit” book it was pretty well-written.

Dempsey is a lobbyist in DC who loses her job, and could possibly be heading to prison, after a boss with her scandal breaks. Perfect timing: a distant, elderly relative died and left his house to her father. She decides to go down to Georgia to fix up the house, called Birdsong, and get it ready to sell, while she figures out how to fix her life.

She gets down to the house and it’s a mess. Overgrown yard, house falling apart, piles and piles of junk and magazines. Plus–an ornery old squatter! So the book is basically about her fixing up this house, meeting someone down in Georgia, clearing her name from the scandal and figuring out what she wants to do with her life.

It was a very satisfying read and the characters were well-developed. The story was good, even for a fluffy book! I liked the book a lot.

6 )  Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

This book starts out with a bang! LOVED the writing style, the crisp, fun writing and the way the author reveals parts of the story in bits and pieces in a shocking way. The first chapter is one the best first chapters I’ve read in a long time and it instantly sucked me in and made me want to read the whole book in one sitting.

This is a story about Georgia, about to get married and move to London to start a new job. She goes home to wine country, and finds her whole family in shambles. Everyone in her life is having relationship issues.

” ‘Because that’s the only way to get somewhere better.” He shrugged. “If you fight, you work it out. If you don’t fight, you move into your own corners, and nothing gets decided there.'[pg 146]”

She’s conflicted about getting married in a week. Everyone in her life has advice for her.

” ‘I stopped paying attention to her. I stopped doing the things that someone does for the person he loves. Because I was tired. Because other things always seemed to matter a little bit more…That doesn’t happen overnight, you know. It happens slowly. You should be careful of that. You should be careful not to take the person you love for granted. Not only because they’ll notice. But you’ll notice too. You’ll think it means something it doesn’t.’ [pg 239]”

There is a lot of “will they, won’t they” in the middle of the book, back and forth on the wedding, but the story is so well written and engaging that it wasn’t cliqued. And I absolutely LOVED the ending! I wanted the book to keep going, I wanted more. I loved the world and characters this author created. I will definitely be reading more of her work. And I hope they make this book into a movie!

Happy reading!

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Shrill

I recently read a book that I had too much to say about to just include it in my usual book posts. This one deserved it’s own post.

I first heard about the book, Shrill by Lindy West, on a podcast: This American Life #589: Tell Me I’m Fat. It was really interesting, sometimes sad and disappointing, but it was an excellent podcast that I recommend highly! And it lead to me checking out “Shrill” at the library.

I read it in a few days. It took me a little longer than usual to read because I wanted to take my time. I could relate to so much of the book, it was sometimes hard and painful to read. So many of her stories were MY stories.

The book is a sort of memoir, but not really, and she touches on a lot of topics. She of course talks about being fat, but she also talks a lot about feminism and current events. She touches, briefly, in the beginning of the book about the election and Hillary Clinton. It’s funny–during the election stuff last year I heard that word a LOT when people (usually men) talked about Hillary. She was “shrill”. It was kind of grating. I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly, but Lindy explained it pretty well:

“To be shrill is to reach above your station; to abandon your duty to soothe and please; in short, to be heard. I know from experience that shrill bitches get punished. I did not anticipate that millions of Americans would be so repulsed by the hubris of female ambition that they would elect a self-professed sexual predator with zero qualifications and fewer scruples. But I should have anticipated it. They’d been warning me for years. [pg v]”

“Trump was a Twitter troll himself, and he promised to ‘Make America Great Again,’ that is, drag us back a half century to a time when black men didn’t tell white men what to do and girls kept their mouths shut about rape…Internet trolls were a symptom of the slow death and rising panic of male privilege–one last, snarling grasp at power by white men who could feel diversity winning and their supremacy waning. [pg v]”

Hillary being labeled as SHRILL was putting her in her place. Reminding her and everyone interested in voting for her, that she was less than because she was a woman. (Sometimes she got a little preachy in the book, but it wasn’t overt or obnoxious.)

If you’re burned out on politics (like me), don’t worry, the book isn’t about that. She goes on to talk about how she’s treated as an obese woman.

“Fat people are helpless babies enslaved to their most capricious cravings. [pg 14]”

“Please don’t forget; I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me. There is not a thin woman inside of me, awaiting excavation. [pg 15]”

It was funny how she described her love of accessories:

“I insisted that shoes and accessories were just ‘my thing,’ because my friends didn’t realize I couldn’t shop for clothes at a regular store and I was too mortified to explain it to them. I backed out of dinner plans if I remembered the restaurant had particularly narrow aisles or rickety chairs. [pg 16]”

I could totally relate to that. I didn’t have great (or nice) plus sized clothes when I was fat. But I bought a lot of jewelry, I did my nails every week –these were things I could control to look “nice” and not fret about how the sizes didn’t fit.

She then told a story that I could totally relate to. She was at an event for work and went to the outdoor food area for lunch. She was sitting on a picnic bench to eat her lunch and moved in a certain way and tipped everything over:

“I fell in the dirt. The pizza fell on top of me. The Diet Pepsi tipped over and glugged out all over my dress. The table fell on top of the Pepsi on top of the pizza on top of me. The napkin fluttered away. EVERYONE LOOKED AT ME. The music journalists looked at me. The band Yacht looked at me. In an attempt at damage control, I yelled, ‘I’m really drunk, so it’s ok!’ which wasn’t even true, but apparently it’s better to be a drunk at ten in the morning than it is to be a human being who weighs something? All that anxiety about trying not to be a gross, gluttonous fat lady eating a ‘bad’ food in public, and I wound up being the fat lady who was so excited about pizza that she threw herself to the ground and rolled around in it like a dog with a raccoon carcass. Nailed it. [pg 46]”

I have a similar story. Well, several. There were many times when I was 250 pounds and I would never ever sit on a picnic bench. Why? Because of the fear and anxiety of tipping it over. Even if there were people on the other side of the bench–you never knew. And I never stood up too quickly or sat down too quickly just in case I tipped it over with my weight–with people sitting on it!

My other story was at my family reunion many years ago. It was dinner time and I’d filled my plate (reasonably, not heaping or anything) and with my cousin Anna sat down on the porch swing to eat dinner. Except the porch swing was old, probably loose, and the weight caused it to crash and we both fell. It was humiliating and my first thought was “everyone is staring because I’m the fat chick who broke the swing”. It was probably one of the most humiliating experiences as a plus sized girl I had.

She talked about bad relationships. She had a lot of relationships where she settled (so did I back in the day) where she put up with shit because she was fat.

“Despite having nearly nothing in common (his top interests included cross-country running, fantasy cross-country running [he invented it], New England the place, New England the idea, and going outside on Saint Patrick’s Day; mine were candy, naps, hugging, and wizards), we spent a staggering amount of time together. [pg53]”

“…reverse body dysmorphia: When I looked in the mirror, I could never understand what was supposedly so disgusting. I knew I was smart, funny, talented, social, kind—why wasn’t that enough? By all the metrics I cared about, I was a home run. [pg 68]”

“Lots of men wanted to have sex with me–I dated casually, I got texts in the night–they just didn’t want to go to a restaurant with me, or bring me to their office party, or open Christmas presents with me. [pg 73]”

Ugh. Dating and navigating that stuff when you are overweight or obese is brutal. You never know if it’s because of your size…or something else…and it’s easy to fat-shame yourself.

One of the good things about this book is that Lindy is really funny. She writes well and is pretty hilarious, witty and biting in her comments and writing style. It added levity to some of the heavy topics. (And I kind of wish she had addressed that because I know a lot of fat men and women who use comedy as a shield–and that’s kind of a “thing” too.)

“As a woman, my body is scrutinized, policed, and treated as a public commodity. As a fat woman, my body is also lampooned, openly reviled, and associated with moral and intellectual failure. My body limits my job prospects, access to medical care and fair trials. [pg 67]”

“I hate being fat. I hate the way people look at me, or don’t. I hate being a joke…I hate the disorientating limbo between too visible and invisible. [pg 77]”

Ok, that was super hard for me to read. It brought up a lot of ghosts and feelings from when I was obese. The feeling of being invisible. I felt that way for so long and then when I started to lose weight I got a ton of attention and it was very weird for me to suddenly be SEEN. I’d get encouragement from people everywhere–people, sometimes people I barely knew–watched me lose weight and congratulated me, told me how amazing I looked, etc. That positive feedback was very motivating and helped me.

Then…the positive feedback ended. I lost the weight, the “newness” of it wore off and I maintained my 110 pound weight loss for almost 10 years. I rarely got comments about my body or how I looked. Sometimes that was hard because the positive comments were a nice self-esteem booster.

Then…something else happened. I got pregnant. I got tons of positive feedback and well-wishes from people because people are always so excited about pregnancy and babies. Except…afterward? The mom kind of disappears. I was back to being invisible, but for different reasons and that was very weird (and hard) for me.

Anyways, back to the book. I thought this passage was particular relateable:

“Like most fat people who’ve been lectured about diet and exercise since childhood, I actually know an inordinate amount about nutrition and fitness. The number of nutrition classes and hospital-sponsored weight loss programs and individual dietitian consultations and tear-filled therapy sessions I’ve poured money into over the years makes me grind my teeth…I can rattle off how many calories are in a banana or an egg or six almonds or a Lean Cuisine Santa Fe Style Rice and Beans. I know the difference between spelt bread and Ezekiel bread, and I know that lemon juice makes a great ‘sauce’! I could teach you the proper form for squats and lunges and kettle bell swings, if you want. I can diagnose your shin splints.

“The level of restriction that I was told, by professionals, was necessary for me to ‘fix’ my body essentially precluded any semblance of joyous, fulfilling human life. It was about learning to live with hunger–with feeling ‘light’. [pg 74]”

I can relate to all of that. After over a decade of counting calories and restricting and losing weight, keeping it off, trying to eat in moderation, I can spout out the calories in almost anything without having to look it up. All of that becomes part of your regular thinking, which can be both good and bad.

Lindy shared a horrible story about flying and having a really bad experience with the guy sitting next to her on the plane. Here are a few excerpts from that:

“One time, I flew first class on an airplane, because when I checked in they offered me a fifty-dollar upgrade, and when you are a fat person with fifty dollars and someday offers you a 21-inch recliner instead of a 17-inch trash compacter, you say YES. [pg 134]”

“This is the subtext of my life: ‘You’re bigger than I’d like you to be.’ ‘I dread being near you.’ ‘Your body itself is a breach of etiquette.’ ‘You are clearly a fucking food who thinks that cheesecake is a vegetable.’ Nobody wants to sit next to a fat person on a plane. Don’t think we don’t know. [pg 141]”

“The dude next to me didn’t call me fat to my face. I don’t even know if that’s what was bothering him, although I recognized the way he looked at my body (my body, not my face, not once, not ever). [pg 142]”

Reading her story and how that guy talked to her and treated her made my blood boil–because I had also had similar experiences flying, or taking public transportation, or pretty much doing anything out in the world as a fat girl.

The book wasn’t all negative, though. She did find the love of her life and shared their happy story. This quote stuck out for me:

“‘One time when you were drunk you told me, ‘If you ever propose to me, don’t do it in the bullshit way that dudes usually treat fat girls. Like it’s a secret, or you’re just trying to keep me from leaving you. Thin girls get public proposals, like those dudes are winning a fucking prize. Fat chicks deserve that, too.’ [pg 238]”

How true is that statement?? I fucking loved it. YES. How many times are fat girls treated differently? ALL THE TIME. Her public proposal was awesome and brought tears to my eyes. Her man did it right! He remembered, even if she hadn’t remembered making that statement!

The book was really good and worth a read. It is definitely hard to read some of it. Some of it touched a little too close to home for me, and brought up some not so great memories and feelings, but at the same time it was kinda cool to read about someone else experiencing things in a similar way as me.

I hope you check it out!