recommendations

Books #44

Ok, I have some good ones to recommend! A few deep, heavy books and a few light reading. A good mix, I’d say. 🙂

  1. Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan

Jessica is a Chinese American who lived in Australia and Beijing and now lived in London with her British husband. A self-proclaimed introvert/borderline recluse, she found that she was feeling lonely and lost.

“I’m really good at other things, like loitering palely in dark doorways. Disappearing into couch corners. Leaving early. Feigning sleep on public transportation.”

All of her friends had moved away, married, had kids, moved on and she wanted to challenge herself to becoming an extrovert. She was impressed with her friends who were extroverts and she wanted to mirror what they did.

“Willow had stopped to pet a woman’s dog in Prospect Park: she ended up spending the day with the woman, going to a jazz club with her until 4 a.m., and later landing her dream job through one of her new friend’s connections. She’d met her boyfriend in a line for the bathroom at a festival. She discovered she had hypoglycemia by talking to a doctor at a party. Her entire life has been shaped by these random encounters. All because she chooses to talk and listen to people she has just met, rather than run away from them at full speed muttering, “I don’t speak English!” “

So she sought out advice from experts in the field. She went to class, therapy, she took an improv course. She took a class in stand-up comedy that resulted in her having to actually perform. She spoke to random strangers everywhere she went.

“In London, I learned quickly that if you talk to a stranger in public, they look at you like you’ve slapped them in the face: shocked and aggrieved. Betrayed as well, because you have broken the social contract that we all agreed to follow in public: no one exists but you.”

She went to networking events:

“I make a few rules before each event. Go with an intention. Talk to three people, with Richard’s advice in mind, and aim to really bond or connect with one person. Psychologists also say that it takes time for shy people to warm up, so if you always leave after ten minutes, you’re never giving yourself the chance to actually succeed. Stay for at least an hour.”

I found the book really fascinating and funny. The writer is hilarious and her sense of humor is dry. I enjoyed the book and I enjoyed reading about her journey and the growth she went through.

“…over the course of the year, I’d simply found that it was easy to get into Deep Talk with other women. Maybe it was because we usually had more in common, maybe it was because we’re generally encouraged to talk more openly about our feelings—I don’t know why, but it just seemed like every time I took that leap into the uncomfortable unknown, women would leap right in after me.”

The book also made me think of my own life and how often I say “no” to events because of anxiety or fear. And it made me question how my life could be enriched if I said yes more often.

#2 Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews

It was predictable but enjoyable.

Drue is in her mid-thirties. Her life is not going as planned. She’s a jock that has to give up her sport due to an injury and her drifter-type lifestyle comes to an end when she gets fired as a bartender. Her mom dies and her estranged dad offers her a job in his law office. Since she’s down and out she decides to take it. She needs the money.

The story is about Drue reconnecting with her dad, repairing the relationship, discovering she’s pretty good at being a private investigator, and uncovering who murdered one of their clients.

The book is pretty good. There were some slow parts in the middle and some parts that needed some editing down for brevity sake but overall I liked the character, I liked the story and the world that was created.

#3 The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan

I enjoyed this book a lot. Zoe is a single mom to Hari, who is 4 and doesn’t speak yet. She’s struggling in London. Her job isn’t great, she barely makes any money to get by, her flat is horrible and living in London is busy, crowded and dirty. Her ex-boyfriend is no help. She’s at her wit’s end and a friend reaches out and gives her a lifeline. She decides to pack everything up and move to Scotland to be a nanny and help out Nina with her book mobile in Scotland.

The three kids she’s a nanny for are terrible. She’s “Nanny Number 7”. They live in a big castle in the middle of nowhere. The housekeeper is a curmudgeon. The father is a recluse and rarely around. But Zoe is determined to make it work.

The book is charming and you really picture the environment. I liked it a lot.

#4 Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

This was a very interesting, well-written book. It spans a few decades, but focuses on the 1980s. Dana is a teenager in Atlanta, being raised by her mother who is “married” to James Witherspoon, a bigamist. Dana and her mother are aware of his first family, wife Laverne and daughter Chaurisse. But the first family has no idea they exist.

The book is a fascinating read about African America culture in the 80s, the history of racism in the south, and how bigamy “works” (or doesn’t). Dana and Chaurisse tell their stories, and of course, the two worlds collide and the truth comes to light. It’s so well written and I could not put it down! I didn’t like the ending but the rest of the book was excellent.

#5 Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra

I heard about this book on a podcast and it was a very interesting read! The author is a first generation Indian, living in Memphis, which is apparently a very segregated city. She writes a lot about race and what it was like being brown in a very white city.

“I came of age not feeling fully at home in either black or white spaces… I
was born brown in a city divided into black and white… I started to resent being treated as a one-woman diversity show.”

“… white classmates asking for bindis after Gwen Stefani started wearing them on the red carpet in 1998 was stressful. None of us knew what “cultural appropriation” was yet, but I could feel the specter of it pulsing around the edge of my life.”

Eventually she came out as bisexual and married a white woman and they adopted an African American baby boy. She writes about the struggles she has living in the south as an Indian-American, a lesbian, and a mother of a black boy who might be transgender.

“… when the act of explaining your family structure becomes a part of every day of your life, you grow tired of being gracious.”

“That’s always the message: You can be gay as long as you aren’t too gay. Or you can be gay in private. We’ll let you stay if you live a compartmentalized life; keep the freaky stuff where we can’t see it.”

It’s a very deep and thoughtful book; very revealing and honest. And despite the heavy topics of race, racism, homophobia and trans-phobia, the book didn’t feel dark or heavy or depressing. It felt like an honest reflection of one woman’s experience, without anger or resentment, as she tries to live her best life in a space that doesn’t understand “different.”

#6 The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Holy smokes! This is by the best book I’ve read this year. It was so engrossing, so exciting, so fascinating, I COULD.NOT.PUT.IT.DOWN. And when I finished reading it, I was bummed out.

It’s a non-fiction book about a lost city in Honduras. The writer talks about the mythology around the lost city and what cultures may have lived there, Maya or something else?

“Somewhere in this impassable wilderness, it is said, lies a “lost city” built of white stone. It is called Ciudad Blanca, the “White City,” also referred to as the “Lost City of the Monkey God.” “

He writes about all the different attempts to find the city. And he also explains the history of Honduras and South America that adds a lot of depth to the story without bogging it down and making it slow or boring to read. NO editing needed! It was perfect.

He joins a group of scientists and filmmakers who are trying to find the lost city with new technology.

“It was the first time our expedition had come together in one room, a rather motley crew of scientists, photographers, film producers, and archaeologists, plus me, a writer. We all had widely varying experience in wilderness skills. Catacamas was a dangerous city, controlled by a violent drug cartel; no one was to leave the hotel without an armed military escort. We were to keep our mouths shut about what we were doing here. We were not to engage in conversation about the project within hearing of hotel staff, or leave papers lying around our rooms referring to the work, or conduct cell phone calls in public.”

I was super fascinated by all the horrors in the jungle, too.

“It has pools of quickmud that can swallow a person alive. The understory is infested with deadly snakes, jaguars, and thickets of catclaw vines with hooked thorns that tear at flesh and clothing… As for the hazards we would face in the jungle, venomous snakes were at the top of the list. The fer-de-lance, he said, is known in these parts as the barba amarilla (“yellow beard”). It kills more people in the New World than any other snake. It comes out at night and is attracted to people and activity. It is aggressive, irritable, and fast. Its fangs have been observed to squirt venom for more than six feet…The venom is deadly; if it doesn’t kill you outright through a brain hemorrhage, it may very well kill you later through sepsis. If you survive, the limb that was struck often has to be amputated, due to the necrotizing nature of the poison… He told us to wear our Kevlar snake gaiters at all times, including—especially—when we got up to pee at night.”

“… disease-bearing insects we might encounter, including mosquitoes** and sand flies, chiggers, ticks, kissing bugs (so called because they like to bite your face), scorpions, and bullet ants, whose bite equals the pain of being shot with a bullet.”

After much planning the group went into the jungle and had security with them at all times. Then they had Honduran security camped nearby to keep the cartel away from them).

“On a hard day’s travel they were lucky to make one or two miles. Steve and his crew ate MREs, while the Indian guides ate iguanas. At one point the guides became agitated; taking out their weapons, they confided that the group was being tracked by jaguars. They frequently ran into venomous snakes and were assaulted day and night by insects.”

The book also discusses how untouched that particular Honduran rain forest was. “The spider monkeys, he said, were another sign of an uninhabited area, as they normally flee at the first sight of humans, unless they are in a protected zone. He concluded, “I don’t think the animals here have ever seen people before.”

And the tragic reality: “The Honduran rainforests are disappearing at a rate of at least 300,000 acres a year. Between 1990 and 2010, Honduras lost over 37 percent of its rainforest to clear-cutting.”

I will leave off here because I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book but I will say this: if you are looking for a fantastic read, exciting Indian-Jones-esque book packed with history and culture, read this book. It was SO good. So so good. One of my favorites!

Happy Reading!

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Books #37

2019 is off to a good start in my reading goals! How are your reading goals going?

1 ) The Shadow Wife by Diane Chamberlain

I enjoyed this book a lot.

There were two stories going on in it. The first was back in the 50’s and 60’s about twins Carlynn and Lisbeth Kling–born into money. Carlynn was also born with a gift of healing. She doesn’t understand that gift, but when she touches people, she can heal them. Carlynn ends up going into medicine and becoming a pediatrician and eventually word gets out that she’s also a healer and she ends up starting her own foundation/research clinic. The story about Carlynn and Lisbeth is interesting because of the relationship between the sisters and the social norms during that time period (sexism, racism, etc). I don’t want to give away too much because the way the story unravels is kind of a nice, slow surprise.

The other story takes place in present time and is about Joelle, Mara and Liam. When Joelle was born on a commune thirty-four years ago, she wasn’t breathing. But miraculously there was a doctor nearby that helped–Carlynn–who was also a mysterious healer. So that is how the stories intersect.

Mara, Liam and Joelle all work together in a San Francisco hospital and are best friends. When Mara gives birth to her son, she has an aneurysm and is basically brain dead but still alive. Her husband Liam can’t let go. For a year, Joelle and Liam visit Mara in the nursing home every day, wishing she would recover. They grow closer to each other and can’t deny their feelings for each other. Is it wrong to fall in love? When Mara will never be her old self?

The ending had a good twist I didn’t see coming. I liked it!

 

2 ) Give Me The Child by Mel McGrath

This turned out to be a pretty decent thriller. What a dysfunctional family! Especially considering the main character is a neuro/child psychiatrist.

Caitlin is a doctor does research and treats children who are the worst cases–psychopathic kids who are deep need of treatment. She’s married to what seems like a feckless loser who isn’t really pulling his weight in the marriage or the financial relationship while he’s creating some game that will make them “rich” (so many eye rolls). (I didn’t like the husband from the start.) They have an 11 year old daughter, Freya.

One night, the police arrive on their doorstep with another 11 year old girl. Apparently Caitlin’s husband cheated on her while she was pregnant and this child’s mother is now dead and they are now responsible for taking care of her. Except, there’s something not quite right about her.

The book reminded me a lot of the Girl on the Train with the themes of alcoholism, cheating/dirtbag husbands and gaslighting. It was decent read.

 

3 ) Pachinko by Min Jin Lee 

Fascinating, long read that spans multiple generations in Korea and Japan. It starts in the early 1900’s and details arranged marriage and extreme poverty and starvation. It focuses on the arranged marriage between Hoonie and Yangjin both considered “undesirable” and unable to find someone to marry. Hoonie has a cleft palate and Yangjin is very poor and has many sisters so there’s no dowry. But a matchmaker makes the deal and they find they grow to love each other. They marry and live in a house in a remote area of Busan, Korea that they turn into a boarding house so they could afford to pay the rent and buy food.

They have many children but only one survives: Sunja, a daughter. When Sunja is in her teens, Hoonie dies and Sunja and her mother take in more boarders and desperately try to survive on their own during the Depression. Sunja meets an older man and falls in love and ends up pregnant. Except it turns out he’s married and lives in Japan and has three daughters there. He can’t leave his wife and Sunja refuses to be a mistress in Korea, even though he offers to take care of her and the baby.

Sunja and her mother are rescued by one of their boarders, Isak, a Korean Christian minister who offers to marry her and take her to Japan with him where he has a job as a minister waiting for him. He will raise her child as his and give him a name.

The book is a beautiful, fascinating read that details many generations. Like many of the other reviewers, I loved the first 50-60% of the book. The love story, the struggles, the tragedies, the experiences they had in Japan during World War 2 were all really interesting to read! But the last 1/3 of the book dragged on a bit. I didn’t care as much about the newer generations of the family. I felt like that could have been left out or edited down more.

Despite that, I loved the book. The racism, the poverty, the way the Japanese looked down on the Koreans were all very interesting (and new to me) to read.

 

4 ) That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

This was an interesting, different book. The book takes place in the mid-80’s. Rebecca is a new mother. She’s probably suffering from PPD and feeling overwhelmed. Breastfeeding is difficult, her British husband works for the Embassy and is gone a lot. She’s a poet but after becoming a mother, feels lost.

“Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

“You need to try something. Talk therapy. SSRIs. Meditation. This isn’t helping anyone, or it’s helping them but not you. You can’t disappear into motherhood. It’s not good for you. And I can see that’s what you’re doing. You’ve vanished.”

They decide to hire a nanny, Priscilla, to help out. Priscilla is African American, a few years older than Rebecca, and works for La Leche League and used to be a nanny.

Rebecca is a wealthy white woman that lives in a bubble. She came across as very much oblivious about everything. Money. Race. Privilege. Everything. She just seemed to live in denial. Having Priscilla in her life seemed to help her with her undiagnosed PPD and Rebecca slowly opens her eyes to racism.

“A movie with only one black person, and she’s a servant. You don’t think Priscilla thinks of herself as our servant?”

Her mother-in-law makes this comment:

“I’ve noticed your girl sits with you. When you’re having your lunch.” Elizabeth’s smile was inscrutable. “That wouldn’t have been done, in my day.”

It was very uncomfortable. But Rebecca, even though she’s aware that it’s racist, doesn’t speak up. That’s the common theme in the book.

Then Priscilla announces that she’s pregnant. Rebecca is worried Priscilla will quit. Rebecca lives in denial again and is convinced that Priscilla will continue to be her nanny once she has her own child. When Priscilla unexpectedly dies in childbirth, Rebecca decides to adopt her son, Andrew. And now Rebecca has to figure out how to raise a black son when you are clueless and white.

“You can’t spend your life feeling guilty about your being white and his being black, about you being alive and her being dead.”

One of the most difficult parts of the book was towards the end, when Andrew was around 10 years old. Priscilla’s adult daughter, Cheryl, and her husband Ian, told oblivious Rebecca about how to protect Andrew because he’s almost a black teenage boy. Even though the story was taking place in the late 90’s at this point, it was very relevant to the police shootings that are happening now.

“Black kids don’t get to be kids much longer than twelve, really.”

Overall, it was a good book. I liked Priscilla. I liked that Rebecca adopted Andrew and I liked that the book tackled some of the topics of race. I felt like it just touched the tip of the iceberg of race, though, and I didn’t feel like Rebecca ever got a clue and understood her privilege. That was the only flaw for me.

5 ) My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

I thought this was going to be another typical chick lit book. Charming but predictable. However, the book took an unexpected turn that I did not see coming and it changed the whole feel of the book.

Ella is a spending a year at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Her career at home is politics and education but once she gets to England, her focus changes. She falls in love with poetry and literature and makes new friends. She also meets a man that will change the way she looks at her life and how she keeps everyone at arm’s length. It reminded me a bit of “Me Before You”.

‘Love well those who are dying, so that they may die in love.’

“The hardest thing is love, with no expiration date, no qualifiers, no safety net. Love that demands acceptance of all the things I cannot change. Love that doesn’t follow a plan.”

The writing was really good. I liked the style and the way the book read. I liked the supporting characters a lot. I went back and forth on whether I liked Ella, but the rest of the book was strong enough to make me overlook that.

6 ) Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

This book is a collection of short stories, each chapter a different topic, about Anne’s life and the people in it. The common themes in the book are family, faith, cancer, death, grief and healing.

I’m not religious, and generally turned off by organized religion, but Anne doesn’t come across as pushy or self-righteous in her faith. Her book is enjoyable because she shares how she learns to be a better person, how to get perspective, how to forgive people, how to grow as a person and a mother and a friend.

“When my son was six or seven, and realized that he and I were not going to die at the exact same moment, he cried for a while, and then said that if he’d known this, he wouldn’t have agreed to be born.”

“Redefinition is a nightmare—we think we’ve arrived, in our nice Pottery Barn boxes, and that this or that is true. Then something happens that totally sucks, and we are in a new box, and it is like changing into clothes that don’t fit, that we hate. Yet the essence remains. Essence is malleable, fluid. Everything we lose is Buddhist truth—one more thing that you don’t have to grab with your death grip, and protect from theft or decay. It’s gone. We can mourn it, but we don’t have to get down in the grave with it.”

She had a lot of pearls of wisdom about growth that I enjoyed. The chapter about forgiveness was particularly interesting to me and I liked this realization she had:

“…that I was trying to get her to carry all this for me because it hurt too much to carry it myself.”

“Rumi wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

“Forgiving people doesn’t necessarily mean you want to meet them for lunch. It means you try to undo the Velcro hook. Lewis Smedes said it best: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

She also talked about being an alcoholic, getting sober, about dieting culture and how she tried to heal herself:

“I binged, dieted, and binged, like my mother, but never felt that simultaneous state of being full without being stuffed. And like my father, I began to drink a lot. Like both of them, I had the disease called “More!” and absolutely could not feel gently satisfied.”

“…when I feel like shoveling in food, a man, or expensive purchases, the emptiness can be filled only with love—a nap with the dogs, singing off-key with my church. Or maybe, perhaps, a fig.”

I could really relate to that one. I think a lot of addictions (alcohol, food, drugs, exercise, whatever your addiction is) are trying to fill a hole inside.

The book is funny. Her writing style is relatable and hilarious, thought-provoking and emotional. I teared up many times and could relate to a lot of the stuff she wrote about. Highly recommend!

Happy reading!

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