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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Here is the latest installment of books! As always, if you’ve read something lately that you love, let me know! I am always on the lookout for new titles.

1. A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #2) by Louise Penny

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is back in Three Pines in book #2. This time, he’s there to investigate the murder of a very unliked woman who is mysteriously electrocuted in front of the whole town. But how did that happen and who did it?

All the characters from the first book are back in the second and I’m so glad. The curious little town is so quaint and the characters are so well-written it’s a joy to read, even if the books are about murderers!


2. The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

This book was on my “must read” list even before it was published. I was so excited when it finally came available at the library. The premise intrigued me — Angus and Sarah have identical twin daughters, Lydia and Kirstie. After a tragic accident, Lydia dies and they slowly try to rebuild their lives after this horrible event. The family moves to a remote Scottish Island and suddenly Kirstie is telling them that they got it wrong that day–that she is Lydia and Kirstie was the twin that died that day.

What is a parent to do? The book is so incredibly creepy on many levels. Each family member is slowly unraveling and clearly going insane and I can see why that would happen. Sarah has been noticing strange things and even before her daughter confesses that the “wrong” twin died, she’s already wondering if they got it wrong.

Their dog is acting strangely–treating the surviving twin the way he always treated Lydia when she was alive. How do you explain that? Kirstie (who claims she’s Lydia) insists she sees her sister and talks to her. Is it a ghost? A hallucination brought on by grief the little girl can’t fathom or explain because she’s so young? Personality traits in Kirstie are now presenting themselves as Lydia. Favorite toys, behaviors, reading ability–everything points to the girl really being Lydia but how is that possible?

“‘Kirstie is here again,’ she says. ‘She’s in my room. I don’t want to see her anymore. Mummy, make her go away.’ I want nothing more than for Kirstie to go away. And maybe Lydia too. I am frightened of both of my daughters, the two ghosts in this house, the two ghosts in my head; The Ice Twins, melting, one into the other…’I don’t believe what Lydia says, Mummy. She says horrible things.[pg 288]”

The book was creepy and gut-wrenching at times. Mostly creepy. I highly recommend this. I read it in two days.

3. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

I wanted to give this book 4 stars because I liked the characters and the story was different, but…the book could have been better.
What I liked: the story was different and interesting. Alice falls at the gym and hits her head, wakes up and finds that she’s lost the last 10 years of her life. She’s unaware that she has three kids, that she’s separated from her husband, and apparently a very different person at age 39 than she was at 29. Very interesting premise!

What I didn’t like: yet another book from this author where there are three women telling their story. The formula is tired and I’m over it. She needs to write differently. STOP! It’s annoying and I wasn’t as interested in the other story lines as I was with Alice. Also, for the first 30% of the book I was very impatient and irritated that we didn’t know why Alice didn’t have her memory. Maybe that was the point, but I didn’t like that part.

Despite all of this, I still enjoyed most of the book and I liked that there was almost this alternate universe going on–it kind of reminded me of the movie Sliding Doors.

4. World Without End by Ken Follett

Looking for a rip-roaring good time that takes place in medieval times? Complete with accusations of witchcraft, royal espionage, serfdom and the Black Plague. Then this book is for you. In all seriousness, this was a really good book. It’s long–1000+ pages–and sometimes a little slow, but overall it was a really good read. I loved the time period and the characters. It’s a book that spans a long period of time in the mid-1300’s and you follow the main characters as they try to survive in a difficult time.

It starts with Caris and Merthin as young kids, who are best friends and falling in love. The story follows them as they age and their careers “take off” and all the trials and tribulations they go through in England in 1340. Loved their story. Even Merthin’s brother, Ralph, the most evil person in the book you kind of like because his character is so well written and EVIL. Well done book!

5. Little Black Lies by SJ Bolton

I love this author! I discovered her last summer and read all her Lacy Flint books and loved them. This isn’t part of that series–new story, new characters and it’s really good. It takes place on the Falkland Islands. Sadly, I had never heard of them before this book and now I am absolutely fascinated and want to visit.

The main character is Catrin. She’s a diver and whale expert. The book is about young children who have been disappearing in the community and this brings up painful memories of the death of her two boys. The other main character is Rachel, the best friend who’s neglect lead to their death. Finally, Callum, Catrin’s on-again-off-again boyfriend. The story is told in such a unique way, from each person’s point of view, and the twists and turns were so unpredictable! The who-dunit was so well done! It had me guessing all the way to the last page. GOOD BOOK!

6. Bones are Forever (Temperance Brennan #15) by Kathy Reichs

I’ve read a few of the books in this series over the years, somehow not in order. If it sounds familiar, I believe there is a TV show based on the characters (Bones). I plan on starting at the beginning of this series and re-reading the ones I have read.

Despite reading it out of order, it wasn’t necessary. I never felt lost or confused. If there was a main character I didn’t quite remember the author did a good job of giving the cliff notes reminders. I enjoyed this book a lot. The main character, Temperance, is a strong female lead character and the story had an interesting combination of science and mystery that never felt over my head or too dumbed down.

The story is about a mysterious woman who checks into an ER because of excessive bleeding, they realize she’d just given birth, but she disappears from the hospital before being treated. With some detective work they find her apartment and sadly, the corpse of a newborn baby. But that’s not it, they find two more mummified corpses in the apartment. Thus the search begins for this “horrible monster” that killed her babies…except, is that what really happened? No spoilers. But it was a good and very fast read.

7. Us by David Nicholls

This was a very charming, heart-warming book. Douglas is in his 50’s and his teenage son is about to graduate from high school when one night his wife says that she thinks the marriage has run it’s course. This was completely out of the blue for the middle-aged scientist who thought everything was going great. The three of them are also about to embark on a summer long European family trip to celebrate before their son goes off on his own journey.

They go on the trip anyways, the wife being cagey about when she was leaving him and why. He thinks this is his last chance to keep the family together. The story is told in little vignettes instead of chapters and the story of how he met his wife and their life together is intertwined with the current day struggles and their European adventure. It was a REALLY good book. I liked it a lot and read it in two days!