what I’m reading

Books #24

I hate it when you read a bunch of REALLY good books in a row and then you hit a dry patch and all of a sudden, every book you pick is a dud. I’ve read some duds lately. Bummer. But here is a list of some good ones you should check out!

 

1 ) Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

I loved this book so much!

It’s a beautifully written, sweet and emotional book written by Heather Harpham about saving her daughter’s life. The book starts out about Heather and Brian, dating in New York. Both writers, Heather is also an actress of some sort. She becomes pregnant and Brian makes it clear that he doesn’t want kids.

“Maybe I’d been viewing his resistance too narrowly. Maybe Brian’s fear of being a father was not about losing his identity as a writer. Maybe he was afraid to love another human being as profoundly as one loves a child. [pg 27]”

So Heather packs up her life and moves to California to live with her mom while she’s pregnant. It’s a rough road, she’s depressed and heart broken and then this tiny baby arrives and she’s in love.

“Each forearm was a cushion of plush velvet I could rub or kiss for hours. The only thing that alarmed me was that her body now existed outside my own. Harm could come to her without passing through me first; amateur design flaw. [pg 51]”

Except Gracie, they soon discover, has a blood disorder. Her body doesn’t make red blood cells. As a newborn she is immediately shipped off to a special hospital in San Francisco and thus begins the story of trying to keep Gracie alive.

“New motherhood strips you down to the studs. Almost everything I enjoyed doing in the evenings, pre-baby, like reading books or writing emails or watching CSI or walking to the park, was now an irrelevant luxury. All I needed in this refashioned life were brownies and baby and sleep. [pg 53]”

Every 3-4 weeks Gracies goes into the hospital for blood transfusions. Heather is stressed, obviously, but has a great support system in California.

“I’d been running for the last few months, and people had begun to say, ‘Hey, you are getting your body back,’ which, though I was flattered every time, also offended me. It sounded as if my body, while pregnant, had been missing. Or on hiatus. [pg 103]”

Then Brian decides to fly out and meet the daughter he didn’t think he wanted. It’s definitely a hard read in that aspect. You feel for Heather and you dislike Brian–I mean you abandons someone like that? I don’t know…throughout the book, even though Brian redeems himself and they become a real family, I could understand the author’s anger and resentment that he wasn’t there in the beginning, or when Gracie was really sick.

They are now together and Brian flies back and forth from New York to California while they discuss whether or not to do a bone marrow transplant. Apparently the odds were not in Gracie’s favor. The specialist they see suggests they have another child and use the cord stem cells for the transplant. This was apparently early days of the procedure.

They decide no way–no more kids. What if the second kid had the same unnamed disorder? And then, you guessed it, they get pregnant accidentally. Long story short–their son is born and is a perfect match for Gracie. They bank the cord blood and wait. Wait and see…until finally they are convinced they need to do it. Gracie’s life depends on it.

“Every day prior to transplant is expressed negatively. Every day after transplant, positively. Days -10 to -1 are spent ingesting the chemo drugs. This is time before time. Day 0 is Transplant Day, ground zero, when patients reset their clock. Are made new. After transplant, time is expressed once more in positive numbers because each day forward is a gift. A bonus. These are days your child might not have been allotted. Days received as grace. [pg 221]”

They temporarily move to Durham, NC and basically live at the hospital while Gracie goes through the treatment necessary to get the transplant, and then recover from the transplant. The second half of the book is about that.

She doesn’t go into too many details about the other kids on the transplant ward, but does mention two, who pass away, and it is absolutely devastating.

“Losing a child makes time reverse direction, flow backward. To survive loss on that scale, I imagine, you have to become someone you make up, whole cloth, to impersonate you, for the rest of your life. [pg 227]”

“If what you’ve been is a mother or a father and your child is now gone, there is no word for who you are. If you lose a spouse, you’re a widow or a widower. But if you lose a child, you go on being a mother or a father. There is no word because we refuse to cede that much authority to the possibility. It is literally the indescribable pain. If we can’t call its name, it can’t come. Only it can. [pg 289]”

Thankfully Gracie is ok. The book is a roller-coaster ride of emotions but it’s never too daunting or too difficult to read. The writing style is really beautiful and often poetic. She is a very good writer and her story is important and eye opening about what happens to a relationship under intense stress, how you make life-changing decisions for your kids, how you stay strong for your kids and how you find the happiness in the little things. Beautiful book!

 

2 ) Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

What a weird, delightful little book that makes you laugh out loud the whole time…yet it’s not a comedy. I’m not even sure I can describe this book and do it justice.

Graham is married to his second wife, Audra, who was the mistress he cheated with on his first wife, Elspeth. Audra and Elspeth couldn’t be more complete opposites.

“He was thinking that maybe people weren’t meant to get married twice; it only led to comparisons. [pg 193]”

“And wasn’t that the weird thing–sorry, one of the million weird things–about marriage? That the familiarity that drove you so crazy at times–Audra had a particular three-tiered yawn that Graham thought might cause him to throw himself out the window if he heard it again–was the very thing you longed for in the end. [pg 199]”

Audra and Graham have an almost teenage son who has Asperger’s and is obsessed with origami. He joins and origami club, where the quirky and sometimes on-the-spectrum members welcome him with open arms.

“And then Graham understood that it was almost too late. He had spent so much time wishing Matthew were different, wondering how to make Matthew different, when it was actually the process of living that did it. Life forced you to cope. Life wore down all your sharp corners with its tedious grinding on, the grinding that seemed to take forever but was actually as quick as a brushfire. What Graham had to do was to love Matthew right now, right this instant–heart, get busy–before Matthew grew up and turned into someone else. [pg 245]”

Graham is the narrator of this story and there isn’t much of a story…like nothing really happens, but it’s such a good, fun read that you keep going. Audra is weird in her own right. She is a gossip and talks non-stop about everything to everyone. She encourages Graham to reach out to Elspeth and they all become friends. Odd, right?

I liked this book so much and I loved the characters and the world the author created. It felt very real. It was a good book!

 

3 ) The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

I loved this book so much! This is the first time reading this author and the book sucked me in right away. Leia is a comic book writer/artist who hooks up with Batman at a ComicCon, so unlike her, she’d thrown away his name and phone number the next day, and then she discovers she’s pregnant.

At the same time, she gets dozens of phone calls and texts from the townspeople down in Birchville, Alabama, where her elderly grandmother, Birchie, lives. Apparently Birchie is losing her marbles. Leia goes down to Alabama to help her grandmother and put her affairs in order, clean up the old house that’s been in the family forever, and hopefully move her north to a nursing home near where Leia lives.

There is a great cast of characters, Birchie and her best friend, who is African American, Wattie, live in the house together and Leia discovers that Birchie’s health has been declining for years and Wattie has covered it up so they wouldn’t be separated.

This is a book about friendship, love, family, family secrets and racism/Southern history. There is a black church and white church in the small town and Birchie and Wattie go trade off going to one church one week, and then they go to the other church the next week–together. There seems to be quiet segregation still happening.

“My son was going to be black. Even when he was nursing in my arms, I would be a white woman with a black kid. There was no such thing as mixed-race in the South, or in America for that matter. The whole country called a mixed-race man our ‘first black president’. [pg 276]”

The story is about so much more but the story unfolds with the discovery of old bones in a trunk that Birchie and Wattie were trying to run away with. Who are those bones? Did Birchie murder someone? Will her dementia end up protecting her from spending her last days in prison?

I really loved all the characters and the story and I didn’t want it to end. I loved how everything ended (no spoilers!)

 

4 ) Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp #9) by Vince Flynn

The Mitch Rapp series has been a bit hit or miss for me lately and then I got to this book (the last one was really good, too) and it was SO good I couldn’t stop reading it.

A presidential candidate’s limo motorcade is hit with a bomb by terrorists. The nation is under attack and as a result, he seems to get the sympathy vote and is elected president. Except…there is something kind of fishy about the whole thing. Enter Mitch and the CIA to figure out who was actually behind the attack.

5 ) Body Full of Stars: Female Rage and My Passage into Motherhood by Molly Caro May

This is a very important book and I wish I had read it two years ago, when I was in the middle of the post-partum haze. I could relate to this book SO MUCH. I think it’s an injustice to women that the modern birth and pregnancy books don’t really talk about post-partum issues much. Sure, they might give you a checklist of PPD signs but they don’t talk about much of the issues that can happen…

“Because we are a culture focused on the singular act of birthing, no one tells you what comes before or after birth. Not really. How can they? It’s different for every woman. There may not be one narrative. However, there is no truth. Before and after are not times where all you do is glow. [Loc 400]”

…Like post-partum incontinence (thankful I never had this issue but the author goes into great deal of what sounded like a living hell for her peeing ALL THE TIME no matter what she did), prolapse (again, I didn’t really have this issue but I did have pelvic floor issues that I had to do PT exercises for), among other things. None of the books I read went into detail about these issues, and the pregnancy/labor class I took didn’t cover it, either. They BARELY covered breastfeeding and the issues that can cause.

“I can’t bounce (the baby). Bouncing makes my vagina “fall out”–and pee, lots of pee, oceans of urine. If I put her down, she screams a baby dinosaur scream I can’t handle yet. There is no way for me to be with her and have my hands free. [Loc 308]”

So I think this memoir is a must-read for new moms. The author talks about not being a “radiant” pregnant woman, how she felt at war with her body during the entire pregnancy because she was sick all the time. She had a fairly traumatic birth experience, as well, and that caused a lot of issues for her AND her husband.

“Little do I know this moment is the middle of the beginning of a 2 year quest for my health, a crawl across the parched desert where I will question everything I once knew about my body, about it means to heal, about the woman-mother I so wanted to become. I’m about to lose my whole sense of self. [Loc 437]”

She talks about how the arrival of their daughter changed her marriage, sometimes for the worse, but they got through it. She talked about how far away she felt from her husband and he told her that it was “hard to move toward a person who snarls.”

I highlighted A LOT of quotes from this book. I won’t share them all here. I think it’s more significant to read the book and experience the author’s journey to fully understand it. I could relate to a lot of stuff. There were definitely subjects that didn’t speak to my birth/post-partum experience, but it was an eye-opening read anyways.

 

6 ) Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

What a quirky, weird little book! Lars and Cindy live in the midwest in the 70’s and have baby Eva. Lars is a great chef and can’t wait for little Eva to be old enough to learn how to eat and cook great food. And then when Eva is a few months old, Cindy leaves them both and disappears. She just doesn’t want to be a mother.

The story of Eva is told in a unique and weird way. The beginning is told by Lars, then fast forward to Eva in her teens and she’s learning how to cook and gets her first kitchen job. Then after that, each chapter is told from a different person’s point of view–one chapter is her highschool boyfriend, another is the highschool boyfriend’s stepmom, and so on. It’s a very cool way to tell the story of Eva from all the people in her life that helped form her being.

Highly recommend, especially if you are a foodie!

Happy Reading!

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Books #23

My goal for 2018 is to read 110 books! Here is the first post of 2018:

1 ) Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I was a little conflicted about whether or not to include this book in my reviews because for the first 40% of the book I was SO INCREDIBLY annoyed. “SOMETHING” happened at a BBQ. Something tragic, something horrific…and the first 40% of the book was alluding to that and it was so annoying, too drawn out, and I kept thinking “GET TO IT ALREADY!”

And then…? The incident was revealed and the way the rest of the story was told, from each person’s different point of view, was really really well-written. It was gripping and good and there were a few shockers at the very end of the book. So if you can get over the first part, it’s an excellent read!

2 ) Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

This was a very interesting book. Ava and Zelda are identical twin sisters. Two years before, there was some betrayal and a lot of family stress with their mother’s diagnosis of a degenerative disease, and Ava fled to Paris to avoid it all. Then Ava gets word that her sister has died in a fire at the family’s vineyard. She travels home to get the family affairs in order and plan the funeral.

But is Zelda really dead? Or is it a trick? Ava begins getting clues from Zelda that make her think she’s still alive and planned her own “death”, possibly for the insurance?

The book is very well-written and focuses on character development. The characters are all so real and written very well. The topic of alcoholism is also very real and well-written.

3 ) Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a memoir but it was more a reflection on aging, motherhood, marriage and feminism.

“Time passed, almost imperceptibly. First we were so young and then we were so busy and then one day we awoke to discover that we were an age we once thought of as old. [loc 65]”

The common theme throughout the book was aging and how to do it gracefully. The author reflects on her own life, the death of her mother when she was only 19 and how that changed her outlook on life and motherhood when she had her own kids.

“I would tell my twenty-two-year-old self that what lasts are things so ordinary she may not even see them: family dinners, fair fights, phone calls, friends. But of course the young woman I once was cannot hear me, not just because of time and space but because of the language, and the lessons, she has yet to learn. It’s a miracle: somehow over time she learned them all just the same, by trial and error. [pg 4]”

She did write about marriage but nothing too specific about her own marriage. That wasn’t really what the focus was. I did like this quote a lot and I think it’s a good way to sum up a good marriage:

“I was never one of those women who tell you that their spouse is their best friend, that they’re always on the same page. I feel like you’re ahead of the game if you’re even in the same book. [pg 18]”

She also talked about friendships and how crucial they are at different stages of your life. It made me think about my own relationships and friendships that have withstood the challenge of time and changing lives. Having kids was the biggest “tell” for me. It’s weird how your friendships often change when you have a baby.

“As we grow older we weed out our friendship circles the way we do our closets. Most women have a story about the friend who truly wasn’t, whose calls and visits left her feeling dreadful, the friend who dined out on other women’s shortcomings and mistakes. [pg 32]”

“We trust our friends to tell us what we need to know, and to shield us from what we don’t need to discover, and to have the wisdom to know the difference. Real friends offer both hard truths and soft landings and realize that it’s sometimes more important to be nice than to be honest…They are savvy enough to understand that there are friendships worth fighting for. And sometimes, of course, there are those that are not. Over the course of our lives friends fall away, sometimes because they were never really more than friendly acquaintances…There were friends we lost when we had children and they did not…[pg 32]”

I really liked her take on motherhood, too:

“There comes that moment when we give our children custody of their own selves or blight their lives forever, when we understand that being a parent is not transactional, the we do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor: we are good parents not so they will be loving enough to stay with us but so they will be strong enough to leave us. [pg 117]”

Those are just a few of my favorite quotes from the book. I read it in about three days and enjoyed most of it. Sometimes there were some run-on sentences that rambled a little bit and could use some editing…but overall I liked it a lot!

4 ) This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel

“Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan.”

What a beautiful story! Rosie, an ER doctor and Penn, a writer, have 4 boys. She gets pregnant a fifth time and they are secretly hoping they have a girl but…nope. Another boy! Except as Claude grows up, they realize he is very different. At only three years old, he says he’s a girl.

They are all very open-minded, despite living in rural Wisconsin. They allow Claude to dress as a girl. But once he becomes a little bit older and goes to kindergarten, they start to feel the societal pressures. School doesn’t understand and is not tolerant, and basically forces them to make Claude dress as a boy.

“I’ve lived life. I know what’s important. I’ve seen it all by now. You think he’s the first boy I ever saw in a bikini? He’s not. You think your generation invented kids who are different?”

“Claude wore his bikini because Penn found he could not say to his son, ‘The suit you love is okay at home but not in public,’ because Rosie would not say, ‘We’re proud of you in private but ashamed of you at the pool. [pg 46]”

Claude is miserable and depressed. And only a few years old. It’s heartbreaking for all involved. Then Rosie treats a trans-gendered patient in the ER who was beaten almost to death at a frat party.

” ‘Everyone loves you for who you are.’ “

“‘No one but you,’ said Claude. ‘No one but us. We are the only ones.’ [pg 58]”

Rosie decides it’s time to leave. They move to Seattle, a liberal, open-minded area where Claude can become Poppy.

“Maybe parents just wanted their kids to invite Poppy over so they could gossip to their own friends or make a big show of being open-minded and tolerant. Maybe the kids wanted to play with Poppy because they were curious about him rather than because they liked him. [pg 98]”

Except Rosie is still terrified that something horrible will happen to her child. So they don’t tell anyone that Poppy used to be Claude. The story goes from there. Poppy lives as a girl, has girl friends, no one knows the difference except for family.

“Just being yourself never worked, but if you made yourself up, you got to be exactly who you knew yourself to be. [pg 285]”

The book is an emotional, beautiful, heart-breaking and heart-warming read. While the book does address bigotry and trans-phobia, it’s not your typical book where something horrific and homophobic happens. It’s really more about navigating the trans-gendered world as parents, what’s right, what’s wrong, how they decide what to do during puberty, etc.

I highly recommend this book!

 

5 ) The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde

This is the newest Catherine Ryan Hyde book. Aiden is a cattle rancher who gets a “wake up” on a hunting trip. All of a sudden he can feel the emotions (the fear, the terror, the pain) of all animals. It definitely throws a wrench in his career as a rancher and breeder, and alienates him from his ranch hands and the community. His girlfriend breaks up with him. He’s feeling very sensitive about his new ability to sense animal’s emotions.

Gwen is new to town with her two pre-teen kids. She left an abusive marriage and is trying to rebuild her life. She meets Aiden and they fall in love. The problem is that her son, Milo, has some very serious mental/emotional issues due to the abuse he suffered from his father.

“You hope wildly. And, as a result, having a child tends to mean getting your heart broken on a regular basis. It takes courage to hope for something you know you might not get. But the alternative is not to believe in your child or hope for great things for him. [pg 236]”

Milo is showing some not-so-kind behaviors towards animals and with Aiden’s new ability to sense pain in animals, this is particularly difficult!

“But people come into our lives and point things out to us for a reason. [pg 34]”

The story is about relationships and about healing, for both Aiden and Milo. It’s also about family, (sort of) about alcoholism recovery and step-parenting.

“It’s easier to see the big picture when you’re standing a few steps outside it. [pg 198]”

“Human nature. After something works out, we forget the frustration of the steps we took in getting there. [pg 316]”

It’s a really, really lovely read. It was a fast read, I read it in about two days. There were a lot of layers in the book and kept you thinking about things long after you were done reading. I will end the review with the best quote from the book:

“He would say, ‘Are you doing what your heart says to do?’ [pg 317]”

Excellent advice.

HAPPY READING!

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