what I’m reading

Books #27

Sometimes I read some really bad books. I try and give reviews here for books that stand out for me, or are particularly enjoyable to read. Some of the really bad ones? Often times they have great reviews and high ratings on Goodreads and Amazon! Which baffles me.

The Perfect Nanny – GREAT reviews, didn’t even get past the first page. It described in great detail the brutal murder of a baby and I just couldn’t do it. Nope nope nope.

The Help – I hated the way the book was written. Couldn’t finish it.

The Other Widow – Again, very high ratings but I didn’t read more than about 25% because the writing was so bad. 

Where’d You Go Bernadette – Boring, pointless, couldn’t get into it. 

The Goldfinch – So many people rave and RAVE about Donna Tartt and I’ve tried several of her books but they are pretentious, boring, not for me. 

Exit West – Started out really good and interesting and then took a really weird turn into Fantasy that was NOT for me. Gave up. 

What are some of the worst books you’ve read?

Now onto some GOOD reads!

1 ) Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

This book should probably have a trigger warning. It’s about domestic violence. The author does describe some abuse but the book itself is pretty light and almost chick-lit-like so I don’t think it’s too much dark. And there was some humor mixed in to lighten it up.

Rose Mae was introduced in the book Gods in Alabama as a minor character and this book tells her story. She had a hard life: her dad was abusive and her mom left them. She always felt angry and hurt her mom didn’t take her with her. When she was old enough, Rose Mae left and never looked back.

Except she found herself married to Thom, an abusive asshole. The writer does a very good job describing how domestic violence relationships work–the abuse followed by the apology and the “honeymoon” period then the walking on eggshells anticipating another mood change that leads to abuse…

“Thom and I didn’t have friends, neither of us. He came to me for food, for sex, for talk, for play, for violence, and he had no other needs. We were closed together like two halves of a clam’s shell. If I had a friend, she would notice long sleeves and scarves in summer, and unlike Mrs. Fancy, women in my generation had not been trained to look the other way. [pg 78]”

Rose Mae gets the idea to plan her escape. “…and suddenly nothing is as sweet as this. When you’ve been in a desert, nothing is more basic and more necessary, nothing is better, than water. [pg 304]” It was a very good, real book. I really liked the ending. It worked well for me. I could also see this book as a movie.


2 ) The Leavers by Lisa Ko

What an excellent book! It was gut-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time.

Polly is about 16 when she gets pregnant and tries to get an abortion, but apparently in China it’s very difficult to get an abortion.

“Yi Ba thought anything bad that happened to a woman was her fault…if a woman was unmarried it was her fault for being ugly or independent; if a woman was too devoted to her husband it was her fault for being mushy and desperate; if a husband had a girl on the side it was the wife’s fault for driving him away and both the mistress and wife’s fault for letting themselves get taken advantage of. [pg 132]”

“You’re not eligible for medical care here because you are not a registered city person. Your hukou is rural, so you can only go to a rural hospital. Go to the one in your village district. [pg 133]”

Instead, she gets a huge loan from a loan shark and is smuggled from China to Canada and then New York.

“In America, you could live anywhere you wanted to;it didn’t matter if you had rural or urban hukou. They wouldn’t care about things like pregnancy permits either. [pg 137]”

“I had also heard of married couples being fined for unauthorized pregnancies, forced to pay the equivalent of five years’ worth of the average provincial salary. For an unmarried woman the fine would probably be steeper. [pg 134]”

She lives in horrific conditions, sleeping on the floor smashed in a tiny apartment with dozens of other illegal immigrants, and gets a job in a sweatshop sewing jeans.

She has her son, Deming, and quickly realized WHY the women send their babies back to China to live with family for the first few years. Because there is no such thing as daycare for illegal immigrants who need to work 12+ hours a day to pay their rent, buy food, and send money home to the loan shark to pay off their debts.

“The city was filled with girls like me, girls who swore we’d never go home again. I wanted to work my way up to a better factory, a bigger dormitory, and eventually my own apartment…[pg 128]”

So Polly send Deming back to China for 5 years to live with her father. It’s the hardest thing she’s ever done but focuses on her goal of working hard, saving money and paying off her debt.

“We ate pretty well. The fish Yi Ba caught supplemented the vegetables that our assigned plot grudgingly produced, and when there wasn’t enough food, he’d push his portions on me. [pg 122]”

Fast forward 5 years, they are reunited in NYC. She has a great boyfriend and they live in a small apartment with his sister and her son, Michael, who is the same age as Deming. Life seems pretty good. She leaves the sweatshop and gets work at a salon.

The salon is another scam — she’s not paid for her “internship” where she learns how to do mani/pedis. Eventually she is but it sounds like she basically only gets tips because she has to pay to work there. (I had no idea this was the case!). But still, she’s doing ok. Then the salon is raided by ICE.

Polly disappears, no one knows where she is, Deming is heartbroken for his mom and things he did something wrong for her to “go away.” After several months, his mother’s boyfriend can’t take care of him and goes back to China to work. His sister tries to take care of Deming but can’t afford it and puts him in Foster Care.

He’s adopted by a white, upper-middle class couple who live in upstate New York and are both professors at the local university. Deming is now Daniel. He’s the only Asian kid in town and he never quite fits in with anyone.

“…they wanted him to succeed in the ways that were important to them because it would mean that they had succeeded, too. [pg 27]”

I’m not going to give everything away but I will say that the descriptions of Polly’s time (almost 2 years) in ICE custody in basically a camp that sounds an awful lot like WW2 the internment camps, was horrific and heartbreaking and just SO wrong.

“There’s a woman named Mary who’s lived in America since she was six months old. Born in Sudan. Was in college, had a travel visa, got arrested at the airport after coming home from studying in France. The government says her parents never adjusted her immigration status when she was a baby and she needs a physical examination to complete her application…of course, an exam costs three hundred bucks and they won’t give that to her at Arsleyville. And she can’t access her bank account because ICE put a hold on her name. [pg 296]”

The book is beautifully written, long and spanning about 20 years, and you feel so badly for the immigrant experience…it’s sometimes hard to stomach but I think a very important read.

3 ) Dead People Suck: A Guide for Survivors of the Newly Departed by Laurie Kilmartin

What a hilarious book! I didn’t know what to expect in this memoir about her father’s death from cancer, but it was a funny book.

“My dad smoked three or four packs a day for 30 years, back when doctors prescribed cigarettes for the flu. [Loc 160]”

“He died on Sunday, March 2, ensuring that Mom got both her and Dad’s March Social Security checks. Ron Kilmartin was diligent like that. [Loc 177]”

The author is a stand-up comic and wrote for the Conan Show. I laughed out loud many times reading this book. It was definitely gallows humor, but sometimes in the middle of the worst time in someone’s life, humor is best. She gives tips for people who are newly diagnosed with cancer and given not much time.

“Is your loved one ill but still alive? If yes, get their passwords. Plus their passcodes, usernames, the last four of their social. And write down the answers to all their security questions. That knowledge is about to vanish. [pg 19]”

She goes on to say if you can only get one password, the email address is the one to get. Because then you can reset everything else and still access the email for password resets. Sure the book is meant to be comical, but the above advice was actually pretty good.

She gives tips for the survivors on things like:

“Are you an Old Man with Daughters? Please shred your porn. [pg 7]”

“Label yourself in old photos, label everyone. [pg 11]”

“Like running, sobbing feels awful while you do it, but great afterward. It’s like your inside took a shower and scrubbed the sadness off. One night, I sobbed so hard I tightened my core. [pg 68]”

She has advice for doctors and how they give patients the bad news:

“Take away their Costco card. Gently explain that they don’t need a year’s supply of anything, anymore. If they still balk, give them a travel-size bottle of shampoo and say, ‘This is all the Suave you’ll ever need, you’re about to go on a trip.’ [pg 27]”

I thought this was pretty funny when she described how she wanted to be cremated:

“For kindling, use the hundreds of personal journals I’ve kept since age fourteen; 70% of their content is dissatisfaction with my weight. It is fitting that the written despair about my body should fuel the fire that burns it. [pg 81]”

Dark, but hilarious and I could totally relate. LOL If you are sensitive, the dark humor might be offensive, but I wasn’t offended by anything in the book and I could relate to a lot of it.

Finally this last quote:

“You always want just one more day. [pg 59]”


4 ) The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell

This was an interesting story. Daniel was a French doctor with a sad past when he needed to make some money and donated his sperm. Fast forward years later and Daniel has cancer and is dying. He finds out that because of his donation he has four children somewhere in England and wants to meet them. His girlfriend registers him on the Donor Registry.

The story is about his children, grown now, finding out they have siblings, meeting the siblings and meeting the donor. It was a really beautiful story about family. I liked it a lot. The ending was very satisfying for me.


5 ) This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick

This book was kind of perfect for me. It’s a “self-help” book and if you liked the “Happiness Project” you will probably like this book. It’s in the same vein.

I am definitely guilty of feeling restless, wanting to move, feeling like the “grass is greener” somewhere else. Which is weird because the Pacific NW is one of the most desirable places to live in the US AND it’s literally very green. But I get this thing in my head that I would be “happier” if I lived in ________.

“I’d come to see each new city in a new state as an irresistible blank slate. Moving offered absolution for whatever failures I’d amassed in my present town: the disappointing friendships, the inescapable, guilt-inducing commitments, the taunting list of unfinished home renovation projects. [pg 2]”

“There’s true psychic power in a clean slate. [pg 3]”

I grew up in Seattle, moved to Portland at 19 with a boyfriend, where we lived together for 2 years. When we broke up I moved back home to regroup, then moved back to Portland all on my own, definitely a clean slate. And yet, this quote describes me to a T:

“Clicking through Realtor.com listings was my mid-thirties suburbanite version of crystal meth — a filthy habit I couldn’t quit. [pg 4]”

I definitely spend a crazy amount of time on Redfin and Zillow looking. Looking everywhere. Comparing, researching, wondering.

This book is about the author’s family and how often they moved and how they made a final move for a job at Virginia Tech and she decided to try a project to make herself love where she was currently and try to put down roots and “attachment.”

“My family’s average stay in any city to that point was 3.2 years. I was starting to lose confidence in our ability to live anywhere for long. [pg 6]”

The book talks a lot about the restlessless of Americans, in jobs, neighborhoods, etc.

“Americans are as restless in employment as we are in geography, switching workplaces about every four and a half years. Often we chase our new gigs around the country. Most Americans, it seems, spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about where we wish we lived. [pg 7]”

Each chapter has a goal of the author for trying to like where she lived. It had suggestions and tips for readers to do in their own town, too. Things like volunteer, learn about the off-the-beaten-path sites in your town, shop locally, meet your neighbors.

“My friend, Jen, who as an army wife knows a thing or two about moving, told me, ‘It is an incredibly conscious decision to love where you love. I have seen so many families become miserable because they hate where they are when they move to a new place. You have to choose to love it.’ [pg 23]”

“I was beginning to understand the value of meeting our neighbors face-to-face, even when, especially when, they’re not like us. In many cities, neighborhoods are self-segregating, often by income, race and culture, and sometimes by age, profession, or religion as well. [pg 78]”

It was really interesting and had good suggestions.

“Sixty percent of home buyers wanted walkable, bikeable neighborhoods. To lure this 60%, cities and towns are cranking out urban redesign plans that emphasize greenways and bike lanes. [pg 24]”

One chapter I really liked was about shopping locally. I am definitely guilty of being a compulsive Amazon Prime shopper. It’s fast, it’s easy, I can compare a dozen similar projects at one time to get the best one, price check, etc. And one of the problems is that there are a lot of things I just don’t know where to buy locally because I use Amazon so much.

“Unlike the well-trained but generically pleasant big-box store employees, Paula seemed authentically grateful for my business. My purchases made a difference for her. [pg 63]”

“Place attachment research shows that many of the good feelings we have about the cities where we live stem from the sense that we have relationships there. [pg 70]”

But it makes a difference. Small businesses are pushed out when people don’t shop there. There are a dozen stories of Walmart or Amazon pushing out small businesses. That makes me sad. The author suggested that once a month we all spend $50 at a small business for items we normally buy online or in big-box stores. I am going to consciously try to do this.

The book was good and I liked the suggestions she had and I want to try and do some of them.

“Unpack your life wherever you are. [pg 255]”

Happy reading!

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Books #26

I have a question for you guys. If you could leave a comment on this post and let me know that would be great!

Question: What genre of books do you like to read the best? 

I tend to gravitate towards thriller/mystery/suspense books. I try and alternate “heavy” or dark books with more whimsical books. Sometimes I am not so successful. So I know that sometimes some of these books review posts can be pretty heavy. I know not all subject matters appeal to everyone, but I’m just wondering what people like best from the book reviews I do. Thanks! 🙂

Now, on to some reviews:

1 ) Nearlyweds by Beth Kendrick

After reading a bunch of dark, heavy books lately, I wanted something light and “fluffy” to read and this chick lit book was perfect for that! It was actually REALLY good, too!

Erin, Casey and Stella become unlikely friends. They live in the same town but didn’t really know each other. They all happened to get married the same weekend and used the same pastor. A few months after their wedding day, they get the surprising news: the pastor died before signing the marriage licenses and the three ladies are NOT actually married.

Erin is a doctor and has the mother-in-law from HELL who moves in and tries to wreck her marriage. Casey’s husband almost left her at the altar. And Stella finds out on her wedding night that her new husband had a vasectomy ten years ago. Now all three ladies are wondering whether to walk away and start anew. They aren’t legally married anyways…

The book was fun, lighthearted, relatable, funny and gave me the warm-fuzzies. I will definitely read more by this author.


2 ) The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth

I loved this book! It was a tear-jerker at the end, but in a positive way, too.

Alice is a single mother with a 15 year old daughter, Zoe, who has anxiety and crippling panic attacks. For her whole life, Zoe has relied on her mother. They have no family, no one else but each other. Then Alice is diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. She goes through treatment but it’s spreading and infection is making them have to stop chemo.

Kate is one of the nurses who develops a bond with Alice and Zoe and starts helping Zoe out when Alice is having treatments. Sonja is the social worker assigned to Alice and Zoe to help them navigate the process of care. What Alice doesn’t realize at first, is that Kate and Sonja end up being her family.

This sounds like a heavy book but it was encouraging in a lot of ways. It was about trust and creating a community and family when you don’t have one. It’s about Zoe conquering her fears and trying to learn how to control her anxiety and panic disorders. It’s a really sweet, heartfelt book and I enjoyed it a lot. I will read more by this author!

3 ) Our Short Story by Lauren Grodstein

Karen is a single mother in Manhattan, working as a political consultant. This book is written in part story-form and part memoir. It reads like a true story, but I don’t think it was. 6 years ago, Karen was dating a man she thought was the one and accidentally got pregnant. He said he never wanted kids. They split up. She raised Jake on her own.

This book is about a love story–a love between a mother and child–about loss and motherhood.

“…we fell asleep pondering the condition of being mothers, which was, of course, the condition of helping the people you love most in the world leave you. [pg 207]”

A few years before the book begins, Karen finds out she has ovarian cancer–Stage IV. She’s given treatment and has the support of her sister and her family and Jake. But she only has a few years.

“I want them to be your soft place to land. This is, I think, the best thing a family can be. [pg 6]”

She spends half her time in New York and the other half in Seattle with her sister, so that Jake can get close to her sister and his cousins, basically preparing him for when she dies and her sister takes him in. Jake starts asking about his father and reluctantly she reaches out to Dave, who had no idea she had kept the baby. Suddenly, he wants to be very much involved in Jake’s life.

This makes Karen uncomfortable and rightly freaked out that Dave is going to try and take Jake from her because she’s dying. But in the end, everybody kind of makes peace with the past and she lets that go.

“Jake, there will always be days in your life, even if you can’t remember me, that you will miss me. That you’ll need me. A person never stops needing his mother. [pg 63]”

The book is about the story of cancer, treatment, preparing to die, and writing a book for her son telling him her story. She also gives him advice.

“When people are mean to you, remember something is probably lacking in their lives, not yours. Check for lumps. Try to get eight hours of sleep at a stretch as often as possible. Be thoughtful about money, fall in love with the right person, read a lot. Know that your family–they think of you as one of theirs. [pg 138]”

The book was good. There were parts that seemed a little unnecessary (like the stuff about her job that went on a little too long to hold my interest) but overall it was a good read. It sounds like it would be a tear-jerker type of a story, but it honestly wasn’t. There was some hope and closure.


4 ) The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

First off, this book is NOT for everyone. It’s very dark and will turn off a lot of people I think.
Second, this book is very very very well-written.

The story is dark and twisted. But the good news is that there weren’t a lot of really gross details. It kind of leaves it up to you to come to conclusions in your minds eye.

Lane is 16, living in NYC with her mother when her mom commits suicide. She’s sent to live with grandparents she never knew down in the South somewhere (Missouri?). She discovers she has a cousin, Allegra, who oddly looks a lot like her.

This is where Lane finds out about the Roanoke girls. All the women in her family died tragically or ran away and disappeared. She spends her summer with Allegra, falls in love with a local boy, and then something happens to make her run far away from Roanoke.

Flash forward about 10 years and Lane gets word that Allegra is missing. She returns reluctantly to Roanoke and tries to find out what happened.

The characters are all written brilliantly. They are complex and feel real and they are flawed and disturbed and the story is compelling. It was such a good read, but definitely not something everyone would like.


5 ) Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

This is a sort of memoir, sort of collection of essays about some of the author’s hardest life lessons she’s learned. Some were good lessons, some were about death and grief.

The first lesson in grief was when he dad, whom she described as her hero, passed away:

“I walked next to him in that festival light for almost fifty years and then, one night in February, his hand went still in mine and here I am, same as ever, except quicker to anger and thirteen pounds heavier. [pg 26]”

She shared lots of stories of her father’s advice and wisdom. His biggest piece of advice was that she was “Good Enough.” She struggled a lot growing up and her father never criticized her mistakes, he knew she had to learn the lessons. He just wanted her to know he was there for her no matter what. It was very touching.

“Being in our lives as they are is probably one of the most common struggles people have. [pg 23]”

The next lesson in grief she experienced was when a close friend died after a long battle with cancer. They way the author described the woman, her dying, her family’s grief and healing afterwards, was very poignant and moving. It wasn’t overly sad, but inspiring.

She also wrote about motherhood and I appreciated that. I really liked this quote:

” ‘Thirteen is a pivotal moment, and not just because of mustaches and curves. It’s a time of explosive intellectual and emotional growth. But it’s also when life tends to get treacherous. They are going into the eye of the hurricane. We want our faith, our community, to help them find and feel their own power.’ What he meant by power was specifically the power to participate meaningfully in the world. [pg 204]”

I don’t know why it stood out so much for me, but it did. There were a lot of little tidbits in the book that made you really think.

6 ) Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

This is the second book by this author that I’ve read and even though I was a bit skeptical (and turned off by) the religious theme of the book, I ended up enjoying it a lot. She’s a good writer.  The first line of the book is “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits and also Jesus.” I can’t relate to ANY of those things…but I still liked the book!

Lena fled Alabama and has been living in Chicago going to school and dating an African American lawyer whom she loves and wants to marry but he insists on meeting her family first. She’s reluctant because they are openly racist and she left her hometown because of…something deeply dark and scary. She doesn’t want to go home but she doesn’t want to lose her boyfriend.

The book was funny at times, touching and also a bit uncomfortable (in relation to the open racism). But I liked the well-developed characters, the family, the surprise ending and the main character’s aunt.

Happy Reading!

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