What have I been reading lately? Well, it's been a while since I have highlighted any book recommendations so I have quite a few to share this time. Everything from thrilling suspense novels to relevant current events.
It seems that during the holidays and earlier this year, several of my book choices featured central characters that were socially awkward and seriously flawed females. This first one, Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, was a uniquely original read from this first-time author.
Eleanor is a thirty-something woman that works in a graphic design department, but oddly, doesn't own her own computer. She is a loner and a creature of habit. Her weekends invariably involve heavy drinking by herself at home and whatever weird non-fiction book she has chosen. Early in the book, we learn that Eleanor has a disfiguring scar on half of her face and a toxically dysfunctional relationship with her mother, a mother she receives a belittling phone call from every week. Eleanor also has a fantasy relationship with a lounge singer that she has never actually met. Like I said, seriously flawed. The book would be intensely dark if it weren't for the pathos of Eleanor's quirky, and unintentionally funny personality. Because of her captivating nature, the reader is left rooting for Eleanor and wondering how she got her scar and if her mother is the reason for her eccentricity.
I have often noticed that people who routinely wear sportswear are the least likely sort to participate in athletic activity. ~ Eleanor Oliphant
Eleanor Oliphant is absolutely fine - #mustread
The Cactus is similarly narrated by an odd female protagonist. Her name is Susan Green and to describe her as "prickly" falls in line with the title of the book. Susan is a woman that likes her routine and everything in order. The book begins with a phone call from her brother telling her that their mother is dead. She takes this announcement very matter-of-factly. The news that she just lost her mother at about the same time she discovers that she is going to unexpectedly become a mom herself does not fit into Susan's well-planned world. What makes this book such a fun read is the evolution of Susan from a detached and predictable character that has a fierce fear of losing control to a woman that gradually learns to open up and take a risk. But is also the humorous way that the author leads us through this story that makes it so special and fresh.
Two of my favorite quotes from this book are:
But these days, fairy-tale endings come in all shapes and sizes. It's okay for the princess to end up with the prince, it's okay for her to end up with the footman, it's okay for her to end up on her own. It's also okay for her to end up with another princess, or with six cats, or to decide she wants to be a prince. None of these make her any more or less a feminist.
~ Sarah Haywood, The Cactus
"Dealing with members of the opposite sex isn't that dissimilar from training a dog; you need to be firm and persistent" ~ Susan Green from The Cactus
The Cactus - #entertainingread
There were also some suspenseful reads in my stack of books. The Secrets She Keeps kept me guessing until the very last pages.
Two women. Two totally different backgrounds. Agatha works stocking shelves in a local market and the other, Meghan, is a blogger with a privileged lifestyle. Agatha has observed Meghan and her two small children whenever they are in the grocery store but it isn't until she eventually helps Meghan at the store that they actually meet and share that they are both expecting babies about the same time. A "friendship" evolves but both women have their own dark secrets, secrets that are the driving force behind the plot of this book. This book took over my life for a few days and the result was unfinished emails, unanswered phone calls, and a mountain of laundry. They could wait. This book was that good.
The Secrets She Keeps - #entertainingread
It's Always The Husband is an interesting twist on the whodunnit.
It highlights the thin lines between love and hate and loyalty and betrayal.
This is the story of three young women with diverse backgrounds that are brought together as college roommates. One is at the school on a scholarship, one is exceptionally focused and driven, and one is the wealthy daughter of one of the college's trustees. During their freshman year, a tragedy occurs that will leave a mark on all of their lives but it isn't until twenty or more years later, when all three of the women are now married, that the ultimate end result of that event comes full circle and the result is fatal.
Somebody dies, and it changes the lives of those left behind forever ~ Michele Campbell
It's Always The Husband #entertainingread
Natchez Burning, written by Greg Iles.
This man shares a plot with poetic sentences. Here are just two examples:
" The evil prosper, and the innocent pay the bills for them" ~ Greg Iles
" The faith of children is an awesome thing to behold. If only we could all be worthy of it." ~ Greg Iles, Natchez Burning
This compelling novel is part of a trilogy. I didn't realize that when I started reading all 865 pages of it. It is an intriguing read of a lawyer in Natchez, Mississippi that is called upon to defend his father, a well-respected physician, who has been charged with murder. The plot of this story takes us from the 1960s with hideous tales of the KKK and its regional offshoots to the racism that continues today. It is an eye-opener that is eloquently told and so relevant today. I found the parts of the book from the earlier times more convincing and imperative than the more current parts of the book and that is why I rated this book the way I did.
Natchez Burning - #entertainingread
Black Out by Candace Owens
I don't read a lot of non-fiction but when I see this woman interviewed I am always impressed with her brilliant mind, her ability to form her thoughts so succinctly and logically, and her courage to speak out against a political party that has been detrimental to black progress and success. I had a good idea of what I was going to read in this book but to have it laid out so clearly makes this one a must-read for anyone. By the time I finished her book, there were more sentences highlighted than not. It is full of facts to support her narrative and to make those that disagree with her recognize some uncomfortable truths.
Here are a few of my favorite excerpts of wisdom from Candace Owens:
People tell me I am a fighter, so here is my call to arms: black America, break free, and do not look back. More and more are crossing into the Promised Land; join them. Once you discover the incredible power of realizing that you are answerable only to yourself and God and that no politician owns you, no politically correct agenda dictates to you, no ideology subjugated you, no history binds you, and yes, no one political party controls your vote--then you have found freedom.
It is true that blacks are twice as likely to fall below the poverty line as whites. But people fail to account for the fact that, across all races, single women (24.9 percent) and single men (12. 7 percent) are far more likely to live in poverty than married couples (4.7 percent) Marriage rates have dropped dramatically in recent years, and the crisis of the unwed mother has had a dramatic effect on blacks. It's worth noting that only 6.9 percent of black married couples lived in poverty in 2006, while the poverty rate for non-married black families was a staggering 35.3 percent.
On School Choice...
Today in California, arguably the most liberal state in the United States, 75 percent of black boys cannot pass the state literacy exam. With literacy being used once again as a means of social control
My rating for Black Out - #mustread
Evvie Drake Starts Over
Queue up the first chapter. Evvie is sitting in her car contemplating her next move. She has packed up and is ready to leave her physician husband. The thing is, he doesn't know it yet. The bigger thing is that before she can pull away her cell phone rings and she learns that her husband has been killed in an accident.
Evvie isn't your typical widow. Evvie should be sad. She is sad. The world thinks she is grieving and she is grieving but not the way you might think. This is a story of recovery, change, starting over, and relationships. It is a study of how those relationships change over time and how change isn't necessarily a bad thing. It also asks the universal question we all have; what are we supposed to be doing and what happens next?
The storyline easily pulled me through this book because I was intrigued by these characters and wanted to know where they were going with their lives. But it was also Linda Holmes' insightfulness into the human psyche that was key for me.
This was one of my favorite passages from this novel:
"And if you've been somebody's first call, it's hard not to be there first call anymore. She says it's one of the reasons why parents sometimes feel sad when their kids are getting married. It's not just the empty nest. They're not the first call anymore. I'm not Andy's first call anymore. It doesn't mean I want to be his girlfriend and it doesn't mean I don't like her. But it was different. It was sad." ~ Evvie Drake Starts Over
How To Talk To A Widower
I am a huge fan of Jonathan Tropper. Last year I read And This Is Where I Leave You. I loved, loved, loved, that book because of the author's irreverent and hysterically funny writing style.
This book was similar but didn't quite measure up for me. That said, I did still enjoy it and I will continue to work my way through all of his books. I just hope I didn't read the best one first.
How To Talk To A Widower is based on a man in his late twenties. His wife, a slightly older woman, was recently killed in a commercial plane crash and he is lost in his grief. But along with his overwhelming sadness, he is facing the added challenges of raising her troubled and also grieving teenage son. A book about a widower, what could be uplifting about that? The writer's wit and ability to see the sublime humor and the strength of the human heart to persevere even during the darkest corners and chapters of our lives, that's what. Did I tell you I am crazy about this author?
Jonathan Tropper on grief...
"In my defense, I was young and there was an open bar" ~ How To Talk To A Widower
"Pity, I've learned, is like a fart. You can tolerate your own, but simply can't stand anyone else's"
~How To Talk To A Widower
How To Talk To A Widower #entertainingread
It seems to me that I have been seeing Jojo Moyes' books on bestseller's lists and lining the shelves at Barnes and Noble forever, but until recently I never read any of her books. Then this title, Me Before You, showed up in a Bookbub's email and I figured that for less than three dollars, it was worth adding to my iTunes book library. It is part of a trilogy. They probably knew they would hook me with this one and I will soon be buying the other two.
Very simply, this is a love story first. A love story between two very different people with two very different backgrounds and approaches to life. It begins when a young woman is terminated from her job and takes a new temporary position as a caregiver to a man that will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. It seems like an unlikely pairing because it is but as the story unwinds the virtual wall this man has built around himself begins to have fissures and he reluctantly lets her zest for life and her determination to save him from himself seep in.
But there is more to this book than just the love story. There are some great food-for-thought and inspirational quotes to be found here as well...
"I will never, ever regret the things I've done. Because most days all you have are the places in your memory that you can go to" ~ Jojo Moyes, Me Before You
Me Before You #entertainingread
Other People's Houses
The 2020 version of Desperate Housewives but much funnier.
Think of it as four families, one carpool and one affair. Their lives are so intertwined that when an affair happens in one house, it affects the other three. They know so much about each other and yet so little. Curbside, all of their homes and lives look picture perfect but as the story unwinds the secrets unravel with the perfect mix of insight and humor.
I found this passage on carpool drop-off so relatable...
"Behind her in the line of cars, someone tapped their horn. OK, the brief honk said, we waited while you dealt with whatever mini crisis was caused by your piss-poor parenting, because we're nice like that, but now you can get a move on because we, like everyone else in this line, have Shit to Do. Amazing how much a second of blaring horn can communicate".
Alli Waxman, Other People's Houses
Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Jane Smiley is an award-winning author and even won a Pulitzer prize for one of her other books but for me, this story about a family struggle on an Iowa farm from the early 1900s to about 1950 had me constantly flipping ahead to see how many more pages until the end of the chapter and how many more chapters until the end of the book. None of the characters were charismatic enough for me to care about and it lacked any real suspense or even plot. It was just the story of everyday life where not much happened. That was not what I was looking for. Even though I grew up in Iowa and was familiar with some of the towns and places mentioned in the book, I still struggled to get to the merciful end.
Some Luck - #shelveit
This book has received all kinds of accolades and I was anxious to read it. I think I was expecting more of a suspense novel having read there is a suspected kidnapping in the first chapter but that was not what this book was about. Because of the issues of race and racism in the news so much in the past year, I was more aware of the theme of unintentional and often unrecognized racism in all of us. The story goes back and forth in each chapter between two women as they tell their viewpoint of the events that are unfolding. The first is Emira, a black twenty-five-year-old fledgling college graduate striving to find some career direction. While she is working as a typist, she takes a second job as a part-time nanny for Alex, a white, thirty-something internet influencer. In the first chapter of the book, Emira is called late in the evening to Alex's home because of a family emergency. Emira takes Alex's three-year-old daughter to a late-night market and is accused of kidnapping her. She is held by the shopkeeper until Alex's husband comes to set everybody straight. This was a blatant episode of racism but there are many more subtle examples, on both sides, throughout the book. This is one that will have you thinking and rethinking your own perceptions. What makes this book work is there aren't any absolutes. Neither character is all good or all bad and neither is right or wrong. They are both compelling and you realize that is how life often works.
Such A Fun Age - #entertainingread
I just discovered as I am writing this post that the book I am currently reading, The Bookish Life Of Nina Hill is written by the same author as Other People's Houses. It has a bit of a slow start but I'm pushing through thinking it will pick up soon. Has anyone else read it or any of these? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
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