Well, it’s the first day of school for me. I’m facing a semester full of reading (aka the not fun kind) yet again. (How do graduate schools expect you to do over 150 pages of non-fun reading per week!? Insanity!)
I have been devouring books over break, and it felt so good to read for pleasure! My first and second editions were fun, so I thought I’d review some of my reads again! If you want to read some of my all-time favorite books, check out my bookshelf. Enjoy!
Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Fr. Gregory Boyle
A health care friend of mine lent this to me, saying it helped her in her practice. I had started it the last time I reviewed books. To recap: it’s the stories of Fr. Gregory, Boyle of Homeboy Industries in Los Angelos, a gang rehabilitation organization. Boyle was sick of burying boys from gang violence and wanted to offer them a way out. The book is a compilation of vignettes about his boys.
It took me a while to get into this book. Instead of being organized by story, it is organized by theme. I found there were a lot of people to keep track of, and Boyle kept bouncing all around on his timeline. I think my brain was looking for a more orderly book, which is why it took me months to read. However, it was so good for my heart when I would pick it up.
Boyle has a whole chapter on kinship that shook me. He writes with such love and compassion. I kept looking for his secret to his seemingly endless compassion, and it’s quite simple. In his own words, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a covenant between equals.” Boyle respects the people he serves as equals, something I know I struggle with.
Recommendation: As I said before, took me a bit to get used to Boyle’s writing style, but I liked it. He offers his radical story as an opportunity to teach his readers compassion. And man, oh man, have I learned a thing or two about compassion!
The Accident (or Day) by Elie Weisel
Anyone remember how I talked about a book that I read in Europe that I literally threw in the trash because I disliked it so much and did not want anyone else to suffer and read it? Well, we were talking books at work the other day, and one of the guys I work with was bragging about all the books he’s read…in high school. Elie Weisel’s book Night came up, and then I remember his fiction book that I suffered through: The Accident also known as Day.
The book is about Eliezer, a journalist and Holocaust survivor who is hit by a taxi in New York City while out with his girlfriend Kathleen. He relives his life while in the hospital. Fine set-up for a plot, sure. However, I hated the main character. And the writing for that matter. The main character was eaten alive by his experience in the Holocaust, which I think was Weisel’s point, but I could not stand the book. I only read it because I had literally no other option for a book at that point in my travels.
Recommendation: Do not touch this book. Even with a 10-foot pole. Read Elie Weisel’s Night instead and pretend this one doesn’t exist.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
I don’t remember how I found it, but I remember reading and loving The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society years ago. The story revolves around writer Juliet Ashton who has become somewhat famous after her writings about World War II in London. She receives a fan letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey, a British island occupied by the Germans during the war. Juliet becomes enraptured with the stories of the islanders and how a book club brought them all together during and after the war. The story itself is told through a series of letters from the characters to one another, which is just as unique and special as the book itself.
With the recent Netflix adaption and the raves from the nurse I was training about the audio book which is read by multiple people, I knew I had to read it again. I listened to about half of it on the audio book on my way to a friend’s wedding and finished the rest on paper copy.
Recommendation: Great as an audio book. Great as a movie. Even better as a book. I remember why I loved this book so much the first time around. I would listen to/watch/read it again!
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty
On my way to said friend’s wedding, I also borrowed the audio book of Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty. I had read Moriarty’s Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret as I reviewed in my second edition. I thought surely another Moriarty book would be a good bet.
I got through the first CD and if I had to hear another sentence about the freaking barbecue that Moriarty referenced heavily I was going to lose it. I cheated and read the ending online without any surprises to what I suspected was going to happen. As suspected, it all had to do with that day at the barbecue that changed everything.
Recommendation: A beach read at best. Predictable and very heavy handed in referencing the climax of the book. Could not finish it. However, I will give continue to give Moriarty another try (as you’ll see later in this list as well). I really did like Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret.
The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively with Difficult People at Work by Jody Foster and Michelle Joy
The last book I borrowed on the way to my friend’s wedding was this. (Ok, ok. It was an excuse for a road trip to visit another friend, ok? Can you tell?) I was having a tough time with a handful of people for work. While browsing the audio book section at the library, this sounded promising. (And yes. I judged the book by its cover.)
Dr. Jody Foster uses her training as a psychiatrist to offer advice on how to deal with four difficult personalities at work. However, the majority of the advice is written for managers, not co-workers who have to deal with this people and cannot force them to change any behavior. I also got annoyed at the constant reference to the terms she had created such as Narcissus and the Flytrap.
Recommendation: I got through two personality types before I had concluded that I could not take any more of it. Didn’t bother reading the rest of it. I personally did not find it very helpful.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
A friend lent this one to me. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the story of Bee, a 15-year-old girl whose eccentric mother Bernadette goes missing while the family is planning a trip to Antarctica. The story is told through emails and letters, which reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The set-up of the novel is unique, making it light and fun to read. However, many of the events of the book just did not seem plausible. It’s not the whole Antarctica and eccentric mother thing. That worked, somehow. But Bee’s father Elgin ended up acting what seemed to be extraordinarily out of character, and it still bothers me.
Recommendation: It’s a fun read, but I preferred The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
I love a good scandal where the honesty of a few good men (and women) brings down a behemoth. It’s why I love Watergate and All the President’s Men. All it took to bring down immensely popular President Richard Nixon was two gung-ho journalists (Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) as well as information from a couple good, honest men (including the infamous Deep Throat who ended up being Mark Felt, a top man in the FBI at the time who Woodward met randomly in the White House once. Oh my goodness, I could go on, but I’ll stop.)
This was the Silicon Valley version of Watergate, and it involved Theranos, a now disgraced Silicon Valley start-up that claimed to be able to do a variety of blood tests from one drop of blood:
It’s an eye-catching ad.
Except when Theranos started testing blood, they staffed phlebotomists at Walgreens and Safeway, doing a normal venous draw instead of a finger prick. Except they were dropped from contracts with drug developers because of poor outcomes. Except they started using technology on people before it had ever been properly tested. Except that they delivered false positives to patients, putting their health at risk. Except that they purposefully falsified the accuracy of their technology, even borrowing technology from other manufacturers. Except they failed quality-control testing. Except that they threatened ex-employees and others with intense lawsuits, scaring most of them into silence. Except that the CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes did not know enough about blood testing to realize that one machine doing a thousand of different blood tests was not feasible or reasonable.
Oh man. I could go on. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. All I have to say it thank goodness Mr. Carreyou acted a a tip from a blogger to write his original 2015 investigative report and thank goodness for brave souls like Tyler Schultz who were willing to be whistleblowers.
Recommendation: This may just be my all-time favorite scandal after Watergate. That’s saying a lot. I also read this in a day. That’s also saying a lot. And I also now own a copy. That’s really saying a lot.
Also, rumor has it Theranos’s rise and fall is going to become a movie with Jennifer Lawrence at the helm as Holmes. I’ll be interested to see how she’s going to imitate Holmes’s baritone voice. (Seriously. Was not expecting it to be this low. Carreyrou referenced it multiple times, but I didn’t believe it until I heard it.)
Fear by Bob Woodward
We just covered how much I love Watergate and All the President’s Men. Woodward also co-wrote The Secret Man, which discusses Mark Felt and his role in Watergate. Loved it. Ate it up. When my friend’s husband talked about how he had just finished reading Fear which is al about the Trump White House, it was a no brainer. Yes, I’ll read it.
I love Woodward and deeply respect his desire for the truth. It’s just that the truth can be a little dry. However, I am learning a lot about modern politics I have known little about, such as why troops have been left in Afghanistan and why taking them out abruptly would be a terrible thing to do.
Recommendation: I’m slowly working my way through this, choosing other books because they have a library return date and/or because they’re more captivating. It’s a good book to read before bed, mostly because it helps put me to sleep. I’m sure I’ll finish it someday. But if you’re looking for a real political thriller, try All the President’s Men. (If it’s not obvious, I’ll state it again: I love this book and the Watergate scandal).
The Other Side of Chaos by Margaret Silf
My spiritual director recommended this book to me. Retreat director and Ignatian spirituality speaker discussed uncertainty from a religious lens. Simply, it was moving. Silf had a whole chapter on creation and what that looks and feels like, which is has still stuck with me. Chaos is not necessarily a bad thing, but the thing that can move us to become who God desires us to be.
Recommendation: Extremely helpful if you’re going through a transition. I’m going to buy it and reference it a lot this year!
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Books written in the first person plural are rare, but Brown makes it work. The book is the story of three sisters, all named after Shakespearean characters thanks to their father who is a literature professor at Barney, the local college in the fictional college town of Barnwell, Ohio. All three sisters are home once again after their mother finds out she has breast cancer.
Essentially, the book focuses on the relationship between the three sisters and how their relationships with one another (as well as the characteristics of their Shakespearean namesake) have affected who they are. The plot of the book resolves around how they “become who they are meant to be” or something meta like that.
Recommendation: Overall, I liked it. It’s not my favorite book ever, and I probably will never buy it, but I didn’t mind devoting the time it took to read it. It took some time to get used to Brown’s writing. It also took a bit to like her main characters. I did not mind putting it down, and I probably would have read something else if I had more books with my at my parents’ house when I was there for a week.
A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell
My co-workers started a book club, and I absolutely adore it. It is so refreshing to be able to talk about something other than work with your co-workers! Talking ideas and concepts over things and people is just lovely. This book was our first read.
A Simple Favor follows mommy blogger Stephanie and her new friendship with effortlessly cool Emily, which quickly goes dark. Our infantile book club bonded over this book because we all passionately disliked it. I do not know why it was chosen, but I think the upcoming movie has something to do with it.
Recommendation: For such an “intense, captivating, and astonishing thriller” (per the New York Journal of Books), it was boring and predictable. When you try to make everything shocking, nothing is all that shocking. From what we discussed at the book club, the movie is probably not even worth it.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The book that restored my faith in said workplace book club was The Nightingale. We debated which book to read, and it won out, thanks to the very confident and persuasive votes of two of our readers. After reading it, I see why.
The novel opens in 1939 in Carriveau, a small French town were Vianne Mauriac bids adieu to her husband who is drafted to war and is left alone with their daughter. Her sister, Isabelle Rossingnol, is kicked out of yet another boarding school and comes home to their father in Paris and to more of his icy behavior towards her.
What unfolds in World War II is just pure magic. I was hooked in the opening chapters. The novel is a frame story, where one of the sisters (we have no idea which one until the end!) is re-visiting this period in her life with her son, and that added to the suspense. The story itself would have been suspense enough.
Recommendation: Cannot recommend highly enough. Raw and real. Fantastic. Gripping. I can supply more adjectives if needed.
Home Front by Kristin Hannah
After reading Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, I was pleasantly surprised to find another novel by her in my little library called Home Front. Set in a small town outside of Seattle, the novel follows Michael and Jolene Zarkades who are married with two girls, an almost teenager who is acting like it and a spunky preschooler. Jolene is in the National Guard and is called up to serve in Iraq, right after her husband tells her he doesn’t love her anymore.
I cried more reading this novel than The Nightingale, somehow. The descriptions of the sacrifices of soldiers and all they do just got me. The tumultuous relationship between Jolene and her older daughter just hit me hard too.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
The additional try I gave Moriarty was What Alice Forgot, which I read over Christmas break. This story follows Alice Love, a 39-year old woman with 3 kids with an estranged sister going through a divorce. However, the novel starts as Alice falls off a bike at a spin class, hitting her head, and knocking off the last 10 years of her memory. She wakes up thinking she is 29, happily married, and newly pregnant.
The set-up was a liiiiiiiittle farfetched. I mean, really, you admit this woman for observation and never repeat a CT scan? (Nurse in me. Sorry!) However, it was really quite thought-provoking. How much have I learned in the last 10 years? What would I think of me and my frustrations with certain people know? Is the petty little frustrating things I’m remembering about people and our relationships even worth it?
Recommendation: Kept me interested. Brought me to tears. Adding to the category of Moriarty books I like along with Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret. I’d put What Alice Forgot ahead of The Husband’s Secret on my list of what I liked the most of Moriarty’s.
Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent by Fr. Richard Rohr
I had heard of Fr. Richard Rohr from a woman named Eric Tighe (now Campbell) whose business Be A Heart design I follow on Instagram. She quotes him a lot. Most of them are insightful quotes too. When I saw this used book in October, I decided to try him out for Advent.
To be blunt, he was not my favorite. There were a handful for reflections and questions I found useful, but overall, I felt he focused too much on adult Jesus. Adult Jesus is great, but I love Advent in discussing the humility of Jesus. Children have a lot to teach us, even in their infantile state. I think Rohr was also too much discussing overall culture and systems instead of changing my individual heart.
Recommendation: Not my cup of tea, but it might be yours. It’s still available in my little library the last time I checked if you want it!
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Hannah is an elderly woman who recounts her life story in a meandering fashion in this novel. She goes from a young woman who lost her mother to a mother herself and then grandmother. She has seen all kinds of changes in the world from WWII to the technology boom.
Berry has created an entire fictional community in Port William, Kentucky. His first novel focused on Hannah’s husband, Nathan Coulter. There were so many characters that it felt like a real town. Often in fiction, there are just a handful, but Berry is impressive in that he has built a whole small town with marriage lines and everything.
I ended up doing a lot of skimming because of Berry’s meandering writing style. In another time and place, I might have loved this book. But it just didn’t do it for me. Too, I think Kristin Hannah’s deeply moving relationships in The Nightingale and Home Front made Berry’s seem superficial and glossed over in comparison. I would have much preferred to learn about Hannah and Nathan’s love than property lines and family histories.
Recommendation: Some people love this. However, I would have preferred an actual autobiography instead of a fictional one.
Also, I could tell this was written by a man because his description of Hannah falling in love was extremely practical and not emotional at all, from what I could tell. As a very practical woman, I can attest to still having emotions when falling for someone. Maybe if I had not just come off of What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty which was so good at describing the emotions between Alice and her estranged husband I would not have noticed it. However, it was glaring and bothered me greatly.
I wish I had known the subtitle before borrowing this book from a friend.
Let me paint you a picture: I remember picking up a book at a hip bookstore in Brooklyn, New York (POWERHOUSE Arena – I looked it up. Really cool place!) in 2013 by Reza Aslan called Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. It was a new release. It looked interesting.From what the back said, it said Aslan was a Biblical scholar. I thought I’d like it. Nope. Have not decided what to do with this book yet, but I have not finished it, took notes in the margins, and have hated it with a passion. Basically, I think his methodology of Biblical scholar-ing is incorrect, and I disagree vehemently with his understanding and position on certain things about Jesus.
This book was that book, except I finished it.
I will not lie to you: I read this book to impress said friend because I had a crush on him. Backfired because he doesn’t feel the same way and he has an awful taste in books. I made it extremely well known how much I disdain this book. I had so many issues with this book that I returned it with my commentary and corresponding page numbers. I will try to keep my review brief, because if you let me, I could go on for DAYS.
Basically, Pagels is a Biblical scholar, but again, I think her methodology of Biblical scholar-ing is incorrect, and I disagree vehemently with her understanding of Jesus’s teaching and the early Church. Pagel (like Aslan) gives equal value to the Gospels and rejected Biblical sources. It’s like taking my parent’s description of me and a patient’s description of me while at triage with the same value. There’s a reason Church fathers accepted and rejected certain books of the Bible. To judge everything at the same value is poor methodology.
Too, my biggest complaint about Pagels is when she introduced the Gospel of St. Thomas, which opens, “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymus Judas Thomas wrote them down,” she takes this to wonder if Jesus had a twin. Um, even Wikipedia recognizes that Thomas was called Didymus and is a reference to Thomas.
Recommendation: I could not take Pagels seriously. However, the one – ONE – redeeming thing about this book is the 2 pages she dedicates to what I thought the book was going to be about: the evolution of the concept of evil and Satan in the Bible. She described Satan as an “intimate enemy,” which I thought was a point worth pondering. However, the book is over 200 pages, so it’s not worth the 1/100 of worthwhile reading.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Ok, ok. I decided on a whim prior to visiting a friend in Phoenix to read this book because the movie looked great from the trailer and it wasn’t free to stream yet.
But, oh man, I am obsessed. (And the book is better than the movie. For the record.)
I don’t know quite what it is, but I think it’s the crazy family history and blood lines and Kwan’s subtle use of hilarious footnotes.* It was refreshing to read a book about a crazy family dynamic instead of a couple dynamic. I loved reading about in-the-dark Rachel Chu navigating the world of boyfriend Nick Young’s family, who are rich and quite crazy. I also really enjoyed the character of his cousin Astrid and her relationship with her insecure husband. Not much of that shines through in the movie, but I think it will in the sequel.
The book lasted me through my entire 3.5 hour flight to Phoenix, and I even was a bit of a hermit when I landed to finish it, even though I had not seen my friend in 2 years. (Sorry, Sam!)
Recommendation: I loved it. It was like Gossip Girl met Pride and Prejudice in Singapore. I had to actively stop myself from reading the sequel before flying back (though I could not stop myself from buying the sequel for the plane ride back!)
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
The sequel to Crazy Rich Asians follows Rachel Chu and Nick Young now in China. I cannot reveal the plot of the sequel without revealing much of the plot of the original, but I devoured it on my return flight.
Recommendation: I liked it. Kwan introduced a lot more characters, but he kept and developed enough of my favorites from the first that I was happy. His style remained hilarious. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the third!
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
The finale to Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, the novel follows Nick Young as he returns home due to his Ah Ma (grandmother) Su Yi becoming ill. The rest of the family along comes, each wondering what their share of her inheritance will be. I got my hands on this book from the library approximately 4 days after reading the 2nd in the trilogy. I only stopped reading to go to work, order my textbooks for the semester (over $400 worth too!), and go out to dinner with some friends.
Recommendation: I liked it. Kwan introduced only a handful of new characters, which was good. But he also did not spend enough time on characters I liked. Rachel showed up in maybe 50 pages in this book (which I get, because it’s more about Nick and his family, but still.) I wish in the three books that he did not spend so much time on Kitty Pong, who was barely noted in the first but became more central as time went on. He also did not address some tensions within the Young-Shang clan that would have been good to know. However, he did wrap up everything quite nicely.
Now that I’m done with all three, I don’t know if I would buy Crazy Rich Asians and Rich People Problems to finish out my collection. I liked them a lot and devoured them, but now that I know where the story goes, I don’t know what would draw me back. Definitely worth the time and investment I’ve made though!
Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by Dr. Robert Enright
I had read a brief description of Enright’s work years ago, which I blogged about recently. This book is a much more in-depth look at the forgiveness process. It even offers recommendations about teaching forgiveness to children and seeking forgiveness.
Recommendation: Extremely helpful. Will likely buy my own copy soon.
Happy at Last: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Finding Joy by Richard O’Connor
I think I found out about this book from an interview with Eleanor Brown who used this book as research for The Weird Sisters. Psychotherapist Richard O’Connor offers practical advice and a step-by-step guide about finding and maintaining happiness. I would argue that he talks about joy and satisfaction more than happiness, but that’s just a difference of terms.
Recommendation: There was really not much in it that I haven’t read in other places. I ended up skimming a lot of it, but he did have a good number of exercises, if that’s your thing.
Whew! That’s it! Any recommendations for me when this horrifically busy semester ends? 🙂