Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: Orphan #8

Orphan #8 Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Great historical snapshot of orphanages and the medical experimentation occurring on the orphans at the time. Told in two timelines; when Rachel is 4 and enters the orphanage and experimentation begins, and then Rachel is forty something and working as a geriatric nurse when a new patient comes under her care - the very doctor that caused so much suffering for Rachel in the orphanage.

Both stories unfold and the reader quickly realizes the horrible conditions of said orphanages, although they may have been preferable to living in the street. Rachel is flooded with memories of her time in the orphanage and how she suffered, particularly subjected to radiation exposure over and over again. She is then faced with a dilemma of showing payback to this doctor or forgiveness and professionalism.

Great historical information, well written in the perspective of a child hungry for attention. The downside was the lack of character development and contrived situations like the way Rachel becomes an orphan. Can a father figure be more flat and predictably selfish? Just not believable. Then there is a surprise storyline that Rachel is a lesbian. Surprise sloppy groping with a stranger yet longing for her lover to return to her. Soooooo, was this a story that informed the reader about the medical experiments on children in orphanages or was the author contriving and inserting her political statement? The latter? I'm just not a fan. More than that, it just didn't fit with the story. It was a meandering that distracted from the core of the story.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lots of interesting information about jellyfish and an interesting parallel to Suzy's life and grief. It's an okay book about dealing with loss of a friend but I think it is probably too abstract for a pre-teen. I liked it. Didn't love it.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

The One Thing

The One ThingThe One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I made a movie out of this book (because that's totally in my skill set as a suburban mother and public educator), I'd do a montage of Maggie's easy, happy-go-lucky life, lots of soccer, trophies, friends, high school, all to the background music of "Loose Cannons." Quick intro of devoted parents, Gramps talking about his prostate, then a slower montage of the day she woke up sick, the exchange between her and her mom, maybe have Gramps find her passed out in the kitchen, tense hospital scenes, doctors talking in low voices, end song, begin movie as Maggie wakes up blind. Insert uncomfortable scenes of Maggie failing at being blind, and finally introduce Kevin, just a voice. Maybe probation officer, maybe creative liberties taken here and he's her new counselor at her school for the blind. She leaves his office, slips in the hall, hits her head, and opens her eyes to see Ben, age 10. Start script as written.

I loved Ben. I loved the developing friendship between Ben and Thera (What Ben called Maggie). I loved Mrs. Milton, and I eventually loved Mason.

Rather than give any hints to the story or possible twist (because the real story is adjusting to new normals, making adjustments and figuring out how we connect to others - told via an unconventional friendship between blind Maggie and optimistic Ben and Clarissa), I will only say that it was very enjoyable. And my paraphrased quote that might be exact. I'm too lazy to check. "Our circumstances do not change us. They reveal us."

Satisfied sigh.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: The Uninvited

The Uninvited The Uninvited by Cat Winters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kind of a dark, atmospheric tale of historical fiction. Ivy's brother has just been killed in WWI. Spanish Flu is sweeping through her town (and many, many others) taking lives nearly as quickly as the war. Ivy's reprieve is a German shopkeeper named Daniel and the Jazz playing nearby. The story itself gave another perspective of the time period. America was in a war and even Germans in America were driven from their homes and businesses. If not frightened away, beaten, shipped off to a camp or murdered. There was a level of Mcarthy-ism before McArthy. People were required to wear masks in public. Hospitals were woefully overcrowded and understaffed. All that was realistic enough. The story of Ivy and Daniel seemed more forced and illogical. I wish that May's character was better developed. A lot of the story just seemed a little disjointed to me. That said, I did like the twist at the end. I loved the creepiness of a certain movie a few years ago that contained the same twist only during WWII.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is so well written with details that could have very well been overlooked yet not overdone. Lydia is dead, the beginning of the unravelling of a family. The how's and the why's slowly unravel, too, and it is not as the reader expects. Yet it makes perfect sense. It also becomes clear that Lydia's death is a peripheral part of the story in some ways. It was a catalyst for the change in dynamics but could have happened at another point in time with big shift.

The time frame of the tragedy is 1977 (I think). Nath, the oldest child, is ready to graduate and leave for Harvard. Lydia is two years younger, and then Hannah, my personal favorite, is a very clear, unplanned caboose. James, the father, is a tenured professor of American History in a small, college town. He is Japanese American married to Marilyn, an intelligent blonde homemaker with unfulfilled dreams.

The story beautifully illustrates a truism my best friends and I have come to realize in theory, although not necessarily in practice; a) that no matter our intentions, our children interpret life and events, big and small, very differently than we expect and no matter how we might guess, we will be wrong (this extends to spouses and others), and b) even with our best intentions, we saddle our children with our own expectations and unrealized dreams, our own insecurities and our deepest fears. c) Three children can grow up in the same home with the same parents and have completely different childhoods. That one I knew. Yet the author carefully constructs each family member and interaction with intent and different perception.

Everything I Never Told You is the blank space between the lines, the assumptions, and the motivations never discussed.

It is a book club book. It would be an interesting book to discuss. There are parallels, symbolism, metaphors, etc. More than I caught but it is a beautifully, resonant book. Highly recommend.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to UsThe Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book is a dark horse. It's a snapshot of a small, sleepy town in West Virginia at the end of the Depression. What was happening in 1939 in West Virginia? People were jobless, there was a chasm between the classes, prohibition, and unions were in embryonic stage. That sounds rather boring and a lot like a high school history class, doesn't it? In the home of Willa Romeyn, age 12, there was a lot going on. The main story is about a family, their skeletons, lies, truths, loyalty and forgiveness, told in a beautiful and quirky manner infused with humor. The core of the story parallels Layla Beck, boarder at the Romeyn home and banished from her rich father's home to learn a lesson. She is commissioned to write the history of Macedonia, Virginia. Boring, indeed. Except. She discovers that history is an extension of the one telling it. Founding fathers were not always quite so upstanding. Accepted history is partial truths.

The only parallel that encompasses the definition of truth to me is my absolute refusal to do genealogy and family history work. Snore. Yet somehow the stories of my great-great grandfather snagged me. Sure, he was a Pony Express rider, spoke fluent Shonshone (which is why he wasn't killed), and worked as an interpreter. But I wondered upon the morbid. Why did he only have one arm and one leg? He arrived in the valley intact. I started searching and, by the power of the mighty Internet, found a very distant cousin willing to share the truth as she understood it. He lost his arm in a combine at the age of 14. At the age of 52, he was racing down a canyon and got pinned between a tree and the wagon. He had to have his leg amputated. That's the tame version. History defines us, particularly when it is an ancestor.

The extended truth is that the amputation developed gangrene and he became very ill and delirious. Chief Washakie stayed with him in the makeshift hospital which was a jail. A second amputation ensued but my g-g-grandfather continued in his delirium crying, "My foot is wet and my toes are curled!" After many days, a kind woman dug up the amputated limb. It was wet and his toes were curled. She straightened them, dried it, and gave it a proper internment. He immediately stopped complaining and his fever subsided. He healed soon after.

Which version of history do you prefer?

So did Miss Layla Beck.

The truth is an autobiography of the teller. So, yeah. I'm rather morbid.

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon

The Night SisterThe Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story is very well paced. I truly had no idea how it would end and how the mysteries would be explained. It begins with Amy, picking up a rifle and climbing the house stairs. In the next scene, Amy is discovered in her own gore, along with her husband and son. All signs point to Amy going crazy and killing her family. There are, however, a few clues to what really happened. The most glaring is that Amy is holding a photo of her mother and aunt as children with the words "29th Room" written on the back. Oh, yeah. There is also one survivor. Amy's 10 year old daughter.

The book covers a few generations. There is Charlotte who immigrated from England to the small U.S. town of London after treating her soon to be husband who then built a motel for them to make their living. It had 28 rooms. There are peripheral facts that never really go anywhere but the main point is that they have two daughters, Sylvie and Rose. Rose is Amy's mother. So then we cover Rose and Sylvie's childhood and the mysteries of their generation which includes a visit from Charlotte's mother from England who tells scary stories to the girls. This is not peripheral.

Then we travel to 1989 when Amy, Piper, and Margot find mysteries for their generation which include the previous mysteries as all things are beginning to come to a head. At last we reach 2013 where we where, without the help of Scooby Doo, we discover it is not Old Man Withers.

Yes, I jest.

The story is well paced and the ending is unexpected. I guess my real reason for only giving it 3 stars is that I just never really liked any of the characters enough to care enough what happened to them. It was a good story but when I was finished, I thought it was a decent escape from reality and a good beach book.