Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel

The Life IntendedThe Life Intended by Kristin Harmel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved a previous book by this author but I held little expectation for this one. I think the book description doesn't do the novel justice. The premise is that the protagonist loses her her brand new husband in a car crash. 12 years later she is moving on but not moving forward. Suddenly, she begins to have vivid dreams of how life would have looked had he lived - they are older and have a 14 year old daughter named Hannah. She awakes and looks around for this life that she believes she was intended to live. But Patrick is still gone yet it seems she needs to take steps to understand aspects of her dreams. This leads her to an ASL class and thus is where it gets interesting.

It is a little predictable but the journey is beautiful. The author knows where she is going from beginning to end and the ending left me with hope and a strengthened belief of the Divine and a bigger picture than we can see. I really enjoyed this book.

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

The Same SkyThe Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still thinking about this one. I will say it would be a great discussion book for a book club. There are many parallels that run throughout the stories; the importance of motherhood for the child in Honduras who wants to be with her mother wherever she is, the 41 year old infertile woman yearning for a child, the 15 year histrionic high school girl who manipulates but desperately needs her mother. It would be interesting to discuss the two POV; Alice and Carla. Why Carla chose to trust Ernesto, a tattooed stranger or Alice chose to trust Evian. It would be interesting to also discuss the role of God in each life, deity, fate, luck, fath and fear. I highlighted a number of passages that moved me regarding Carla's faith. With so little, her hope and faith sustains through such sorrow.

Many parallels, many discussion points. Very well written,

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

Inside the O'BriensInside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know. Three stars. Before I get into the meat of the book, let me explain because Lisa Genova is one of my very favorite authors. I've always enjoyed her eloquent, intelligent writing. The woman is brilliant and gifted in both the medical field and creative writing. So my real issue with the book was the language. I was distracted by the sheer number of F bombs. It cheapened the eloquent writing style I've come to expect. I buy into the idea that the use of profanity demonstrates a lack of vocabulary. Lisa Genova does not lack vocabulary. But the book is not written from her own POV. The protagonists are blue collar Bostonians - Irish American. So I get it. I get that the characters were rough around the edges. Joe is a veteran cop. That's how he talks and that's how he thinks. I'm just saying that it was distracting, particularly from an author I've loved. That said, had I known ahead of time, I still would have read the book.

The story is a raw, real look at Huntington's Disease, a genetic anomaly in the DNA that is not a respecter of persons. The book begins with Joe, a Boston cop, in his mid thirties, he demonstrate an inkling of the disease. The reader moves from Joe as he progresses in the disease, becoming more clumsy, exhibiting chorea, getting stuck in thinking errors to Katie, his daughter as she becomes paralyzed with fear of the disease. Who has it? There are 4 grown children in various stages of life. Each child has a 50% shot at carrying the gene. If you carry the gene, you develop the disease eventually. Do you get the genetic testing and find out?

Everything about Genova's story is grittingly raw and real. I have a friend who was dating a man when the genetic sequence was identified and subsequently offered to relatives of identified sufferers of Huntington Disease. I didn't know at the time why he put their relationship into a screeching halt for weeks. I didn't know the drama that was playing out in their families until later. His mother was at the point that she could no longer care for her husband and put him into assisted care. His sister, a woman I met a year earlier, was a mother of five children ranging from 11 to 2 years old. She was showing signs of the disease. She chose to be tested. She was HD positive. At the time, the children could also be tested. Yet if they tested positive, would the diagnosis preclude them from quality health insurance? Pre-existing conditions were always the loophole insurance companies used at the time. The mother of the young children deteriorated quickly and her care was pushing the young father to the brink of bankruptcy.

So basically, I read the book but I caught a preview 20 years in advance. I can't tell you what happened to the real people I described in the previous paragraph because, minus the F bombs and the geography, this book tells their story. Those who carry the gene develop the disease and it is horrible. Those who don't carry the gene never get it and don't pass it on to the next generation but they care for their loved ones and suffer with them.

So it all sounds pretty hopeless and a real downer yet I must remind you that this is an author who somehow instills hope and love of life into her characters. The book is an excellent educational vehicle for Huntington's Disease but it also provides they greatest gift an author can give. Hope.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

The GracekeepersThe Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The writing of this book is sublime. Use of words that sound like what they mean. The descriptions of the circus are similar to The Night Circus. The story is well paced and the characters are perfectly developed. The story is intriguing and borders on too strange and weird. Yet it doesn't quite cross the line into bad weird. I kept reading for the prose. I kept reading because I wondered how it would end. I'm still uncertain if I liked the book or not.

Under the Same Blue Sky by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Under the Same Blue SkyUnder the Same Blue Sky by Pamela Schoenewaldt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second book I've read by this author and I am, once again, impressed with her writing style and vast knowledge of immigrants' struggles and challenges.

This book focuses on the German immigrants during the Great War and how they are torn between both of their countries. The German ties run deep while their American loyalty is strong. Their German country is their mother while America is their bride. Hazel is our protagonist and the story is told through her eyes. Although well written, I felt some of the story lines weren't carried to the end. I didn't understand the purpose of the blue paint, why John, and how or why she could heal. Then not. That whole sequence seemed extraneous. I would have preferred to explore Tom and his experience.

The writing style is strong but the story not as tight.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave

Eight Hundred Grapes: A NovelEight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It would be easy to choose a character, give her a conflict, provide a setting, and fill in the holes with peripheral characters while telling a story. If this were true of this book, I would have been bored senseless. Particularly if the book was truly about making wine. I'll be totally honest here. I know next to nothing about wine. Give me a glass of wine and I will spray it on the first sip. Why do people purposely drink mold? Yeah, seriously a non drinker here. So you can see where I might not appreciate a story about a vineyard that makes wine.

It's not about the wine.

Dan is a scientist turned vineyard owner who knows the proper formula for a good wine, including the number of grapes to make a bottle. Jen is a symphony cellist. They fall in love and begin in 1979 with the winery, house, kids, life. Georgia is the third child with older twin brothers. Every year they turn up for the harvest where they count on traditions and the stability of the family and the business relying heavily on synchronization of events to operate in union. Synchronization is not fate but agency. Yet for a good harvest, all things must be in synchronization; the soil, weather, their health, help, and relationships.

Georgia is in a crisis as her choice of most important relationship implodes. She craves the predictable harvest and relationships. Unfortunately, every relationship is being redefined when she needs the stability. While the story is unfolding, there are snippets of what a good harvest requires. It is a delicate balance of give and take, replenishing the soil with nutrients, caring for the fruit, giving it time and space to ferment. It's not really about the wine but an analogy, so very beautiful, about caring for relationships.

Here are a few gems: "Thing is, either way we cut it, we shouldn't test the people we love... Regardless of what they did or didn't do, we're the ones who feel like we failed."

"If what I thought was connecting us - honesty, friendship, a deep understanding, - was gone suddenly, then what was between us?"

"Wasn't the ultimate fidelity who you told your stories to?"

"[ someone] is tired of doing too much work in her marriage at the exact moment someone returns to her life promising to do all the work instead."

"People screw up, you know. You shouldn't hold it against them. You shouldn't expect everyone to know everything you're thinking about and not getting from them. It doesn't mean they don't love you. They screw up."

"He confused how she saw him with how she needs him to see her."

"You don't give up on family. Not without trying to put it back together."

The Predictions by Bianca Zander

The PredictionsThe Predictions by Bianca Zander
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The book definitely told a new story, disturbing as it was. In some ways, I found it intriguing to be on the inside of a commune that held the ideals of what a commune was supposed to be. In other ways, it was far too weird. Not weird like Charles Manson or child sex abuse. Weird as in completely unconventional and untethered love. I didn't hate it but I found the commune far too tolerant of the character, Shatki. Messing with all of the members with no consequence or limitations. Weird.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Made You UpMade You Up by Francesca Zappia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is it just another angsty high school drama? In some ways it is. The angsty high school drama is more peripheral and dragged down the story but it was necessary for Alex to get to where she needed to go by the end of the book. Alex is a new kind of protagonist. Neuroses has finally gotten attention and some acceptance in modern society as we have acknowledged eating disorders, OCD, and other anxiety disorders that meet the DSM criteria. Alex is in the psychotic column. She has schizophrenia.

As frightening as the diagnosis is, the author easily writes Alex into a regular teenage life. The book begins at the age of diagnosis and an incident in a grocery store with lobsters and a new friend. Two colors stand out in this chapter and throughout. The friend had dark blue eyes. Alex has red (not orange or auburn) hair. This is significant because ten years pass and Alex is starting a new high school for her senior year. She's been in treatment for her schizophrenia and paranoia, she has coping skills and mechanisms and has high hopes for this new experience. On the first day of school, she meets the very frightening boy that happens to have the same dark blue eyes of her hallucination from childhood. Was he a hallucination or was he real?

So Alex has a somewhat debilitating mental illness that has been managed via meds and therapy. She wants friends. She wants a normal life. She wants to keep her mental illness a secret. I enjoyed the interactions she had with Miles - the love/hate relationship, the quick comebacks, discovering his secrets, and the normalcy they have. As the story progresses, there are some interesting patterns that emerge. There are shades of "A Beautiful Mind" and, don't freak out but, "Sixth Sense" that were very well played. What is real and what is a hallucination? In a high school setting, you can see how this question would be problematic. It's weird, anyway.

The book builds up and I quite enjoyed the revelations of what was real and what was not. To a point. Weird as high school is, it went a little over the top and that part wasn't a hallucination. The ending was a good wrapping up of loose ends and satisfying.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Wilf the Mighty Worrier Saves the World by Georgia Pritchett

From the writer behind the award-winning HBO show “Veep,” a 
 new children’s chapter book about an unlikely hero.

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Wilf the Mighty Worrier
Saves the World

by Georgia Pritchett

November 3rd, 2015

Wilf, who worries about everything, must face his fears to save the world!

Wilf is a little boy who worries quite a lot, about quite a lot of things. About almost everything, if we're being completely honest. He's frightened of stuffed animals. Peanut butter makes him nervous. And as for the awful crawly insects that have waggly feeler-thingies instead of eyes? Well, that is just something that doesn't bear thinking about. 

When the Most Evil Man in the World moves in right next door, Wilf is understandably quite alarmed. Panicked, in fact--totally and utterly freaked out. The neighbor, Alan, is a self-styled Evil Lunatic, with a grumpy robot sidekick and a dog named Kevin Phillips to prove it. Seriously, what kind of maniac gives his dog a surname? And why do the three of them always look like they're up to no good?

The only ally Wilf has in his desperate struggle to put a stop to Alan's ridiculous--but also quite upsetting, really, when you come to think of it--plans to destroy the world is his little sister, Dot, and her trusty "blanky," of course.

Could this be the end of the mighty worrier Wilf--or is it the beginning of a legend?

"A total delight of, what I call, a book!"
—Miranda Hart

"A lively, funny story."
—Jacqueline Wilson, Author of Candyfloss

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: GEORGIA PRITCHETT is a comedy writer who has written for a number of TV comedies and comedians including The Thick Of It, Veep, Miranda, Have I Got News For You, Smack the Pony, Graham Norton, Jo Brand, Paul Merton, Lenny Henry, Ronnie Corbett, Wallace and Gromit and several other real, fictional and occasionally plasticine people. Wilf the Mighty Worrier is Georgia's first work for children. She lives in London with her husband and two children.