Starts With a Suicide . . . Ends With a ?? This story follows all the rules of good storytelling and I was riveted from the first page. Told from the p...moreStarts With a Suicide . . . Ends With a ?? This story follows all the rules of good storytelling and I was riveted from the first page. Told from the perspective of a 24 year-old woman, she copes with the aftermath of her twin sister's very public and quite spectacular suicide. Margaret (Maggie) and Michelle (Shell) were identical, mirror-image twins who shared a life and a language, and even though they had been apart physically as young adults (one in NY and one in LA), in spirit they were inseparable.
The surviving twin, Maggie, is a Juilliard-trained violinist. She uses lyrical reference to disclose her feelings about her sister, an accomplished artist, and the suicide. The author writes in present tense to follow Maggie from LA, where her sister lived, to Moon, Alaska, where she intends to spread her sister's ashes. Connected so closely with her sister, Maggie appears to believe that her own suicide is now in order and she plans it. The author switches to past tense throughout Maggie's journey to tell a series of anecdotal stories about the twins' life together growing up. We come to know the twins intimately and they are fascinating. With each page I fell more in love with them and wondered and worried, would Maggie follow suit and commit her own suicide? I turned pages at rapid rate to find out.
Unfortunately, the version I read had an inordinate number of typos; however, I must say, the writing was so good and the story so powerful that I wasn't distracted by them. I mention it only because material this good demands a decent copy editor prior to its next printing.
Very well done and I highly recommend this book to readers looking for strong storytelling and character development. (less)
Transporting This is a beautifully written story about love and loyalty, friendship and family. Set during World War II amid the Japanese occupation of...moreTransporting This is a beautifully written story about love and loyalty, friendship and family. Set during World War II amid the Japanese occupation of Malaya, there is a rich blend of cultures and conflicts, personal and global. The narrator, Philip, is a child of dual heritage (British and Chinese) who recounts his struggle to find his place in a chaotic world. From a vantage point some 50 years after the War, he explains his past actions leading to his decisions to work with the Japanese to a friend of his former sensei, Endo-san. Philip exhibits such detailed and vivid descriptions—sights, sounds, smells, feelings—that the reader forgets he is relating from memory.
Ultimately Philip learns to “accept that there are things in this world we can never explain and life will be understandable. That is the irony of life. It is also the beauty of it.” He also learns to understand why, at an early age, a fortune-teller said he was born with the “gift of rain.” The rains (monsoons) figure prominently throughout the landscape of the story.
The Human Condition: One Woman’s Story This story covers a relatively short period of time in a woman’s life. Best Kept Secret reveals the secret of a...moreThe Human Condition: One Woman’s Story This story covers a relatively short period of time in a woman’s life. Best Kept Secret reveals the secret of alcoholism and illustrates the sneaky spiral, the dire consequences and hopeful path to recovery. It is well written and brave; however, I felt it lacked a certain edge that for me made it stand out as unique and groundbreaking.
But that may be the point. The main character, Cadence, is every woman. She’s bright, beautiful, educated, witty, likeable and sympathetic. She marries a man who seems to be her equal at first, but is ultimately portrayed as a selfish and harshly judgmental mama’s boy. The birth of their son, naturally, changes the dynamic of their relationship. And as Cadence’s fear of not-being-good-enough (what new mother doesn’t feel this?) ultimately leads to gaining comfort from ever increasing glasses of red wine, her world falls apart.
I found Cadence to be the only really likable character. The others--husband, mother-in-law, sister, son, counselor, partners in recovery--are either self-serving jerks or too underdeveloped to matter. The story focuses everything on Cadence and keeps one reading only to find out whether or not she triumphs in the end.
I recommend this book to young mothers struggling with mommy-n-me groups who drink wine rather than coffee or tea while their children play, or anyone who drinks in secret and thinks she doesn’t really have a problem. Reading about the fate of Cadence may help the reader come to terms with alcohol addiction and hopefully choose the path to recovery.
If, however, you’re looking for a more brutally honest depiction of the alcoholic spiral that truly helps one to understand the nature and experience of this disease, I recommend Drinking, A Love Story by Carolyn Knapp. (less)
Moms: Blow Off Some of That Menopausal Steam and Read This Book
This book did what very few books have done during my active reading career. It made me...moreMoms: Blow Off Some of That Menopausal Steam and Read This Book
This book did what very few books have done during my active reading career. It made me put down a juicy, well-written character-driven novel, and not pick it up again until I finished laughing (i.e. reading) my way through this hilarious confessional on modern motherhood.
This is a book that every (honest) mother will relate to and laugh at; however, it's a book I wish every "aspiring" mother would read. We mothers often complain to one another that no one really prepared us for the job in store, particularly as those sweet babies grow up. But I dare say, this book lays it right out there.
For example, from Chapter 16: " There are a million things I wish I'd done before I had children. I wish I'd slept in until noon on the weekends, lazily eating breakfast in bed and relishing the fact that I had nowhere to be all day. I wish I'd taken adult classes that really interested me, not just the ones I had to take in order to graduate years before. I wish I'd seen more midday movies, had more spontaneous sex, and read more books, back when I actually had the spare time to do all of that stuff. And I wish I'd appreciated the little things, like the ability to grocery shop or shower when I felt like it."
Smokler begins each chapter with quotes gathered from mothers across a vast mom community. She helps us understand--and this is what we really need to know while living in our vacuums--that we are NOT alone.
Well done. A great gift for any mom with a developed sense of humor.
A Skinny Line Between Fiction and Reality Reading this book felt like being immersed in a Bethenny Frankel marathon of her reality television world, in...moreA Skinny Line Between Fiction and Reality Reading this book felt like being immersed in a Bethenny Frankel marathon of her reality television world, including the Martha Stewart Apprentice, The Real Housewives of New York and Bravo's spinoffs, Bethenny Getting Married? and Bethenny Everafter. If you find the quick wit and at times foul mouth of this self-made star entertaining, you--like me--won't be able to put down this book.
Bethenny as a writer, along with her writing partner Eve Adamson, use her personal experiences during her rise to fame to create an alter ego named Faith Brightstone. The story about a young New Yorker moving to L.A. to try to make it as an actress, only to return to New York to find fame in reality television is a thinly veiled fun romp into her past. She has license to pick and choose facts and fiction and mix them into a cocktail named the "pink lemonade mojito" rather than the Skinnygirl margarita. It's a refreshing summer beach read, and the juicy stuff is not left out.
She serves up a tasty platter of what can only be called just desserts by creating highly unlikeable characters based on Martha Stewart and Jill Zarin, and she even adds a zesty little barb aimed at Kelly Bensimon (with a "I'm up here, you're down there" type comment). Her creativity in rewriting the past, including making up new challenges for the television contest named "Domestic Goddess," and her knack for witty/truly funny dialog prove once again why this woman is a star.
I had to deduct a review star, however, due to a critical fiction-writing error at the beginning of Part II, when she lapses into a classic tell rather than show technique, and what I felt was an anti-climactic and cliché conclusion of having the whole thing culminate in the life-lesson of "there are no certainties in life."
But that conclusion was NOT what I took away from this reading experience. Reading this book for me was just plain FUN--as fun as it's been watching Bethenny on TV.
Good for you Skinnygirl, and thanks for the laughs.(less)
I had high hopes for this book and found it to be disappointing. At first I found myself re-reading passages in order to keep the multitude of charact...moreI had high hopes for this book and found it to be disappointing. At first I found myself re-reading passages in order to keep the multitude of characters straight; however, that may have been more MY problem than the problem of the author. It's well written, yet if you're looking for high drama, this isn't the plot. Overall I found it to be character-driven by less than compelling characters and average drama.(less)
Beautiful prose and sharp, witty dialogue. This book was a real love letter to the city of Charleston, South Carolina. The story, told by a boy/man na...moreBeautiful prose and sharp, witty dialogue. This book was a real love letter to the city of Charleston, South Carolina. The story, told by a boy/man named Leo, aka "Toad" (who may be a Conroy alter ego), follows the lives of a colorful group of friends and their misfit, sorted, and dangerous adventures through life. This book is PACKED with action: sex, (including incest and rape), violence, religion, murder . . . it, in fact, covers nearly every modern topic known as the human condition. Frankly, it's a bit much and it's why I rate it four stars instead of five.
The dialogue is brilliant and, at times, laugh out loud funny. I found there to be so much banter, however, it bordered on unrealistic. Nevertheless, I did enjoy this book and recommend it as being very well written--by a master.(less)
Powerful Story This book/story disturbed me far more than it entertained me, but considering the subject matter, I'm sure my opinion is not unique. Nar...morePowerful Story This book/story disturbed me far more than it entertained me, but considering the subject matter, I'm sure my opinion is not unique. Narration by a five-year-old is a tough perspective from which to write, I'm sure, but kudos to Emma Donoghue for pulling it off. This child's precocious nature and vocabulary is ultimately explained, perhaps even justified, but I still didn't find the whole story believable, and I'm not sure why I read it other than it was a book club suggestion.
Months after reading this book, I will say the story has stayed with me. Each time I read or hear about an abduction case in the news, I can't help but envision this tiny room, so clearly defined in the story, and contemplate what this type of captivity does to the victims.
My teenage daughter insisted I read this and, I admit, it had me engrossed from start to finish. This is the first person account of a young girl in a...moreMy teenage daughter insisted I read this and, I admit, it had me engrossed from start to finish. This is the first person account of a young girl in a post-Apocalyptic world who volunteers as "tribute" from her district to participate in what is essentially a reality TV show, The Hunger Games. Twenty-four kids, ranging in age from 12-18, representing 12 districts in what was once North America, are primped and prepared to fight to the death in a wilderness arena. They must find their own food and water, shelter, weaponry and companionship. Only one will survive and return home a hero.
Reading The Hunger Games was like watching a gorier version of the television show Survivor. It included both loathsome and likeable players, alliances, back-stabbing, solid friendships and even a love story.
Katniss and Peeta are the girl and boy from District 12, who their mentors and stylists present to the viewing audience as star-crossed lovers. Peeta is actually in love with Katniss; however, she is a hard-nosed, focused hunter and only believes she's playing a role through the Games. For example, she has been instructed that every kiss she gives Peeta may result in a reward, or some kind of treat or necessity from her mentor/sponsors. That the reader is aware of Peeta's true feelings and Katniss is not, is part of what makes it a simplistic and even silly love story. But I think that's testimony to the genius of the author. It magnifies how reality TV can be both inane and riveting at the same time.
I believe it was the good writing and the author's technique/story-telling ability that made me turn the pages non-stop until I finished. As for the subject matter? File this one under "guilty pleasure."(less)
She Went West To Live With The Indians This is the remarkable, well-structured tale of May Dodd, a debutant from Chicago, who according to family legen...moreShe Went West To Live With The Indians This is the remarkable, well-structured tale of May Dodd, a debutant from Chicago, who according to family legend, lived and died in a lunatic asylum in Lake Forest, Illinois. Because May believed she was unjustly committed (for coupling with a man beneath her social status and being sexually promiscuous), she jumps at the chance to be a part of a cultural/social experiment offered by the U.S. Government in a controversial, secret pact between President Ulysses S. Grant and Chief Little Wolf of the Cheyenne Nation.
The deal was to trade 1000 white women for 1000 horses. The women were to marry and bear children and thereby assist the Cheyenne people assimilate into the inevitable changing culture due to the expansion and westward movement of the white people.
Presented in journal format, May narrates an extremely well written and believable accounts of every detail of her predicament and adventure. She tells of many colorful characters--not only the Cheyenne people, but also the women who accompany her--and it's easy to get lost in the story.
I live adjacent to an Indian Reservation (Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, an Ojibwa Native American tribe) and often contemplate the history of whites and Indians living side-by-side. Although it was fiction, I therefore found this emotional story especially riveting. (less)
Do I Look Fat? Robin Meloy Goldsby is a wonderful storyteller. In her new collection, Waltz of the Asparagus People (you’ll have to read it for yoursel...moreDo I Look Fat? Robin Meloy Goldsby is a wonderful storyteller. In her new collection, Waltz of the Asparagus People (you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out the reason for this unusual title), she draws in the reader at once by telling of her experience meeting former President Clinton while at the studios of NPR. The encounter was so charming and told in such a funny way, that I have no doubt Bill Clinton could recount every word as well.
Goldsby, a professional pianist, is as talented a writer as she is a musician. I am an unabashed fan, and am the lucky owner of all three of her books as well as her CDs. Her first book, a memoir called Piano Girl: A Memoir, is very funny and quite unique in being the only book out there written by someone who plays piano in cocktail lounges and hotel lobbies. After reading it, I immediately wanted to know her—to have her as a girlfriend. And then I listened to her music. Robin Goldsby’s music showed me a completely different aspect of her character and FUNNY is not a word I would use to describe it. RICH—POIGNANT—MOVING—MELODIC—BEAUTIFUL. These are words that instantly came to mind the first time I listened to the songs she’d written on her CD called Twilight.
In spite of the chuckles during “Mr. President,” and a running gag throughout the book about performers asking one another whether or not they looked fat, I found Asparagus People to hold far more poignant and moving movements than I expected.
This book, to me, is more like her music than her memoir. And it truly reflects how she’s grown and matured as a writer and an artist. The story titled “The Girl That Got Away” brings out the mother in her (and ultimately brought it out in me) and yet manages to also remind us “what it’s like to be a twelve years old.” She follows this with “Little Big Soul,” and it simply moved me to tears.
Waltz of the Asparagus People is a tribute to and reflection of Robin Goldsby’s musical life, but more than anything, it’s a love story from her to her husband and children, as it documents their life as Americans living, working, growing and loving one another in Germany.
Beautifully written—I didn’t want it to end and I highly recommend it. (less)
Fall in Love with Alex . . . AND Gary I can't think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from reading this book, From Grief to Celebration: How One Family Le...moreFall in Love with Alex . . . AND Gary I can't think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from reading this book, From Grief to Celebration: How One Family Learned to Embrace the Gift of Down Syndrome. It is extraordinarily well written from the heart of a mother with three children, including one who happens to have an extra chromosome.
The child--who is actually now a young woman--is named Alex. And through the pages of this book you'll fall in love with her. But I think even more, you'll fall in love with the author, Margaret "Gary" Bender. In these pages, Gary bares her soul. She shares every painful, joyful and revolutionary moment of her experience as a parent, and she does so not only out of love for Alex--and her family--but also out of what appears to be a need to advocate for all parents who have children with special needs.
This book must be added to the bibliography Gary provides in the chapter titled "Research," which includes a list of books she sought and read when Alex was born in 1993. If you indeed have a baby with Down syndrome, please put Gary's book at the top of your list. You will learn many things, but you will especially know that you are not alone; you will learn how to advocate; and you will learn to embrace and celebrate your child/situation. And as any parent will tell you, just like kids without special needs, our babies grow up very quickly. You will learn your Down syndrome child might not do everything like walk and talk and potty train according to what you thought was normal, but she/he will learn. And she/he will also teach YOU things you never imagined.
What makes this book additionally noteworthy for parents with and without children of special needs, is that Gary allows us to see how universal the experience of parenting truly is. In other words, I found Gary to be not only an advocate for parents of children with Down syndrome; but also, she helps us recognize and remember the individual needs of all children. In a particularly moving segment of the book, she shares the feelings of Alex's sister and brother. Her sister's college essay is well written and very moving.
The book--a quick read--is organized according to a list of verbs that Gary believes has defined their experience. As the title suggests, the verbs begin with "Grief" and culminate in "Celebration." The verbs she uses to from 1-10, plus the bonus, are relatable to parenting and, frankly, life in general. I give this book my highest recommendation. (less)
My Highest Recommendation I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys GREAT, descriptive writing. It's a coming of age story--a family tale--fill...moreMy Highest Recommendation I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys GREAT, descriptive writing. It's a coming of age story--a family tale--filled with beautiful descriptions and great complexity. Narrated by one of two twin boys (conjoined but separated at birth), you will fall in love not only with the twins, but also with all the characters through his thoughtful, loving and intelligent voice. It is a coming-of-age story, to be sure, but so much more. If you have any interest in mission work, medicine, and specifically in women's issues, this story is filled with everything from complicated childbirth to female circumcision to hepatitis. Another book club selection, 100% of our members loved this story and it made for a lengthy, interesting discussion--particularly about the well-developed, three-dimensional (and unique) characters. (less)
"There Are So Many Stories To Be Told" Let The Great World Spin was a book club selection, which was enjoyed by all who attended, and it prompted a liv...more"There Are So Many Stories To Be Told" Let The Great World Spin was a book club selection, which was enjoyed by all who attended, and it prompted a lively, intelligent discussion. The story is based on the lives of eleven characters on the day in 1974 when French funambulist, Philippe Petit, danced across a wire (tightrope) secured between the new twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York. It is a well-written, literary masterpiece with highly believable, three-dimensional (complicated) characters.
The characters are extremely diverse, and include an Irish immigrant “monk” with a heart of gold, a Park Avenue wife of a judge/mother of a son who was killed in Vietnam, a Guatemalan nurse, a young artist trying to kick a cocaine habit and living a 1920s lifestyle, a heroin-addicted street-walking prostitute and her daughter and two young children. There is also a chapter where seemingly unrelated characters in Palo Alto, CA—a group of pioneering computer hackers—find a way to contact payphones in Manhattan on the day of Petit’s performance, and try to get a live blow-by-blow account of the event from eye-witnesses. It’s a reminder to the reader of the state of technology at the time, and how different the world of 1974 was from today, when the event, no doubt, would have been broadcast on every television station and the Internet.
This prompted our group to discuss our own “day-in-the-life” experiences we had on Sept. 11, when we first heard of the attacks on the twin towers. Not surprisingly, everyone in the room watched the horrendous events unfold on television.
The high wire event loosely connects all the characters and it feels as though the lives are spinning and folding atop one another in unexpected ways. In spite of the darkness and at times, overwhelming grief associated with these character’s lives, the reader is left satisfied and reminded how different (and important) each life and each character’s personal story is.