Do No Harm is a self-drawn portrait of a neurosurgeon by one of a Great Britain's best. His job sounds both wonderful because the opportunity it preseDo No Harm is a self-drawn portrait of a neurosurgeon by one of a Great Britain's best. His job sounds both wonderful because the opportunity it presents to hone great skill and make a positive difference to the health and in the lives of patients, and horrible because of the awful risks to be faced and reckoned with. And the author sounds both wonderful--brilliant and kind--and (understandably) horrible--arrogant and exacting. A generous glimpse into a profession requiring enormous sacrifices few would be willing to make....more
Fates and Furies is the absorbing portrait of a marriage that demonstrates how difficult it is for anyone outside a marriage to understand what goes oFates and Furies is the absorbing portrait of a marriage that demonstrates how difficult it is for anyone outside a marriage to understand what goes on between the people in it. It also demonstrates the at least occasional truth of Will Cather's sentiment that the heart of another is a dark forest always, no matter how close it has been to one's own. There are secrets here, revealed, in time, to great effect. The novel is written in the third-person omniscient--with delightful and direct asides to the reader--that treats first the husband and then, the wife, to its devastating observations. Complex and compelling characters in a riveting story told in gorgeous writing....more
Becoming Nicole is many things. As its subtitle indicates, it is, above all, the story of the transformation of the family of an adopted transgenderedBecoming Nicole is many things. As its subtitle indicates, it is, above all, the story of the transformation of the family of an adopted transgendered twin boy, its collective profound and brave journey to support that difference, as well their individual journeys to understand it and come to terms with their fears. Reading about those journeys is moving and powerful.
It is also the story of the family's efforts to work with their children's schools and teachers to provide an environment in which both their children could be understood and learn, and the ensuing legal fight when one school's response failed to create such an environment.
The complex science of gender identity is explained with clarity, as the distinction between it and sexual identity. While the author's sympathies clearly lie with Nicole and her family, she is respectful and sensitive in her reporting of figures with negative views of transgenderism.
This is a readable, thoughtful account of a girl who wanted her body to match her gender identity; the family who loved, supported, and fought for her; and the change they created....more
Being Mortal is a compelling and sensitive account of how aging and death are approached in America. It is also an exploration of how we might do so dBeing Mortal is a compelling and sensitive account of how aging and death are approached in America. It is also an exploration of how we might do so differently and what might be gained by a shift. It is a relatively slender volume, but it packs a thoughtful and powerful punch....more
Clementine has, by now, been widely acknowledged to be a robust account of a previously largely Berliner life. And what a life lived by a compelling pClementine has, by now, been widely acknowledged to be a robust account of a previously largely Berliner life. And what a life lived by a compelling personality! The author relays Clementine's many talents and how they were put to use in service of her country, particularly during World War II. At the same time, she is unflinching in her recognition of Clementine's shortcomings, particularly as a mother. Briskly-portrait of a woman who lived through extraordinary events alongside a central figure in many of them, arguably happier in the background but who was nonetheless ahead of her time in many ways....more
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is ostensibly the story of Eva Thorvald, an audacious and inventive chef from the Midwest (for which this book has obvioKitchens of the Great Midwest is ostensibly the story of Eva Thorvald, an audacious and inventive chef from the Midwest (for which this book has obvious and appealing affection). We are meant to come to know Eva through eight chapters about characters whose lives intersect with hers. This episodic structure--and the fact that Eva is a bit player in all of them--means that the reader doesn't fully apprehend Eva, but rather only her essence. I liked this book a lot, but I didn't love it. I think that's because it left me feeling sad, and unsatisfied--I wanted more of Eva, or more of some of any of the characters I found especially compelling whose orbits intersect with Eva's. But I think the author is trying to say there is only so much we can control, only so much we can know and if this is so, how brave and resilient is Eva to forge a path with each decision she makes....more
I loved this first novel that will probably not get the immediate readership it deserves because of its unconventional structure. In it, it's narratorI loved this first novel that will probably not get the immediate readership it deserves because of its unconventional structure. In it, it's narrator, Lillian, looks back and takes stock of her life which is marked by a rejection of convention as well and a spirited independence. Lillian travels from the 1930s Midwest to Europe before landing after many years in New York City. She relays her story is a series of primer-like (e.g. On the Importance of Big Pockets) vignettes arranged chronologically. Lillian is fierce, spirited company and if she is that much more demanding of her readers, so too is she that much more satisfying....more
I enjoyed this collection of smart, introspective, and honest essays so much! I checked it out from the library, but once I'd finished, I bought my owI enjoyed this collection of smart, introspective, and honest essays so much! I checked it out from the library, but once I'd finished, I bought my own copy and another to give to a friend. The first essay, in which the author explores her reaction to her mother's death, is a knock-out, but my favorite essay was Not What It Used To Be which concludes with this insightful sentence: "It had not yet figured out that life is mostly an exercise in becoming something other than what we used to be while remaking fundamentally--and sometimes maddeningly--who we are." In this collection, Daum reveals aspects of who she is and to me, the search for identity was a unifying theme. She doesn't treat herself with kid gloves, but is still able to interrogate and judge herself with an illuminating and compelling compassion. (She is also, often, quite funny.)...more
The Truth According To Us would have been well-served by a thoughtful and firm editor. The narrative voice ping pings between the first person personaThe Truth According To Us would have been well-served by a thoughtful and firm editor. The narrative voice ping pings between the first person personal and the third person omniscient--and is interspersed with letters. I couldn't help but feel like the author didn't have the discipline to chose one voice and meet its demands. Instead, she wanted to have her narrative-voice cake and eat it, too. That's a shame because there's a good story underneath the bracken of all those points of view. That story springs from the collision of two women's lives one summer in the South during the Great Depression: Layla Beck, a well-off debutante woman whose father punishes her by securing her a summertime WPA gig writing the history of a small town and Willa Romeyn, the 12-year-old niece of the sharp but quirky-for-her-time woman with whom Layla boards. Histories are interrogated and rewritten and lives changed and it should have been so much more wonderful than it was!...more
Judy Blume writes with such knowledge and understanding about the lives of adolescent and teen girls! Summer Sisters is one of her adult novels, but iJudy Blume writes with such knowledge and understanding about the lives of adolescent and teen girls! Summer Sisters is one of her adult novels, but it traces the arc of the friendship between two women from different worlds, Vix and Caitlin, from the time they meet as adolescents until they are adults. Blume is at her best depicting the summers Vix and Caitlin spend together on Martha's Vineyard in Caitlin's family's summer home when they are children and teenagers. Their secrets, preoccupations, worries, and growing awareness of the same of the adults in their lives are all spot on. What happens after the summers that form the book's foundation is less interesting and has an underdeveloped, tacked-on feel, but Summer Sisters is still a highly readable--and, for some women, a highly relatable--story....more
The Blessings is a well-done portrait of a big family and its various members. Each of the novel's chapters focuses on different member of the familyThe Blessings is a well-done portrait of a big family and its various members. Each of the novel's chapters focuses on different member of the family and his or her often private struggle or drama. They move forward in time do the reader finds out in passing what has happened--or, in some cases, will happen--to other family members which serves to sustain interest and propel the novel forward. It's a compelling meditation on the way families shape us as we draw comfort and strength from them or push against them as we assert our individuality in their sometimes suffocating embrace. A quick read, but not simple....more
Lovely and so satisfying! The Marriage of Opposites imagines the life of Camille Pissarro's mother, Rachel, based on what is known about her life. TheLovely and so satisfying! The Marriage of Opposites imagines the life of Camille Pissarro's mother, Rachel, based on what is known about her life. The magical realism that is prominent in so many of Alice Hoffman's novels is here, but less pronounced than in other works. It suits the story nicely given its time and place. It is a multi-generational novel that necessarily embraces the lives of others with whom Rachel had contact in her life, largely spent on the island of St. Thomas during the 1800s. It is an absorbing story, even stripped of the imagined details that make it that much richer: Rachel was a member of a Jewish minority and a woman who defied the conventions of each by marrying a nephew by marriage after her first husband when she was still young. (There are ancillary characters--servants and neighbors--which the afterword tells us are almost entirely imagined--but with vivid stories of their own!) It's a terrific backdrop to explore the themes of self-discovery, traditional historical gender roles, anti-Semitism, racism and slavery, and the conflict that can flow from trying to remain true to both one's self and one's family. ...more
The Rules of Inheritance is a grief memoir. The author lost both parents to cancer--her mother when she was a freshman in college and her father by thThe Rules of Inheritance is a grief memoir. The author lost both parents to cancer--her mother when she was a freshman in college and her father by the time she was 25. These loses were made more acute by the fact of her youth and by the fact that she was the only child of a May-December union. She had step-siblings, but they were from her father's first marriage and double her age--in completely different life stages. So the author came of age while shouldering some significant losses and without the benefit of the steadying rudder parents can provide. And so, yes, she makes some poor choices. I found the author not so much tediously self-indulgent, but rather honest about her younger self that was clearly in a good deal of understandable pain. The narrative begins when the author is 18, but then tacks backward and forward in time in a way I thought drew out the connective tissue between her parents' deaths and the effects of these twin losses. She offers up her experience as evidence that it is possible to survive great loss and how she healed, while acknowledging there is no one way and certainly no right way. It's brave and full of grace....more
The Way Home Looks Now is a deft and accessible portrait of loss and grief for the middle grade reader. (The adult reader can probably begin and finisThe Way Home Looks Now is a deft and accessible portrait of loss and grief for the middle grade reader. (The adult reader can probably begin and finish this book in a single sitting.) When Peter's older brother, Nelson, dies, his Chinese American family is, of course, irrevocably changed by its members' shared and individual sadness. When Peter joins a baseball team--and his stern father steps up to coach it--he pushes it toward imaging a new normal and, thus, healing. The story also explores racism and sexism in ways that are, again, accessible to a younger reader. Heartwarming and satisfying--and what a terrific title!...more