Tuesday, January 27, 2015

House Rules

House Rules
by Rachel Sontag

Genre: Young Adult Memoir

Synopsis:  A memoir of a father obsessed with control and the daughter who fights his suffocating grasp, House Rules explores the complexities of their compelling and destructive relationship as Rachel fights to escape, and, later, to make sense of what remains of her family.
from the back of the book

Review:  This was a memoir written by a woman who suffered emotional and verbal abuse by her father and her mother throughout her life. The abuse continued until Sontag decided to cut ties with her family. Her father was clearly controlling Sontag's mother and while her mother was not as abusive, she did nothing to stop the father nor did she do anything to help Sontag. I think it was hard for extended family members, family friends, people at school, etc to realize what Sontag was going through since there were no marks on her therefore she didn't get any help until she was in high school. The story was written in an easy to read way. The story moved along quickly until Sontag left her house and was on her own. At that point she was trying to figure out how to grow up, move on, become her own person, forgive and figure out the world around her. At that point the book became less interesting to me.

Rating: 3 stars

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Another Place at the Table

Another Place at the Table
Kathy Harrison

Another Place at the Table

Genre: Memoir

Summary (from Goodreads): The startling and ultimately uplifting narrative of one woman's thirteen-year experience as a foster parent.

For more than a decade, Kathy Harrison has sheltered a shifting cast of troubled youngsters-the offspring of prostitutes and addicts; the sons and daughters of abusers; and teenage parents who aren't equipped for parenthood. All this, in addition to raising her three biological sons and two adopted daughters. What would motivate someone to give herself over to constant, largely uncompensated chaos? For Harrison, the answer is easy.

Another Place at the Table is the story of life at our social services' front lines, centered on three children who, when they come together in Harrison's home, nearly destroy it. It is the frank first-person story of a woman whose compassionate best intentions for a child are sometimes all that stand between violence and redemption.

Marcie's Review: This book managed to convince me that I need to be a foster parent, while at the same time making me feel like I could absolutely never handle it.

I loved reading about how Kathy and her family opened up their home to kids in emergency situations and made them feel loved and wanted.  Kathy had so much patience and understanding when dealing with horrific situations, and she tried to see the best in all her foster kids.  She was careful to point out some of her shortcomings, too, describing times when she lost her patience or didn't act entirely in the best interests of the child.  The writing could have been a little smoother at times, but it was quick and readable, although the subject matter was very sad and hard to read about. I really cared about some of the kids in the book, and wanted to know more about what happened to them.  In fact, for days after I finished this book, I wanted to pick it up and keep reading more.  I wish there was a sequel!

I am confused about whether this book was meant to inspire people to become foster parents, since the author spent a lot of time pointing out the flaws in the foster care system and she detailed some of the awful things that happened in her house, while at the same time saying that most foster kids aren't a danger to their foster families.

Marcie's Rating: 5 stars

Becky's Review:  I was looking for more out of this book.  This book was mainly the story of several children who were in Kathy's home for extensive periods of time.  I wanted to know more of Kathy's feelings and how she dealt with all the situations in her house.  While she did admit to mistakes she made, I didn't get a true sense of what her life was like and how she managed everything.  I wanted to know more about foster care from her perspective and less about the specific kids that she had in her house even though I found their stories interesting.  After looking back at the description, perhaps I thought this book was going to be something that it didn't promise to be.  I felt like at times the organization didn't stick to being sequential (mainly at the beginning) and that threw me off.  I also thought that the policy was a but dry but somewhat interesting.  My rating no way reflects what I think about Kathy and her family.  I am amazed at what she was able to do and I admire her for taking in so many children and being willing to accept so many children with very troubled backgrounds.  My rating is based on what I thought about the book.

Becky's Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Wedding Bees

The Wedding Bees
Sarah-Kate Lynch

The Wedding Bees: A Novel of Honey, Love, and Manners

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Sugar Wallace did not believe in love at first sight, but her bees did. . . .

Every spring Sugar Wallace coaxes her sleepy honeybee queen—presently the sixth in a long line of Queen Elizabeths—out of the hive and lets her crawl around a treasured old map. Wherever the queen stops is their next destination, and this year it's New York City.

Sugar sets up her honeybees on the balcony of an East Village walk-up and then––as she's done everywhere since leaving South Carolina––she gets to know her neighbors. She is, after all, a former debutante who believes that manners make the world a better place even if they seem currently lacking in the big city.

Plus, she has a knack for helping people. There's Ruby with her scrapbook of wedding announcements; single mom Lola; reclusive chef Nate; and George, a courtly ex-doorman. They may not know what to make of her bees and her politeness, but they can't deny the magic in her honey.

And then there's Theo, a delightfully kind Scotsman who crosses Sugar's path as soon as she gets into town and is quickly besotted. But love is not on the menu for Sugar. She likes the strong independent woman she's become since leaving the South and there's nothing a charmer like Theo can do to change her mind . . . only her bees can do that.

The Wedding Bees is a novel about finding sweetness where you least expect it and learning to love your way home.

Review:  This was such a sweet book; it was fun to read and left me with a happy feeling at the end.  Lynch has created a building full of quirky characters that Sugar tries to help with her honey and her good old-fashioned manners.  There's enough depth to keep the book interesting, and a lot of beautifully written descriptions that make you feel like you've journeyed to New York or Charleston.  This would be a perfect beach read, but was also perfect for snuggling on the couch on a winter's weekend.

Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
by Susannah Cahalan

Genre: Memoir

Synopsis:  One day in 2009, twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak.  A wristband marked her as a "flight risk," and her medical records-chronicling a monthlong hospital stay of which she had no memory at all-showed hallucinations, violence, and dangerous instability.  Only weeks earlier, Susannah had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: a healthy, ambitious college grad a few months into her first serious relationship and a promising career as a cub reporter at a major New York newspaper.  Who was the stranger who had taken over her body?  What was happening to her mind?

In this swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her inexplicable descent into madness and the brilliant, livesaving diagnosis that nearly didn't happen.  A team of doctors would spend a month-and more than a million dollars-trying desperately to pin down a medical explanation for what had gone wrong.  Meanwhile, as the days passed and her family, boyfriend, and friends helplessly stood watch by her bed, she began to move inexorably through psychosis into catatonia and, ultimately, toward death.  Yet even as this period nearly tore her family apart, it offered an extraordinary testament to their faith in Susannah and their refusal to let her go.

Then, at the last minute, celebrated neurologist Souhel Najjar joined her team and, with the help of a lucky, ingenious test, saved her life.  He recognized the symptoms of a newly discovered autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the brain, a disease now thought to be tied to both schizophrenia and autism, and perhaps the root of "demonic possessions" throughout history.

Far more than simply a riveting read a crackling medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman's struggle to recapture her identity and to rediscover herself among the fragments left behind.  Using all her considerable journalistic skills, and building from hospital records and surveillance video, interviews with family and friends, and excerpts from the deeply moving journal her father kept during her illness, Susannah pieces together the story of her "lost month" to write an unforgettable memoir about memory and identity, faith and love.  It is an important, profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book was fascinating!  I couldn't help but try to put myself in Cahalan's shoes while reading.  I couldn't even fathom how she and her family could be feeling as she constantly didn't seem like herself but yet have doctors say that nothing was really wrong.  It also got quite scary to think that they couldn't figure out what was wrong and just watch her deteriorate more and more every day.  The book did get a bit technical while they were trying to figure out her diagnosis but it was explained pretty well and what I didn't understand didn't seem too important.  For me, the book slowed down after she is released from the hospital and during the section on recovering.  I lost a little bit of interest at this point and at the end I just skimmed through.

Rating: 4 stars

All I Love and Know

All I Love and Know
Judith Frank

All I Love and Know: A Novel

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): With the storytelling power and emotional fidelity of Wally Lamb, this is a searing drama of a modern American family on the brink of dissolution, one that explores adoption, gay marriage, and love lost and found.

For years, Matthew Greene and Daniel Rosen have enjoyed a quiet domestic life together in Northampton, Massachusetts. Opposites in many ways, they have grown together and made their relationship work. But when they learn that Daniel's twin brother and sister-in-law have been killed in a bombing in Jerusalem, their lives are suddenly, utterly transformed.

In dealing with their families and the need to make a decision about who will raise the deceased couple's two children, both Matthew and Daniel are confronted with challenges that strike at the very heart of their relationship. What is Matthew's place in an extended family that does not completely accept him or the commitment he and Daniel have made? How do Daniel's questions about his identity as a Jewish man affect his life as a gay American? Tensions only intensify when they learn that the deceased parents wanted Matthew and Daniel to adopt the children-six year old Gal, and baby Noam.

The impact this instant new family has on Matthew, Daniel, and their relationship is subtle and heartbreaking, yet not without glimmers of hope. They must learn to reinvent and redefine their bond in profound, sometimes painful ways. What kind of parents can these two men really be? How does a family become strong enough to stay together and endure? And are there limits to honesty or commitment-or love?

Review: This book dealt with a relationship between two gay men, religious differences, parenting two traumatized children, the death of loved ones, the Israeli/Palestinian struggle, world politics, HIV, open relationships, and gay marriage.  It was an awful lot of issues to fit into one novel, even though the novel was long, and I think I would have enjoyed it more had the focus been narrower.  While I was quite interested to read how the struggles between a gay couple raising children are very similar to those a straight couple would face, especially how the two people in the couple react towards challenges and towards each other (there were several scenes where they acted just like my husband and I), I was less than thrilled to read graphic gay sex scenes in the latter half of the book.  I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Matt and Daniel grow throughout the novel, and the kids learn to adjust to their new lives.  This book was eye opening in many ways, but too graphic and political for me.

Rating: 3 stars

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of "King Lear." Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from "Star Trek: " "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, "Station Eleven" tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Review: I went into this book expecting it to be similar to Stephen King's The Stand, and it really wasn't.  That may have affected my rating a little.

This book follows the popular trend of shifting narrators and jumping back and forth in time, but I found the way it was handled a little distracting.  The summary indicates that it follows the story of Arthur Leander, moving through his past life and catching up with the present.  However, it seemed to follow his first wife, Miranda, even more than it followed Arthur, so that added yet another narrator to the story.  I think for me to enjoy a book written in this way, it has to be done perfectly, and this seemed a little disorganized.

Now, with that out of the way, I really enjoyed quite a lot about this book.  While I wanted to know more about life during and immediately following the pandemic, I was fascinated by descriptions of life 20 year after the pandemic is over.  The characters were vividly drawn, and the story was alternately beautifully moving and terrifyingly horrible.

Rating: 4 stars

Comfort & Joy

Comfort & Joy
Kristin Hannah

Comfort & Joy

Genre: Christmas Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads): Joy Candellaro once loved Christmas more than any other time of the year. Now, as the holiday approaches, she is at a crossroads in her life; recently divorced and alone, she can’t summon the old enthusiasm for celebrating. So without telling anyone, she buys a ticket and boards a plane bound for the beautiful Pacific Northwest. When an unexpected detour takes her deep into the woods of the Olympic rainforest, Joy makes a bold decision to leave her ordinary life behind--to just walk away--and thus begins an adventure unlike any she could have imagined.

In the small town of Rain Valley, six-year-old Bobby O’Shea is facing his first Christmas without a mother. Unable to handle the loss, Bobby has closed himself off from the world, talking only to his invisible best friend. His father Daniel is beside himself, desperate to help his son cope. Yet when the little boy meets Joy, these two unlikely souls form a deep and powerful bond. In helping Bobby and Daniel heal, Joy finds herself again.

But not everything is as it seems in quiet Rain Valley, and in an instant, Joy’s world is ripped apart, and her heart is broken. On a magical Christmas Eve, a night of impossible dreams and unexpected chances, Joy must find the courage to believe in a love--and a family--that can’t possibly exist, and go in search of what she wants . . . and the new life only she can find.

Review: Even when Hannah is writing Christmas fluffy romance, she still has a knack for writing characters who exhibit real emotion and behave in relate-able ways.  This was my favorite of the holiday romances I read this season for that reason.  It had more depth than a typical romance, with a twist partway through that made it even more interesting.  A very nice book to read while sitting in front of a fire listening to Christmas music.

Rating: 3.5 stars