Monday, June 13, 2011

You Know When the Men Are Gone

As soon as I finished this collection of short stories by Siobhan Fallon I wrote down a few possible themes that run throughout- obligation, fear, silence, order, family. In the middle of reading this wonderful book I wrote down- "so much left unsaid." Soldiers don't speak of the fear they experience while out on a mission, wives don't mention the suspicions they have that their soldier isn't faithful, families don't share the separate hardships they endured while the other was away. It seems very unhealthy but understood.

Fallon pulls the curtains back and let's all of us look closely at military families- how the wives function and support each other while their husbands are deployed, what our soldiers experience as they fulfill their commitment, how difficult it is for everyone when families are reunited.

This is a timely book that would help everyone have a deeper appreciation for everyone involved in protecting our country.

Between Shades of Gray

"Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived?"

Near the end of Between Shades of Gray this is the question that is asked. It hits you in the gut and stays with you. When I finished this book and took another trip to the public library I wasn't ready to turn it in.

Ruta Sepetys has written a beautiful account of Lithuanian families being torn apart and hidden away in Siberia so that the Soviets could take over their country. Sepetys herself is the daughter of Lithuanian refugees who escaped to Germany.

This could have easily been the same story that we have all read- families rounded up, put on trains, carried away from everything they know, mistreated, etc. It is that story but the writing is so well done that it is a whole new story. The characters that Sepetys brings to life on the page were so real. Each person was an important to piece to the whole story and are still in my thoughts.

Her writing style was well accomplished- a perfect mix of sentence length, and boy does she know how to bring a chapter to a close. I knew that I was very connected to the characters and just knew that I was going to cry as some of them inevitably died. But that wasn't what caught my heart off guard. (Possible spoiler) The scene that was so unexpected and touching was knowing that clean clothes were saved (and not worn as layers in the freezing temps) through their whole ordeal so that they could be worn when they returned to their homes. It was a beautiful image of hope.

I learned about a chapter in history that I wasn't aware of. This story would be enjoyed by adults and young adults.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

When I downloaded this book to my Kindle Tuesday night I was pretty sure it was a memoir about cancer. I didn't remember that it was about breast cancer or I probably wouldn't have begun reading it. On Tuesday I had my first mammogram and ultrasound and was able to put to rest the fears I had been carrying around for over a month after finding a lump in my breast. The nurse sounded almost certain that what she saw on the screen is a cyst. So, as I read The Middle Place I wavered between feeling like I needed more distance between my experience and reading about the author's and feeling like I had just bought some cheap therapy.

The Middle Place is a memoir about cancer, growing up, raising children, confronting life's trials. The title refers to that time in life when you still depend on your parents but you have people depending on you also. Corrigan alternates between short episodes from her younger years and a chronicle of her and her father's cancer treatment. She battled breast cancer at the same time her father was battling bladder cancer. Corrigan has a very close relationship with her father and many of her stories showcase his uniqueness and what draws people to him.

The author is a flawed person, just like the rest of us, and I think that is why I like the book so much (and other memoirs). She loses her temper with her children, starts unnecessary arguments with her husband, and seems to want to give the advice that she needs to hear to others in her life. Sound familiar to anyone?!?

The only disappointment I had was the lack of a lesson/realization by the author. I find it hard to believe that you and your father fight cancer at the same time and you don't come out different on the other side. She doesn't seem very reflective about the experience. There might be a hint of a lesson learned in one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Someday, some later day, I'll find out what it is to be an adult- to bury someone essential, someone you don't think you can live without, someone attached in so many place you almost fall in after them." Beautiful words...

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best of 2010 and Looking Forward

So it's time to look back at what I read this past year and name my faves. I had a goal of reading 50 books this year and I came really close. The holiday madness seemed to get in the way. I finished book 48 (The Queen of Palmyra) as our neighbors fired off annoying fireworks last night! I will make the goal this year to read 50. I am also a writer and am working on a YA novel and will spen most of my time this coming year reading other YA novels similar to what I want to write. I will also read aduly fiction also.

TOP TEN OF 2010:

Mudbound by Jordan (probably my go to recommendation for friends. I actually read this book twice this year!)
The Sky Unwashed by Zabytko
Carry Me Home by Kring
The Help by Stockett (This was my top fave last year. I read it again this year for a book club)
Chains by Anderson
Unbroken by Hillenbrand
State of Wonder by Patchett (I haven't read a thing about this book but love her other work!)
To Have Not by Lefkowitz (Love the cover of this book!)
Lord of Misrule by Gordon
Half a Life by Strauss

What will you be reading in 2011? Happy Reading!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is one of the most talked about non-fiction books of the year. It is a good mixture of narrative about Henrietta and her family and textbook knowledge about cells, research and scientists.

In the early 1950s, when African Americans had few rights and were segregated in hospital wards and many other public places, a young woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed and dying from what doctors eventually diagnosed as cervical cancer. While doctors were operating on her tumor they took a sample of the cancer cells without her consent. Her husband did consent to an autopsy after being told that the information gained could assist his family in medical issues in the future. Doctors had spent years trying to grow cells in test tubes and had before then been unsuccessful. With Henrietta's cells, named HeLa cells, they found cells that multiplied constantly. These cells changed the ways doctors researched everything- cancer, polio, leukemia, etc. The only practice in question is that Henrietta's family was never informed of the discovery or the fact that money was being made from HeLa cells.

The book follows Henrietta's family as they learn about the cells and struggle to learn about the mother that most of her children were too young to remember when she died. The family deals with a lot of anger about being mislead and kept in the dark. One troubling fact is that their mother's cells helped so many advances in medicine be possible while most of Henrietta's family lived without medical insurance.

In the afterword Skloot suggests that the two main issues at hand are consent and money. Should doctors have to get patient consent before taking and using cells and tissue for research? and if money is made from the cells, tissue or research should the original "owner" of the tissue get compensated? Throughout the book I thought of how I feel about these two issues. I think that yes, patient consent should be sought before doctors take and use them. However, I would hate that new discoveries, etc could be stalled because some patients don't consent to their tissue and cells being used. I'm pretty sure if asked I would give consent but I would like the chance to say yes or no. It would be very hard to track exactly how much profict was gained from one person's tissue to compensate them. Maybe if compensation is considered patients are just compensated one time for their contribution.

It's an interesting topic and a very interesting book. I enjoyed the book, especially the story of Henrietta and her family. I thought the book got a little bogged down in the technical information even though it was necessary to understand the book. What are your thoughts? Have you read the book? Want to read it? How do you feel about the issues at hand?

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

"There is no room for pity on a farm."

This is the second time I have read Mudbound in the past year (once because it sounded like a great book and twice because my book club is going to discuss it next weekend). I would read it again and plan to recommend it to everyone I know. What a read! Hillary Jordan is a very skilled writer and I look forward to more from her.
The title comes from the name given to the farm the McAllan family lives on. Henry McAllan moves his family to the farm he has always dreamed of with the promise that they will live a more civilized life in town. This idea falls through and the family ends up living in a run-down house on the always muddy farm.
The story is told from the point of view of all of the players in this story- Laura, Henry, Jamie (Henry's brother who has returned from WWII), Florence (the sharecropper's wife who live son the land and helps Laura with daily life), Hap (Florence's husband), Ronsel (the sharecropper's son who has also returned from the war). Another player in this story, Pappy (the matriarch) doesn't help tell the story but is a large part of it.
In the time that the book takes place race relations were still strained. However, the sharecroppers and the McAllan family get along just fine. When both sons return from the war and begin to find solace in their shared experiences people begin to talk and tensions rise to a climax that left me tense as you read on to the outcome.
Jordan is skilled at ending chapters with hints of what's to come and sprinkles in details that catch your attention and make you start piecing the story together. Every character in the story was guilty of one thing or another but also needed and wanted something true in their hearts. I think that is what made all of them so believable.
Have you read Mudbound? What did you think? Will you be adding it to your to-read list? Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Carry Me Home

My book club recently read and discussed Carry Me Home by Sandra Kring. A few years ago we read The Book of Bright Ideas by Sandra so we were sure we would enjoy Carry Me Home also. I really enjoyed the book. The narrator, Earwig, is a simpleton whose older brother goes off to war during WWII. Kring did a great job not over doing the way Earwig misuses words or misunderstands things. He was quite funny and crude! This story is a glimpse into a small town whose sons went off to war. Everyone holds everyone else up and helps them through the long days of absence. Our group decided that the title was exemplified in each person helping another in need and "carrying" them. A quote from the book:

"You just walk through your days, Floyd," Jimmy says, and he's got teary eyes too. "And when you feel like you're going to fall on your ass again, you just grab tight to the first person that's nearby and you hold on until you steady yourself enough to take another step."
I felt Kring did a great job inserting historical facts without weighing down the story. I learned many new facts about the war and the treatment of soldiers when they came back. If you haven't read Sandra Kring yet, what are you waiting for?
Happy Reading!