Tag Archives: dysfunctional family

A Spark of Life by Jodi Piccoult

Not only do I live in the same neighborhood as Dr Bernard Slepian, my son went to school with his children. As PJ entered third grade, there was a letter at his desk from the child who had been in that seat the previous June. This class assignment, in this particular case, was bitter sweet, since the welcoming words were from a boy whose parent had only recently been murdered by a sniper out to destroy another abortion doctor. His beautiful home with the large picture window in the normally crime free town of Amherst, outside Buffalo, NY, was the perfect site for a certain type of target practice. While the perpetrator was caught, the damage was done and those three boys and loving mother lost a dedicated father, husband, and doctor.

No matter how many clinics are closed or doctors are castigated, abortion will never be eliminated. If it can’t be done legally, there will be those who find illicit means to get the job done. We are currently at a crossroads, with the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice whose vote might finally overturn Roe vs Wade or severely limit its reach. I have watched as the rights of women to find affordable reproductive care (which goes way beyond the topic of abortion) have been eliminated along with the planned parenthood centers who provide Pap Smears, mammograms, prenatal and postnatal care, treatment for symptoms of menopause and other women’s health issues. There are other uses for hormone treatment besides birth control, yet, for some, the right to life of a fetus takes precedent over everything – even the life of the doctor who works in the field. With this mindset, it is no wonder that the maternal mortality rate (death of the mother in childbirth) has actually doubled over the past twenty years, especially in the minority community. Shocking!

That is why A Spark of Life by Jodi Piccoult is such a timely piece of literature. Here is an issue which has dogged the country for years without coming to a full resolution with both sides continuing to fight for what they feel is justice. This is also a concept where there is no legitimate compromise, since each side is firmly committed to their opinion which literally represents life or death. Where, to some, even birth control or the morning after pill to prevent pregnancy and the hated abortion, is unacceptable.

Piccoult attempts to present both sides of the issue via the story of a hostage situation at a Woman’s Health Clinic, where the authorities are trying to garner the release of the captives before anyone else gets hurt. To complicate matters, the chief negotiator discovers his daughter is amongst the prisoners, and he must do everything in his power to keep the situation from escalating including keeping the SWAT Team at bay. This is one of those backwards stories (with the ultimate conclusion as an epilogue) where the ending is the beginning and we count down the hours to slowly discover what motivated the events to unfold in this manner. There are a lot of “whys” to be discerned as the countdown begins.

While the topic is fascinating, the characters interesting, the issues compelling, I find this writing mechanism confusing. Perhaps it’s because I’m directionally challenged, but I like my books to be mostly chronological. The backwards recitation also requires alot of repetition which I find annoying at best. While I understand the desire to apply a new approach, this topic is too important for games.

However, I don’t want to dissuade you from reading this book. Piccoult has a way of bringing important issues to the forefront and this is a dialogue which remains vital for our society, especially with so many visible cases of misogyny and the resulting Me, Too Movement.

While for me this was a three and a half star book, I’m giving it a four star rating due to its relevance to upcoming legislative events. I’m looking forward to some interesting discussions. Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant has created her own little world where each day is like any other with minimal variations except the weekends where she drinks enough vodka to remain in a stupor until it’s time to go back to work on Monday. Highly intelligent, she views the world from a particular point of view, judging the actions and behaviors of others, usually finding them lacking. A Type A personality to the extreme, her black or white perspective “colors” her approach to any given task, leaving her questioning the random actions of those she encounters in her daily activities. It is no wonder she remains alone, shrugging off the stares of her perplexed coworkers while toiling away at the low paying job she has held since her youth. Then one day Eleanor falls in love and realizes that she must try to “fit in” to establish a relationship. On her quest to acquire the appropriate accoutrements, she suddenly enters a new realm helped along by a randomly based relationship with a coworker who befriends her after they witness a tragic event and find themselves assisting an elderly gentleman in need of their care. This leads to a series of possibilities which might just change the entire demeanor of the stilted Eleanor (or not).

Ultimately, it’s the humor which raises this book to the next level. First time author, Gail Honeyman, has hit a home run in her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. At times Eleanor’s thoughts mirror those of our own – “That much for a purse which is too small to hold anything but a tissue?” or “Another gift collection for another coworker on another special occasion?”. Her quirkiness makes her despicable characteristics somehow endearing and we start to root for her success, even though we all know she’s doomed to fail. And yet, . . . .

The author has the rare talent of forcing the reader to become emotionally involved, making us hope that somewhere out there is a life for Eleanor which is somewhat better than fine. Then when we think we have everything figured out, there’s a twist which changes our whole perspective. Kudos.

Now our only question to consider is who will play Eleanor in the upcoming movie and will they change the locale from Glasgow, Scotland to somewhere in the United States?

Five stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Next Person You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

In today’s paper there is an article about a young couple who were recently married and killed in a freak roll over car accident on their way to their honeymoon. While there are many such incidents throughout the United States, what makes this one especially tragic is that these were two young people at the pinnacle of their happiness. Nothing is as sacrosanct as a bride and groom. I am silently sending my condolences to their families in this most grievous loss of life.

Perhaps that’s why Mitch Albom used a wedding to start off his newest novel, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, a sequel to a book by a similar title published in 2003. My first reaction was “Oh, no! Not on their wedding day!” since obviously in order to have a tete a tete in heaven, you must be recently deceased. Albom takes us through that happy time and the series of events which followed sending both lovebirds to the hospital where extraordinary measures are necessary to perhaps preserve a life or two.

Then we are in heaven as the former spouse, sans honeymoon, meets the five individuals who most strongly influenced their past. Through the details revealed in their interchanges we get the backstory which led to this fateful day. Back in real time, we discover what happened to those impacted by the couple whose lives had taken such a tragic turn.

I have a copy of The Five People You Meet in Heaven sitting unread on my bookshelf (my brother gave it to me as a Christmas present, at my request, shortly after it was published). While it was obvious that this book was a sequel, with some common characters to both novels, you don’t need to read the first to understand the second. The language is simple, slowly revealing some reinterpretations of an earthly past which changes the viewpoints of everybody involved, including the reader. While one person might personally take offense at actions (or inactions) from various situations, when secrets are shared both discover that there are perfectly plausible explanations for everything. As understanding dawns, peace can be found, and what better place than heaven to achieve this “life” changing miracle. As the song says “Was blind, but now I see!”.

While Albom shares the Grace of God through his words, the story, almost a fairy tale, seems contrived. At times I want to shake the characters in frustration at their stupidity, or I wonder at the dynamics of some of the situations – “Now, really?” I also felt like Albom was being condescending, forcing us to learn a lesson which we might not want to hear. Yet, there were some interesting aspects to the story with several outlooks we might not have considered on our own. Ultimately, I anticipated the outcome and was grateful I guessed correctly since, despite the tragedy, I was able to leave with a good feeling deep in my soul. What more could you ask about a book with the word “heaven” in the title?

Three stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads

Eden Conquered (Dividing Eden, #2) by Joelle Charbonneau

Eden Conquered is the continuing saga from the book Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau. Told by alternating narratives of twins Prince Andreus and Princess Carys, we continue the story of the once tight pair torn apart through the lies and deceit of those surrounding the duo as they battle out the Trials of Virtuous Succession after their father and older brother are assassinated. Someone must be crowned ruler, and Andreus, believing the whispers of the seer (and his lover) Imogen, is determined to be the next King.

In this second book of the series, racked with guilt over the death of his twin, Andreus takes the throne amidst the politicking of the elders, not knowing whose advice to follow as nobody in the court seems trustworthy. To make matters worse, the populist, which favored Carys, is unhappy with the current state of affairs and life is about to take a turn for the worse since the winds appear to be failing and without their strength The Palace of Winds will lose its protection allowing their enemies access to the Kingdom of Eden.

In the meantime, the still alive Princess Carys has escaped and is on the run with her childhood friend Larkin and two protectors (who are often at odds) Errik and Lord Garret. She is unsure whose advice to follow, doubting their loyalty despite her physical attraction to them both. As they travel, Carys discovers that her special powers are growing stronger, necessitating a need to develop some sort of control or risk destroying everything in her path. To complicate matters the Xhelozi, a sort of zombie like boogie men, are on the loose, traveling far from their normal realm as the prevailing winds which normally keep them at bay are losing the power to contain the beasts. Despite her difficulties, Carys, who had previously looked out for her twin brother, is concerned for his well being, conflicting with her rage and the need for revenge.

This book was a quick, easy read in spite of the many questions the reader might have surrounding this fantasy world. Unfortunately, giving away too many details would spoil the surprise ending, although I cannot believe this is the conclusion to the Dividing Eden series since there are numerous loose ends which need some sort of resolution and too many questions left unanswered. In order to fill in some of the gaps, Carbonneau wrote two short stories, Into the Garden, the story of Lady Beatrice, and Forbidden Fruit, featuring Graylem, the first which is a prequel and the second which occurs between the two novels. Definitely worth a look see.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I’d never read a book by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, but his 1992 Man Booker Prize winner, The English Patient, is on my “to read” list, so I thought I’d give his newest novel, Warlight, which is on the long list for this year’s Man Booker Prize, a try.

Part one of the novel deals with the childhood in 1945 London of Nathaniel (Stitch) whose parents abandon him and his sister Rachel (Wren) when they are in their teens and place them in the hands of some somewhat unsavory characters (The Moth and his pal The Darter) who involve them in their nefarious everyday activities. Not that fourteen year old Nathaniel minds. Who wouldn’t want to skip school to drive around to various destinations with a car full of greyhounds or, better yet, steer a boat through the waterways of England to various ports to deliver these same goods – unknown quantities with questionable pedigrees – to compete in underground dog racing? He learns a lot about secrecy, especially concealing his sexual trysts with Agnes, who finds them empty houses for sale listed with her real estate brother – homes bereft of furniture where they can do the deed without being disturbed. Fun times, but living on the edge can be dangerous and the siblings start to wonder where their mother really is (they could care less about their dad) when they discover her trunk, which had been carefully packed in their presence, untouched in the attic still full of her things. She definitely is not in the stated destination of Singapore.

Which leads to Part Two, where Nathanial, fifteen years later, is on a quest to discover the truth about his mum, Rose. Rachel is out of the scene and no one else is around from those forgone times of his youth, so he’s going it alone, surreptitiously searching for evidence at the Intelligence Agency where he works. Nathaniel’s narrative provides details from his teen years as clues into the truth, showing up as he attempts to find some sort of explanation, as the faces and names from his past provide the stepping stones necessary to reconstruct his mother’s days during the war to find the answers he desperately needs in order to move forward with his life.

Reading Warlight is like walking through a murky night getting glimpses of where you are headed but still not quite sure you are going in the right direction. Some of the visualizations are fascinating, but the plot meanders making it difficult to follow, causing the reader to make guesses as to what is actually happening, not daring to ever ask why. The concept of Schwer, part of the secret language between siblings, is ever present, representing the struggles during a post war London reconstructing after the Blitz. Even the occasional ray of sunshine Ondaatje allows to peer through his words does not provide enough light to overcome the dreariness left by the war nor its effects on this family. A thoroughly depressing book which fails to be lifted out of its angst by Nathaniel’s discoveries. However, the entire tale has a haunting effect as compared to most literature which is too often read and forgotten, although it is a complicated, difficult read, not for the casual reader. Three and a half stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Nickerbacher, The Funniest Dragon by Terry John Barto, illustrated by Kim Sponaugle

A young dragon, Nickerbacher, wants to be a comedian while his father wants him to pursue the more traditional occupation of guarding the princess. Princess Gwendolyn enjoys Nickerbacher’s jokes and encourages him to pursue his dreams. When Prince Happenstance arrives, the dragon tries to slay him with his humor then ends up assisting in Gwedolyn’s rescue. It seems the prince also has a dream, to play professional baseball, he even has his mitt ready. With no princess to guard, Nickerbacher is now free to go to New York City where he eventually becomes a successful stand up comedian, finally making his parents proud of his accomplishments.

Nickerbacher, The Funniest Dragon by Terry John Barto is a ridiculous story which makes no sense. Small children won’t get the jokes and the moral is questionable. While I’m all for pursuing one’s dreams, it’s not sensible to encourage a child to believe they are going to grow up to be a prima ballerina, a professional sports player, or a rock star. The only saving grace in this picture book is the compelling illustrations by Kim Sponaugle which are sure to delight both young and old. Colorful and detailed, they capture the humor the author attempts to impart to the reader. My favorite picture is the Princess climbing out of her tower down the dragons scales into the Prince’s arms. Four plus stars for the artwork, but only two stars for the story, for a total average of three stars.

This ARC was provided by Netgalley and AuthorHouse in exchange for an honest review.

Devil Until Dust by Emma Berquist

Willie (don’t you dare call her Daisy) at seventeen is in charge of the family consisting of her brother Micah and seven year old twins – Calvin and Catherine, a real ornery handful. Her mother died of the “disease” which has destroyed any semblance of an orderly life for those living in Glory, Texas. Her pa, Harrison Wilcox, always prone to drink, is now mostly MIA, spending his time at the Homestead bar getting drunk and gambling. Life is tough enough with a small pile of money which is quickly being depleted by the monthly protection dues paid to the Judge who runs the town, but it promises to get worse when McAllister confronts Willie, demanding she repay the $400 winnings her pa stole the night before. Wilcox is long gone and nobody has that kind of cash to lend, so Willie decides to hire some hunters to guide her through the open desert to Best, a larger town where she’s sure her dad is hiding out with his newfound bounty. Pa should be the one to suffer the consequences of his actions, not his innocent children.

So far Devil Until Dust by Emma Berquist sounds like a straightforward western taking place about ten years after the end of the Civil War where Ulysses S Grant is President of the United States, but it’s not gun slingers and wild animals the town folks fear, it’s the shakes, disease riddled zombie like creatures who have lost all sense of humanity and thrive by drinking blood. Animals are the easiest to catch, but shakes like the taste of humans, even devouring those like themselves, unlucky enough to get killed. Of course, if you survive the bite of these sub humans, it’s only a matter of time before you’re infected too. That’s why towns are fenced in and guarded and nobody travels without a shake hunter armed and ready to shoot the beasts since it’s a matter of us vs them. Those in the North and on the West Coast have stopped building the transcontinental railroad system, leaving the infected parts of the country to “handle” it on their own.

So Willie goes on the road through the West Texan desert with two brothers, Curtis and Ben, to reach Best and bring her Pa to justice. This quest takes some unexpected turns in a YA book which combines a coming of age story with a dystopian western in an alternative history introspectively narrated by a young girl who rejects her femininity in order to survive in an apocalyptic, dust-filled world riddled with epidemic created demons and egocentric men trying to get ahead by taking advantage of anyone who can’t defend themselves (although there are a few good hearted souls scattered throughout the book).

Definitely readable with super short chapters, and, although somewhat predictable, this debut novel is worth a look. Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.