Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

This was one of my local book club selections. Not a book that I would have normally picked up, since I don't really go for WWII era novels, but I'm glad I did!

The book is written entirely in letters, to and from the main character, a writer named Juliet. It took a while to get used to the format, but after that I fell in love with all the characters, and there were a lot of charcters! It was a bit hard to keep them all straight.

It's not a big book, and it's an easy read, but there's just so much going on! There's the historical angle of the occupation of the island of Gurnsey by the Nazis. There's a romance between Juliet and a persistent suitor. There's a mystery or two. There's the process of an author writing a book. Some of it is a bit improbable and contrived, but it's still fun.

I suppose my only complaint is that maybe it was a little too light. I wanted to know more about subjects that were touched on, such as how the islanders sent their kids away during the war. And some of the references to authors and novels had me completely lost (who the heck is Charles Lamb?).

This is one that I'm happy to pass along! Just let me know if you're interested!

The Last Lecture

First of all, this is not "the" last lecture by Randy Pausch that you can find on YouTube . It's more like a book that capitalized on the last lecture's popularity.

It's full of little essays on the meaning of life as seen through the eyes of a man with a terminal diagnosis of cancer. Lots of advice left for his three young kids that he would never see grow up. Too bad the guy was a computer geek, since I found his writing to pretty average. Many of the blogs I read by regular moms are better written!

I found it hard to read all at once. Too much advice on how to live your life to take in one sitting! He struck me as a bit arrogant and seemed to have all the answers. It's an ideal bathroom book, I suppose, inspirational in small doses. It's like those "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books.

I was disappointed. I was expecting something much more profound. But I suppose dying from cancer doesn't automatically give you otherworldly insight.

Definitely ready to pass this one on! Just let me know if you want it!

Expecting Adam by Martha Beck (memoir)

Expecting Adam by Martha Beck: Several friends have recommended this book to me over the last year since Finn was born, because it's an account of a woman's experience having a baby with Down syndrome. I have mixed feelings about the book: it was engrossing and kept me turning the pages, and I loved the author's wit and sarcasm. However, I have to say that this book is more about what the author perceives to be paranormal experiences than it is about having a child with Down syndrome. The Down syndrome aspect seems to be secondary - which may have been the author's intent. I am a complete skeptic - disbeliever! - about the paranormal and supernatural, so I read about her experiences with a grain of salt. It was entertaining, but not life-altering for me. Her espousal of the notion that her son with Down syndrome is otherworldly bothers me, but that's just me. There were many passages in the book that moved me and brought tears to my eyes, and I think the messages of acceptance and taking one's life into one's own hands and claiming one's own happiness are powerful messages.

This book was passed along to me by Chrystal, and she has given me the go-ahead to pass it along, so if you want it, just say the word :)

My Sister's Keeper

This book was actually rejected by the book club I'm in as being too trendy, LOL. But I read it anyway. And I didn't see the movie.

Everyone probably knows the storyline by now -- younger sister is genetically created to be a match for her cancer stricken older sister. Younger sister decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation.

I didn't like any of the characters for the first half of the book. They are all very flawed. But by the time of the trial, I was crying along with everyone. There's a lot going on in the book, and I did find it enjoyable once I stopped hating everybody. A very interesting bunch of characters, that's for sure.

As for the ending, yeah, I hated the ending. Seemed like a cop out to me. I heard they changed it in the movie, but I don't know how they could have made it any better, just different.

And I now have even more respect for all those who are going through cancer.

My copy is ready to move on. Just leave a comment -- please include your email, too, so I can contact you!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah (memoir)

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah: Subtitled The Memoir of An Unwanted Chinese Daughter, this is a real-life Cinderella story. In fact, the author apparently wrote a children's version of her memoir titled Chinese Cinderella. Having read this on the heels of Shanghai Girls, it was interesting to compare the autobiographical perspective with the fictional perspective of many of the same historical events, places, culture and customs.

In this book, the author, born in Shanghai in the 1930s, recounts her life growing up with an evil stepmother and wanting more than anything to be loved and cherished by her parents. I have a thing for memoirs recounting awful childhoods, and I've read far worse than this, but even so, my heart went out to this girl/woman, and I identified with so much of her struggles. Reading about her stepmother, who is really just a very narcissistic, self-centered, cold person, I am left with the conclusion that people like this suffer from some form of mental illness. There is just no other explanation. Although the author manages to build a happy and successful life for herself eventually, it is maddening to read how even well into adulthood, she couldn't seem to escape from the emotional bondage of her parents until they were both dead.

It's a very good book and one I recommend, especially if you like memoirs, Cinderella stories, and/or enjoyed Shanghai Girls! It's up for grabs if anyone wants it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Expecting Adam

I heard this book mentioned, over and over again, after I gave birth to my daughter and received her Ds dx. I assumed it was a memoir and perhaps not the kind in which I would have an interest. I totally judged this book by its cover. I mean that literally. The cover is kinda creepy.

If I recall correctly, the author, Martha Beck, Oprah guest/Life Coach, tried to sell this book as fiction at first. And I can see why. The story is somewhat unbelievable. Whether that's good or bad is for each person to decide.

But there was something about it that drew me in. I think Martha writes beautifully and she's obviously intelligent, even witty. I went along for the ride and I was disappointed when it ended. I wanted to know what happened next. And when I say "next" I mean up through yesterday.

I feel like I'm being cryptic, and maybe I am, because I don't want to give too much away. I sent the book to Lisa a couple of days ago and I really am looking forward to her perspective.

The basics are that Martha is a mom of a toddler, married, and pursuing her PhD at Harvard. She has an unplanned pregnancy and the little boy she's carrying is pre-natally diagnosed with Ds. And then a lot of stuff happens. The End.

Stand by for Lisa's review and, if you're still interested after my "stellar" review, be sure and put in a request to have it mailed to you.


Joined a book club a few months ago, and Midwives by Chris Bohjalian was the first book I had to read.

It's the story of a midwife, Sibyl, who has to perform an emergency C-section in the middle of an icy winter night and the mother dies. But was the mother dead beofre Sibyl performed the C-section or did the procedure kill her?

Sibyl is put on trial for the mother's death.

The story is told by Sibyl's adult daughter Connie (she was a teenager at the time of the trial) through a series of flashbacks, and each chapter is prefaced by an excerpt from Sibyl's journals.

I loved the characters in this book. I was rooting for Connie and Sibyl through the whole book. The way Connie describes events as an adult remember what it was like to be a teen in a difficult time is fascinating. And having the journal entries helps give an idea of what was in Sibyl's mind without distracting from Connie's main storytelling.

I did have a couple of problems with the book. A minor one was every now and then Connie throwing in something that was not part of the timeline of the events leading up to the trial or the trial itself. Sometimes it was enlightening, but more often than not it was just irrelevant and distracting.

My major issue with the book is how, aside from one fate-changing incident, the trial was a let down. Throughout the story there are hints of a conflict between the medical establishment and the lay midwives, and I was hoping more of that would come to light during the trial, but it didn't. I really wish they had gone more into the conflict, since it is an issue that is relevant even now.

It's a good, entertaining and easy read, though.

Incidentally, Chris Bohjalian is a man, which completely blew me away. He really managed to get into a woman's mind regarding childbirth. Amazing for someone who has never been pregnant!

Anyway, I'm done with my copy and would be happy to pass it along, just leave a comment!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Another new contributor!

Look who's joining us: Ecki aka Datri of Opposite Kids!

Water for Elephants

Um, it's completely obvious I stole that image from Amazon, isn't it!?

Anyway. My mom read this book in her book club and she really liked it.

I read it - and I really liked it, too. I really connected to it, it was touching and compelling. My brother read it and he was disappointed, 'Well, it didn't really go anywhere."

And that's true - it doesn't go very far, but I really like a touch of history in my books, and this was an easy, enjoyable read.

The book bounces back & forth between a man in a current day nursing home and his time with a traveling circus as a young man, during the Great Depression. The thing is, I hate circuses. They seem dirty and cruel - but this really opened my eyes as to how circus's used to be - when they were rare and entertaining (and dirty and dangerous). Book summary on Amazon.

If anyone hasn't read this book yet and would like to, just holler!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See - In all honesty, I bought this book because the cover is so beautiful. After what I saw as the disappointment of Peony in Love, I wasn't sure what to expect of this book. It lived up to, and even surpassed, in my opinion, Snow Flower and The Secret Fan. This is the story of two sisters, who are the closest of friends and, at times, the bitterest of rivals. Born in Shanghai in the 1930s into a live of privilege and plenty, their world is shattered with the invasion of the Japanese. They make a harrowing journey to America where they build a new life, trying to reconcile the conflicting feelings they have between homesickness for their home country and Chinese culture and beliefs, and wanting to embrace the American dream. I really loved this book!

It's up for grabs, just say the word.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Embers by Sandor Marai

Embers by Sandor Marai:

Originally published in 1942 and now rediscovered to international acclaim, this taut and exquisitely structured novel by the Hungarian master Sandor Marai conjures the melancholy glamour of a decaying empire and the disillusioned wisdom of its last heirs.

In a secluded woodland castle an old General prepares to receive a rare visitor, a man who was once his closest friend but who he has not seen in forty-one years. Over the ensuing hours host and guest will fight a duel of words and silences, accusations and evasions. They will exhume the memory of their friendship and that of the General’s beautiful, long-dead wife. And they will return to the time the three of them last sat together following a hunt in the nearby forest--a hunt in which no game was taken but during which something was lost forever. Embers is a classic of modern European literature, a work whose poignant evocation of the past also seems like a prophetic glimpse into the moral abyss of the present

This is the current selection for my book club, which is why I read it. The above synopsis is from the back cover. I don't know that I agree that "a duel of words" takes place; it's more a narrative. I really enjoyed the story, and found it to be very visual and haunting. There is also an air of suspense, although I found the ending to be anticlimactic. Worth reading, though!

I'm not putting this one up for grabs, as I've already promised it to someone in my book club.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Disability is Natural

Jen, I got my used copy from eBay today and, wow. It's about fourteen thousand pages. Did you actually read it cover to cover? Can you suggest certain chapters or sections?

Choosing Naia

I got this book from the lovely Chrystal, who had reviewed it on her other blog. If you want to know about the book, you'll have to read her review, because it is wordy and overly drawn out and I just can not get into it.

First of all, I thought I'd be really intrigued by reading the story of someone with a prenatal diagnosis and how they adapted and learned about DS and then their feelings when the baby finally arrived. But instead I find I'm really annoyed by the prose. It read (to me) like a man (the author) was doing a dramatic voice-over for every detail of these people's lives. Voice of a book is important to me, and this was just dragging me down.

So. I didn't finish this book, I am ashamed to say. I didn't even make it to the birth of Naia. That's hard for me to admit - I used to finish a book regardless of whether or not I liked it, but now I have better things to do with my time, I guess.

Did I sell you on it? Anyone want to take a stab at a book that I was too lazy to power through?

Monday, July 6, 2009

A new contributor!

Lookie who's joined us: Michelle of The Zoromski Chronicles :)

Bad Mother, Bad Book

I just finished reading Ayelet Waldman's book Bad Mother. I didn't love it.

I found Waldman to be whiny and unlikable, to be honest. It seems like she lives in her own little overprivileged bubble where children should be perfect and shiny accessories, and her own self-absorption clouds every interaction she has. She didn't seem to be saying anything that I haven't heard before, about the competition between mothers and how we all feel like we're not doing a good job.

Maybe I went into the book already not liking her. I give her credit for discussing her "genetic termination" of a baby with a chromosomal abnormality that may or may not have resulted in any symptoms or problems. But I just didn't like her for it. It seemed like a really selfish move on her part, especially since her husband wanted to have the baby. I try hard not to judge other people in difficult situations, but I just couldn't help myself. Sorry.

Anyway, thanks to Megan for passing it on, as it WAS marginally entertaining. It's ready to ship to someone else if any of you want it!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Another book about a child with Down syndrome

For those interested: Karina Has Down Syndrome

I put it on my Amazon wish list and will get it next time I place an order.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton

Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton: I read this book for a few reasons: I love me a good biography/memoir; my husband is a musician (he plays several instruments but is most passionate about the guitar) which has influenced my interest in music; and, I heard that Eric Clapton has had a pretty interesting and somewhat scandalous life. The book didn't disappoint. From just a general biographical standpoint, it's an interesting story, starting with the fact that for the first several years of his life he was raised to believe that his mother, who gave birth to him at the age of 15, was his sister, and then going into detail about his many relationships with various women and his alcoholism, drug addiction, and eventual recovery. However, I'm not quite sure it would appeal to someone who didn't have at least some interest in music and the music industry, as he talks a lot about all of that. It's a good story with a feel-good ending, but in all honesty, by the last couple of chapters, I was eager to just be done with it. If I had to rate it, I'd probably give it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

It's up for grabs if anyone's interested . . . Wendy? Tricia? Anyone?