Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Look Again

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline
Ellen Gleeson is a successful newspaper reporter and a single mom.  The story opens with her juggling the daily routine of working mom ... coming home from a day of work, hands full with mail, briefcase and Chinese take out for dinner.  Only, something in the mail draws her attention.

Have you seen me?

We've all seen the card in the mail.  The one with the picture of the missing child and the story of their horrible disappearance reduced to a list of dates and a short description of what they looked like, or a computer generated version of what they may look like today.  Only the child on this card looks exactly like Ellen's adopted son.

The story leads us with Ellen's nagging feeling that the familiarity with the boy on the card is more than mere coincidence.  As a reporter she has learned to trust this instinct.  As a mother she fears it.  We watch her put the pieces together as she risks her job, her heart and her life fighting her need for the truth and her desire to keep her little boy.

This book was lent to me by a friend who raved about it.  The book sounded good, but as a mother of an adopted child I have to admit I was hesitant reading anything that challenges our relationship, both legally and emotionally.  I read half the book in my first sitting, and then I reached a part - a legal loophole, if you will - that had me set the book aside.

The book dredged up some feelings I thought had been laid to rest.  It made me question the extent that one would go to, to do right by their child.  Do you stay blissfully ignorant and go about your life knowing that there are people whose lives have been shattered and that you  may hold the key to putting the pieces back together?  Or do you risk shattering your own life by looking for the truth?

I finished the rest of the book two days later.  I honestly could have walked away from it and never looked back, but the perfectionist in me says I have to finish what I started.  I figured I knew how it would end, I just wasn't sure I was ready to go there.

Any book that can reach in and yank out my heart, in my opinion, has some good to it.  It was well written and easy to follow.  It held a little bit for every reader - romance, suspense, action, mystery.  I thought the torn-emotions between wanting to know the truth vs wanting to pretend nothing would change came across pretty clearly. But the book ended rather abruptly, in my opinion,  it seemed like the author just kind of pooped out after getting to a point and threw in an Epilogue to tie it all together.  I wasn't real pleased with that.

I recommend as an easy read, despite it's almost 380 pages.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Moloka'i (a novel)

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

This is the story of Rachel, a young Hawaiian girl, beloved by her family and living an idyllic childhood in late eighteenth century Honolulu, who contracts leprosy at the age of seven and is ripped away from her family and the only life she's ever known and sent to live in exhile in the leper colony on the tiny island of Moloka'i. Although fictitious, this novel is populated by a number of people who actually did live, and on historical events that actually took place.

Heartwrenching as it is reading about a little girl torn from her family and sent away to live out her life diseased and orphaned, the book actually ends up being uplifting without feeling contrived or saccharine. Rachel manages to carve out a life for herself in the leper colony, becoming part of a new family of other people, young and old, living with the same disease as she, the same feelings of loss, and the same determination to live. Full of lush descriptions of the Hawaiian landscape and culture, it was easy to visualize the story as it unfolded.

I never knew a whole lot about leprosy (now called Hansen's Disease) until reading this book, which inspired me to do a little further research. What has historically been viewed as the scourge of the sinful and unclean (and is still viewed as such today in many cultures), it is actually just a bacterial infection that, tragically, causes horrific disfiguration if left untreated. Fortunately, there are very effective treatments today that arrest the disease. Knowing this, however, makes it all the more tragic how many thousands and thousands of people were stripped of everyone and everything they had and forced to live out their lives as virtual criminals in exhile.

I really enjoyed this one and highly recommend it (I read it on my iPad so don't have a copy to give away).

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Mother's Rules

My Mother's Rules: a Practical Guide to Becoming an Emotional Genius by Lynn Toler

You might recognize the author as Judge Lynn Toler of the nationally syndicated show, Divorce Court.  In a mix of inspirational memoir meets self help, Toler shares with us her mother's "rules" for life.  Rules that were founded upon a need to do more than just survive.  A childhood of poverty, a mentally ill, alocholic husband, and two little girls ... this is where her mother began and her rules helped Toler become the successful woman that she is today.

Growing up in Ohio, the author takes us through her childhood, living with a father whose moods could be volatile, and a mother who managed to keep every one together.  We see how her mother's ability to keep her own feelings in check made it possible to somewhat gauge her husband's reaction to life's daily battles.

Toler describes, rather frankly, not only the outbursts she witnessed from her father as a child, but also how "the Beast" in her can also take over all rational thinking and replace it with fear.  We learn that the tools her mother used in living with a mentally ill husband, also work for Lynn when she is battling the demons that reside in her own mind.

These rules cover everything from knowing where your feelings come from, tackling them head on, and turning them around to make them work for you instead of against you ... working through an issue or avoiding one completely ... ignoring insult, helping others see what you're saying, and when to ask for help.

Most people are not, I have realized, emotionally well practiced.  We tend to misunderstand our fears and misinterpret our desires.  We act when we ought to sit still; we feel when we should instead think, and in the end, this allows our emotions to handle us as opposed to us handling them.

I came across this title on Amazon's recommended books and after reading a sample of it on my kindle, had no issue in paying for the rest.  I personally have my own set of "rules" in dealing with my emotions as a way to keep a handle on my bipolar.  By using what I've learned here, I feel confident that I can gain more control over the situations that I usually let slide by.  Things like displaced anger, blowing up over a small issue because I am still upset about something that happened earlier in the day, can be put aside until the time is right to deal with it.  This not only saves me the energy used in losing my cool, it also saves the embarrassment and guilt I'd feel later.

I'd recommend this book in a heartbeat.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Freedom (a novel)

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Once in a while a novel comes along that is everything a novel should be: engrossing story line, believable characters whom you care about, and a completely engaging writing style. This is one of those novels, at least in my estimation. I actually wasn't going to read it, but I kept hearing buzz about it and finally gave in and downloaded it to my iPad, and I'm so glad I did.

Meet Patty, Walter, and Richard. The first chapter of the book takes the reader quickly through the implosion of Patty's and Walter's life together. The rest of the book takes the reader back to the beginning and then on the long path of life these people travel, showing how it all unwinds.

Patty is a talented athlete who carries childhood scars. Her college basketball career is abruptly ended by a devastating injury, and shortly after, she throws herself into marriage to Walter and raising her kids, trying to be The Best Mom Ever, at least to some degree as a reproach to her own emotionally unavailable family.

Walter is a somewhat geeky and tenderhearted man who has escaped his own childhood demons. He is a passionate environmentalist and a genuine good person, and falls hard for Patty.

Richard is Walter's best friend and polar opposite in almost every way. A selfish, drug-dabbling musician, he uses women, and is cynical. He falls for Patty in his own way.

What develops is something of a love triangle: Richard loves and admires Walter like a brother; but, alas, his best friend's girlfriend-then-wife gets under his skin and becomes an itch he can't quite scratch. Patty, too, loves and admires Walter, but, despite constant effort to be "her best person," she can never seem to get past feeling both not good enough for Walter, and as though she settled for Walter in some way because she also has an attraction to bad boy Richard.

Woven throughout the story is the theme of freedom: personal freedoms and the ways in which we abuse them and the prices we pay for them, set against a backdrop of national freedom and the devastation that has wreaked in many ways. It was hard to read all the environmental stuff and not look at my own carbon footprint with a critical eye.

The story is utterly believable and the characters so vivid and real, all of them extremely flawed, but each with a story to tell. I couldn't help but laugh and cry at their foibles, and in the end, the reader is left with a feeling of hopefulness.

On some level, it evoked for me a similar flavor as She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb, one of my all time favorite novels. This is one of those books I picked up every spare moment I had, and was sorry when it came to an end.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blue Boy

Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal

Kiran Sharma is a smart, talented twelve year old boy.  He is admired by most of his teachers, adored by the Indian Aunties, gets straight A's in school, goes to temple and is very observant of the people around him.  Kiran also likes to wear his mother's make-up, play with dolls and he thinks he is Krishna, reincarnated.

This book takes us through a few months of Kiran's life.  The author shows us how this little Indian boy actually splits his time in two worlds - that of his school, where he is the only Indian child and longs to play with the popular girls, talking about saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210.  and that of his Temple, where he is surrounded by other Indian families, engrossed by all that he loves about his culture, but is still not accepted by the children.

I downloaded this book on my Kindle while it was offered as a freebie in honor of the students that took their lives as a result of bullying.  I'm not really sure what I expected out of it.  As usual I didn't read about the book before diving into it's pages.  While I was impressed with the colorful pictures painted in my mind about Indian homes, food and Temple, I was left feeling a little lost.  Like I was just observing the scenes without a clear direction in order.

It turns out the book was leading to a talent show where Kiran wanted to honor Krishna in song and dance.  Along the way though, we were sidetracked with naked teenagers having sex in the park, a friend who spurred on prepubescent sexual curiosity with playboy magazines hidden under his bedroom desk, and a nagging question of, is Kiran attracted to boys?  or does he just want to be a girl?

I read so many rave reviews about this book that I am left wondering if maybe I was just preoccupied while reading the book.  I absolutely loved the description of Indian customs, clothing, food and decor.  The narrative of his parents speech reminded me of my own Indian friends and I loved imagining them saying the words the author wrote (I'm weird like that).  But as for the rest of the book??  I was kinda left ... stumped?  In the story Kiran does something totally out of character, and while I kept thinking he would own up to it, he never does and hardly shows any remorse for the act.

Decide for yourself.  This one may need a second read from me.

 - I know what you're thinking .... what in the world possesses me to read these books??