Thursday, July 29, 2010

Two Books I've Read

Thursday Thirteen

Yesterday I finished the second of two books I'd read since I last blogged and thought I'd do my Thursday Thirteen about them.

Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anixiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes

1. This is a non-fiction book written by Therese J. Borchard.

2. It's partly a memoir, which I found especially helpful. Ms. Borchard suffers from depression, anxiety and a mood disorder--just like me. I really connected with this book because of similar experiences.

3. It's also a self-help guide, educating the reader better about what these illnesses are, how to treat them, and how to live with them.

4. The book gave me a lot of hope. I do feel better and so I'm glad I've got a "cocktail" that works. At the same time, there's a lot of helpful information so that I can stay on top of my own illnesses and work to remain stable!

Those Who Save Us

5. This is a work of fiction, written by Jenna Blum. I believe it's the first book she's published.

6. I had trouble sticking with the book because I found the two main characters, Anna and Trudy, both so unlikeable.

7. The book is set in two different places and times: Weimar, Germany during the Nazi regime of World War II and mid-1990s Minnesota.

8. Anna, the elder character, was a single mother. Only she and a friend knew the identity of her baby, Trudy's, father. In order to protect her child and to survive, Anna finds herself forced to do things she never wanted to do.

9. She never talked about her past, remaining coldly silent all Trudy's growing and maturing years. Even as adults, she and Trudy don't communicate.

10. Trudy's a professor and her "special class" is a seminar on German women during Nazi Germany. She has an undue fascination with the period and the topic, probably because she knows so little about her mother's relationship with an SS officer in a picture kept hidden for decades.

11. Trudy is cold and undemonstrative toward her mother too, choosing to put her in a nursing home after the death of her stepfather Jack.

12. After a crisis at the nursing home, Anna has to move in with Trudy. Anna learns about Trudy's seminar and about a special project she's doing, interviewing German (non Jewish) citizens about their memories of World War II.

13. Trudy eventually will learn her mother's secrets but ... there was no satisfactory conclusion. Not for me, anyway.

Beyond Blue fits into these reading challenges:

Those Who Save Us fits into these reading challenges:

Now I've finished the New Authors' Challenge. I read fifteen books by authors I'd never read before. Another challenge down, four to go!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tempest Rising by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

Thursday Thirteen

I thought I'd focus on Tempest Rising, a book I just finished, and wait a week on my favorite music from my teenage years.

Thirteen Things I Learned From Tempest Rising

1. It's written by an author I hadn't read before, Diane McKinney-Whetstone

2. The main setting is west Philadelphia, 1965.

3. The first part of the book deals with the beautiful and fragile, Clarise, who is orphaned and raised by four loving and very eccentric aunts and uncles

4. Clarise elopes with a young man, Finch, and the two start a catering business together.

5. The business does extremely well! They have three daughters: Shern, Victoria and Bliss, and they buy a large home in a well-to-do neighborhood

6. Instead of helping them, repeal of the Jim Crow laws hurts them. Their previously loyal customers flock to larger mass caterers. Finch becomes nearly bankrupt.

7. Finch loses his life in the first "tempest rising", trying desperately to save his business. His widow, Clarice, breaks down emotionally and has to be hospitalized.

8. Because of an old vendetta and an old criminal charge, the daughters are placed in a real horror of a foster home.

9. The next part of the book focuses mostly on Ramona, the seemingly mean and cold hearted daughter of the very dysfunctional foster mother, Mae.

10. The three daughters suffer abuses and neglect while staying in that foster home.

11. During the second "tempest rising", the girls run away from the foster home in a dangerous snow storm.

12. I liked the book a lot but felt it was a bit overly dramatic.

13. Reading Tempest Rising fit these book challenges:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig

I hemmed and hawed about reading this one. It wasn't on any of my challenge lists originally although I'm going to switch things around so that it is and fits. I haven't been thrilled with the idea of Gone With The Wind sequels and wasn't sure I'd like this one. My daughter was clearing out her room and Rhett Butler's People was in her give-away box so I plucked it out, checked for reviews and decided to give it a try.

I could have passed. It wasn't a terrible book. It just wasn't my cup of tea.

First, I couldn't figure out who the book was supposed to be about. I thought Rhett Butler and, very early on, it was. I totally enjoyed the beginning, learning about Rhett's roots and why he became the person he did. It wasn't long, though, before Rhett disappeared and the focus went from him to the points of view of other characters and I went huh?. I kept reading, though, because the title was Rhett Butler's People so I supposed that meant all these extraneous people. Still, I thought the author could have kept to Rhett's point of view.

The book began to break down for me when Rhett met Scarlett again in Alanta. Either a scene was repeated, glossed over or left out. I wanted to know more about what was going on in Rhett's mind and heart at this time but I just don't feel I got that. Reconstruction and Rhett's marriage to Scarlett was especially shallow I thought. Through it, the point of view kept shifting around and I didn't like that either.

I think the end could have been exciting but by then, to be honest, I didn't care anymore and just wanted to get through it so I could say I'd read the darn thing ... and I did.

The book fits these challenges:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

I saw a high school's production of the play Les Misérables and decided I wanted to read it as one of my classics in the 2010 Mixology challenge. My son happened to have an abridged copy and I began reading it in the beginning of the month. It is truly a big book.

One problem (or not) that I had with this particular edited version is that several sections of Les Misérables was left out. The editor had notes which described certain portions of the text that had been deleted and in other places, merely stated that such-and-such part or chapter had been left out. At times I didn't understand exactly what was going on and wondered if everything would have been explained by the missing material. On the other hand, I tend to get bored with preachy or dry facts and will skip over it or not absorb it anyway.

Les Miserables is not just one character's story as I originally believed. It's the stories of several. The main one revolves around Jean Valjean, though, a very tragic sort of guy. As a young man, he steals a loaf of bread to feed his widowed sister's children, is caught and sent to prison for years. He makes two attempts at escape and has more years tacked on. After he's released, he eventually changes and becomes a "good" man but just can't escape that past.

There's a dedicated fanatical police inspector, Javert, who will never give up the hunt and is like one of those crazy dogs that attaches itself to someone's ankle and would rather die than let go.

There's little Cosette rescued from human-demons who were fostering her by Jean Valjean, at the age of 8.

There's her very tragic mother, Fantine.

The first half of the book was great! I thought it was one of the best books I'd ever read.

In the second half, though, the focus of the story shifted to a love story between Cosette and Marius.

I thought I might like Marius at first, a poor young lawyer who'd defied his rich grandfather and gone out into the world on his own. Marius began to develop as an independently thinking human being. One day he's going for his usual walk when he sees and falls in love with the beautiful Cosette, also on a walk with her own father. Cosette also notices Marius and falls right back in love with him.

One night, though, he becomes involved in trying to rescue Jean-Valjean from the demon foster parents. It turns out demon foster father "rescued" Marius' father at the Battle of Waterloo. Actually, the father was being robbed but didn't realize it. Anyway, he's so grateful to the thief that at his death he charges Marius with doing anything possible to help this loser. When Marius realizes who this loser actually is, he freezes and I became thoroughly disgusted with him.

I'm leaving out the next important chunk of the story but that's only because I'm too lazy to go into it all and because I was so disgusted with Marius I just didn't enjoy the mini-revolution by a small band of martyrs.

This is one of the greatest stories ever written though. Seriously.

I'm also fitting this book into the "New Authors" challenge because I've never read anything by Victor Hugo before.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Other books I read in May

I really fell behind, but not with my reading! I guess I didn't feel particularly motivated to write about the least, not until this last one!

Here are the rest of the books I read this month:

Symtoms of Withdrawal by Christopher Kennedy Lawford: When I came across this book a couple of years ago, it triggered memories of my fascination with everything Kennedy. When I was a teenager, I went through a time where I read every book I could find on John and/or Robert Kennedy. I stopped when I began having nightmares about them. I was especially interested in Lawford's book because he's a member of the next, privileged generation that had nothing but problems. Lawford's a recovering addict--I don't think you're ever "cured" from alcoholism, drugs or the effects of a dysfunctional family. I think you're in recovery the rest of your life.

Anyway, Lawford details his early years before his famous parents' divorce, growing up with his Kennedy cousins and becoming involved with drugs, and hitting rock bottom. It takes longer to hit rock bottom when you have a lot of money and a famous family to protect you. Some of the family "rules" sounded very familiar--especially the "closed" system. "There's nothing wrong with our family and don't you dare talk about it anyway!"

Except for the fact that it's written by a member of the Kennedy family, the book's as good as any written by one who's experienced the hell of addiction.

Frankenstein: Prodigal Son by Dean Koontz. Prodigal Son is the first in a trilogy about the monster and his inventer, set in the present time. It's not a retelling so much as it is a continuation of the classic by Mary Shelley. Dr. Frankenstein, now Dr. Victor Helios, has remade himself into an immortal super-human and is creating a race of beings that are an improvement on his original monster. That man now calls himself Deucalion and is determined to stop the mad doctor. Deucalion is drawn to New Orleans because Helios has shown up there. By coincidence (or not) there are a pair of serial killers running around too and they are stealing body parts. Hmmm. Detectives Carson O'Connor and Michael Maddison are hunting for them. There's another sub-plot I could do without that involves O'Connor's autistic brother. I'm sure that storyline will become more prominent in the next book. I'd gotten bored with Dean Koontz stories because they seem to follow a predictable routine but since I hadn't read anything by him in over a year, this one was pretty good.

Healing the Child Within by Charles L. Whitfield, M.D.: I learned so much from this book! It seemed like I was bookmarking every other page. I think I'll save those bits for my recovery blog. The basic idea is that we all have inner children. The author gives this description of our inner children: "who we are when we feel most authentic, genuine or spirited." When that child is "out" we feel the most alive and happy. The thing is, most of us have had to hide the child and develop what the author calls a "co-dependent self" and that's a result of the way we've grown up. There are different degrees of dysfunction in the family and some causes are alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, perfectionism, and "coldness". The book also explores how to heal and release the inner child. I am really glad I read this book!

The books fit into these challenges:

Now that I've read Symptoms of Withdrawal, I've completed this challenge, yay!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

I finished reading The Last Days of Dogtown last week sometime but was having trouble thinking about what I wanted to say about it. I was that impressed.

I might have liked it a little better if it hadn't seemed like a bunch of short stories strung together and passed off as a novel. In fact, if it was presented that way in the first place, I probably would have skipped it. I'm not a fan of short stories.

It was about ... um ... okay, it was about the death of a town. It used to be a nice place to live and then nearly everyone left. I found the back jacket description to be very appealing: "Set on the high ground at the heart of Cape Ann, the village of Dogtown is peopled by widows, orphans, spinsters, scoundrels, whores, free Africans, and 'witches'". It takes place after the War of 1812 and spans, I don't know, twenty years.

The stories were sort of related but not enough to make me happy. Some of them were set years apart. It just didn't have a smooth transitional feel -- not for me, anyway.

Ruth Diamant wrote The Red Tent which I know many people loved. If I'd liked this one more, I would have gone on to read that one but I think I'll pass.

The Last Days of Dogtown is in these challenges:

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan

Some time ago (I can't remember which year) I read a book by an author TB and I met, Don Massey. The book was called A Matter Of Degree and it was about the Ringley Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus fire in Hartford, CT in July 1944. The book focused on investigator Rick Davey's research into the cause and his drive to identify a child who died in the fire, identified only as Little Miss 1565. One thing that surprised me was that there was so little information about such a devastating event. My curiosity was stirred and I found another book about it, bought it and didn't get around to it until recently.

What a compelling book! The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan is a recounting of the fire, the aftermath, the investigation and about what happened to the people involved. Sometimes I cringed at the details of the victims' injuries. I was very moved by the stories. Some had happier endings, many did not.

Little Miss 1565 was eventually claimed and identified as Eleanor Cook but there's a lot of controversy about that. Some of the evidence contradicts the details about the little girl. It was a fascinating, absorbing read.

The Circus Fire falls into these book challenges: