Thursday, January 31, 2013

My thoughts on: Believe Like a Child

I start every book believing that I will love it. But every now and then I come across a book that just wasn't for me. When I was contacted by Paige Dearth, the author of Believe Like a Child, I was very moved by her personal story. Ms. Dearth was raped at the age of seven. To cope with the trauma, she made up stories in her mind, which provided a welcome distraction from her troubled home life. Her adult life was filled with several ups and downs, including a failed marriage to a heroin addict. Through it all, she has persevered.

Believe Like a Child is fiction, but many details from Ms. Dearth's own life make it into the book. Like Ms. Dearth, the main character, Alessa, was raped at seven years old by her uncle. Alessa's uncle Danny is the family meal ticket, without him Alessa and her family wouldn't have any money to survive. Alessa's mother doesn't believe her daughter's accusations. Alessa is basically the sacrificial lamb for the family. It doesn't matter how much pain she is in, Alessa has to take one for the family. I was disgusted by that. It would be nice to believe situations like this don't happen, but I'm quite certain that they do. A parent is supposed to protect their child from harm. I just don't understand why some parents don't do that.

As she grows up, Alessa's only respite from her troubled home life is her friendship with Rhonda and her mother Zoe. But when Rhonda dies in a horrific act of violence, Alessa has reached her breaking point, she can no longer cope without someone to confide in. And....her uncle was getting ready to pimp her out to his poker buddies. Up until this point I was Ok with the book.  But once Alessa is on her own at age 16, I had some trouble with the book. It's not that I don't believe 16-year-olds can be resourceful and provide for themselves. But everything under the sun is happening to Alessa, and I just couldn't believe all of it. In addition to being raped by her uncle, Alessa was raped by a boyfriend, gang raped more than once, and forced into prostitution. The details of all of this are very graphic. The graphic nature didn't offend me in any way, but I just felt there was too much going on here. In my opinion, if there is too much going on, the overall message can get lost. After 100+ pages, I just couldn't finish this book. It just wasn't for me, but that doesn't mean this book won't appeal to others.

Yes, some of the author's own life influenced this book, but I had to separate the book from the author and look at this as a piece of fiction. The book is told in the third person. I believe the book would have been a much more powerful read had it been written in the first person. The way it's written, we are being told Alessa's story rather than letting Alessa tell it herself. For me, it would have been much more powerful to read a child's perspective on her troubled home life. When the book opens her character is seven years old, but no seven year old would talk they way Alessa does. At times, the language felt very awkward. An abused child that age certainly knows what it feels like to be raped or sodomized, but I find it hard to believe they would actually know to say the specific words "rape" or "sodomy." 

When the book opens we are plunged right into the family dynamic. I would have liked to know more about Alessa before her ordeal began. Did she have hopes and dreams before her childhood was shattered? If so what were they? What was her relationship with her siblings like before all the trouble? Was her life always bad? Was her mother always this evil person? Was her uncle always an evil person? Also, Alessa and Rhonda became great friends, but by page 32 Rhonda is dead. I felt a little cheated. More time should have been devoted to developing their friendship. I also had trouble figuring out what year or era this was supposed to be. When Alessa is on her own, she is earning a minimum wage of $3.35, which made me think this was the 70s or 80s. That could be chalked up to her boss being a jerk, and to Alessa being naive about life. I don't really know the answer to that one. But Alessa also has a cell phone so she can keep in contact with Zoe, which made me think this was a more contemporary story.

I applaud Paige Dearth and others like her for not letting an abusive childhood define who they are as adults. It couldn't have been easy for Ms. Dearth to write this, and I admire her for having the courage to do so. The pain that Ms. Dearth felt certainly comes through in Alessa. But when reading or reviewing a book like this, I can't let the author's personal history influence my opinion. I really, really wanted to like this book, but it just wasn't for me.

Monday, January 28, 2013

My take on: The Dragon Keeper

I haven't owned an animal since I was 6 or 7 years old, I'm 30 now. And.....I haven't been to a zoo in about three or four years. Why does this matter? Because the latest book I read, The Dragon Keeper by Mindy Mejia, is all about a woman's attachment to an animal. Since I'm not around animals everyday, I personally don't understand the attachment people have to animals. But I was thoroughly engrossed in this character's determination to protect a Komodo dragon. Google these things, a Komodo dragon looks dangerous, but I came to feel sorry for one after reading this book.

Zookeeper Meg Yancey is a bit of a loner. She and her boyfriend Ben seem more like angry roommates than romantic partners. He spends his time absorbing every news story on the TV and writing down his observations in dozens of notebooks. What free time Meg has is spent obsessing about her charge Jata, a Komodo dragon she has taken care of for five years. At work, Meg has to put up with endless bureaucracy. She would rather devote all of her time taking care of Jata, than pleasing her bosses doing zoo tours and talking to the media. Socializing with Gemma, her only friend at work, seems more like a chore for Meg. The only time she can have a deep conversation or thought is with Jata. That just seems weird to me. Is it really worth it to have a deeper connection with an animal than an actual person? The animal can't talk back to you or help with your problems. Meg seemed to be in a bubble. When anyone tries to pop that bubble, Meg just doesn't know how to react. Or it seems like she overreacts. If all of your deep connections are with an animal, how will you know how to deal with humans?

When Jata produces eggs and they subsequently hatch, Meg is fiercely protective of them all. Jata hasn't been exposed to a male Komodo dragon, so how did this occur? Is it a virgin birth? That's the working theory. Scientists inside and outside the zoo want a piece of Jata. The zoo's veterinarian, Antonio, wants a piece of the pie, too. At times, Meg can't stand Antonio, but there is definitely some sexual chemistry there. I think everyone can guess where that relationship ends up. She doesn't quite understand her feelings toward Ben, which makes it hard for her to feel guilty about cheating on him with Antonio. There is no definition for her relationship with Ben. But maybe there's something there with Antonio.

Jata forces Meg finally to deal with her relationships with people, instead of running from them. The press wants answers about Jata. Antonio and Ben want to know where they stand with Meg. And Meg wants to know where she stands with Jata. It seems like Meg and Jata have a connection. When something is wrong with the other they can sense it. Jata seems more like Meg's child than an animal in the zoo. Meg is truly hurt when Jata is hurt. Meg is truly hurt when Jata forces her to make a tough choice. What is that choice? You will just have to read the book to know what I'm talking about. But that choice made me feel sorry for Meg and Jata. She's just an animal, but Meg is Jata's only advocate. Meg cares more about her. Meg doesn't want to get rich off cutting Jata into little pieces. The prospect of losing Jata means Meg will have to find something else to fulfill her. By the end she seems to have found it. If you're an animal lover, this book is right up your alley.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My take on: The Books They Gave Me

A book about books for people who love books? Of course I'm going to read that. The Books They Gave Me by Jen Adams is a collection of 200 stories. Every book lover out there, take a look at your collection. I'm sure a lot of your books have a story behind them. A book can remind you of so many things. A happy memory. A sad memory. A good relationship. And...a bad relationship. Sometimes you are forever tied to those memories and to the books.

"In this age of the e-book, part of the appeal of being given a hard copy book as a gift is its tangible timelessness. Books are real. You can give a book as a gift. Kindles are great for reading on the subway, and they get people to read more than they might otherwise, but they are flatly unromantic. Paper books offer a kind of permanent charm. They don't expire; they can't disappear in a power surge. Books last. I'm not with any of those men anymore, but I still have the books they gave me." -- Pg xvii

That's a quote from Jen Adams, and I couldn't agree more. Digital is the wave of the future in just about every industry, and books are no different. I just don't think this generation truly understands the joys of wandering a book store. Half the fun in discovering new books is wandering the shelves of a store. Full disclosure, I do own a Kindle Fire and I buy books online. But the feeling you get scrolling through a screen just isn't the same as browsing a store. Sometimes I go into a store with at least one or two books in mind, but I usually come out with more.

"Still, it's easy to tune out a song you don't particularly care for when you would rather listen to him talk or relish the comfort of his arms. But with books, you pay attention. You're reading words; you're consuming ideas and themes that move him; you're connecting intellectually. Maybe even spiritually." -- Pg. 5

I thought that was such a great quote, that I had to put it in. It's very easy to tune out the everyday white noise. But when you're reading a book, you're in the moment. Maybe the book doesn't move you to bring about social change, but hopefully you're absorbing the words.

"I've gotten gift cards to Borders, Barnes & Noble, local stores, and cash meant for books. But I have never actually gotten a physical book from anyone. I actually like it better that way. I think that letting me make the choice about the book I want is better. I would like to get a book from someone who knows me and knows exactly what I want, but I have yet to encounter that person." -- Pg. 7

Most of the stories in the book are about books given to people. It's been a long time since someone has given me a book as a gift. I don't think that's a bad thing. I usually smile and pretend to like the books I've been given as gifts. And then....those books end up collecting dust on my shelves. Gift cards and cash are the way to go for someone like me. I love my family but I don't think they know what I like to read. They just know that I like to read. Hopefully, one day I find someone who knows what I like to read.

This was a fun one to read. The stories behind the books were all over the place. Some were extremely funny. Imagine you're a book lover and you're in a relationship with a non-reader. It happened several times in this book. Some people just buy any book not realizing every book is not for every person. Some were emotional. Some were sad.  It was a quick and easy read, I just wish there were more stories in the book.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Simon & Schuster) in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My take on: Dizzy

This is my third round of reading a book by Arthur WootenLeftovers and Birthday Pie both had just the right mix of humor and seriousness. His latest book, Dizzy, still has those elements, but it is a fictional take on a subject very close to his own heart. Before reading Dizzy I had never heard of bilateral vestibulopathy with oscillopsia. After reading the book I can't say I know everything about this disease, but I have a great amount of empathy for those who suffer from it.

Broadway star Angie Styles is at the height of her career. A close-knit group of friends help Angie manage her day-to-day life. She runs from one appointment to the next, hardly taking any time for herself. Her mother, a wannabe actress, is no longer in Angie's life, and her father is in a nursing home. She doesn't have time to be sick, but some symptoms become too hard to ignore. The need to tug on her left ear, excessive sweating, the sudden loss of taste and smell, and frequently losing her balance begin to overwhelm Angie. When the systems occur in public, tabloids are quick to label her as a drunk and a drug addict. Why report the truth? Showing concern for her health isn't newsworthy, instead publishing embarrassing pictures is the real news!

Angie's internal struggles are what kept my attention. Doctor after doctor insist she is perfectly healthy. Lots of people suffered from diseases before doctors came up with a name for them. Angie knows there is something wrong. I felt her despair. She begins to doubt her own sanity before she is finally diagnosed. The simplest tasks are now harder than ever. There is no cure, but like a lot of conditions there are ways for her to live with it. Is that really living? Walking to the corner store? Driving? Tasting and smelling food? Walking up or down stairs? Constant sensory overload? I don't think any of us give much thought to doing those things. But just imagine you couldn't do those things. Or that you would have to work extra hard for the rest of your life to do them. You have to live the rest of your life in pain. You have to live the rest of your life with a disease that most people can't pronounce or understand.

This was an entertaining and emotional read. I couldn't imagine living like this. It's almost like being a child all over again. You have to learn to do the most basic tasks all over again. You have to teach your brain to think and react in a different way. You have to do it every day, there is no break. To the people who suffer from this, BRAVO to you!! All of you possess a great amount of emotional fortitude that is lacking in most people, including myself.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My take on: The Language of Sisters

I loved Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany. If I love one book by an author, I will certainly go back for more. Amy Hatvany succeeds at capturing the emotional and complex relationship between sisters in The Language of Sisters.

Nicole Hunter has what she thinks is a great life. Her career as a therapist wasn't as fulfilling as she thought, instead Nicole is trying to make it as a pastry chef. At home, her boyfriend Shane likes everything neat and organized. He's handsome and has a successful career as a prosecutor. On the outside, she has a life that most people would envy. But on the inside, even Nicole isn't sure this is the life she should be leading. Ten years ago, Nicole ran from her troubled home life in search of normalcy and happiness. But the guilt and shame from that decision have prevented Nicole from true happiness.

Why did Nicole run from her family? She loves her sister Jenny with all her heart, but Jenny's disability is too much to cope with. Jenny needs help with every aspect of her life. She can't clothe or feed herself. She can't speak. Throughout her childhood, caring for Jenny took its toll on her family. Her mother and father fought constantly over Jenny's care. But Jenny and Nicole have a bond that doesn't need words. A look, gesture, or sound from Jenny and Nicole instantly knows what her sister needs. Jenny has been in an institution for the past ten years, but even in her absence Nicole can feel when things are going good for Jenny and when they are are going bad. Something is wrong with Jenny, and now Nicole must deal with those feelings of guilt.

Jenny was raped at the institution and is now pregnant. What will Nicole and her mother do now? They are now forced together after ten years of estrangement. Life was normal and comfortable with Jenny in the institution. Nicole and her mother could live their lives without having to care for Jenny around-the-clock. Both of them feel like they didn't do enough to protect Jenny. If they were around more would this have still happened? Should they blame themselves? In the past, Nicole and her mother felt they didn't do enough to protect Jenny. Nicole's dad didn't seem to have the same amount of compassion for Jenny as the rest of the family. For him, Jenny was an inconvenience. He couldn't take her screaming fits or the drool on her chin. He took out his frustrations on Jenny. I don't want to give too much away, but his frustration led Nicole to believe the worst about her father. Believing the worst has been the guiding force behind much of Nicole's adult life. Her parents have long since been divorced, but Nicole has refused to confront her feelings regarding her father. It's easier to hate him than forgive him. If Nicole truly didn't do enough to protect Jenny, what does that say about her? It's easier to hate him than examine her own feelings or her own character.

Going home allows Nicole to reconnect not just with her mother, but her childhood friend Nova. Nova's home life in the past and in the present is the polar opposite to Nicole's. Nova grew up with two loving parents, who are also still married after 30 years. Nova is married with four children. Despite all the mess and the hectic pace, Nova has achieved a level of happiness Nicole could only hope to have. Shane doesn't want a life with mess or kids. Which makes the decision regarding Jenny's baby extremely difficult? Is it right to give up the baby? She already abandoned Jenny for ten years, can Nicole do the same to the baby? What about Shane? Will he stay if Nicole keeps the baby? If he doesn't, then Nicole will know his true character. Is he worth the trouble if he can't or won't adapt to change?

The relationship between Nicole and Jenny is at the heart of this book. Despite the years of separation, you can tell there is a genuine bond between them. Like all siblings, there is an unspoken language and bond between them and no disability can tear that apart. If you like family dramas like me, give this one a try.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Washington Square Press) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 7, 2013

My take on: From Blood

I'm not quite sure where to start. From Blood by Edward Wright is very different from what I normally read. The brutal murder of Shannon Fairchild's parent leads her on a dangerous path of self-discovery. After the first couple of chapters I was expecting a totally different novel. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the murders, but as I read further it morphed into an examination of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s.

Shannon is the family screw-up. She dropped out of a PhD program only to end cleaning homes of the wealthy. She owns the cleaning business, but you get the sense that there was an opportunity missed. Could she have achieved even greater success if she had stuck with the PhD program? Her sister Beth is a wife and mother, her parents don't have to worry about her. Would Shannon's parents worry a little bit less if she wasn't constantly getting into trouble? Something has always been off for Shannon. She can never put her finger on it. Childhood nightmares constantly haunt her, and she doesn't know why. Something in her past holds the key to her future.

The death of her parents forces Shannon to confront the past. Her parents were active protesters during the 60s, but they never resorted to violence like some of their friends. Diana Burke and John Paul West, two sought after fugitives, were best friends with Shannon's parents. Diana and John Paul are deep underground, but the authorities and some very dangerous enemies are after them. Shannon's parents were killed because they refused to give information about their whereabouts. Her mother's dying wish was for Shannon to find them and deliver a message. But soon I began to think was delivering the message really worth it? Even in death she wants to please her parents, but is it worth it to risk her life? She doesn't know who she can and can't trust. Everyone, including the FBI, has their own agenda. At first, her boyfriend TeeJay seems to be the only one without ulterior motives. She can tell him everything without worrying about his motives. I said "at first" because towards the end of the book there is a big twist. But you will have to read the book to know what I'm talking about.

What I'm about to say next could be considered a spoiler. So if you don't want to know, STOP reading.

Still here?

Good. Along the way Shannon discovers that Diana and John Paul are her birth parents. Does that really spoil the book? I don't think so because that little tidbit is revealed pretty early on. Shannon always knew something wasn't right. Did she turn out the way she did because of Diana and John Paul? What kind of people are they? Why did they give her up? Was there something wrong with Shannon that they didn't like? Wanting to know the answers provides Shannon with extra motivation in her task. If she learns about them, then Shannon will truly know herself. Diana and John Paul seemed like polar opposites. I wondered how they ever worked as a couple. John Paul has mellowed in his old age, and makes small gestures of protest. He wants to help the world without being discovered by the authorities. But as they went deeper underground, Diana embraced a harsher and more violent view of the world. In her youth, she was non-violent but when Shannon finally finds Diana she is ready to show the world she means business. Diana's grand plan is to cause destruction that will have impact across the world. It was intriguing to read how off the grid someone's mind can go. Diana sounded perfectly rational one minute, and completely wackadoo the next.

This was an intriguing read, but I did think it moved a little slow. I kept wondering where is this going to go. Once Shannon has delivered her message, what else is there? There was a lot more after she accomplished her mission. Everything seemed to wrap up a little too neatly, but the last several chapters were suspenseful.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received an e-book from the author's publicist in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

It's a new year, so I must challenge myself!!

I would love to read more books in 2013 than I did last year. I read more than 70 books in 2012, but I had a really good head start before my first semester of grad school. I go back to school at the end of the month, and I just don't think it will be possible to read more than 70 books this year. I had to lower my reading goal to 65 books (Update: As of Jan. 20 I changed it to 60 books. Needed to be more realistic!). I hope I reach it.

I'm also challenging myself to not buy any books (I will make exceptions for textbooks) for one month. I have some books on order, which I purchased with my Christmas money in December. So I figure those don't count. As much as I would hate to, I can turn away a piece of cake. But I have SERIOUS problems walking out of a bookstore without purchasing something. I can and will still accept review books. I know my fellow book lovers will agree, it is REALLY REALLY hard to not buy books. I just want to see how long I can last. If I make it one month, I will try to go a little further. It will also help keep a little extra money in my wallet!!

I'm also thinking about broadening my horizons. For the most part, I stick to contemporary and non-fiction books. I have had a serious mental block with paranormal and dystopian books. I like my books to be based in reality. I never thought it was worth my time to get involved with the mythology of made up worlds. That way of thinking is cutting me off from some really good books. After watching several Youtube videos, I feel like I need to get in on the fun. I'm starting off with the Beautiful Creatures series. Although I seem to have ordered the set at the wrong time. The hardcover boxed set is temporarily out of stock on Amazon, and nearly 10 days later I'm still waiting for my books.. However, no matter what happens I will NEVER, EVER read the Twilight series. I glanced at a copy of the first book once, and I was not impressed. The movies haven't changed my perception either. I watched five minutes of one of the movies, and the rather wooden acting was a huge turnoff.

I do have one more challenge for myself in 2013. I must read at least 10 books from my personal reading pile. I haven't read a book from personal pile in nearly two years. I'm always putting a premium on review books over my own personal pile, and that has to stop. I love the books that I'm pitched, but my personal pile is suffering for it.

No. 1 on my personal pile....

I feel so out of the loop with this one. I feel like every blogger has read The Fault in our Stars by John Green. I actually bought this book the week it came out, but that was a year ago!! It's been collecting dust on my shelf every since. I have never read a John Green book, but I love the Youtube videos he does with his brother Hank.

No. 2.....

I hear Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn has a seriously twisted ending.

No. 3.....

I love non-fiction just as much as fiction. I have heard nothing but good things about Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

What's up next?

There are a lot of books I want to get to within the next two months. Most of them are review books, and they look pretty good.

Believe Like a Child by Paige Dearth -- A young child tries to rebound from a painful childhood, which included sexual abuse.

Dizzy by Arthur Wooten -- A Broadway actress is stricken by a chronic illness, and must re-evaluate her life. It's a fictional memoir based on the author's own experiences.

The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn -- Your neighbors have a little secret. Could it be murder?

Hysteria by Megan Miranda -- A teenage girl has killed her boyfriend. She can't remember how, but she knows it was self-defense. I loved her last book, Fracture, so I hope this one is just as good.

Ten Days by Janet Gilsdorf -- A child's illness takes its toll on the family.

Cherokee Talisman by David-Michael Harding -- A fictional look at the Cherokee nation.

Saving Each Other by Victoria Jackson & Ali Guthy -- This one is non-fiction. A close-knit family struggles to help their daughter through difficult health problems.

Lace by Shirley Conran -- Another erotica book, except this one is a chunker at nearly 800 pages.

There is so much more I have to get to, but I figure this is a good list to start off 2013 with.