Sunday, March 31, 2019

My take on: The Great Alone

Tackling my TBR is an ongoing feat, especially reading books I own vs. reading review books. I'm not sure how long ago I bought The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, but I'm sure it was a least six months ago. In an effort to read more of my own books, I keep a TBR cart, yes an actual rolling cart, filled with my own books. Sort of a daily reminder: Hey read me! My rule going forward, at least one of my current reads has to be a book I purchased. So, I finally plucked The Great Alone from the cart. Plus, it's a family story, which is right in my wheelhouse.


Why? Let me tell you.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, former POW Ernt Allbright has come home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni. But he's not the same man. He's consumed by nightmares and often drowns himself in alcohol to cope. He drifts from job to job and town to town, with his family in tow. Never setting down roots anywhere. One moment he's the happy and loving man who Cora and Leni remember, and the next he's a violent monster. Cora holds onto the belief that the man she loves is still buried beneath the surface. Leni isn't sure what to believe or how to feel. Is it normal for a man to emotionally and verbally abuse his family until they reach their breaking point? What is normal? Leni isn't sure anymore. Ernt thinks he has the answer to their problems: move to Alaska!

Thanks to a former Vietnam buddy, Ernt has just inherited a small cabin in a remote Alaskan town. Cora and Leni are skeptical about the move, but learn to embrace it when they see how happy Ernt is. The town is small but closeknit, everyone ready to lend a helping hand or to offer advice. As former city dwellers, the Allbright family needs all the help they can get. Their new neighbor, Large Marge, gives them the lowdown on stocking up on food for the harsh winters and how to build things. In the beginning, moving to Alaska is just what the doctor ordered. Ernt loves living off the land and providing for and protecting his family. Cora and Leni begin to love it too, even making friends. Leni has her first crush. Matthew Walker is one of the few boys her age, so Leni quickly takes a liking to him.

The Allbright family might have finally caught a break. But the happiness is short-lived. As winter approaches, everyone stays closer to home rather than getting caught out in the cold. Staying closer to home sounds good in theory, but it comes at a price. Stuck inside with his thoughts, Ernt starts to have more nightmares, drinks even more alcohol, and violently attacks his wife over the smallest things. And when he does venture out, Ernt doesn't like what he sees. Tom Walker, in addition to being Matthew's father is also the richest man in their neck of the woods, wants to bring change to the town. Change for the good, like bringing in electricity to the more remote areas, remodeling the local bar, and bringing in tourists. It's not the kind of change that Ernt wants. Anybody siding with Tom Walker, even his own family, is seen as a traitor to Ernt.

As she's gotten older, Leni knows that her father is toxic for her own physical and emotional health. She wants to escape him, but how can she leave her mother behind? How can you leave behind someone you once loved and admired? How do you break the never-ending cycle of abuse? And, it's not just her father that Leni would be leaving behind. Matthew. The boy she's grown to love and the town she's grown to love are a part of Leni. How do you leave everything that makes you you behind? And at what costs?

If you can't tell, I LOVED THIS BOOK! I found the story to be addicting, I almost missed by bus stop because of it!

Rating: O.M.G. !!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

My take on: The Quintland Sisters

History is filled with all sorts of disturbing, sad, and weird moments. In her new book, The Quintland Sisters, Shelley Wood details one of those such moments. Yet again I'm reading the fictional account of a real event.

The Dionne Quintuplets were born in Ontario in 1934, to a poor family already struggling to support five other children. Born premature and at a time before more advanced medical treatments were available, the five girls were not expected to survive. Early on, their treatment was more about making them comfortable before they died. But they survived. Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Marie, and Emilie survived and thrived. How they survived and the people who surrounded them has long been a source of controversy.

This fictional account is told through the eyes of one of their nurses, Emma Trimpany, who was just 17 when she assisted in their birth. It's through the quintuplets that Emma finds her true calling. Born with a port-wine birthmark on her face, Emma was convinced that people looked down on her because of her looks. Because of that perceived judgment, Emma didn't believe she would find her purpose professionally or personally. But she bonds instantly with her young charges, and finds her purpose in life. Led by Dr. Dafoe, Emma and her fellow nurses become the primary caregivers for the girls. Mr. and Mrs. Dionne fought to get custody of their girls back, but money, greed, and the Canadian government got in the way. Dr. Dafoe quickly realized what a gold mine Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Marie, and Emilie could be for him professionally and personally. A special hospital/nursery, complete with playgrounds, was built to house the girls. The Dionnes did have some input over their well-being, but not enough in my opinion.

"Quintland", the nickname for the hospital, drew thousands of tourists who came to gawk at the girls and it also drew thousands of revenue. Product endorsement deals and film opportunities soon outweighed any thoughts of reuniting the girls with their family. While Emma didn't agree with every decision made, she was not in favor of returning the girls to the Dionnes. Emma only sees how a custody change will impact her personally. She can't fathom how painful it must be for a parent to be told when, where, and how they can interact with their own children.

In my view, "Quintland" was basically a fishbowl cut off from reality. The Dionnes were portrayed as angry and uneducated. Maybe they were, but that doesn't justify breaking up their family. The Dionne Quintuplets were cared for but they were also exploited by sooooooo many people. I think Shelley Wood did a good job of portraying what the atmosphere was like back then, I was thoroughly engrossed!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Sunday, March 3, 2019

My take on: The Girls in the Picture

Historical fiction is often a sweet spot for me. While they're a piece of fiction, they can often teach me/provide insight on a time period I'm not very familiar with. The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin taught me about Old Hollywood and how not much has really changed in the present day. Women trying to make a name for themselves despite the imbalance of power in relation to their male counterparts, make this a timely book. What stands above all in this book, is the real-life friendship between actress Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion.

Early on, it's clear that Frances was not your typical woman of her time. The book opens in 1914, Frances is already on her second marriage and is looking for a way out. She doesn't want to be a housewife. She knows she wants to be part of making movies, but Frances is unsure of what her role could be. Everything but acting is on the table. When Frances and Mary final cross paths, it's a happy and sad moment. Until that point, Mary was portrayed as someone who was desperate for friendship and connection. Frances comes along at just the right moment. Through their long friendship, both women rise the Hollywood ladder. Mary becoming "America's Sweetheart" and a much sought-after actress and Frances a screenwriter.

As a whole, I think the book gives a vivid portrait of Old Hollywood, including how flickers (silent movies) morphed into "talkies." I didn't know that many of the early movies were really, really short, like under 30 minutes short. Mary and Frances paved the way for women who came after them. Where the book lost some points with me was the length, clocking in at 415 pages. I'm not against long books, I just thought this one could have benefited from a little less descriptive passages. Overall, this is a book worth reading!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.