Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Hummingbird

The HummingbirdThe Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read The Curiosity and, in retrospect, remembered the story very well yet couldn't remember why I enjoyed it so much. Upon completion of The Hummingbird, I can guess it was the pace, characters, timing, and symbolism.

The Hummingbird tells three stories. All three are vastly different yet they tie in beautifully with one another and smooth over the biggest questions of life, love, death, and forgiveness.

Professor Barclay Reed is an intelligent and bitter old man, dying alone with only the help of hospice. He has a history and he has a story to tell. Deb is the hospice worker he chooses to trust. He shares his story based on a personal struggle Deb is having. Deb is struggling to help her husband really come home from the Middle East where he was a sniper. Through Professor Reed's story, a symbolism is borne. Through the symbolism, Deborah interprets the real life counterparts.

I enjoyed the story because, through Deb, the reader understands the beauty of living and dying. Also that suffering brings clarity and circumstances may change but we will be okay. We won't be the same but we will experience happiness again someday.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

We Never Asked for Wings: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

We Never Asked for Wings: A NovelWe Never Asked for Wings: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a rather uncomfortable book to read but not for reasons you might think. Letty, the protagonist, had a lot of hope before she found herself pregnant when she was about to leave for college. She made the difficult decision to keep the baby, not tell her boyfriend (he was med school bound), and began the downward spiral of her life. Now at 32, she is still a single mother with two children, living with her mother, and irresponsible. She allowed her mother to take over her parental roles. The problem arises when her father returns to Mexico. Shortly after that, her mother follows and makes Letty return to her home and children.

The story follows Letty as she is on the verge of staying in poverty, allowing her children to grow up without the opportunities she wants for them or stepping up. Yet how does one step up when she has little skills, no education past high school, and has no more safety net? Rather than write a character that magically changes, the reader joins Letty on her journey to make changes, small as they are, to give her children something more. And it's really hard.

The story addresses the difference in geography and school districts, how poverty begets poverty, how difficult it is to break out of it, and legal and illegal immigration. Letty has a hard life but she doesn't have to try to live below the radar of ICE like other characters in the book. This is very well written and I liked the ending.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: Orphan #8

Orphan #8 Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Great historical snapshot of orphanages and the medical experimentation occurring on the orphans at the time. Told in two timelines; when Rachel is 4 and enters the orphanage and experimentation begins, and then Rachel is forty something and working as a geriatric nurse when a new patient comes under her care - the very doctor that caused so much suffering for Rachel in the orphanage.

Both stories unfold and the reader quickly realizes the horrible conditions of said orphanages, although they may have been preferable to living in the street. Rachel is flooded with memories of her time in the orphanage and how she suffered, particularly subjected to radiation exposure over and over again. She is then faced with a dilemma of showing payback to this doctor or forgiveness and professionalism.

Great historical information, well written in the perspective of a child hungry for attention. The downside was the lack of character development and contrived situations like the way Rachel becomes an orphan. Can a father figure be more flat and predictably selfish? Just not believable. Then there is a surprise storyline that Rachel is a lesbian. Surprise sloppy groping with a stranger yet longing for her lover to return to her. Soooooo, was this a story that informed the reader about the medical experiments on children in orphanages or was the author contriving and inserting her political statement? The latter? I'm just not a fan. More than that, it just didn't fit with the story. It was a meandering that distracted from the core of the story.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lots of interesting information about jellyfish and an interesting parallel to Suzy's life and grief. It's an okay book about dealing with loss of a friend but I think it is probably too abstract for a pre-teen. I liked it. Didn't love it.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

The One Thing

The One ThingThe One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I made a movie out of this book (because that's totally in my skill set as a suburban mother and public educator), I'd do a montage of Maggie's easy, happy-go-lucky life, lots of soccer, trophies, friends, high school, all to the background music of "Loose Cannons." Quick intro of devoted parents, Gramps talking about his prostate, then a slower montage of the day she woke up sick, the exchange between her and her mom, maybe have Gramps find her passed out in the kitchen, tense hospital scenes, doctors talking in low voices, end song, begin movie as Maggie wakes up blind. Insert uncomfortable scenes of Maggie failing at being blind, and finally introduce Kevin, just a voice. Maybe probation officer, maybe creative liberties taken here and he's her new counselor at her school for the blind. She leaves his office, slips in the hall, hits her head, and opens her eyes to see Ben, age 10. Start script as written.

I loved Ben. I loved the developing friendship between Ben and Thera (What Ben called Maggie). I loved Mrs. Milton, and I eventually loved Mason.

Rather than give any hints to the story or possible twist (because the real story is adjusting to new normals, making adjustments and figuring out how we connect to others - told via an unconventional friendship between blind Maggie and optimistic Ben and Clarissa), I will only say that it was very enjoyable. And my paraphrased quote that might be exact. I'm too lazy to check. "Our circumstances do not change us. They reveal us."

Satisfied sigh.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: The Uninvited

The Uninvited The Uninvited by Cat Winters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kind of a dark, atmospheric tale of historical fiction. Ivy's brother has just been killed in WWI. Spanish Flu is sweeping through her town (and many, many others) taking lives nearly as quickly as the war. Ivy's reprieve is a German shopkeeper named Daniel and the Jazz playing nearby. The story itself gave another perspective of the time period. America was in a war and even Germans in America were driven from their homes and businesses. If not frightened away, beaten, shipped off to a camp or murdered. There was a level of Mcarthy-ism before McArthy. People were required to wear masks in public. Hospitals were woefully overcrowded and understaffed. All that was realistic enough. The story of Ivy and Daniel seemed more forced and illogical. I wish that May's character was better developed. A lot of the story just seemed a little disjointed to me. That said, I did like the twist at the end. I loved the creepiness of a certain movie a few years ago that contained the same twist only during WWII.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is so well written with details that could have very well been overlooked yet not overdone. Lydia is dead, the beginning of the unravelling of a family. The how's and the why's slowly unravel, too, and it is not as the reader expects. Yet it makes perfect sense. It also becomes clear that Lydia's death is a peripheral part of the story in some ways. It was a catalyst for the change in dynamics but could have happened at another point in time with big shift.

The time frame of the tragedy is 1977 (I think). Nath, the oldest child, is ready to graduate and leave for Harvard. Lydia is two years younger, and then Hannah, my personal favorite, is a very clear, unplanned caboose. James, the father, is a tenured professor of American History in a small, college town. He is Japanese American married to Marilyn, an intelligent blonde homemaker with unfulfilled dreams.

The story beautifully illustrates a truism my best friends and I have come to realize in theory, although not necessarily in practice; a) that no matter our intentions, our children interpret life and events, big and small, very differently than we expect and no matter how we might guess, we will be wrong (this extends to spouses and others), and b) even with our best intentions, we saddle our children with our own expectations and unrealized dreams, our own insecurities and our deepest fears. c) Three children can grow up in the same home with the same parents and have completely different childhoods. That one I knew. Yet the author carefully constructs each family member and interaction with intent and different perception.

Everything I Never Told You is the blank space between the lines, the assumptions, and the motivations never discussed.

It is a book club book. It would be an interesting book to discuss. There are parallels, symbolism, metaphors, etc. More than I caught but it is a beautifully, resonant book. Highly recommend.