Last Things

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I read this book in one sitting. It was written (and drawn) with such raw emotion, that when it got to be too much I had to lie to myself and say it was fiction. I’m sure the family wishes it were. This is the story of Harvey Stahl, his wife Marissa Moss, and their three sons. And Harvey’s untimely battle with ALS.

Nothing about this book is easy, or fun, but it’s a story worth telling. How do you deal when your best friend/partner/spouse is diagnosed with a life altering disease? How do you tell your children, family and friends? There is no simple way. It’s an ugly process, and even with it being rare, it’s one that too many people face.
What Moss is able to convey through her art and words, within the graphic novel, are the absolute and real emotions she and her family went through with Harvey’s diagnosis. Allowing herself to be open with the world, Moss poured out her soul into Last Things. She doesn’t make herself out to be a saint, and she doesn’t put a band-aid over her husbands short-comings, instead Moss has woven together pictures and words full of love and loss. From the day of the diagnosis until days after Harvey’s passing, Moss takes us through times of anger and resentment and then acceptance and healing. This is not a glossed over pamphlet from the hospital containing words of encouragement, this is a true story and sometimes the truth isn’t always pretty.
In between the days of ALS, Moss talks of her family’s past. The beautiful life they had together, traveling, learning and the closeness they share. It’s those moments where the effects of the disease really take hold. You see how a loving family on top of the world can come crashing down like a building on fire. And later, how they pick up the remains and help one another cope and grow. This is where love comes in.
A vivid telling of living and breathing a non-treatable disease, this book contains no secrets, no promises of survival, instead there is a story of family and how people deal with adversity as a unit and also individually.
I encourage you to read this book, if only to see a glimpse of what others go through, and if you or someone you know is experiencing a life altering disease such as ALS, perhaps this book will show that you are not alone.

The Wedding Gift

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Can I start by saying this title is misleading? Not misleading in that it isn’t true, but in the way that upon reading it you immediately think of this book as “chick lit.” Not, that there is anything wrong with “chick lit.” This book is just so much more. More than its title, more than the description on the back cover, more even than the story itself. Because this is a book based on deceit, bondage, slavery, hatred, love…and on and on. It is also a book based on a true story.

The author, Marlen Suyapa Bodden, started her career as a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, and from her experiences there and through her life and academic career to write her first novel, The Wedding Gift.  After you turn the first page, you leave this world of public defenders, OSHA, and workman’s comp. Bodden writes as if she has been doing so all her life. The research she put into her story and of the time period was obviously high on her list of priorities.

Told from the point of view from Sarah, a slave, and Theodora Allen- her masters wife, this story is the tale of illegitimate children of slave owners- the unloved, uncared for children who never asked to be born, but in doing so, take on the status of their mother. For that is the law within slavery.

Sarah is six years old when she realizes that she is a slave, but even at six, she has her wits about her. Intelligent, cunning and creative, Sarah is determined to make the most of her life and she’s going to die trying to escape the bonds of slavery.

Theodora, the mother of the Allen household, is a kind soul whose heart is broken and rather than letting that destroy her life, like so many other women, she has decided to rise above. She decides that being the wife of a slave owner gives her some authority, though not over her husband and his decisions.

Bodden’s choice of telling the story from Sarah and her mistress’ mother was a thought out plan that unfolds beautifully. Telling parts of the story from two perspectives show the parallel lives these people live, and how one man can rule his world and negatively affect one aspect but not the other. Sarah and Theodora are two heroines trying to escape injustice in their lives, and fighting like hell to flee from the bondage that binds them to the Allen estate.

 

The Young Wives Club

theyoungwivesclubBeing that I am a transplanted southerner, I suppose it makes sense that I love books based in the south. There is something about a story that is able to take me back home where I can picture the town where I grew up, and the surrounding ones that fill me with heartache and nostalgia. Books like The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Georgia Bottoms are among some of my favorites. I honestly cannot resist southern fiction. Matter of fact, I think it deserves its own section in Barnes and Noble. While browsing, I’ve been known to search for titles that I know have to be based in the south. Perhaps it’s because I live in California where there isn’t much of a southern influence (if any), or perhaps because it’s where I grew up and therefore what I know; whatever the reason may be, southern fiction holds a place in my heart that no matter what folks say, I will always read.

The Young Wives Club, by Julie Pennell, is a book with a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes it’s about southern women who have married young, which I know is cliche’, but it’s also about their triumph. Recounting four young women and their search for love and purpose in life. The Young Wives Club, shares the nitty-gritty about what happens when folks marry young, whatever the reason, and the good and bad that can stem from there. Told in modern day and, alternating between narrators these “young wives” are anything but damsels in distress.

Chronicling the lives of Laura who has dropped out of high school to follow her new husband to LSU and hopefully the NFL, Madison whose bad boy, Cash, won’t commit, Claire who faces problems with infidelity, and Gabby who wants to keep her past out of the equation, these women are coming to terms with their lot in life and cheering for one another the whole way.

The adversities these young women face are not the stories you’ll be expecting. This is no “girl got knocked up at 16” story that will leave you shaking your head. Rather this is a story of four situations vastly different from one another, tied together by friendship.

If you’re a fan of characters with deep rooted secrets, scenerios that leave you wondering what you would do, and books you can’t put down perhaps you should give this one a try!

Truly, Madly, Guilty

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I don’t know about you, but when a book knows something I don’t, and refuses to tell me what it is, it drives me crazy. So crazy that I just keep reading until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. The fact that I chose to read another Liane Moriarty book during finals week probably wasn’t the smartest decision, but there really isn’t any stopping once I start. This book is what I consider “un-putdownable.” For obvious reasons.

Erika and Clementine have been best friends for over 20 years. They’ve shared a childhood, family vacations, boyfriends and they are in tune with one another and the way each other should be regarded and dealt with. The two of them are very different, and while there is the old saying of opposites attracting, these two can be more like oil and water.

Erika, daughter of a hoarder, spends her days with numbers and calculated assessments. She appreciates organization and lists, and does not understand how other people do not. She is married and she and her husband live a quiet and scheduled life in the suburbs. 

Clementine is an accomplished cellist who spends her days rehearsing and playing house with her husband and two little girls. She likes adventure and spontaneity, and considers herself easy going, until Erika is involved.

Fast-forward to one day when Erika and Clementine, along with their husbands and kids are invited to a barbecue. The events leading up to and what takes place after are the only clues you have for the longest time but are what make this book so readable. Scenes that the author dangles in front of you asking question after question: Was it a crime that had been committed? Did someone cheat on their spouse and get caught? Did someone have an admission of guilt? All these questions and more are what will keep you up late finishing this page turner. Thrown in for good measure, is the next door neighbor who has a slight anger problem, and the girls mothers’ who share animosity and resentment toward one another. 

All details adding up to one juicy story that you’ve never heard before.

 

In the Unlikely Event

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It’s been almost 20 years since Judy Blume has charmed readers with a book, and this one did not disappoint! She wrote a book called, It’s Not The End of the World, which was written by Blume in 1972 that shares a few parallels within this new book. Both deal with divorce and children who do not want their parents to divorce among other things.

In the Unlikely Event, takes place in New Jersey in 1951. The story’s main protagonist is Miri Ammerman, who has been raised by her single mother, Rusty, in addition to sharing living space with her grandmother and uncle (whom Miri adores). Miri is a 15 year old girl who writes for the school paper, spends as much time as possible with her best friend Natalie and has possibly found her first love.
But things quickly start diminishing when the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey is hit with disaster…. and another and another. Miri and her mother are there to witness the first disaster and from there Miri feels like her own world is imploding.

Told primarily by Miri, this story explores how people face tragedy and live to see another day. In between Miri’s point of view, there are snippets from other characters within the book- all of whom relate in one way or another to the Ammerman’s, and the disasters. By doing this, Blume is able to explore several hot topics, including grown children’s relationships, different nationalities, and religions.

Helping readers to view all sides of a story, rather than the typical one-sided view, Blume is able to bring out the best and worst in characters, highlighting their goodness and their flaws. Blume has not lost her touch since her last novel which came out in 1998, fans of her’s will flock to this book like so many of her others 🙂

The Same Sky

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For our February meeting, my book club is reading “The Same Sky,” by Amanda Eyre Ward. I am a procrastinator when it comes to being told what to read and so while I am the founder, I am also usually the last one to read a book. So when two of the ladies told me they had already started this book and that I should prepare to be sad/shaken I went ahead and dove in. And they were absolutely right.

I read this book in 24 hours. Because I could not stop reading. Every single page called my name.

This book is told from the perspective of Carla a young Honduran girl who is the only 6 years old when the story starts, and that of Alice a lady from Texas who is married and helps run a family restaurant.
Carla lives with her mother and twin brothers and their grandma, until her mom saves enough money to make it to the U.S. she leaves her children behind, sending money whenever she can. The kids are raised in filth and poverty, gangs are in every neighborhood and many children do not go to school, instead they spend their days at the dump sorting trash and their nights many turn to the drug resistol, which is an ingredient in glue to numb the pain of going without food. Carla is determined to get to the United States to be with her mother, so much so that she’ll do anything to survive and anything to make it out.
Then there is Alice. She and her husband Jake are in their early 40’s and are unable to have a baby. Despite past health issues the couple tried for years, even going for IVF and a surrogate with no positive outcomes. The couple tried to adopt but that came with complications as well. Lost and unsure of where her life is headed, Alice visits her sister in Colorado who has problems of her own, and finally turns to her husband for guidance on where to go from here.
These two characters, strong and sure in their own right, have to face their demons every day. Taking what life throws at them and refusing to accept it, refusing to settle causes them to rise from the ashes. And just where do their paths cross? You’ll have to read to find out. But I guarantee you, this book will stay with you for a long time after you put it down.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

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Wow, two posts in one month, I am ecstatic about this 🙂 And you should know, with the exception of summer this’ll probably be the only time it happens!

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” is a book I can guarantee I’ll reread sometime. And that doesn’t happen often. Full of laughter, suspicion, and subtle suspense, Semple does a great job of making you hate and simultaneously love a character.

This story is written almost entirely in e-mails and letters which a person could think to be confusing, but instead what the style does is plot out the authors story, while allowing the readers imagination to free flow and create their own imagery. I found the book to be an easy but compelling read, with writing that reminded me of one of my favorite books “The Boy Next Door,” by Meg Cabot in 2002, which was also a book written entirely in e-mail. Come to think of it, “You’ve Got Mail,” is on my favorite movie list as well and it certainly focuses on emails as well.

So here is the synopsis, Bernadette Fox is a brilliant woman- architect, winner of a MacArthur grant, mother to Bee, and wife to Elgin. But Bernadette has some baggage. Ok a LOT of baggage. She does not handle reality in a way that most can, and chooses to live a somewhat alternative lifestyle.In a town and school district where others demand participation and community, Bernadette Fox  is her own person, fighting against the norm and what’s socially acceptable. But she puts her personal feelings aside when her daughter requests a trip to Antarctica in return for her perfect grades and acceptance into top schools. This trip is enough to put Bernadette over the edge, but she’ll do anything for Bee- whether others believe her or not.

A story that grazes on differences and how to accept them, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” is an excellent example of finding yourself. A fun, but telling read, I cannot recommend it enough!