Saturday, July 18, 2015

Inside the O'Briens - a Novel by Lisa Genova

Published by Gallery Books

A story that will break your heart, yet steadfast in hope and acceptance.  A shocking read, though only because of the lack of awareness of the disease.
The O'Brien family in Boston, two years after the Boston Marathon bombing. Joe O'Brien knows what death looks like, he has seen it with friends and foe, he is one of the Boston Police, as his father and grandfather were before him. But now he is about to see what life looks like, in the most unexpected way from a personal perspective. The father of upcoming adult children, he of course speculates on the futures they will have.

Joe barely remembers his mother. She was ill when he was still a child, hearing rumors about her, "Drank herself to death" was most prevalent. But he wasn't sure. What he remembered most in his visits was that she was not much more than a skeleton, tied into a chair and force-fed. But lurking in that shell was a love for her boy, and a woman with a death sentence pre-ordained.

The O'Brien family in Boston, two years after the Boston Marathon bombing. Joe O'Brien knows what death looks like, he has seen it with friends and foe, he is one of the Boston Police, as his father and grandfather were before him. But now he is about to see what life looks like, in the most unexpected way from a personal perspective. The father of upcoming adult children, he of course speculates on the futures they will have.

Joe barely remembers his mother. She was ill when he was still a child, hearing rumors about her, "Drank herself to death" was most prevalent. But he wasn't sure. What he remembered most in his visits was that she was not much more than a skeleton, tied into a chair and force-fed. But lurking in that shell was a love for her boy, and a woman with a death sentence pre-ordained.

What is inside the O'Briens? Subtle at first, Joe doesn't even notice random quirks. Not until his body starts doing things that he doesn't intend to do, such as go left and promptly goes right. Not much favored upon by the hierarchy of the Police Dept. He can't keep still, his feet and eyes are constantly moving, but he is still unaware. Soon his limbs take on a life of their own, swinging out suddenly, occasionally accidentally hitting someone. When things like this happen fierce uncontrollable anger overtakes him; he is unable to relate to these events, especially the terrifying anger. Eventually Rosie, his wife, is finally able to get him to a neurologist somewhat willingly...one for movement disorders. He fears a "brain" doctor. The diagnosis return is slow and his mind begins to drift to his mother dying in the hospital.

Genetic testing comes back with the ill-fated genetic mutation everyone was afraid to contemplate...Huntington's Disease (HD). This is a nightmare that will not go away. Ever. Do his adult children already have it coded into their genes? Remembering his mother, he now realizes that she lived and died with it. There is no treatment, no cure. It doesn't present itself until around the childbearing age of your children. Exactly according to the plan that Joe did not set for himself. His oldest son is married and desperately trying for a baby; They just announced that they were finally pregnant. His oldest daughter is a ballerina with a good company, the second daughter is in the early throes of love, and ready to embrace the world. His youngest son is showing signs already of juvenile HD which will put him dying much younger than usual. There is no long life with HD.

Yes, this book gives probably the best look at how one family handled the worst, and what worse was still to come. Lisa Genova certainly is aware and tells her story with great passion, research, vulnerability, yet hope for a future, distant or not. We never know what we are capable of in our lives. Will we become stronger, fight the big pharmaceuticals for not giving time and money toward research on these types of orphan, rare, or hidden diseases? Or will we just give up (as unfortunately many do when they learn their fate). This book talks of 4 generations of a perfectly healthy family until suddenly the hidden monster surfaced leaving at least 3 of Joe's adult children, and the possibility that 1 of his grandchildren will be tested positive when he is old enough to be tested. Novel or not, this is a comprehensive look at the real disease.

A personal postscript to Lisa Genova: One reason I'm personally impacted with this book...We had a friend once. People seeing her walk the streets of town all had the same idea: Drunk. She was a lovely lady and enjoyed what she could. Gone for several years now, we still think of her strong will to live to the best of her ability. Thank you so much Lisa, for this heartfelt book, but even more to show with strength of character we can choose to live with, as close to our own outcome as is medically possible. Your writing is consistently inspiring and bringing some much-needed awareness to a disease unknown to so many and so little understood.

Disclaimer: I am grateful to the publishers at Simon & Schuster for allowing me a copy of this very well-written book in exchange for an honest review; maybe it will help people to understand that there are diseases that actually have NO cure. With modern miracles happening so much faster than before, we might not even realize such a thing is a reality.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Dream a Little Scream - a Dream Club Mystery by Mary Kennedy

Published by Penguin Random House
Release date August 4, 2015

Talk about a nightmare...Who killed the cook?

How can something so good go so horribly wrong? Savannah, Georgia is hosting a famous chef/baker, author of very popular cookbooks. The Dream Club are all looking forward to meeting Sonia Scott...or are they? Ali and Taylor are not too sure about some of the new members. New members Etta Mae Beasley and Edward Giles have just joined the Dream Club and don't appear to be too impressed with Sonia, in fact, Etta Mae appears to have a bone to pick and doesn't mind telling everyone. Thanks to a friend, the members of the Dream Club are going to a live taping of Sonia's local interview.

Sonia makes a sudden decision to stay and do a book signing at the 'Oldies but Goodies' candy shop when a delay gives her some time to fill. The Dream Club of course are all in attendance and all is going exceptionally well as Sonia delights her audience with humorous patter. But suddenly she begins to gasp for air and collapses! Shock and confusion reigns as her assistant Olivia and Taylor rush around looking for the Epi-pen that Sonia always carries in case of just such an emergency, but they are unsuccessful, though Sonia never is without one in her purse and as back-up Olivia always carries a second one in her purse, neither are found. Olivia has frantically dumped both purses out and scrambled through everything but it is too late to save Sonia. Everyone is horrified.

The Dream Club holds an emergency meeting as everyone else leaves after the ambulance is gone. What could possibly have gone wrong? Every precaution was taken to avoid the sesame seeds that Olivia had warned Sonia was extremely allergic to. To follow that, with the shop already just managing financially, stories begin to fly that Sonia was poisoned at the Oldies but Goodies candy shop! Customers desert like rats from a sinking ship leaving Ali and Taylor struggling not just with trying to figure out how Sonia could have ingested anything that would cause her throat to swell so quickly and thoroughly, but how to regain customers who stop coming.

This is the second book of the Dream Club series by Mary Kennedy, well-researched and well-written fun. Another fascinating look at the odd mix of characters in both the club and in the lovely town of Savannah. Their dreams and interpretations are bizarre at times, dreams are hilarious at times and very often the clues suddenly take on a life of their own. A Dream Symbol Guide is included at the end of the book.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

Published by Crown Publishers

John Brown's body may be a-mouldering but his soul most certainly keeps marching on.
This very interesting novel gives life to two women centuries apart. Our first heroine is Sarah Brown, daughter of Capt. John Brown of abolitionist fame, set in the days surrounding and following his death by hanging in 1859. Sarah's life becomes the main focus every second chapter. Eden Anderson is in some ways Sarah's counterpart in 2014, though she may not realize it. Although the book is written with both stories at once, chapter upon chapter, one chapter Sarah and the next Eden, the story bonds smoothly. The common factors between both women is that they are both barren, both wrestle with this in their everyday lives, both have a connection to the same house in New Charlestown, Virginia.

There is something very compelling about this book. This bit of history seems to have taken on a new relevance today. Despite the hardships, I loved the book. The alternate chapters do not confuse, but meld beautifully between the two women and two centuries. Sarah is an artist and uses her talent in the Underground Railway (UGRR) painting coded maps to guide their 'guests' to the safe-houses along the route. Eden's sorrow over her lost babies drives her, until she makes a discovery about their new home that gives her a welcome boost of energy. Her husband Jack has made arrangements for a young girl next door to assist Eden and between them they bond over many things.

This is such a wonderful novel. It is so smoothly written, so much truth is worked into the story, I am amazed by the entire concept. A story of love, compassion, determination and bonding. This bit of history seems to have taken on a new relevance today. I am so glad I read it, I know I will have to keep my eyes open for more from Sarah McCoy.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Fold - A Novel by Peter Clines

Published by Crown Publishing

Mind-blowing, creative and suspenseful.
From the beginning, when a woman's husband is due to return from his 'out-of-town' meeting and he returns but has no idea who she is or why she's there, this book is about to become far more than expected.

I loved this book by Peter Clines, an author I hadn't read before, and I will certainly be reading more from him. It grabbed my attention immediately and kept my mind occupied and in suspense to the end. This sci-fi novel is pretty mind-blowing, a different take on a fairly oft-written theme with a twist, in fact several twists, a thriller with a hidden agenda and a hero who is a high school English teacher. The title "The Fold" could easily represent a number of different storylines within the story. Strictly speaking it means what Mike, the school teacher, is told it means, but following the story it seems as though the entire story folds itself in several ways.

Mike Erikson, whose real name is Leland, is not your ordinary teacher. Mike often works in the summer as an observer or advisor for a secret agency of some uncertain type. This summer is no different as he is called in by his friend Reggie to look into a highly secret project. He is told just enough to pique his curiosity. With Mike's special skills, and exceptional IQ and eidetic memory, he is often called on in unusual and secret projects. One might think of him as having Sherlock Holmes' powers of observation...and obviously he is not going to forget anything he observes.

Throughout the story, there are constant shifts in how the information filters to him. There are so many odd things that are off-limit information to him, and at the same time some unexpected information comes his way. When the whole story turns topsy-turvy and what everyone believes is going on suddenly becomes totally wrong the story twist more. Imagery in the characters is exceptional. Truly a fascinating book written with wonderful imagination and story-telling mixed with bits of physics, historical scientific research, and Star Trek type humor.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lemon Drops and Love (Cocktail Series Book 1) by Angela Stevens

Reviewed from e-book

Fast moving story by Angela Stevens of how one person can control another, to put fear in that other person, to make them obedient, to force them to do their bidding at risk of being beaten physically and mentally. This is where it all begins. This is frighteningly easy to achieve.

Turn now to an attempt to rescue, but it soon turns to stalking, still putting the fear into the victim, and a struggle between two men, or one might say between good and evil. Time constraints of shortening the time between Maya's two competitors, her abusive partner Carl and her rescuer long-time friend Jude, gives a feeling of everything with Jude is moving too fast, that healing hasn't had a chance, but his character somehow carries it off. He is quite literally the only person available to help her. With Carl's continuous stalking, rage, and determination to get what is "his" back, it is easier to understand the need to erase the fear Maya holds as carefully and quickly as Jude can.

This book took me by surprise. I felt like under the circumstances of life with Carl the abusive control freak, there is too much emphasis on sex with Jude. My own opinion. The fact that Jude and Maya have been holding off on each other for years, each unaware of how the other feels, also having supportive friends, the counselors, and the police, this would no doubt have some effect on how quickly they would come together as a couple. Otherwise I thought the book was very good and I couldn't stop reading until the end of the epilogue, which I think demonstrates that the book definitely grabbed my attention.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Stubby the War Dog - The True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum

Published by National Geographic Kids

I'm very impressed not only with this book but with its back-story as well, how the author came to believe the story of Stubby and to write it. The fascinating true story of a man and a stray dog who became a war hero in WWI. This book is well-written, historical, non-fiction and a good way for kids to learn about WWI in a unique way. Ann Bausum, on hearing the story at first didn't think it could be true, but soon learned there was incredible evidence to back up this great story.

A young man at the time, J. Robert Conroy discovered a stray dog had decided that they belonged together. The dog was a possible Boston terrier cross with a stub of a tail so he became known as Stubby. They became inseparable and when WWI loomed on the horizon Conroy enlisted but Stubby apparently considered himself enlisted too, even to the point of learning how to salute by standing on his hind legs and raising his paw to his face. On parade, he learned the "eyes right" command as well.

Once Conroy was shipped overseas, Stubby went, too. He was assigned to be the Yankee Division's mascot. There were actually several animal mascots and workers in the war, but Stubby became an active member. Ann Bausum delved into a lot of military and WWI history to write this wonderful book. It is written especially for kids and they will enjoy it, I'm sure. It is a story about a very special bond, the book is almost entirely the heroic deeds of this dog and not the bloody side of the war.

Stubby was able to warn the troops about chemicals coming, snipers sneaking up on them in their trenches, rescued injured soldiers, could tell the difference between the enemy and his own soon enough to warn them. He even captured an enemy soldier himself. He was injured in the line of duty, but fortunately survived at the hands of the medics. Stubby was a genuine decorated hero, met three presidents, and definitely has a place in history. I highly recommend this book, it is timely this close to 100 years ago, and is suitable for all ages.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Shadow Song by Lorina Stephens

Published by Five Rivers

Haunting and beautiful, I couldn't put this book down. Partly historical, partly supernatural yet grounded, and always in tune with nature. This is a child's journey to adulthood through very different lifestyles. Beginning in pre-Victorian England, only child to moderately wealthy parents, Danielle sees her world crumble as her uncle, the older son who had inherited from his parents, proceeds to bankrupt his younger brother, Danielle's father. As a result, it isn't long before the family is reduced to living on the streets. The deaths of her parents through starvation, disease and depression leave her an orphan and she is sent to live with her only living relative, the uncle who caused their demise.

Arriving in Upper Canada, she is amazed at so much living nature...tall forests everywhere, the world feels alive. But she fears her uncle, and apparently rightly so, as kind people are worried for her welfare and do their best to protect her on the long journey she must take before reaching her uncle's hovel. Based upon a true tragedy that occurred in the village of Hornings Mills, Ontario, Canada, what follows is a terrifying escape and run for her life. Her uncle is so ruthless he will hunt her down forever.

Meeting Shadow Song, an Ojibwa shaman, the story becomes beautiful amidst the horror she will soon face. She has a self-appointed protector in Shadow Song, and he is always watching out for her. I loved this wonderful lyrical story. It will linger with me for a long time. Lorina Stephens is a mesmerizing writer, combining historical settings with mystical story-telling. No matter the horrors that may appear in the story, there is beauty as well. This is a coming-of-age story and an adventure story unveiling itself exquisitely. I am now definitely a fan of Lorina Stephens.