Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Five Books read, reviews pending

There are several books I read between December and now but have not had time to post reviews.  The stack is beginning to stare at me when I sit at the computer, so I decided to combine post and then perhaps when I have time, and who knows when that will be, return and summarize each with a more detail review.   Perhaps.  

Currently I am reading James Michner's tome, "Alaska" close to 1,000 pages, smaller print but one that has been on my shelf for years.  Actually Michener's complete works occupy their own shelf in my home library,  they are keepers, he being one of my all time favorite writers.  The research, historical and geographical facts mixed with traces of fictional characters are compelling.  I will finish it soon and certainly ahead of our August Alaskan sojourn.  

This excellent  memoir by Curtis Roosevelt, grandson of FDR & Eleanor, son of their  daughter, Alice, and her multiple marriages along with the multi marriages of siblings and the rest of the family is worth reading for personal interest.  It validated that  wealth does not equate happiness nor good lives.  A 5 star read, fascinating in that these children saw it all and the legacy of divorce and self interested individuals.  Curtis and Sissy, his sister spent most of their early years in the White House, removed when their mother remarried and uprooted them and returned when she too did during  WWII.  One brief quote:  Children are expected to grow out of their fantasy world.  I did not."  Curtis kept to himself, was raised to be seen and not heard, in a  privileged lifestyle, yet appreciated most Christmas stockings and the annual orange in them, exotic as it was for the times.  His nickname is Buzzie and he writes of "basking in my Buzziness" stuffing his opinions and going along to get along.

  
Candice Millard's historical  tale of President Garfield, 20th President delves not only into history and  politics but  medicine and the shoddy practices that ultimately led to Garfield's death.  The assassin's bullet did not kill him but the inadequate and  unsanitary medical care following the shooting did.    I have not read much before about Garfield, but enjoyed this investigative report into what she notes as madness, medicine and murder.  Her style reminds me of Erik Larson, another favorite author.  Another 5 star book.  Page 286, "There is nothing in all the world that you and I can do for the Dead.  They are past our help and past our praise.  We can add to them no glory, we can give them no immortality.  They do not need us, but forever and forever more we need them."  so spoke  James A Garfield  in August 1880.  I will find another book by this author as I enjoyed history and mystery.   



A new book picked up on our southern snow birding travels at Books A Million which has become my favorite chain bookstore,  abundant in the south and east but unknown to this area.  This is another true mystery, written by a southern author, set in London in  pre world war 1913, with Scotland yard and a detective ala Sherlock Holmes, the ingenuity of the skilled thieves and their surroundings is intriguing.  I have never before heard about this heist of the most perfect pearls in existence.  She introduces all the characters at the front of the book before delving into the tale.  I just missed meeting this author by a day when she had been in southern Memphis where I bought the book.  Another 5 star read, true mystery  history, comedy and tragedy.  Shades of the sting where the thieves are watching the police watching the thieves watching the police watching the thieves, yes indeed that is the circular operation taken to capture the clever sheisters.  Great characters all in a tale based on research amplified. 



  
 I was attracted to the subject of a Polish boy from Vandergrift, PA who  rode the rails as a hobo in 1932.  The true tale based on some diaries his father kept provide the story for the book.  Joseph (the father) travels 13,776 miles in four months between July and December 1932 all over the country and learns the ways of the hobos, their languages and signs.  .  Because of the information about the  life in Vandergrift, a town desolate today but not far from my home town, the early steel mills, the lives of the Polish settlement, I kept reading to learn more.  However the book is repetitive and not too much there.  While I applaud the author for getting the story together from the diaries, it was not as interesting as I expected, nor as well written   Still I did complete it and will donate this copy to my hometown library in PA on our next trip east.  Mediocre at 3 stars.   



And the last but not least by a long shot another 5 star read, the premier sweeping novel Roses by Leila Meachem.  Thanks a million to Juliet, my new MS friend at Books A Million in Southhaven, MS.  Juliet gave me this book after we spent hours  talking about books; she said there is no woman she knows who did not adore this book.  I rolled my eyes, thinking, "spare me a woman's read?"  But she ignored my reaction and talked about how many women she has gifted with this story of a strong and yet manipulative woman, Mary Toliver who wants to control things from the grave and her cotton land and  legacy in Howbutker Texas. Intriguing how that town was named.  "Roses" is a saga of the leading families, the Warwicks, the Tolivers, the Du Monts and starts as Mary Toliver now an elderly dowager is redoing her will about her grand niece's inheritance.  Lots of life decisions with far reaching effects, good and bad in this book about what might have been and what was not.  There is an excellent reading guide in the back making for great book club discussions.  Well I took it with  a sigh, from Juliett, but  once I started reading I did not want to put it down.  How did I miss this book, guess it did not reach the MN north. 

 A huge  book at  610 pages, but  a fast read and big sized paperback so it can  be put open comfortably on your lap, another hint from Juliet, don't buy paperbacks that are short and squatty, they are uncomfortable to handle while sitting reading.  I'd not thought of that but  as I am struggling with that aspect of "Alaska" by Michener, she is right.  The women in my book club are currently choosing small books so they nixed this recommendation  although a couple of the real readers in the group will be reading it aside.  So far I have not met any woman either who did not fall into this book. It's  not mushy but intriguing. 

Not literary life style but some memorable lines,  pg. 396, "Memory could be a terrible thing,...an instrument of torture that persists in its work long after a man has suffered his time upon the rack." I see she has another book out, Tumbleweeds and I will have to get it, later. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

I am catching up after our snowbird expedition to the south, so although these posts appear in 2013, I  read "Turn of Mind in December, then lent it to a friend who is caretaker for he spouse in the mid stages of dementia.  This Debut novel published in 2011 by Grove press is only 305 pages, much in dialogue form.  It was a NY Times Bestseller and received several best book of the year awards including the Kirkus Reviews and the Washington Post. 
It is a thriller and one I read in a couple spurts because it intrigued me and sustained a feeling of  what's going to happen  now, always good when reading  a mystery.  I just had to keep reading and yes the shocking revelation  is a surprise coupled with wondering "how could that be and yet, perhaps. The turmoil of dementia is portrayed with some lyrical writing in parts. 
 
 Quoting another review by Mark Athitakis in AARP Magazine where I learned of this book, "..What lingers in the reader's mind is not so much the resolution of the plot  as the resilience of Jennifer's character.   Alzheimer's patients reshape those around  them in ways that transcend anguish and frustration.  ...the best parts..reveal, the disease opens us to the very things that make us human."    And another review by Jose Bernard,  "...an incisive humane exploration of how we can rail against our need for close relationships with others, feeling that they  undermine our independence, even as we keep going back for more..." 

Back cover
This is the story of Jennifer, a former surgeon;  her care taker Magdalena; Fiona, her daughter and Mark,her son and the murder of Amanda, neighbor and Jennifer's best friend. The family dynamics are not that of endearing siblings but life like, a family  at odds, culmination of years at odds.  The tale begins with Jennifer flashing in and out of lucidity.  Ultimately Jennifer must be institutionalized something she protests while the family  realizes keeping her in her own home is not an option. What's with the children, which one is looking out for their mother and which one just wants  the money, the leavings?  As Jennifer's dementia increases which sibling will prevail? What can Amanda do to help?

Pg. 8 Jennifer's  thoughts..."The half state.  Life in the shadows.  As the neurofibrillary tangles proliferate, as the neuritic plaques harden, as synapses cease to fire and my mind rots out, I remain aware.  An unanesthetized patient."    Yikes, her brilliant mind grasps,  resents yet realizes what is happening to her as deterioration accelerates.

Pg. 9 More of Jennifer's thoughts on a meeting of the Alzheimer;'s support group at the Methodist church ....."A motley crew, perhaps half a dozen of us, our minds in varying states of undress."

Pg.  68  Amanda talks to Jennifer...."episodes of aggression are getting worse. I haven't seen one yet.  ....I know better than to think I've got some secret power, I've read enough about this disease to know you can't predict the future by the past."

Pg.95 Jennifer wanders and wonders..."The room is full of faces I recognize, and if I don't love them, at least I know their names, and that is more than enough.  Perhaps this is my revelation?  Perhaps this is heaven?  To wander among a multitude and have a name for each."
  .... 
pg 203   Detective Lutton, "People think it's just forgetting your keys, ..or the words for things.  But there are personality changes.  The mood swings.  The hostility and even violence.  Even from the gentlest person in the world.    You love the person you love.  And you are left with the shell."

 I cannot reveal  too  much  or it would spoil the mystery, but I recommend this as a good mystery read.  I rate it 4 stars ****,  clearly it is not for everyone.