Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Published May 2009 by Gale Group
Source: Bought it

Publisher's Summary:
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring, and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what it’s like to literally lose your mind...

My Thoughts:
This one's been around getting great reviews for a while but it was the urging of my friend, Mari (Bookworm With A View) that convinced me to pick it up and read it. For some reason, though, it just never seemed to make it to the top of my to-read-next list. So I put it on my TBR Challenge list to make sure I found time for it this year. Now I'm kicking myself, wondering why I didn't listen to Mari sooner!

In Alice, Genova has crafted a character that most of us can't relate to in regards to her professional life but certainly any wife or mother can relate to her. By giving Alice such a high intellect, such a demanding and respected career, and, in particular, a expertise in linguistics, Genova is able to convey so much - this disease can strike anyone; it's difficult, even for those operating at the highest levels, for people to catch the early signs; and no matter where you start, this disease will take you all the way down.

Still Alice is packed with the information about Alzheimer's disease but it rarely feels like Genova is showing off her research. Instead, again because of Alice's education and career, it feels entirely organic that she and her husband would rabidly research what Alice is facing, what her treatment options are, and the kind of support system there is available. And because we follow Alice to her doctors' visits, we're also privy to some of the hardest moments - the empirical proof that Alice is failing despite everyone's best efforts.

But it was the more personal moments that repeatedly brought tears to my eyes. When Alice literally tears her house apart looking for something...but she can't even remember what she's looking for. When she empties all of the kitchen cupboards because she thinks everything is in the wrong place, only to discover that she's walked into the wrong house. When she can't remember who one of her daughters is, even though she remembers the other two children and when she doesn't remember that the babies she is holding are her grandchildren.  By far and away the thing that got to me the most was the list of things Alice made for herself early on to gauge how far along her Alzheimer's had progressed.
Alice, answer the following questions:1. What month is it?2. Where do you live?3. Where is your office?4. When is Anna's birthday?5. How many children do you have?
Throughout the book, Genova comes back to this series of questions. Every time, Alice's answers become less and less accurate until she no longer knows the correct answers. By then, though, she doesn't know that she is wrong.

I'm about the same age as Alice and to say that this book scared me is an understatement. Twice while typing this review, I had what we often call "brain farts" when I had to stop and think about the spelling of words I've known since childhood. But now, as I'm sure I will for a while now, I find myself wondering if those were just brain farts or the insidious first signs of early onset Alzheimer's disease.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The List - A Wish Book Book List

If you're of a certain age, you remember the excitement you felt when the Sear's Christmas Wish Book, that glorious catalog toys that came out every fall, arrived at your house. My brother, sister and I would each take turns going through every page of that catalog, circling the items we just had to have for Christmas. My parents were both teachers - needless to say, we were lucky to get even one of the things we thought we absolutely had to have.

These days my wish list is likely to be vastly more practical (I asked for a new coffeemaker for our upcoming anniversary, after all). But I sure would love to have a Wish Book show up on my door step that was full of all of the books! If it did, here are some books I'd circle, some new, some old:

1. Five Days At Memorial - Sheri Fink
2. Lit - Mary Karr
3. An Exact Replica of A Figment of My Imagination - Elizabeth McCracken
4. A Summer of Hummingbirds - Christopher Benfry
5. The Golem and The Jinni - Helene Wicker
6. Burnt Shadows - Kamila Shamsie
7. Lila - Marilyn Robinson
8. The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters
9. Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
10. The Custom of The Country - Edith Wharton
11. Texts From Jane Eyre - Mallory Ortberg
12. A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea - Dina Niyari

Yep, that would keep me pretty happy for a while on a deserted island!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazell

Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazell
Published January 2009 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: my audio copy of the book was purchased at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan's worst hospital, with a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he'd prefer to keep hidden. Whether it's a blocked circumflex artery or a plan to land a massive malpractice suit, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

Pietro "Bearclaw" Brnwna is a hitman for the mob, with a genius for violence, a well-earned fear of sharks, and an overly close relationship with the Federal Witness Relocation Program. More likely to leave a trail of dead gangsters than a molecule of evidence, he's the last person you want to see in your hospital room.

Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Eddy Squillante, is Dr. Brown's new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea: that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might-just might-be the same person ...

Now, with the mob, the government, and death itself descending on the hospital, Peter has to buy time and do whatever it takes to keep his patients, himself, and his last shot at redemption alive. To get through the next eight hours-and somehow beat the reaper.

My Thoughts:
First off, as you might expect with a book about a reformed mob hit man, there is a lot of violence in this book, of a very graphic and sometimes gruesome nature. To the point where I had to fast forward past a key scene in the book when I wised up to what was about to happen because there was no way I could listen to it.

Despite that, I really enjoyed this book; so very different from anything I've read before.  When it came out, this book got rave reviews from so many bloggers that I respect. But I never was quite sure I would pick it up. I even passed it up twice at the book sale. How could I have doubted Jill, Jill, or
Diane? Beat The Reaper is darkly funny, wickedly smart, and will have you rethinking some things you thought you knew. You may also never want to visit a hospital again.

Peter Brown is a man in need of constant chemical stimulation to keep going and the writing goes at the same pace. As Brown makes his way through a typical (well, right up to the point where Squillante makes an appearance and things get even more tense) day, he shares his history as Peitro Brnwna. Pietro was abandoned by his parent and raised by his grandparents who befriended the family of a mob lawyer as a way to get in with the mob so he could find the people who killed his grandparents. Turns out, killing was a thing he was good at and the mob was glad to have him...until. Brown may be living a new life now but he hasn't lost his edge and his pessimistic, sarcastic outlook on life.

I was really impressed by Bazell's knowledge for medicine, anatomy, and the inner workings of a hospital. Then I read that Bazell wrote this book during the end of medical school and the beginning of his residency. Because, apparently, that wasn't time consuming enough. By the way, he also has a degree in writing. Which explains why a writer can write so convincingly about medicine and a doctor can write so well. Now how to explain how he could write so convincingly about the mob!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Life: It Goes On - October 26

I can't believe it's the last week of October! We've had such an un-Octobery October - more rain than usual but mostly sunny and warmer than usual days. Today we had dinner on the patio in shorts and t-shirts - love it! I need a lot of days like today to store in my memory to help me get through winter.

We have such a busy week this week (see "Looking forward to:");  I'm not sure when I'll find much time to read other than during my lunches and I've hardly picked up my book all weekend. I hate to lose the reading momentum I've had lately! As I contemplate setting up a "Lisa" room and having a reading spot, I've been looking at my bookshelves and thinking how much I'd love to get to so many of those books.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll start Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. It's a long 'un so it's probably take me all of November to get through. Just now when I looked to check how to spell Ghosh's name, I found out this is the first in a trilogy. I'm kind of hating that - this better be something that works as stand alone.

Watching: Nothing new to report here other than some Husker volleyball. Hoping the Royals will bounce back tonight!

Reading: Joanne Harris' (Chocolat) Five Quarters of The Orange. There is just a Frenchness to Harris' stories that I love.

Making: Baked chicken for the coming week, lasagne for dinner today (including a broccoli version for Mini-me), more fried apples, and a pizza with a crust we bought at the French bakery which I will happily drive across town to get more of.

Peter Quill
Planning: A costume for NebraskaCon (Nebraska's ComicCon) for Mini-him. He'll be going as Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy which you'd think would be fairly easy. But you'd be wrong. "It's all in the details," he tells me as he draws me into coming up with ways to create each piece of the costume. Seriously, why can't he just go as Captain America again? We have that costume and I worked my butt off for him to only wear it twice!

Grateful for: Having my family around today to celebrate my birthday early. It makes getting older not quite so bad!

Enjoying: The weather, the weather, the weather!

Feeling: Like my knee will actually be healed enough for me to dance at my nephew's wedding in a couple of weeks. I was beginning to wonder but two great days in a row have encouraged me.

Looking forward to: my birthday, our 32nd anniversary, my mom's birthday, and Miss H's move. The big move is Saturday. I have a notebook devoted to what to pack, what to buy, what to take for the moving day kit. I'm starting to get used to the idea that Miss H is moving. But, oh how I am going to miss her!

What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, October 24, 2014

This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash

This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash
Published: reprint edition September 2014 by William Morrow Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
After their mother unexpectedly dies, twelve-year-old Easter Quillby and her six-year-old sister, Ruby, aren’t expecting to see their errant father, Wade, ever again. But the ex–minor league baseball player who’s been gone for years has suddenly appeared at their foster home to steal them away in the middle of the night.

Brady Weller, the girls’ court-appointed guardian, begins looking for them, and quickly turns up unsettling information linking their father to a multimillion-dollar robbery. But Brady isn’t the only hunter on the trail. Robert Pruitt, a mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta, is determined to find Wade and claim his due.

Narrated in alternating voices that are at once captivating and heartbreaking, This Dark Road to Mercy is a soulful story about the emotional pull of family and the primal desire to outrun a past that refuses to let go.

My Thoughts:
Not gonna lie - didn't even read the summary for this one until just now. Didn't read it when it was pitched to me because it, frankly, didn't matter what is was about. I was so impressed with Wiley Cash's debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, that it was a given I would read this one. My mom is of the same opinion - she texted me and asked to borrow it as soon as she read on this blog that I was reading it.

As he did in A Land More Kind Than Home, Cash delivers a mystery told from multiple points of view, including that of a child, filled with tension and characters that gradually reveal themselves.

Easter's and Ruby's lives have been filled with pain and difficulty. Their mother's choices have forced Easter to grow up quickly and take Ruby under her wing. After their mother's death, the girls are living in a foster home but Easter has plans to get them away before they are shipped off to live with grandparents they have never met in Alaska. Wade was definitely never a part of her plan and she is none too happy to have him back in her life, especially because he's brought serious trouble into their lives. Easter, like most kids, desperately wants a parent to love, though, and Wade just might not be as bad as she's thought.

The changing narratives made this one a bit of a slow start for me but I was soon caught up in the story. The tension Cash created made it a book I couldn't put down. I had to make sure the girls would be okay, I needed to know that the bad guys would get theirs and I wanted to figure out if Brady and Wade would do the right thing. Wiley Cash has quickly become one of my favorite authors and I'm glad to read he's currently at work on a third novel.

Baseball plays a big part in this book; Wade and Pruitt have both played minor-league ball and they are a sad note on what can become of a person when their dreams aren't reached. But it's the 1998 home run record chase between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs that it the running background of this story. We watched went to a game at Busch Stadium between these teams and followed the battle between the two men closely so this piece of the book pulled me even more deeply into the book.

There is a clear sense of the south throughout this novel, although there is also the feeling that it could have been set in any part of the country giving it a broad appeal. The writing is sharp and there is plenty here that book clubs would find discussion worthy. I highly recommend This Dark Road To Mercy, a terrific sophomore effort.

Thanks for the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour !

Wiley Cash is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home. A native of North Carolina, he has held residency positions at Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. He and his wife live in Wilmington, North Carolina.