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Archive for July, 2011

Author: Lisa Genova
Pub: Pocket Books ©2009

New York Times bestseller, and winner of the Bronte Prize, 2008.

This touching story of living with Alzheimer’s Disease  is well worth your reading! Alice is a university Professor of Psycholinguistics in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. She is married to John, who also teaches at Harvard, and they have 3 adult children, none of whom live at home any more. She lectures to her classes, mentors her grad students, does research, publishes papers, and travels to give guest lectures as an eminent expert in her field. In short, her life is full, and she is at the top of her game in her early 50s. Her life appears to be just about perfect, and she loves it.

But all is not as it seems. Alice has started hiding a few facts from her husband. There are the little household items that seem to hide from her. There is the time she got disoriented in Harvard Square when walking her regular route home from teaching her class. There is the time she lost a word in the middle of a lecture. Then not long after, she arrives to teach a class and can’t remember what the lecture topic of the day is. When she forgets to go to the airport to take her flight to Chicago for a guest appearance, she knows, though she has already taken her problems to her family doctor, that she must see a neurologist.

Thus slowly does the author trace the development of ‘early-onset’ Alzheimer’s in a mid-life woman. Many readers of this book will know someone with the disease, or someone who is caring for a patient with this disease. The story is affecting and all too real, even though it is 100% fiction. The author has really done her homework (and has credited all those who helped her to paint an accurate portrait of the decline of Alice) I found the story of Alice, of how her family copes with her illness, and of how it affects everyone in the family, to be unflinchingly real, tender, and sad.

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Author: Emma Donoghue
Pub: HarperCollins ©2010

Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize, 2010

What an outstanding book! I read it in fewer than 2 days because I could not put it down. Incredible, gripping story – one that I had thought I never wanted to read. Then the book was lent to me, and I thought, “Why not give it a try?” and began to read page one – and was promptly hooked. The narrator is Jack, who is 5 years old on the day that the story begins. He and his mother are living in captivity, in Room. Jack was born there and has known no other life. His mother, known to the reader only as Ma, had been kidnapped by a sexual predator, who then repeatedly raped her and subsequently fathered her son. Jack and Ma have been kept caged for years in a shed (“Room”) in the captor’s back yard. The first long section of the book sets the scene of the mother and son living in this one little shed, and describes how they survive. Jack’s a precocious boy; Ma has taught him well.

Now, I thought that this would be an unpleasant story, especially after I had heard of the Jaycee Dugard story. But the talent of this writer is so great that I was engaged with head and heart from the moment Jack began to tell his story. And on this past weekend as I was reading the book, Jaycee Dugard went public with her story by submitting to an interview with Barbara Walters. (Dugard was promoting her book, of course.) And now I feel I have learned through Donoghue’s fiction a little of what Dugard and her children might have gone through.

In Room, author Donoghue traces the escape of her protagonists (spell binding!) and then goes on to tell the story of their re-entry into the outside world – life after Room (amazing, fascinating, and realistic.) My emotions were most certainly stirred during my reading of this book. I would have voted it the winner of the Booker prize, had I been on the jury. I seldom rate a book 10/10 on my personal scale, but this book deserves even more. You will not be disappointed by Room. It’s another page-turner and deserves its long run on the best-seller lists. And I think you might fall in love with Jack.

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Hong Kong, 1993

As I entered the ferry building, I stopped to buy a postcard and to look about me. Here I was at last, finally about to see the little boat that had figured so long in my day dreams. From the time that I read my first novel set in this city, I had longed to take this trip. Now I was going to board the craft itself. Knowing that it was a short journey and wanting to savour every moment, as I crossed the gangplank I keenly observed my surroundings. I saw the dark green hull, the creamy interior paint, the gnarled rope, and the crowded deck. Everywhere, the passengers were laughing, chattering, and eagerly anticipating their evening revels. I found a seat and tried to contain my elation at making it to this distant romantic place, this night, and this old boat, which symbolized my dreams of distant and exotic places.

I smelled the fragrant harbour, and felt the goose bumps on my arms as the neon lights across the water winked and glowed in the warm humid night. As the engines came to life, and we pulled away from the dock, the moon slid out from behind a cloud, and a tanker bound for a far-off port crossed our bow. The heavy night air was filled with the scent of tropical flowers and sea salt.  As I hung over the rail, watching the bow waves, I thought of Dirk Struan, and the great merchant house that lay on the opposite shore. Somewhere, the tai-pan was watching, and laughing that a ride on the Star Ferry could thrill this traveler so much.

(Reflections on a trip to Hong Kong, and riding the Star Ferry — see James Clavell’s book, “Noble House”)

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Author: Suzanne Collins
Pub:Scholastic © 2009
This is quite a gripping post-apocalyptic novel. What the apocalypse was, we are never told. Doesn’t matter at all. That is not the point. The culture of this world is the point, the horrible point. The world we knew as North America is now called Panem, divided up onto 12 districts, each of which has a specialty. That doesn’t matter either, except that our protagonist, the girl Katniss, is from District 12. Panem is ruled by The Capitol. Each year there is a reaping of human beings, mostly adolescents or young adults, and 2 young people from each district are taken as “tributes” to participate in The Hunger Games which are run by The Capitol.

This whole scenario seemed to be to be right out of “slaves fighting in the Roman arenas,” and indeed, that is what plays out.

(Doesn’t “tributes” sound like “tribunes”?)

Katniss volunteers to go in the place of her younger sister, who has been selected by the annual lottery that chooses the tributes.

And thus the games begin. It’s a fight to the death for all the participants, as there can be only one winner (the last one standing.) These games are “kill or be killed” games. Katniss is the narrator of the story and we become invested her life and her journey through the terrible Games.
Her smarts and her  skills as a hunter keep her alive through chapter after chapter of her adventures. This book is a page turner, even though the premise of the story is really ghastly: all these young people are out to kill each other! This book is, I must admit, incredibly well plotted, and fast-paced.
It’s an awful vision of the future, not one that offers hope to our future generations. But there is no denying that it is a well-told story that engages the reader quickly. This book is the first of a trilogy. I don’t think that I will read volumes 2 and 3 -at least, not for a while.  I’m ready for a happier story now.

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Author: Sarah Blake
Pub: Penguin/Berkley c2010

Excellent novel! Probably was on the NYT best seller list last year. I have seldom read a book that gave such an intense and personal experience of what it was like to be caught up in WWII. Both the sections that dealt with Frankie living through bombing raids in London, and later her train travels through Europe to get the stories of ordinary people as they lived through the war, are full of immediacy and honesty. The story shifts back and forth between Europe and Cape Cod, where the postmistress lives and works. I could visualize the entire setting there, of North Truro and Provincetown, melded into the author’s fictional community of “Franklin”, at the tip of Cape Cod. These two settings are completely connected, by characters in the book. I really liked this book a lot. Author excels at description (very poetic), dialogue (so real) and story telling – amazing story she has imagined. I really enjoyed reading this book.
This will make a good book to recommend to a reading group or discussion group.
There’s an excellent Reader’s Guide at the back of the book, plus interview with the author.
Also, the author has a website:   www.sarahblake.com

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