Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I Forgot to Remember

Book 49 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it. 

I Forgot to Remember: a Memoir of Amnesia by Su Meck

Summary (via Goodreads)
In 1988 Su Meck was twenty-two and married with two children when a ceiling fan in her kitchen fell and struck her on the head, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury that erased all her memories of her life up to that point. Although her body healed rapidly, her memories never returned. 
Yet after just three weeks in the hospital, Su was released and once again charged with the care of two toddlers and a busy household. Adrift in a world about which she understood almost nothing, Su became an adept mimic, gradually creating routines and rituals that sheltered her and her family, however narrowly, from the near-daily threat of disaster, or so she thought. Though Su would eventually relearn to tie her shoes, cook a meal, and read and write, nearly twenty years would pass before a series of personally devastating events shattered the normal life she had worked so hard to build, and she realized that she would have to grow up all over again.

My Opinion

It was interesting to consider 'nature vs nurture' when considering personality. When Su lost her memory, she had some other significant characteristic changes as well.  I can understand some of the changes (such as no longer wanting to drink since she's already dealing with constant impairment), but another example ('before accident' Su loved the water and even worked as a lifeguard when she was younger but 'after accident' Su is terrified of water and won't go in) truly baffled me since her accident didn't involve water at all.  The brain is a mystery.
The fact that Su has never regained any of her memories from prior to the accident, leaving her to rely solely on other people's information to determine who she was, was fascinating to think about.  If I were in her shoes, I'd be screwed; I have many internal thoughts and feelings that nobody else would know or remember.  

I didn't mind the format because I love medical stuff and don't need a lot of extra words but it could read as basic or bare to some.  There was quite a bit of 'this person said this' and 'this person wrote that', and many questions were asked but never fully answered (understandable given her limitations but still frustrating to someone looking to flesh out the whole story).

As with all memoirs, I don't want to judge the people themselves.  However, I was very surprised at the lack of concern or follow up Su and her family showed for many years.  She was frequently (like, for weeks at a time) alone with the kids, they didn't tell people about her condition, and there were times Jim sounded downright abusive (based on the way he was portrayed throughout the book).  They even moved to Cairo for a few years - how disorientating and isolating would that be?  I'm glad her kids turned out okay because some of those situations sounded downright scary.  

A Few Quotes from the Book

"Babies are coddled, nursed, and coaxed into childhood.  Not me. I was born into a life already in progress."

"The old Su may have longed to finish school, to return to work, to seize all the dreams she had left at the door to motherhood. As for me, this was the only life I had ever known. For years, I had nothing to long for. I had no neglected hobbies, no dormant talents, and no dreams that I knew about."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Man Called Ove

Book 48 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Summary (via the book jacket)
At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet, a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots - and no wonder with all those happy joggers and shop assistants who talk in code, not to mention the perpetrators of the vicious coup d'etat that ousted him as chairman of his neighborhood residents' association. People think him bitter. But must a man be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered on his face all the time, doesn't always tell people what they want to hear, and remains silent when he has nothing in particular to say?
Ove's well-ordered solitary world gets a shake-up one November morning with the appearance of new neighbors - a chatty young couple and their two boisterous daughters - who announce their arrival by accidentally flattening Ove's mailbox with their U-Haul. What follows is a funny and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unlikely friendships, and a community's unexpected reassessment of the one person they thought they had all figured out.

My Opinion

I have so much to say about this book that I can't say anything about this book.

All the feelings.

All the stars.

So grateful to my friend Lindsey for lending me this book.  She knew I would love it and she was RIGHT!

Quote from the Book
Her friends couldn't see why she woke up every morning and voluntarily decided to share the whole day with him. He couldn't either. He built her a bookshelf and she filled it with books by people who wrote page after page about their feelings. Ove understood things he could see and touch. Wood and concrete. Glass and steel. Tools. Things one could figure out. He understood right angles and clear instruction manuals. Assembly models and drawings. Things one could draw on paper.
He was a man of black and white.
And she was color. All the color he had. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

Book 47 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

Summary (via Goodreads)
After nursing a broken engagement with Jane Austen novels and Absolut, Courtney Stone wakes up and finds herself not in her Los Angeles bedroom or even in her own body, but inside the bedchamber of a woman in Regency England. Who but an Austen addict like herself could concoct such a fantasy? 
Not only is Courtney stuck in another woman's life, she is forced to pretend she actually is that woman; and despite knowing nothing about her, she manages to fool even the most astute observer. But not even her love of Jane Austen has prepared Courtney for the chamber pots and filthy coaching inns of nineteenth-century England, let alone the realities of being a single woman who must fend off suffocating chaperones, condomless seducers, and marriages of convenience. Enter the enigmatic Mr. Edgeworth, who fills Courtney's borrowed brain with confusing memories that are clearly not her own. 
Try as she might to control her mind and find a way home, Courtney cannot deny that she is becoming this other woman and being this other woman is not without its advantages: Especially in a looking-glass Austen world. Especially with a suitor who may not turn out to be a familiar species of philanderer after all.

My Opinion
***Edit 10/07/14****
When I finished this book I wasn't aware there was another book in the series called Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict.  It's listed as a sequel but I felt it was more of a companion book.  While I actually think the two books would've been better if they had been combined into one, perhaps alternating chapters between the past and future, they were published separately.  My strong recommendation is if you read Confessions..., you should read Rude Awakenings... immediately after.  

This was my book club's selection this month. I probably wouldn't have picked it for myself but it was a quick, light read that wasn't a chore to get through - a big plus as I read while preparing my kids for their first day back to school!
The only Jane Austen I've read was in high school, not because I have anything against her but because her books are on my 'well known books I should read' list that I never seem to get around to.  It doesn't take a superfan to get the storyline of the book, although there may have been inside jokes (like character names) that completely went over my head.
I didn't always understand the author's choice of what to focus on.  I felt like I read a lot about body odor, and the parts about breast size (she wakes up in a strange place and body and the first thing she does is talk for two paragraphs about how her 'real' breasts compare to the 'other body' breasts she currently has?) and menstruation were unexpected as well, but then when it came time for the ending, it was neatly wrapped up in a few short pages.
Overall, there are definitely worse ways to spend a few hours but it wasn't a memorable read. 

Quote from the Book
"I'm here. In someone else's body. In someone else's life. And here, it appears, I will stay until - or if - I figure out how to get my life back."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Killing Kennedy

Book 46 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard 

By the authors of Killing Lincoln and Killing Jesus, this book details the presidency and assassination of JFK.

My Opinion
Despite my huge interest in the Kennedy family, I didn't love this book.

The reasons I liked Killing Lincoln  and Killing Jesus -- presenting things in a factual non-biased but interesting way -- were not present in this book.  I'm not sure if it's because there's more media coverage/information/paper trails to pull from than Lincoln or Jesus had or if it's a reflection of politics, but I felt this was more gossipy and blaming (hindsight is 20/20, after all) than the other two books. 

Some interesting things that were stated in the book:
-  Secret Service protection of the vice president didn't start until 1962.  As far as political seats go, it does appear to be an undervalued position.

- Winston Churchill became the first foreign leader to be given honorary U.S. citizenship by Congress, and JFK presented it to him via satellite in 1963.

- In the iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln located in the Lincoln Memorial, one of his fists makes the sign language letter 'A' and the other makes an 'L'.  
  **Note: when I fact-checked this, the response to this FAQ on nps.gov is it may or not be true but  "it takes some imagination to see signs in Lincoln's hands". 

While it mentions conspiracy theories as part of the story, I'm not a conspiracy theorist and appreciate that the book didn't feed into them.  They did present an interesting speculation that I hadn't heard before: that it was not a federal crime to kill the president (I don't know if that has since changed) but it was a federal crime to initiate a conspiracy to kill the president so J. Edgar Hoover insisted from the beginning that there were multiple parties involved to ensure him getting federal jurisdiction over the assassination. I don't know how factual that is but it was something new to think about.

Overall, I give it a neutral rating.  It wasn't horrible but it didn't stand out from the many resources available about JFK's assassination.

  Quote from the Book
"Of all the amazing things happening in the world in March 1963, this simple mail-order purchase [of a rifle by Lee Harvey Oswald] would seem to have little significance.  In fact, nothing will have a greater impact on world events than this nineteen-dollar Italian war-surplus bolt-action rifle."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

Book 45 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: a novel of war and survival

Summary (via the book jacket)
A poignant and suspenseful retelling of a famous fairy tale set in a war-torn world.
In the last months of the Nazi occupation of Poland, two children are left by their father and stepmother to find safety in the dense forest.  Because their real names will reveal their Jewishness, they are renamed "Hansel" and "Gretel".  They wander in the woods until they are taken in by Magda, an eccentric and stubborn old woman called "witch" by the nearby villagers.  Magda is determined to save them, even as a German officer arrives in the village with his own plans for the children.
A haunting novel of journey and survival, of redemption and memory, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel powerfully depicts how war is experienced by families and especially by children, and tells a resonant, riveting story.

My Opinion

First, a note about the title.  This is a fiction novel that places the fairy tale characters Hansel and Gretel in the real setting of Poland during WWII.  The 'true story' aspect comes from the portrayal of the witch; as she says, "the story has been told over and over by liars and it must be retold".  While there are elements of the fairy tale throughout the book, this is primarily a book about survival during WWII.

It gripped me from the opening.  I read with squinted eyes because I wanted to know what would happen but was also so worried about what was going to happen.  As always, the horrors of WWII took my breath away.  I cried sad tears for the pain and destruction but also happy tears for the love and resilience.

The only flaw for me was the ending.  I thought the time between one of the last major turning points and the final resolution of the book was too long and I did skim a little during the last few chapters.  That's probably influenced by my low tolerance for what I call 'hijinky' books and movies (see: the middle section of most romantic comedies), where something that should be resolved quickly gets drawn out because a character doesn't do something simple and reasonable (like looking at a group of people when you're searching for someone instead of turning the other way, in this case).  

While it's strange to say, "hey this book hurt my heart...you should totally read it!", I would absolutely recommend this to someone that likes human interest stories and WWII novels.

 A Few Quotes from the Book
"God didn't come down and kill us. I don't see God shooting children and priests. None of us met God beating up Jews and shoving them into railroad cars. This is men doing the murdering. Talk to men about their evil, kill the evil men, but pray to God. You can't expect God to come down and do our living for us. We have to do that ourselves."

"There is much to love, and that love is what we are left with. When the bombs stop dropping, and the camps fall back to the earth and decay, and we are done killing each other, that is what we must hold. We can never let the world take our memories of love away, and if there are no memories, we must invent love all over again."

Friday, August 8, 2014

All in the Head

Book 44 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

I would like to thank NetGalley and Troubador Publishing Ltd. for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.
The expected publication date is August 28, 2014.

All in the Head by Judith Thomas

Summary (excerpted from NetGalley)
All in the Head & other tales with a twist is a compelling collection of 18 short stories that gives an insight into the psychological response to human emotion.  Judith Thomas introduces characters from around the world that have come together in one volume to share their personal experiences in their native countries.  The varied themes and settings provide something unique for every reader.

My Opinion

I'm not comfortable rating this book because the ARC I received had many formatting issues that I expect a proofreading polish would resolve, and I don't want to unfairly critique the author for things that an editor (hopefully) corrected before publishing the finished product. 

It was an interesting premise and the author is clearly interested in many cultures. There were a few stories that may have been more engaging if I had the explanatory 'backstory' before reading the story instead of after (or maybe even work it in throughout the story itself and eliminate the 'backstory' altogether for a smoother transition) but I did walk away from the book with some new knowledge and that's always a good thing, right?

Favorite Story
The Invitation

Friday, August 1, 2014

Elizabeth is Missing

Book 43 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Summary (via Goodreads)
Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory - and her grip on everyday life.  Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.
But no one will listen to Maud - not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth's mercurial son, Peter.  Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.
This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud's rapidly dissolving present.  But the clues she discover seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.
As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more than fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend.  Could the mystery of Sukey's disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

My Opinion

I knew Maud would be an imperfect narrator but I was given more information as a reader than I expected.  She could hear conversations that helped me put things together even though she herself didn't understand the significance of what was being said around her.  
It wasn't very suspenseful as a mystery but was an interesting read about mental decline and the fixations/paranoia dementia can lead to.

Quote from the Book

"I can't answer her, even if I knew the answer, even if I could remember the question..."