The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Title:  The Sandman Vol 1:  Preludes & Nocturnes

Author:  Neil Gaiman

Illustrators:  Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III

Paperback:  240 pages

Published:  1991

ISBN:  9781563890116

page 73 page76

K, the trouble with doing graphic novel reviews is that it’s hard for me to quote or to give you a good feel of the book.  This is the first book in Gaiman’s Sandman series, book three receiving the most praise.  This book begins with a small cabal trying to capture Death, but getting Dream instead.  During his 70 or so years of captivity, his belongings are stolen and scattered throughout the universe.  When a guard falls asleep during his watch, Dream takes this opportunity to escape.  Bent on getting revenge, he has to collect his three main tools:  His dream dust, his mask and his ruby in which he has stored his power.  In the above panels, Dream enlists the sight of the Hecate to learn where these items can be found.

Traveling to different planes, he spends time with Cain and Abel, travels to Hell to challenge a demon in a game of wits for his helmet, finds his sand in the possession of a woman who’s been using it to escape her own reality, and finally finds his ruby in a storage shed.  But just as he reaches to collect it, he’s overcome by the ruby, which has been changed in the hands of Dr. D. 

John Dee, aka Dr. D, has been demented and twisted mentally under the stone’s power, and can no longer sleep.  He’s spent the last several years locked up in Arkham Asylum, and manages to escape.  He makes his way to the place he left Dream’s Ruby, and laughs at the immortal laying on the floor as he steps over him to pick up the stone.  Dee uses the ruby’s power in vile and perverse ways to make people violate and dismember one another before finally killing each other or themselves.  Dream has to somehow get the ruby out of Dee’s hands before things get worse.

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I started reading this book last year and was enjoying it, taking it a little bit at a time to make it last.  But somewhere along the way, I set it aside and forgot to pick it back up until the end of the year, when I started trying to finish up books I’d started in 2009.  It is possible that this break in momentum broke the spell of the book, but I lost interest in it after picking it back up.  When I read “24 Hours”, the chapter in which Dee takes control of the diner and manipulates the people in it in all kinds of weird, gross, and perverse ways… gory panels, indeed, I lost my stomach for the book.  It was a bit too Palahniuk for me, and reminded me of Haunted

The graphics in the book are fantastic.  Dream looks a LOT like Gaiman, and when we meet Death, it’s a surprise.  It is definitely different from my usual read, but I think I’ll just stick to manga and fiction for now.  I still love Gaiman’s work, but I don’t think this is for me.  I give The Sandman:  Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

** As I was looking for images from the book to post in this review, I discovered Fyrefly had also read and reviewed it.  Check it out!

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Title:  The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Author:  John Boyne

Paperback:  215 pages

ISBN:  9780552773805

Book Challenges:  War Through the Generations World War II Reading Challenge

‘I’m Shmuel,’ said the little boy.

Bruno scrunched up his face, not sure that he had heard the little boy right.  ‘What did you say your name was?’ he asked.

‘Shmuel,’ said the little boy as if it was the most natural thing in the world.  ‘What did you say your name was?’

‘Bruno,’ said Bruno.

‘I’ve never heard of that name,’ said Shmuel.

‘And I’ve never heard of your name,’ said Bruno.  ‘Shmuel.’  He thought about it.  ‘Shmuel,’ he repeated.  ‘I like the way it sounds when I say it.  Shmuel.  It sounds like the wind blowing.’

‘Bruno,’ said Shmuel, nodding his head happily.  ‘Yes, I think I like your name too.  It sounds like someone who’s rubbing their arms to keep warm…  I’m nine,’ he said.  ‘My birthday is April the fifteenth nineteen thirty-four.’

Bruno’s eyes opened wide and his mouth made the shape of an O.  ‘I don’t believe it,’ he said… ‘my birthday is april the fifteenth too.  And I was born in nineteen thirty-four.  We were born on the same day… We’re like twins,’ said Bruno.

-The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, pages 109-110

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is a story of friendship told through the eyes of Bruno, the nine-year-old son of a concentration camp Commandant.  Uprooted from friends and the only home he’s ever known, Bruno hates his new home in “Out-With,” his mispronunciation of Auschwitz, and makes sure everyone knows it.  But one day, when he goes out exploring the area around his house, he meets a boy his own age on the other side of the fence where everyone wears striped pyjamas all day.  The two quickly become friends, and meet as often as possible at the same time and spot everyday from then on.

One of the things I like about this book is Boyne’s layered subtleties.  Bruno, the naive and sheltered innocent, passes along clues of his mother’s infidelity, drinking and depression, as well as the competition that goes on between Gretel, his twelve-turning-thirteen year-old sister, and his mother for the attention of the young Lieutenant Koltor.  Bruno witnesses but can’t quite grasp the difference between him and his family and the people on the other side of the fence, asking different people about it with varying degrees of failure to get a satisfactory answer.  His father tells him the others aren’t people -not really, not in the way we think of.  The Lieutenant calls them a derogatory name that is never passed along in the book.  Gretel comes the closest to answering him, failing only because she herself doesn’t understand it, either, telling him that the people on the other side were Jews and they were The Opposite, and The Opposite hate the Jews.

There are a few things that just got under my skin with this book, however.  For instance, if these people are German, then I assume they speak German in their thoughts as well as conversations with one another.  I found it mildly irritating that Bruno would think “Auschwitz” would sound like “Aus mit” (the direct translation “Out-with”).  Or that he would hear “Der Führer” and think people were calling Hitler “Das Wut”.  Also, there are a lot of repetition in the book.  Okay, I get it… Father’s office is “Out of bounds at all times with no exceptions.”  I got that the first time.  And I caught it on page 1 that Bruno had some stuff that belonged to him and were nobody else’s business.  Another thing I really wish Boyne had added to the book was how Bruno and Shmuel would have spent their birthday.  No doubt Bruno would have had a party with cake and a big dinner, but how would he have shared the special day with his “twin”?

Boyne’s storytelling in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is reminiscent of Scout’s recounting in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, though not as well-done nor is Bruno as developed as a character as Scout was.  In Boyne’s attempt to reach as broad an audience as possible, the story is a bit like thin gruel.  Everyone can digest it, but it hasn’t got very much flavor.  If you are looking for a good book that glimpses the lives of the people during Nazi Germany, I’d recommend The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  The writing is magical, the storytelling point-of-view is unique, and the depth of even the tertiary characters are better than Bruno’s.

Still, I’m passing this book on to my kids.  I think it’s a good book to introduce young and reluctant readers to the subjects:  The Holocaust, racism, hate, friendship, loyalty, love.  I think 4th and 5th graders, particularly boys of that age, would enjoy this book the most.  For me, a mom with a children the same ages as Bruno and Gretel (not to mention the same relationship as the bickering siblings, as well), I found Bruno to be an exasperatingly annoying little whiner at times. 

I give The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne 3 out of 5 stars.  It’s an acceptable read, but for me, as forgettable as Bruno found his three best friends for life.   In a year, I doubt I’ll even remember their names.

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In 2008, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was made into a movie.  I’ll have to put it on the top of my Netflix Queue, it looks fairly good.  Maybe they’ll address the birthday issue for me in it.

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg

home-repairTitle:  Home Repair

Author:  Liz Rosenberg

Paperback:  352 pages

ISBN:  9780061734564

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

But it was more than facing the clutter and the mess, this grip of cold gloom that surrounded her.  She had never been prone to depression, not even after Ivan died, but what she suffered now felt like a disease of the soul.  She wandered aimlessly around the house.  The flowers in their clay pots out on the front porch were long dead and withered.  A few brown leaves stuck out from the stems.  She seemed to be staring at the demise of everything.  Everything she’d already lost, all the losses still to come.  It all headed toward grief in the end.  Humans were soap bubbles, clinging to any solid surface.  They rested briefly, then were gone.  Her mother would be gone soon, and not long after, it would be herself, and one day even her own children…

A chill stabbed her heart.  Why on earth bother?  Why clean, take out the trash, make the beds.  Why not let it all alone to rot?

- Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, pages 183-184 (ARE)

I’d first like to thank Jennifer, aka Book Club Girl, for the opportunity to read Home Repair and participate in a discussion with Liz Rosenberg, the book’s author.  You can listen to her July 8th broadcast on Blog Talk Radio with the author by clicking here.  It was my first time participating in a live discussion with an author, and was an interesting experience.  It would definitely be more interesting to have the author’s voice at a book club discussion more often.

One of the things that sticks out most for me with Home Repair is that it truly has a feeling of authenticity.  Often in books, when the tragic or fantastic occurs, it feels contrived or manufactured, a vehicle for the author to get the characters from one point to another, or to teach a lesson.  However, with this book, the events feel natural.  When Eve and her seventeen-year-old son, Marcus, get into a fight about him going for a ride in his friend’s new sports car, it had a very familiar feeling to me, a mother of two teens of my own.  The events that followed the argument also felt familiar and made me think back to something that had happened within my own family.  Another aspect of Home Repair that I kept thinking of while reading it was that the characters were very real to me.  At times I could see my own mother in Charlotte, Eve’s mom, with Eve playing my part, at other times Mrs. Dunrea could’ve been me.  Also, Rosenberg has set Home Repair in her home town of Bignhamton, New York, adding even more realism to the book.

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg begins on a bright, sunny and unseasonably mild day as Eve holds a garage sale to clear out some of the clutter in her family of four’s life.  As the day progresses, she becomes aware that her husband, Chuck, has taken the opportunity to clear out for good.  Eve is left with the task of explaining to her two children, Marcus and Noni, that he’s left them, and to somehow manage to dig down within herself and soldier on.  The book takes us on a year journey as Eve rediscovers who she is, develops friendships and connections with new and different people, and deepens her relationships with those she already knows.  When her mother moves up from Tennessee to “help,” Eve is faced with her mother’s own eventual mortality and humanness, as she struggles in the in-between land of mother caring for her own children while being a child caring for her mother.  Home Repair is the story of healing, family and friendship that will stay with you and gives hope that “This too shall pass.”

“Why does anyone get married?  Why do middle-aged men leave their wives, or women abandon their families and run off to Tahiti?  Why does anyone bother to become friends with anyone, or adopt a child, or own a pet, for that matter?  We’re all going to die sooner or later, if that’s what you’re thinking,”  Charlotte said.  “That’s life.  Nothing we do can change that.  We’re all going to someday say good-bye.  We’re all going to have to cry, little girl,” she said, putting one hand out to touch Eve’s hair.  The touch did not quite happen, but hovered, and then settled back down, like a butterfly, still quivering.  “We might as well be happy while we can.”

-Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, page 324 (ARE)

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg is a comfort, homey read that reminds us that we’re not alone and gives us hope.  It tells us that we’re stronger than we think and love is the best home repair.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle by Nan Marino

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan MarinoTitle:  Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me

Author:  Nan Marino

Hardcover:  160 pages

ISBN:  9781596434998

Challenges:  2009 ARC Reading Challenge

From the back of the book:

Muscle Man McGinty is a squirrelly runt, a lying snake, and a pitiful excuse for a ten-year-old.  The problem is that no one on Ramble Street knows it, but me.

Tamara Ann Simpson is tired of all the lies.  And boy, oh boy, can Muscle Man McGinty tell some whoppers!  When he does the unthinkable and challenges the entire block to a game of kickball, Tamara knows she’s found her opportunity to prove to everyone what a wormy little liar Muscle Man really is.  Of course things would be a lot easier if her best friend Kebsie Grobser were here to help her…

It’s the summer of 1969 and the world is getting ready for a young man named Neil Armstrong to make history by walking on the moon.  But change happens a bit more slowly in Massapequa Park, and it’ll take one giant leap for Tamara to understand the likes of Muscle Man McGinty.

I really enjoyed reading Neil Armstrong is My Uncle.  For me, this book was a trip into the past to my own childhood.  While the world of Indian Heights and that of Rumble Street were very different, and a good decade separated us, I could still cast the characters of the book with the kids from my own block.  I was, of course, Tamara.  I could totally relate to her, as I too never quite got the subtleties of the social game and all was black-and-white for me, as well.  I had a few Muscle Men at various stages growing up, people who seem to come along with the world undeservedly on their side.

There are lucky people in the world, and then there are people who always seem to find themselves knee-deep in trouble.  It’s not hard to guess which group I fall into.

If I were lucky, the morning of the us-against-Muscle Man game would be different.  I’d wake up to singing birds and sushine, scarf down a bowl of Apple Jacks, and be the first one standing on the Rattles’ front lawn.

But I’m a “trouble” person.  And that means I’m in deep water from the moment the day begins…

-page 54 in the ARE copy

Okay, so I’ve broke the three things hoped for in the publisher’s letter.  I didn’t read it in one setting in a comfy chair, but in about 5 sits… and in the car, and on the beach, then in the car, and finally in my bed.  I wasn’t born until 1973, so the trip to the moon was old hat by the time I was around, and I didn’t feel like calling anyone to ask them where they were.  And the front cover is about as much interest as my young readers care about the book because the sun is shining and the waves were coming in and the fair is today… and “Come on Mom, why are you still typing?!  We’re gonna miss the rides!  I’m hungry!  I want an elephant ear!  Let’s go, already!”

But Neil Armstrong is My Uncle is a fun book that is supposedly for the 8-12 set, but I never felt like I was reading a kids book, to be honest.  I just had a pleasant vacation into a safe past and for that I thank Nan Marino and Roaring Brook Press for the chance to read it :-)  I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.  Oh, and be sure to heck out Nan Marino’s site at http://www.nanmarino.com/

Sunburnt and Weary, I Return…

100_0159Waves.  Wind.  Sun.  Seagulls.  Maglit berserking a flock of seagulls (NOT the 80s rock band made famous by their weird hair and referenced by Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction).  It all proved too much for my ADD to overcome.  I had dreams and visions of doing damage to my ARC-alanche pile!  But, I only managed to read a little over 100 pages of Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle-Man McGinty Told Me

I put the choice to Maggie, (who, btw, wasn’t at all interested in silly little books, even FB!) “Should I start with Uncle Chestnut? or Uncle Neil?”  She said, “The one with the moon on its cover.”  So, my book choice was made by a 10-year-old and based on the book cover… lol.

Neil

So, for those of you who’ve read it, I’m at the part where Mr. Pizza just got the visit from the man in uniform.  The kids were playing kickball and the score was 42-0, but I don’t know if they’ll play on.  I’m really enjoying it.  It’s a book that reminds a grown-up what it felt like to be a kid, especially if you were the kind of kid like Tamara… a “trouble” kid. (I’m raising both hands, that’s definitely me).  Reading this book, I find my mind wandering back to all those friends, especially the ones who were only there during the summer (Nick, Angel, Heather, and so many others… funny how, as a kid, we’re never concerned with last names!).  I was seriously hoping they’d solve the McGinty on 3rd AND up to kick by putting in a “ghost man” like we did.  Ghost man rules, though, your ghost men can only advance one base, they can’t go from 1st to home.  But, alas! they threw in the giant as a pinch runner.  Boo!  :-D

Well, back to reading and I need a shower.  I have sand between my toes, in my hair, and I’ll betcha it’s in my drawers, too!  It gets everywhere.  I swear, I have no idea how beaches survive if everyone brings home as much sand as we do! lol!

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Oh, I almost forgot!  THIS was waiting for me when we got home:

Book Loot

The books are:

  1. Untamed by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast ~ Book #4 of the House of Night series
  2. Faerie Wars by Herbie Brennan
  3. The Inheritance of Loss byKiran Desai
  4. God Sleeps in Rwanda by Joseph Sebarenzi with Laura Mullane
  5. The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
  6. Love Letters from Cell 92 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  7. Fruits Basket, volume 5 by Natsuki Takaya
  8. Cowboy Bebop:  Shooting Star, volume 1 by Cain Kuga
  9. Fruits Basket, volume 4 by Natsuki Takaya

It looked like the book fairy exploded all over!  Gwen had got home before us and dumped the mail on my bed… lol.  Adding to the book loot was a check for $100 and 4 coupons for free candy bars from Mars.  Dang!  I should go to the beach more often!

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Title:  Water for Elephants

Author:  Sara Gruen

Paperback:  335 pages

ISBN:  9781565125605

…[Camel] comes to a stop in front of a stock car.  “Joe!  Hey, Joe!”

A head appears in the doorway.

“I got a First of May here.  Fresh from the crate.  Think you can use him?”

The figure steps forward onto the ramp.  He pushes up the brim of a battered hat with a hand missing three of its fingers.  He scrutinizes me, shoots an oyster of dark brown tobacco juice out the side of his mouth, and goes back inside.

Camel pats my arm in a congratulatory fashion.  “You’re in, kid.”

“I am?”

“Yep.  Now go shovel some shit.  I’ll catch up with you later.”

-Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, page 33

Jacob Jankowski was one week and his final exams away from being a vet.  Then tragedy hits, claiming the lives of his parents, and revealing that they’d mortgaged everything to keep their only child enrolled in Cornell University.  The weight and guilt of this bears down on young Jacob, and he just walks off from school… and keeps on walking.  When he finally stops for the night, he decides to jump aboard a passing train, only to find he’s just joined the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. 

Vividly imaginitive and well-researched, Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruenis a compelling, character-driven tale with the feel of magic and wonder we feel as children going to the circus for the first time.  It has a gritty realism to it and exposes the behind-the-scenes working and stratification of classes of the travelling circus.  Bosses, freaks, an exotic menagerie, performers, clowns and dwarfs, working men and roustabouts… in that order.  Everyone has a history, and a pervasive loneliness binds them all together.

I was enrapt by both the writing and the story in Water for Elephants.  Gruen, a female writer, captures the male perspective amazingly well.  The story takes place in two timelines:  Young Jacob at 23 and joining the circus, and the elderly Jacob, who is either 91 or 93 (he can’t remember anymore), in an assisted living facility, dealing with the emotions of being left behind -by his kids and his deceased wife- in a place where there’s baby food to eat, your neighbor poops his pants, and your desires and opinions are discounted and ignored.  I was carried along through the story, and it was over before I even knew it.

I loved Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen and give it 5 out of 5 stars :-)

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Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages!  Presenting a video clip of Ringling Brothers Greatest Show on Earth!

:-)

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

landing_LLTitle:  The Last Lecture

Author:  Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

Hardcover:  207 pages

ISBN:  9781401323257

Brick walls are there for a reason.  They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

Grab your box of Kleenex because you’re gonna cry, most of the time they’ll be tears of laughter, but some of them will be from heart ache.  OH! and  Don’t forget the pen and paper, because you’ll want to take notes.  Professor Pausch is taking the stage for The Last Lecture.

Pausch covers the elephant in the room in his opening paragraphs:

I have an engineering problem.  While for the most part I’m in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I  have only a few months left to live.

I am a father of three young children, and married to the woman of my dreams.  While I could easily feel sorry for myself, that wouldn’t do them, or me, any good.

So many things in this book are deeply inspirational, and that’s no surprise; he’s dying from cancer and that’s given him a chance to step back and say, “What legacy am I leaving?”  Much of them are simple concepts like, “Tell the truth, it’s not only morally right but efficient.”  Some are more profound like, “one customer-service decision over a ten-dollar salt and pepper shaker [ended] up earning Disney more than $100,000.”  But all of them are worth saving, writing down, reciting, and implementing, because Randy Pausch lived a life that saw almost all of his childhood dreams come true.

My Childhood Dreams

  • Being in zero gravity
  • Playing in the NFL
  • Authoring an article in the World Book encyclopedia
  • Being Captain Kirk
  • Winning stuffed animals
  • Being a Disney Imagineer

My mom turned me onto this book a couple weeks ago when I was telling her about whatever book I was reading, and she told me she’d just read a really great book.  Now, my mom doesn’t say a book is great very often… in fact, a lot of the time, they barely make much of a blip on her radar.  I’m not saying she’s a picky reader or critical, but when she ONE remembers a book and talks about it and TWO applies the “great” stamp to it, it’s a book guaranteed worth reading.

And I was definitely NOT disappointed.  The copy I have came from the library, but I will be buying my own copy.  I wish I could keep this one though… it smells lovely, reminiscent of the Viewfinder we played with when we were kids :-)

Send Out Thin Mints

As part of my responsibilities, I used to be an academic reviewer.  That meant I’d have to ask other professors to read densely written research papers and review them.  It could be tedious, sleep inducing work.  So I came up with an idea.  I’d send a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints with every paper that needed reviewed.  “Thank you for agreeing to do this,” I’d write.  “The enclosed Thin Mints are your reward.  But no fair eating them until you review the paper.”

… I’ve found Thin Mints are a great communication tool.  THey’re also a sweet reward for a job well done.

Okay, so… Publishers and authors:  I now expect Thin Mints with each book you’re wanting reviewed :-D  It was worth a try!  Chapter 55 says, “Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

Long and short of it:  The Last Lecture is full of common sense, community sense, wisdom that is worth reading and re-reading.  It’d make a great belated Father’s Day present, or a gift to anyone, including yourself.  I give The Last Lecture  by Randy Pausch 5 out of 5 stars.

You can watch Randy’s Last Lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” which was the genesis of this book, it’s an hour and 16 minutes long and worth it :-)

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Title:  The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Author:  Kim Edwards

Paperback:  401 pages

Date Published:  2006

Publisher:  Penguin Books

ISBN:  0143037145

The head crowned.  In three more pushes it emerged, and then the body slid into his waiting hands and the baby cried out, its blue skin pinking up.

It was a boy, red-faced and dark-haired, his eyes alert, suspicious of the lights and the cold bright slap of air.  The doctor tied the umbilical cord and cut it.  My son, he allowed himself to think.  My son.

“Where is the baby?” his wife asked, opening her eyes and pushing hair away from her flushed face.  “Is everything all right?”

“It’s a boy,” the doctor said, smiling down at her.  “We have a son.  You’ll see him as soon as he’s clean.  He’s absolutely perfect.”

His wife’s face, soft with relief and exhaustion, suddenly tightened with another contraction… he understood what was happening… “Nurse?” the doctor said, “I need you here.  Right now.”

…”Twins?” the nurse asked.

…This baby was smaller and came easily… “It’s a girl,” he said, and cradled her like a football… The blue eyes were cloudy, the hair jet black, but he barely noticed all of this.  What he was looking at were the unmistakable features, the eyes turned up as if with laughter, the epcantha fold across the lids, the flattened nose… A mongoloid.

-The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, pages 15-16

When Norah Henry goes into labor during a blizzard (I know, very Lifetime Movie, right?), Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver their children himself.  There is only one other person present at the delivery, the office nurse, Caroline Gill.  When David realizes that his newborn daughter has Down’s Syndrome, he passes her to Caroline with the directions to a “home for the feeble-minded,” and the name of the person to talk to there.  His intentions are to tell his wife, who is passed out from the anaesthetic gas, about their daughter’s condition when she comes to, however, when the moment arrives, he lies to her and tells her the girl is dead and her body sent to be buried in the family cemetery on his partner’s farm.  In her grief, Norah plans and announces a memorial for the lost child, “Phoebe,” and informs David of all this after it’s been made public, sticking him fast to the story he told her of the baby’s death.

Caroline, after seeing the deplorable conditions of the place David has sent his daughter to be dumped off and after being informed that the person to whom she was to speak no longer works there, decides to keep Phoebe.  Caroline, now in her early 30s, has spent her whole life waiting for her life to begin, waiting to be someone and to make a difference, she takes Phoebe and moves to Pittsburgh to raise her as her own.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards is the unfolding of the outcome of David’s decision.  It shows how this one secret, and really, much more that David has kept all his life, erects a wall between him and his family.  In his attempt to spare his wife and son the pain of having a daughter and sister who’s condition he believes will be a burden on them their entire life, he has only substituted one pain for another.  By the time he realizes his lie has caused more heartache than the truth ever could, his family has become individuals, islands unto themselves, lonely and feeling like they could never be good enough for the rest.

Because this book does a great job at recreating the sentiments of the time period toward special needs children, there are times when what’s being said is offensive.  My two older girls have special needs, and when the nurse in the Pittsburgh hospital asks Caroline if she really wants her to save Phoebe’s life, it rankled me as much as it did Caroline.  The book doesn’t crank out a happily ever after scenario, nor does it become an “Oh my God, yet another tragedy” soap opera, instead it presents a plausible, heart-felt outcome.

Things to keep in mind if you plan to read this book:  It is a real look at what life is like raising a child with special needs, and raising that child into adulthood.  It is a lifetime of events, and therefore can seem long, but it doesn’t drag.  Also, it does have heavy and sad moments, the character’s don’t do “the right thing” and there are no heroes… except maybe Paul and Phoebe, and even then maybe just Phoebe.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards can help the reader have more compassion for caretakers of special needs children, as well as having a moral that the truth is always the better way to go, that the best of intentions is often the surest and straightest path to Hell.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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P.S.  Do NOT watch the Lifetime movie of this.  It is officially the WORST book to movie EVER! EVER EVER EVER EVER EVERI give that POS movie NEGATIVE infinity out of 5 stars.  It made the characters appear flat and shallow, it changed parts of the story that didn’t need changed and it was just plain crap.  Anyone who says they didn’t like the book because the characters were shallow and selfish, I have to wonder if they really read the book or watched the movie.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Title:  Haunted

Author:  Chuck Palahniuk

Paperback:  412 pages

Date Published:  2006

Publisher:  Vintage

ISBN:  9780099497172

Looking back, it was Mr. Whittier’s stand that we’re always right.

“It’s not a matter of right and wrong,” Mr. Whittier would say.

Really, there is no wrong.  Not in our own minds.  Our own Reality.

…In your own mind, you are always right.  Every action you take – what you do or say or how you choose to appear – is automatically right the moment you act.

…We’re all condemned to be right.  About everything we can consider.

In this shifting, liquid world where everyone is right and any idea is right the moment you act on it, Mr. Whitier would say, the only sure thing is what you promise.

“Three months, you promised,” Mr. Whittier says through the steam of his coffe.

It’s then something happens, but not much.

In that next look, you feel your asshole get tight.  Your fingers fly to cover your mouth.

Miss America is holding a knife in one hand.  With her other hand, she grips the knot of Mr. Whittier’s necktie, pulling his face up toward her own.  Mr. Whittier’s coffee, dropped, spilled steaming-hot on the floor.  His hands hang, shaking, swirling the dusty air at ech side.

Saint Gut-Free’s silver bag of instant crepe Suzette drops, spilled out on the cornflower-blue carpet, the sticky red cherries and reconstituted whipped cream.

And the cat runs over for a taste.

Her eyes almost touching Mr. Whittier’s, Miss America says, “So I’m right if I kill you?”

-Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, pages 60-61

Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk is the stories and poems within a bigger story that is the shadow of the truth.  It is the camera behind the camera behind the camera, as is often said in the book.  It’s the story of a collection of strangers who have all answered an ad about a writer’s retreat, but find it’s a lot more than they bargained for.  Mr. Whittier, the operator of the “retreat” tells them that they’ve promised to write and, for the  next three months, he intends to hold them to that promise.  However, there is an unfortunate hiccup in the plan when Whittier dies from a busted gut after eating the equivalent of 10 freeze-dried turkey dinners.  Now the strangers are on their own, locked in an abandoned hotel/theater, each with their own guilt and story to haunt them.

From a psychological/sociological point of view, this book is fascinating.  It’s  a bit like Lord of the Fliesin that it is the witness of the de-evolution of society.  How depraved can people get?  How little humanity will be left at the end of the three month period?  When food runs out (because they’ve all sabotaged the supplies) what will they eat?  That they are all there as writers and artists, what will they do with this time they are given?

It is a dark look into the human soul.  The Missing Link states that it is how we treat the animals around us that shows our humanity… the cat disappears shortly after he says this.  Director Denial makes a statement again and again that people turn each other into objects, then turn objects into people.  Points are made that humans have  a low threshhold of tolerance to boredom, that we seek out a villain to blame all our troubles on, and that we thrive on chaos, drama and disaster.  There’s no joy like the joy found in another’s suffering.  That all this drama and difficulty is to prepare us for our final act, our own death.

While these are the concepts that drew me to this book, I found the book itself a bit on the boring side.  I kept falling asleep… though, that may have been because I couldn’t nibble while reading due to the nauseatingly disgusting content.  Haunted has more canabalism in it that the Donner Party was ever accused of.  The graphic descriptions of the toilets backing up, the cooking of a baby, and decomposition were enough to make me gag. 

This is only my second Palahniuk book, Rant being my first, and I’m aware he can be a bit disgusting and warped.  One review I read said that Hauntedwas for the true Palahniuk fans.  I’ve got a few more of his books on Mt. TBR, but I think I’m going to wait for a while before reading another by him… let my stomach settle.  It’s definitely NOT for the faint of heart.

Even though it was gut-churningly gross, the intellectual appeal was enough to keep me reading on.  I give Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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One of my favorite parts of my Border’s newsletters is the shortlist.  When Palahniuk’s book Snuff came out, the following video was his shortlist offering.  I think it was this vid that made me want to read more Palahniuk (as well as pick up Clown Girl)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Title:  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author:  Jamie Ford

Hardbound:  290 pages

Date Published:  January 27, 2009

Publisher:  Ballantine Books (div of Random House)

ISBN:  9780345505330

At the next mess hall, lunch had finished.  Mrs. Beatty had him wash and wipe down trays while she coordinated with the kitchen manager on needed supplies and menu planning.  “Just hang out if you get done early,” she said.  “Don’t go wandering off unless you want to stay here for the rest of the war,”  Henry suspected that she wasn’t joking and nodded politely, finishing his work.

By all accounts, the mess hall was off-limits to the Japanese when it wasn’t mealtime.  Most were restricted to their chicken shacks, although he did see people occasionally slogging through the mud to and from the latrine.

When he was done, Henry sat on the back step and watched smoke billowing from the stovepipes fitted into the roofs of the makeshift homes – the collective smoky mist filled the wet, gray sky above the camp.  The smell of burning wood lingered in the air.

She’s here.  Somewhere.  Among how many people?  A thousand?  Five thousand?  Henry didn’t know.  He wanted to shout her name, or run door to door, but the guards in the towers didn’t look like they took their jobs lightly.  They stood watch for the protection of the internees – so he’d been told.  But if that were so, why were their guns pointed inside the camp?

It didn’t matter.  Henry felt better knowing he’d made it this far.  There were still a chance he’d find her.  Among the sad, shocked faces, maybe he’d find her smile again.  But it was getting dark.  Maybe it was too late.

-Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, page 157

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a heart-touching tale of Henry Lee; the son of a prominent, traditional Chinese community leader who’s left his heart in the homeland; called “white devil” by his peers as he goes off to an all-white school on “scholarship” (translation – he does all the janitor work for the privilege of attending the school) where he’s bullied, heckled and harrassed on a constant basis as the only Asian student, that is, until Keiko, a Japanese-American girl, begins to “scholarship” with him; he is also father of Marty, with whom he struggles to communicate or even have much of a relationship after the death of Henry’s wife, Ethel, Marty’s mother.  As the story moves back and forth in time between 1986 to 1942, the reader is able to watch the unfolding of the young, innocent love Henry discovers he has for Keiko, a love that is forbidden, and could even get him disowned, by his traditionalist father, who sees Keiko as just a relative of those people invading and destroying his home.

Their love is undeterred by the war, even when all people of Japanese decent are rounded up and sent away to live in relocation centers (concentration camps) for the remainder of the war.  Henry promises he’ll wait for her, even until she’s an old woman… he promises to bring her  a cane if it takes that long.  However, being children, things are not always so easy or so lasting as young Henry finds out.

The discover of personal belongings left behind by residents of Nihonmachi (Japantown) in the basement of the Panama Hotel offers Henry the opportunity to open up and share with his son, and to heal the rift that had started between Henry and his own father, who made him the man and father he became, despite his desire to be different.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a quiet book, but deeply moving.  It explores racial issues of the 1940s, both those between Caucasians and Asians and blacks, but also between Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans, and between Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants) and Nissei (second generation Japanese-Americans).  The book addresses how traditional culture has had to give way to contemporary culture.  It also touches on the culture of jazz, and offers music as a unifying agent… something that all cultures can share and appreciate.

One of the things that I enjoyed about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is that it inspires the reader to exploring history further, beyond the covers of the book.  It offers a vignette of American history and life, but it doesn’t preach or teach.  Ford could have very easily turned Hotel into a soap box and spoken out  against the unconstitutional suspension of the civil rights of American citizens by removing them from their homes, robbing them of their property and detaining them without just cause simply because of their genetic heritage.  This would have been a valid argument to have made, but Ford leaves the moral interpretation to the reader.  He could have turned it into a history lesson, but, instead, provides enough information for the reader to do his or her own homework.  Which I did.

And, I apparently found the same documentaries as Ford.  I recommend the following for better understanding of this book:

  • Time of Fear- a PBS documentary about the experiences of both the Japanese-Americans sent to relocation camps in Arkansas and their Caucasian and Black Arkansan neighbors.
  • Unfinished Business – The Japanese-American Internment Cases – while the civil rights movement didn’t really get going until the 60s, not every Japanese-American went along with the government’s unlawful treatment of it’s own citizens.  This documentary shows some of those attempts of civil disobedience.
  • Nanking- Performed by stars such as Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemmingway, Jürgen Prochnow, Stephen Dorff, and Rosalind Chao, among others, this documentary dramatically tells the story of the Japanese Army’s invasion and occupation of Nanking, China.

All three of the videos will help you get a better understanding of the background of the book, but especially Nanking.  It will make all the difference in understanding where Henry’s dad is coming from and help you not to see him as a mean, bigoted, old man.

Well researched, but never feeling “studied,” Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford will allow you to step into the life and culture of another, and to see the world from a different angle, while still provide you with the entrancing escape for which most of us disappear between the covers of a book.  I give Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 4 egg rolls and a fortune cookie(which, I guess, is 4 1/2 stars out of 5… lol)

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The following video is Jamie Ford talking about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and what sparked his desire to tell the story.

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Don’t forget, I’m giving away my copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet! Leaving a comment here on the review post is your official entry, but check out The Giveaway Announcement for details on how to get bonus entries and when the contest ends!

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