From time to time I have moments that catch my breath when I think of a few near death experiences I have had in my life. The four moments that occasionally remind me of how lucky I am to still be kicking around. Three of these occurred in a car and one on a horse – inches and seconds from disaster.
In her memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, O’Farrell looks back on her own life where she can count 17 separate incidents of stepping too close to her own death. Several instances the reader can easily relate to, while others seem unfathomable to most of us.
But the part of the book that caught me somewhat off guard was the story of O’Farrell’s adult life struggle to keep her own daughter alive. A day to day process that involves constant monitoring of every item her daughter eats, breaths, touches…as O’Farrell and her family deal with a child with severe immune-system disorder.
This is the first time I have read O’Farrell’s work although she has numerous memoirs and novels. I enjoyed this story dispite it’s sometimes gut-wrenching detail.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. Read last week’s review of Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.
Location: Reading Wednesday
Mbue, an immigrant from Limbe Cameroon, weaves a fictional tale of immigrants like herself, who make their way from Cameroon in search of the American Dream in New York. My book review Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is fiction but a near to true story of the hardship of immigrants in the USA.
Both a love story and an American tragedy, Behold the Dreamers brings to life the incredible characters of Jenda Jonga and his wife Neni and their sweet and small children. The Jonga family has worked for years to make their way to New York City, land of dreams and opportunity.
We are introduced to the Edward’s family. Husband Clark and wife Cindy with children Vince and Mighty. Clark is a high powered financial investor with the ill-fated Lehman Brothers. Cindy a New York socialite hiding and running from her past.
These two families will collide in a sad but believable look at how two very different families navigate the financial collapse of 2008, the nearly impossible American immigration system as well as the challenges of race, class, substance abuse and marriage in America.
A remarkable debut novel for Imbolo Mbue. Five stars for Behold the Dreamers.
Read last week’s review of The Glass Castle
Location: Reading Wednesday
I found this true story very similar to Tara Westover’s “Educated”. A deep and disturbing look at how children survive growing up in dysfunctional, often violent, and deeply impoverished family.
Tracing Jeannette Walls climb out of poverty and neglect to her life today as a successful writer and contributor for the likes of Esquire and MSNBC. The Glass Castle is an astonishing look at an all to common and oft ignored American tragedy of childhood neglect.
Jeannette Walls and her three siblings are raised by a brilliant father who is also a raging alcoholic. Her free-spirited mother has little interest in domestic life, leaves her children to fend for themselves, even when she has the financial opportunity to provide and pull them out of despair and poverty.
The Walls children are forced to learn to take care of themselves and each other, nearly starving or freezing to death in the cold winters.
Eventually making her way to New York, getting an education and a good job, Jeannette finds it impossible to talk about her upbringing or the fact that her parents are living homeless on the streets of New York. She is ashamed of them and the way they live. Until she is encouraged by those closest to her, to tell this real life story of surviving neglect and despair, even while still loving her parents.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Read last week’s review of My Sister’s Keeper.
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Location: Reading Wednesday
I’m not a huge fan of Jodi Picoult. I’ve read a few of her novels, and her work reminds me of Lianne Moriarty and Anitia Shreve and probably some others I can’t think of. I have a personal bias, probably not justified, but there it is. The bias for me is how MANY books they pump out. Book after book after book. Wow. Like a machine.
Alas I know though how loved these authors and others like them are for their easy reading and usually heartfelt characters and plots. And in Picoult’s case, often focused on topics torn from today’s news.
So it is with My Sister’s Keeper, a paperback I found and enjoyed at our Airbnb on the island of Langkawi.
My Sister’s Keeper brings us a family in turmoil. A family who has dealt with their daughters leukemia for a decade. A family who chose to have another baby – a genetically designed baby – to provide umbilical cord cells to the other sick daughter.
When Anna is born, she is loved by her parents, but her entire life is spent trying to save their first daughter Kate. At age 13, Anna decides she has given enough of herself; cells, blood, and bone marrow and she makes the excruciating decision to say “no more”.
This is a story of ethics, parenting, cancer and family. This is a story that no parent ever wants to find themselves in. Is one child’s life more important than another? How will the collision of genetics, ethics and rights of a child conclude?
This book kept my attention and I felt sorry for all concerned in this story, but to be honest I hated the ending. I really hated it. I thought it was all too convenient the way it wrapped up, and would much rather have seen it end in a different, more expected way with less drama and tragedy.
You will have to decide for yourself.
⭐️⭐️⭐️Three stars for My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Read last week’s review of Elsewhere.
I had never read anything by Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo, but when I saw this book in our darling little neighborhood lending library it sounded like a winner. And yes it was. Here is my book review of Elsewhere by Richard Russo.
First of all this is a memoir. And a beautifully done one at that. I’ve thought a lot about memoir writing myself…perhaps I have a memoir in my own future. But not all memoirs are done as well as this one…a wonderful tale of Russo’s lifelong relationship with his mentally disturbed mother.
The story begins at the beginning. Russo’s childhood spent living with his grandparents and mother, with very rare appearances by his father. His very needy mother is certainly a loving mother, but also very focused on her own personal image no matter the cost. Her insatiable need to “appear” independent plagues Russo throughout his entire life. Because the reality is, she is not.
She tags along to Arizona when Russo goes to college. That’s right. What 18-year-old wants their mother at college with them? This is a great example of the relationship Russo and his mother have through out his life.
Only at the very end of her life and after her death is Russo able to really reconcile the fact that his mother had mental illness – having spent decades trying to make her happy, feeling much of her unhappiness was his fault.
This is a wonderful memoir of a life of mental illness, something in the 1950’s that was never spoken about. His mother was always said to just be “nervous”. Through this work it’s clear her problems were much deeper. Hopefully the book can open the discussion further about mental illness in the people we love.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for Elsewhere by Richard Russo. Read last week’s review of Maid.
Book Review Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land.
Like last week, the book I am reviewing this week is by a Seattle area author. It is a memoir of her hard-scrabble, (nearly) single-mother life and how she climbed out of that life to save both she and her daughter.
At 28-years old Stephanie Land is about to make her dream of attending university and becoming a writer come true, when she finds out she is pregnant from a summer fling.
All plans go on hold for the next five years as Stephanie struggles to feed her child and keep a roof over her head. With constant verbal abuse from the father of the child as well as little support from a boyfriend, Stephanie works as a maid in homes all over the area she lives in outside of Seattle. Making barely enough to get by, Stephanie sees the nitty-gritty of people’s lives as she cleans the homes of upper-class middle America, while only rarely ever actually meeting or talking to them. She sees unhappy couples, dyeing and depressed old people, families who aren’t exactly the perfect picture they show the world. All while barely making minimum wage.
Neither of Stephanie’s parents are supportive or in her life. She has no one. After living in a mold-infested apartment for a year she realizes the mold is making both her and her daughter sick. She has nowhere to go. Her resources are exhausted.
Stephanie finds an advocate at a domestic violence non-profit where she was a volunteer. Through this advocate she begins to realize her own worth and that she can make some changes in her life. She applies for scholarships and financial aid and gets what she needs to re-visit her dream of college.
And obviously she does very well there, as she now is a well-respected freelance author with work featured in The New York Times, New York Review, The Washington Post and many other publications. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow for Community Change.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four Stars for Maid by Stephanie Land. Read last week’s review of The Girl Who Wrote in Silk.
Location: Reading Wednesday
I am not a Stephen King junkie. I think the only book of his 61 novels I have read was Carrie when I was in high school. That said I have loved some of his movies; The Green Mile, Stand by Me and Shawshank Redemption is possibly my favorite movie of all time.
Oh and I have to give a shout out to Rose Red (TV Miniseries) because my son had a cameo part in that movie! He was so cute.
But I digress. Stephen King books aren’t usually my cup of tea. But 11/22/63 kept showing up on lists of must reads, and then my friend Sue said it was here book club’s favorite of the year. Seemed like it was calling to me. And even though it was published in 2011, I’ve finally come around to reading it.
This book is a behemoth. More than 850 pages. What an undertaking King pulled off with this book. Apparently it too was a mini-series that I never heard of.
So by the title you can assume the book is about the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63. But the focus of the story is much broader. This is the story of unassuming high school teacher Jake Epping who travels back in time through a “rabbit hole” found by his friend, in an effort to stop the assassination.
King takes his time with this story, filling the plot with exciting detail as we follow Jake’s efforts to change history. Not a simple task as he learns the past does not want to change, and the past throws obtacles at Jake, nearly killing him on several occasions. As Jake says over and over in the book the past is obdurate.
Jake makes multiple trips through the rabbit hole, and of course on each journey he meets, befriends and even falls in love with people from the past. Jake also makes enemies, gets to know Oswald and the other players in the JFK assassination and finds out changing history is not always the best course of action.
Although I felt a few parts of the book dragged, I also feel King’s detailed story is crucial to the complicated plot and thus justifies the length of this meticulously comprehensive book.
Does Jake succeed? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Read last week’s review of City of
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