Thursday, May 31, 2012

What Alice Forgot

Title:  What Alice Forgot
Author:  Liane Moriarty
Publication Information:  Penguin Group. 2009. 426 pages.

Book Source:  I found this book while browsing through the new book section of our library.

Favorite Quote:  "She had always had a slight mistrust of busy people; the sort of people who described themselves as 'Flat-out! Frantic!' What was the hurry? Why didn't they just slow down? Just what exactly were they so busy doing?"

What if you woke up one day and part of your life was missing? That is what happens to Alice. She thinks it is 1998, and she is happily married and pregnant with her first child. In reality, it is 2008. Alice is the mother of three children and on the brink of divorce. An accident at the gym has resulted in amnesia - what Alice forgot is the last ten years of her life. The book tells the story of her discovery of who she is as a person and the reconciliation between her "present" and the actual present time.

The most interesting part of the book is the comparison between who Alice was and who she is ten years later. Often, change creeps up on us slowly such that we don't even realize it has happened. However, Alice is face to face with her own self - ten years apart. She discovers that she does not recognize the person she has become.

Gradually, we learn about the events and circumstances of the ten years that Alice forgot. Alice has a chance to reflect different roads she might have taken and different choices she could have made.  The thought of a do-over in life is a tempting. Alice does not really get a do-over because she cannot undo the last ten years. However, her reflections can lead to different choices and changes in the future.

Overall, What Alice Forgot was an interesting book. However, the same story could be told in fewer than 400 pages. Parts of the book felt a little long and a little repetitive. That aside, the story and the premise of a fresh look at our lives is such a tempting one.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Grief of Others

Title:  The Grief of Others
Author:  Leah Hager Cohen
Publication Information:  Riverhead Books. 2011. 384 pages.

Book Source:  I found this book while browsing through our library's new books section.

Favorite Quote:  "We know more than we pretend to know. More than we presume we know. Even so, what we know would fill a teaspoon."

The Grief of Others begins with a devastating event - the death of an infant only a few hours old. The baby dies in the arms of its mother. The death is not a surprise. Based on prenatal testing, the mother knew the child would not live. Yet, the devastation of the loss is no less for having known it was coming. The rest of the story then tells  of the family as they come to grips with this loss and the secrets that emerge in the process.

The story weaves back and forth across time - from immediately following the death to a year or so later. The story also weaves back and forth between the family members - John (the father), Ricky (the mother), and the siblings Biscuit and Paul. In addition, we hear the stories of Jess, John's daughter from an earlier relationship, and the Gordie, a young man who is reeling from his own losses and gets involved with this family.

The first few pages of this book literally take your breath away. They paint a heart wrenching picture of a mother who holds her infant from his birth through the fifty some hours of his life until his death. The intensity of the emotions conveyed stays with me well after I have put the book down.

Unfortunately, I don't think there was any way possible for the rest of the book to live up to that opening. I found the rest of the book rather difficult to read. The writing style focused a lot on description. It sort of makes sense because grieving can be such a solitary process and very much an internal process. With each chapter focused on a different character, the book isolated that character's experience. However, it just made for difficult reading. It created a somewhat detached or removed feeling to the book which did  not match the intensity of the opening.

For the opening few pages though, I will always remember this book.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sophie and the Rising Sun

Title:  Sophie and the Rising Sun
Author:  Augusta Trobaugh
Publication Information:  Bell Bridge Books. 2001. 150 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as a paperback review copy.

Favorite Quote:  "I never thought anyone - especially me - should live a whole lifetime doing things they way other folks thought they should."

Sophie and the Rising Sun is a story of World War II - specifically of World War II right as the attack on Pearl Harbor happens. It is a story of that time but set in a small Georgia town. As such, it is period piece about the American South.

Sophie is the town spinster with an overpowering mother and a lost love in her background. Ms. Anne is the one in town not afraid to do things a little differently. Ms. Ruth is the town busybody. And Mr. Oto is the anomaly in town - an American of Japanese heritage who lands in the town and stays. The book is about the "friendship" between Sophie and Mr. Oto and the ramifications of the Pearl Harbor attacks on this small town and these individuals. The book is about the choices the characters make in response to the war and the consequences.

Sophie and the Rising Sun is a delightful story to read. It is definitely more a story of small town America than war. The news of Pearl Harbor is the trigger for what follows. However, the focus clearly remains on the individual characters and this small town. It is interesting to feel the town and characters so far removed from the war yet at the same time so deeply embedded in it because of the prejudice and fear it created.

The prejudices in our lives come across so clearly in this book. Mr. Oto is as American as Ms. Ruth, yet is judged by the way he looks and speaks and by his heritage. Certain people cannot look past the surface differences to see that he is just like them. We would like to think this does not happen here in America, but unfortunately it did and it still does. So, I found myself laughing because the "period piece" nature of this book made the prejudices seem ludicrous. However, I also found myself thinking that this could very well occur now but hoping that it will not.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Letter From A Stranger

Title: Letter From A Stranger
Author: Barbara Taylor Bradford
Publication Information: St. Martin's Press. 2012. 420 pages.

Book Source: I loved the original Emma Harte book, A Woman of Substance, by Barbara Taylor Bradford. So, when she comes out with a new book, I take a look to see if it is a book like the original.

Favorite Quote: "My family is my sanctuary."

Letter From A Stranger is a book that travels across time and place and really tells two stories. One is the story of Justine. The second is the story of her grandmother Gabriele. Justine's story is the story of a woman discovering family secrets and struggling to make sense of them. Gabriele's story is the story of World War II and the story of survival.

Both stories are interesting and could have made an entire book onto themselves. Justine's story has many facets - her career as a filmmaker, her estranged relationship with her mother, her discovery that her mother has lied to her, her search for her grandmother who she believed had died, and finally a love story. Gabriele's story also has many dimensions with the most critical being the horrors of World War II and the  courage and survival through those horrors.

Unfortunately, in telling both stories, the book seemed rushed. Neither story felt complete, and the characters did not develop as much. The breadth of the story was interesting. Unfortunately, the depth was lacking. Some of the events felt sudden and convenient. I wish both stories had been told, but I wish either both were developed more, or one was made the primary focus.