Friday, November 30, 2012

The Secret Keeper

Title:  The Secret Keeper
Author:  Kate Morton
Publication Information: Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2012. 484 pages

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I have enjoyed the author's other books.

Favorite Quote:  "Children don’t require of their parents a past and they find something faintly unbelievable, almost embarrassing, in parental claims to a prior existence."

The Secret Keeper is the story of Dorothy or Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmy. Laurel is Dorothy's daughter. As a teenager, she witnesses a tragic incident that influences her greatly as she grows up. As an adult and as her mother nears death, Laurel delves into that secret and her mother's past. What emerges is the mystery of Dorothy's life.

The book alternates between present day and the war and Blitz in London when Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmy are all young. Through the limited clues that Laurel discovers and the story of the past as it is told, we learn of the relationship between these three people and how that eventually leads to the tragedy that Laurel witnesses.

Kate Morton is a masterful storyteller. I have loved all the book the books I have read by her. This one is no different. The book completely draws you into the past and lives of Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmy. Even though the book goes back and forth between that past and Laurel's search, the story remains immersed in the past. The interludes to the present allow the reader to catch their breath before delving back in.

Interestingly, about half way through the book, I guessed where it was going and what the secret truly was. However, it did not matter and did not detract from the book. I kept reading because I wanted to see how the story was going to get there.

A beautifully told story even though the secret ends up not being that surprising. I can't wait to see what Kate Morton writes next.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

Title:  The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
Author:  Jonathan Evison
Publication Information:  Highbridge Audio. 2012. 278 pages (paper copy)

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 the audio book edition.

Favorite Quote:  "I know that no matter how safe one plays it, no matter how one tries to minimize the risk, to shelter oneself or one's charge from the big bad world outside, accidents will happen."

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a story about living life in spite of its challenges and difficulties. Trevor is a nineteen year old who suffers from a form of muscular dystrophy. He is very limited in his physical abilities. Ben is living with the aftermath of tragedy in his life. He has lost his family and his job. The tragic event that led to this overwhelms every aspect of his life.

Ben takes a night class in the "fundamentals of caregiving". He learns how to provide at home care for patients in a removed, professional manner. Trevor is his first client. As their relationship progresses, the professional boundaries are blurred. Ben and Trevor embark on a grand adventure and learn that peace and joy in life are possible despite the challenges it presents.

I wanted to like this book. I felt sorry for both Ben and Trevor. Unfortunately, I found myself not getting involved with the characters or their story. The sadness I felt for them was a removed, distanced one. The characters did not come to life for me and did not pull me into the story.

Some of the incidents that take place are amusing. The message about overcoming adversity is a positive one. However, the characters evoke sadness but not caring. That finally was what made the book not successful for me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Culinary Intelligence

Title:  Culinary Intelligence
Author:  Peter Kaminsky
Publication Information: Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2012. 208 pages

Book Source:  I picked this book based on the description while browsing the library catalog.

Favorite Quote:  "Looking at nutrients in isolation - which is what so many studies and diets do - is like removing all the notes from a musical score, putting them in a box, shaking the box, pouring the notes on a table, and hoping that they land in exactly the same order as Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major."

The subtitle to Culinary Intelligence - the art of eating healthy and really well - describes its purpose. Peter Kaminsky is a long time food writer. Over time, his career in food led to unhealthy eating habits and health concerns. This book culls his experience and lessons learned in his journey back to health. In that sense, it is another diet book.

As far as diet books go, this one mirrors the ideas of many that have come before. Eat for quality not quantity. Buy the best ingredients and then cook them well. When you eat flavorful, satisfying food, you are satisfied with smaller portions.

The author coins the concept of "flavor per calorie" or FPC. The goal of his diet becomes to maximize FPC. Some of the ways in which he does this stem from his worldwide experiences in the food industry. As such, I did not find some of the ideas or examples applicable to my life.

My favorite part of this book was the focus on the idea summarized in the quote above. These days, so much of the food literature focuses on nutrients - calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, macronutrients, antioxidants and so on. I liked that this book highlights that food is not simply the sum total of its parts, but it can be something more. While focus on nutrition is key to a healthy body, we need to keep in mind more than that to evolve an overall healthy lifestyle.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Child Out of Alcatraz

Title:  A Child Out of Alcatraz
Author:  Tara Ison
Publication Information:  Foreverland Press. 1997. 132 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as an pdf attachment to an email.

Favorite Quote:  "So if I don't feed her, she doesn't eat; if I don't change her, she gets a rash - why do you act like these things are unimportant, then tell me motherhood is the most important job in the world?"

A Child Out of Alcatraz is the story of Olivia and her family and a story of Alcatraz, the place and the prison. Olivia's father is a prison guard at Alcatraz. Her mother Vivien seems to be caught in a life that she feels captive in. Through flashbacks, we learn that she idealistically stepped into a marriage that did not lead to a life she envisioned. The promises and dreams differ greatly from the reality. The reality becomes a demanding husband, children, and an isolated life on Alcatraz. Told through Olivia's eyes, the story is one of Vivien's descent further and further into the despair of her life and the effects it has on Olivia.

This book tells two stories - one the fictional account of Olivia and one the true history of Alcatraz. The author provide many accounts of historical events seamlessly incorporating the characters through the story. It almost gives the book the tone and voice of a memoir.

Olivia's story is a heart wrenching one. A young child is forced to grow up too fast both because of where she lives and because her mother cannot "mother" her. My heart reaches out to her, wanting to protect and shelter her from the reality of her life. The character of Vivien is at times a sympathetic one because of the situation she finds herself in. However, because of some of her choices particularly towards her children, the sympathy wears thin after a while.

Overall, a beautiful debut novel which makes you care about the characters and what happens to them. I look forward to reading more from Tara Ison.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Descendants

Title:  The Descendants
Author:  Kaui Hart Hemmings
Publication Information:  Random House. 2011. 320 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on the publicity for the movie.

Favorite Quote:  "That's how you know you love someone, I guess, when you can't experience anything without wishing the other person were there to see it, too."

The Descendants is the story of Matt King and his family. His wife, Jonie,  is in a coma following a boating accidents.  His daughters, ten year old Scottie and seventeen year old Alex, face the struggles of life and of their mother's illness. Matt is thrust into the role of being an active father without his wife to rely on. The situation is made worse by his discovery that his wife was having an affair. Added into the mix is his struggle over property he inherited through the lineage of Hawaiian royalty.

The book covers the span of only a few days. Matt is attempting to gather family and friends to say their final goodbyes to Joanie. He decides that this group of people needs to include his wife's lover. He takes his daughters on a journey to find him. The journey becomes one of self-discovery and of reconnection with his daughters and his heritage.

I really liked this book because the characters elicited an emotional connection and reaction. I felt sorry for Matt, who is trying to do the best he can in a really bad situation. I wanted to protect and shelter Alex and Scottie as they struggled through. Joanie is in a coma; yet I wanted to ask her why. Even the other characters like Alex's friend Sid and Joanie's lover had interesting stories.

The tone of the book also came across as honest and real. I am not sure many people would go looking for their dying wife's lover, but regardless the book came across as real. Perhaps because people in extreme circumstances sometimes make extreme choices. The characters were believable as was the story itself. Maybe I should see the movie. Wonder if it would ruin the book for me or improve on it?