Monday, October 29, 2012

The Sandcastle Girls

Title:  The Sandcastle Girls
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Knoph Doubleday, Random House. 2012. 334 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on enjoying some of the author's other books.

Favorite Quote:  "There are times when exotic is good and times when it isn't."

The Sandcastle Girls is a story blending the present and the past. The present is   the story of Laura Petrosian. She is a writer living with her family in New York. She is of Armenian descent, and a photograph in the newspaper sets her off on a journey through her family's past. The past is Elizabeth Endicott, a young woman who travels to Syria on a mission of mercy and falls in love with Armen, an Armenian man who has lost his family. The setting and background is the history of the Armenian genocide in the early 1900s.

I really wanted to like this book. The history it presents is not one often written about or talked about. Yet, it should be remembered.

Unfortunately, the book is difficult to get involved with. The story weaves back and forth across time, place, and point of view. The differences in the times, places, and points of view are so great that it makes it difficult to maintain the continuity of the story and especially the continuity of the building emotions.

Also, without giving a spoiler, I will say this. The ending was disappointing. It seemed somewhat related to the history being presented in that without these events, this story would not happened. However, it seemed more to be about timing and an individual decision. It made me sad, but it detracted from what the emotions of the book were all about.

I am glad for this book for the history it brings to light. I wish it had been in a more engaging way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Time Keeper

Title:  The Time Keeper
Author:  Mitch Albom
Publication Information:  Hyperion. 2012. 224 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I enjoyed some of Mitch Albom's other books.

Favorite Quote:  "Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out."

The Time Keeper is the fictionalized story of Father Time - who he was, how he came to be Father Time, and what he would change if he could. In the context of the story, of course, is the lesson for all of us. A lesson that can be summarized in the following quote from the book:  "You marked the minutes .... But did you use them wisely? To be still? To cherish? To be grateful? To lift and be lifted?"

Essentially, the story goes that in a time long long ago, no one measured time. Then, one man figured out how and became obsessed with his measurements. The consequence of his obsession turned him into Father Time. However, now he has a chance to redeem himself if he can teach two individuals the lesson he learned too late.

The two individuals come from opposite ends of the spectrum - one feeling like he has no time and needs more and the other feeling like even one more moment of life is too much. They both take steps - drastic steps - to remedy their problem of too little or too much time. Do they learn in time? That is the crux of the book.

The lesson of the book is a useful one, but unfortunately the story seems so contrived and the lesson is too obvious. I could see where the story was going and was not at all surprised when it got there. The characters (Father Time, the old man, the young woman) are not compelling enough to draw me into the story.

So, while I love some of Mitch Albom's other books, I am disappointed by this one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happier at Home

Title:  Happier at Home
Author:  Gretchen Rubin
Publication Information:  Crown Archetype, Crown Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 2012. 273 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I enjoyed Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project.

Favorite Quote:  "Again and again, I realized that to be happy, I must 'Be Gretchen' ... I had to follow what was true for me ... I had to know myself and face myself ... to 'Be Gretchen' was the way to happiness, but there was also a sadness to this resolution - the sadness that comes from admitting my limitations, my indifferences, all the things that I wish I were that I will never been. To cram my days full of the things I loved, I had to acknowledge the things that played no part in my happiness."

Happier at  Home is a follow up to Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. The Happiness Project works on the premise that although Gretchen is content in her life, the prospect for being happier exists if she makes a conscious effort. This seems necessary because she feels her focus is not on the things in her life that make her happy.

Happier at Home applies the same principle to her home and home life including the people in it. Taking a school year as her time span, she focuses on a topic month by month - possessions, marriage
parenthood, interior design, time, body, family, neighborhood, and now.

I agree with a lot of ideas presented in this book. Most are not new, but we need reminding to focus on them. The idea of making time for those important to us. The idea of community. The idea of self care. The idea of living in the moment.

My biggest concern with this book is the references to her first happiness project. I have read the first book and really liked it. However, I read it a while ago. I remember the general themes of the book but not the specifics. In reading this one, I feel like I should re-read the first book to really get the most out of this one. It makes me wonder if I should have just read the original again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Blackberry Winter

Title:  Blackberry Winter
Author:  Sarah Jio
Publication Information:  Penguin Group. 2012. 290 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 softcover advance uncorrected proof.

Favorite Quote:  "That's the thing about secrets - they always do find their way. Even if it takes a lifetime."

A blackberry winter is an expression used to describe a cold spell in late spring when the blackberry bushes are blooming. In this case, it refers to two snow storms in May about 80 years apart.

Claire Aldridge is a newspaper reporter assigned to write a human interest story about a storm in 2010. She discovers that a similar storm occurred in 1933. While researching to find an "angle" for her story, she reads about the disappearance of a child during the 1933 storm. Vera Bradley was single mother who came home from work on the morning of that storm and found her three year old son Daniel missing. The mystery of the disappearance was never solved.

The books weaves back and forth between Claire's story and research and Vera's story. Slowly, similarities and connections emerge. The connections continue to build coming to a shared conclusion to both stories.

Claire's story - of her marriage, of the loss of her child - is an interesting one. Vera's story - of love and of single parenthood - is also interesting. The connections between the two, however, create too neat a package. Everything seems to come together piece by piece very conveniently. Unfortunately, that removes some of the "genuineness" of the two individual stories and makes it seem somewhat contrived. It is an okay book, but not great for that reason. Fun to read while it lasts, but not memorable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Title:  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author:  Rebecca Skloot
Publication Information:  Broadway Paperbacks, Crown Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 2010. 381 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Favorite Quote:  "Everybody in Lacks Town kin to Henrietta, but she been gone so long, even her memory pretty much dead now ... Everything about Henrietta dead except them cells."

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating story of a woman who died in 1951. Until this book was written, she was virtually unknown, but her life and death have had an incalculable effect on the field of medicine.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor woman trying to survive. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer and treated as a charity patient at Johns Hopkins. Without her permission or even her knowledge, doctors who treated her took and cultured her cells. Her cells showed such properties and such ability to thrive and multiply that they became an important tool in medical science. They were reproduced, bought, and sold by the millions and were critical in medical advances such as the polio vaccine, gene mapping, and other applications.

Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to suffer and struggle. On top of that, her children had to deal with the fact that a part of their mother was somehow alive out in the world. Others reaped professional and financial benefits while Henrietta's family did not.

This books alternates between telling the story of the HeLa cells and the story of Henrietta and her family. It takes a story of science and makes it about the people involved.

The topic is a fascinating one, and the book includes a lot of research. Sometimes, it is difficult to read because it contains so much information. I enjoyed the the story of Henrietta's life and family. I also enjoyed learning more about the scientific development that resulted.  However, for most of the book I found myself skimming through a lot of the details. It was interesting, but it was just a bit too much.