Thursday, May 30, 2013

Carrie and Me

Title:  Carrie and Me:  A Mother-Daughter Love Story
Author:  Carol Burnett
Publication Information:  Simon and Schuster. 2013. 205 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as a hardcover edition.

Favorite Quote:  "Seems that our lives are like a patchwork quilt, and we weaver together threads of ideas, loves, losses, dreams, notions, into the fabric that becomes our lives."

Some disclaimers before I start my review ... First, I grew up watching Carol Burnett and have always loved her work. So, I suppose I am predisposed to liking her work. Second, before reading this book, I was not familiar with Carrie Hamilton's story or her struggles. As such, I had no pre-conception of what this story would bring. Third, this book is really two books - one the memoir written by Carol Burnett, and second, the piece Carrie working on when she died. My review is based primarily on the first - the memoir.

Carrie and Me is a heartfelt tribute to and memoir of Carrie Hamilton written by her mother Carol Burnett. Carrie was the oldest of Carol Burnett's three daughters. She was a precocious child who grew up alongside her mother's career. As a troubled teen, she developed a drug addiction. It took several iterations of detox for her to find the road to recovery. She went on to have a successful career and a happy life. Unfortunately, she lost her battle with cancer at the age of 38.

A bulk of this memoir is written as correspondence between mother and daughter or as excerpts from diary entries. As such, it has such a personal tone. It comes across as true and as real. I know that all memoirs are intended to be true and real, but not all of them read that way. This one does. It draws me in and makes me feel like I am there and present. It makes me feel the love and the heartache.

I am so very sorry for the sorrow in their lives, but I am so glad of the courage to share it with the world throughout - by going public with a drug addiction when such things were kept so private and by this book.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Middlesteins

Title:  The Middlesteins
Author:  Jami Attenberg
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2013. 294 pages.

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

Favorite Quote:  "Food was made of love, and love was made of food."

The Middlesteins takes on the tough issues of obesity. The obese person - who they are, how they got to this point, why they got to this point, and to what extent their obesity defines them. It also looks at the the responsibility of those around them, the effect on those around them, and the societal stigma of obesity.

It does all of this through the story of one family. Edie Middlestein is a lawyer, a mother, a grandmother, a wife, and also an obese person. She suffers from numerous health issues because of her extreme obesity. Richard Middlestein is her husband, who walks away and abandons her. Robin and Benny are Edie's children, who attempt to cope with their mother's illness and their father desertion. Rachelle, Benny's wife, tries to help in her own way. Emily and Josh are Benny's children.

The book tells the story from these different perspectives enabling the reader to see the impact Edie's life has on those around her and correspondingly the impact they have on her. Unfortunately, the book does not really develop the characters. Each one represents one reaction consistently throughout the book rather than the complex family relationships - interesting even when dysfunctional as they clearly are in this family.

The story almost becomes a caricature. Edie is the fat girl. Rachelle becomes single-mindedly focused on keeping her family healthy. Robin is the angry young woman. Richard is the self-centered husband chasing something that may or may not exist. Emily and Josh are young teens wanting to fit in.

The issue tackled is an important one and an emotionally charged one. Unfortunately, this books ends up eliciting more of a comic reaction and even that not in a pleasant way.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Gravity of Birds

Title:  The Gravity of Birds
Author:  Tracy Guzeman
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2013. 294 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as an advance uncorrected proof.

Favorite Quote:  "That's the job of an artist:  to make people look at things - not just at things, but at people and at places - in a way other than they normally would. To expose what's hidden below the surface."

Thomas Bayber is a world-renowned painter. He has not painted for many many years and lives pretty much as a recluse. Dennis Finch has spent his life studying Thomas Bayber and supporting him as an individual and as an artist. He is the authority on Thomas Bayber's work and is shocked when Bayber reveals the existence of an undocumented painting. A painting that is part of a triptych that he now wants to sell.

The painting is of a young Thomas Bayber and two young ladies - sisters Alice and Natalie Kessler. Bayber has one piece of the painting. The other two are supposedly with the two Kessler sisters, who seem to have vanished. Bayber charges Dennis Finch to find the other two panels of the paintings so that the three can be put up for sale, and he engages Stephen Jameson, an art expert, to authenticate and sell the paintings.

The book is about Finch and Jameson's search for the paintings and the sisters. The book weaves back and forth through time and characters. Alternating sections tell of the the search, of the past relationships between Bayber and the Kessler sisters, and of the life of the sisters. What emerges is a tale more complicated and discoveries much different than what Finch and Jameson could ever have imagined.

This book reminded me a little of Kate Morton's books (The Secret Keeper) - the emotional story, the mystery, the hint of things around the corner. The book kept me reading. The ending throws in a curve that I felt was unnecessary to the story, but other than that, this story pulls you in and keep you with it. A beautiful debut. I look forward to reading more by Tracy Cuzeman.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Lake House

Title:  The Lake House
Author:  Marci Nault
Publication Information:  Gallery Books, Simon & Schuster. 2013. 390 pages

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as an advance uncorrected proof.

Favorite Quote:  "Don't pray for God to make your life perfect. Instead, ask for the humor and courage to get you through."

The Lake House refers to a community on the shores of Lake Nagog in Massachusetts. It refers to a group of kids growing up together who vow to stay together forever. Some keep that promise. Some do not. Victoria is one who does not. She leaves and returns many times during her life. Finally, at age 72, she returns to stay and to see if she can rebuild her life there.

Into this community comes Heather Bregman. She is young and still trying to determine the direction of her life. She steps into this close knit community and attempts to make a place in it for herself.

Old friendships, old memories, and old loves crossover into new relationships and rekindled friendships and love. Somewhat predictable and formulaic but that is part of the attraction. You know what to expect with a book like this, and it delivers. An easy to read story to pass away an afternoon. If this was summer, I would call it a good beach read.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Secret of the Nightingale Palace

Title:  The Secret of the Nightingale Palace
Author:  Dana Sachs
Publication Information:  HarperCollins. 2013. 348 pages.

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

Favorite Quote:  "Grief is a kind of prison, too"

The Secret of the Nightingale Palace is the story of Goldie and her granddaughter Anna. Goldie and Anna were close during Anna's childhood, and yet, they have been estranged for five years since Anna entered into a marriage Goldie did not approve of. Now, Anna is a widow, and Goldie has asked for her help in a cross country journey to return artwork to an old friend.

Through this journey, the reader learns of Goldie's past and of Anna's past. The reader discovers many secrets not shared and a story that intermingles with the story of the Japanese in the United States during World War II.

The story had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it started to encompass way too many elements and became a bit like reading a soap opera. Estranged family. Terminal illness. Death. Forbidden love. Marriage of convenience. Affairs. War. Family obligations. Betrayals both real and perceived.

It becomes a story with too many emotional elements such that for me, it lost its reality.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Depression Cookies

Title:  Depression Cookies
Author:  Tia Silverthorne Bach and Angela Beach Silverthorne
Publication Information:  Xlibris Corporation. 2010. 553 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book as the monthly selection for my local book club. The book was a Kindle purchase through Amazon.

Favorite Quote:  "Hot chocolate. Only Mom would think hot chocolate could save the world and tilt the balance of good and evil. If she could, she would hand out cups of hot chocolate and freshly made cookies to soldiers entering battle and feel certain it would shield them from harm. As an adult, I loved her for it. As a kid, I wanted to scream for some focus. There were times I did not want Dorothy on my side; I wanted the Witch."

Depression Cookies is a look at the story of a family from two parallel perspectives. Abby is a wife attempting to support her husband's career dreams, a mother trying to steer her daughters safely through childhood and the teen years, and a daughter dealing with aging parents. Krista is the oldest of Abby's three daughters - a teenager who trying to navigate that tough age.

Because of Bob's career aspirations, the family finds itself moving from town to town every couple of years. Bob pursues his dreams, and his family is left to deal with the ramifications of starting over time after time after time.

I related to and sympathized with the plight of these women. What a challenge to have to move to a new community every couple of years and to have to start over. I had to do that once in my life, and it was a very challenging experience. I can't imagine having to do it over and over again. It was interesting to read both Abby's and Krista's perspectives, coming from such different points in life. As a woman and a mother, I related to their experiences and relationships.

However, unfortunately, the book was long - close to 600 pages, and after a while, it started to take on the tone of a journal vent. That is a coping mechanism many people use. A journal where you vent out whatever you are feeling at that particular moment - the good, the bad, the whiny, the angry, the sad. It is a very useful tool for processing emotions and getting through difficult times. The process in and off itself is cathartic and part of letting go of those negative feelings.

However, that journal is not meant to have an audience. This book seemed to build and build upon those feelings, and I felt as if I was the audience to that. So, much as I could relate to this family of women and the situations they found themselves in, I found myself not really wanting to read about it.