Friday, January 25, 2013

With Or Without You by Domenica Ruta

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for my Advance Reading Copy.  Release Date February 26, 2013

So many things in With or Without You struck a cord with me.  First off was Nikki's relationship with her mother.  Plain and simple her mother was nuts, aside from the fact she did drugs and alcohol with abandon, wanted her teenage daughter to get pregnant, and made an art of living off welfare. That is until she turned her husband's failing taxi service into a million dollar business. 

Her mother Kathy, loved her, but hated her in the same way.  Nikki was smart, wanted to follow the rules, needed to be accepted.  Kathy figured out how to get Nikki into private boarding school, and herself into a Harvard college extension program.  But eventually she dragged Nikki into her dark work of drugs, cheating and lies. Nikki is a child who is helpless to fight back.    

It is no surprise that Nikki can't keep herself above her mother's addiction.  Pills snorted and swallowed, alcohol consumed by the gallon, hangovers so miserable the only relief comes from more drugs become her way of life.  Yet something inside her longs to stop. One line in the story made me stop, and I'm quoting, " I wasn't an alcoholic.  I had a job, a boyfriend, and a college diploma."  This is the same lie I told myself for years until I found the courage to stop drinking.  Nikki's on again, off again struggle to stay sober resonated deeply.

I'm fascinated by memoirs of women who by some miracle overcome, the overbearing, controlling and addicted mother who has inflicted great pain on the child since birth.  They are stories of the mind overtaking the love that lives in every woman's heart. Self gratification taking the place of a mother's instinct to nurture is concept I want to understand.  Maybe it's the reason I find so much sympathy in this kind of novel.  The incredibly deep soul searching it took to write such a story, is what makes the tale so brilliant. It is also what allowed Nikki to overcome. I love success stories.


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Third Son by Julie Wu

The Third Son by Julie Wu.

Thank you to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for my Advance Reading Copy.

You had me at hello!  When I sat down to write this review, those were the first words that came into my mind even though this book has nothing to do with Jerry Maguire.  Cliche, I know but I read the first page and I was hooked.  The Third Son is one of those rare, captivating,  gorgeous stories that once you start, there is no stopping.

Saburo is the third son in a Taiwanese family.  In that culture the third son garners little respect in the family hierarchy.  His mother blames him for the death of the fourth son.  He is denied schooling, clothing and even food in a family that can well afford all.  In the opening scene, as a young child running from an air raid, he meets Yoshiko.  He remembers it as the first time in his life he felt any kind of love.  He knew no love of his parents or siblings all because he was the third son.  His spoiled and arrogant oldest brother, the first son, is a bully.  Given every advantage, his jealousy toward Saburo takes an evil turn.  Saburo puts his nose to the grindstone and focuses on getting everything he desires from his life, including the girl, Yoshiko.

The Third Son is set in the 1940's and 1950's, a time of great turmoil in Taiwan which continues when Saburo moves to the United States for his education.  One of the most powerful lessons of this novel is the cultural differences Saburo and Yoshiko faced in their lives. A scene that struck me was when Saburo finds himself in a bus station somewhere in the middle of the American plains and doesn't know which bathroom he should use, the white or the colored.

I have to add that I am crazy in love with reading books set in China or Japan.  I love reading about their rich history and way of life that is so different from our own.  This story expertly describes how disparate our lives can be. The Third Son magnificently blends what is good and bad in both parts of the world and what can happen when they meld together.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Replacement Child by Judy L Mandel

Replacement Child by Judy L. Mandel

I seem to be reading alot of memoir lately written by women who grew up in the 1960's and 70's and are now into middle age.  Just like me.  I hate calling this time in my life middle age but it's a little less abrasive than saying menopause.  In any event, it's a time of great reflection on who we are and how we got here.

Judy Mandel is her parent's replacement child.  An older sister, Donna, she never knew was killed when a plane crashed into their home.  Another sister, Linda was severely burned and scared in the accident a constant reminder of the family's suffering.  While her sister carried the visible scars, her parents carried scars on their hearts for a child lost.  And Judy, as the replacement child, always remained on the outside trying to see in.

Replacement Child is a very compelling true story about how grief affects each of us differently.  What I didn't like was how the author structured the story skipping back and forth between different phases of her life.  Some of that made sense but after awhile I started getting confused about where I was in the story.  Sometimes I felt I didn't know what had transpired for me to be at that particular point.  For that reason, I lost my connection with the family's dynamics.

How the family drifted apart was easy to understand.  But none of the characters displayed the kind of emotion that made me want to laugh and cry along with them.  For me it wasn't the story that lacked depth, but the storytelling.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless

Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless

I can relate.  No, I didn't have a mother who wore designer clothes, or who got a condo at the Dakota in New York for a $1 as a divorce settlement.  She didn't drink all day or lock us in the bathroom.  But she could throw some pretty good fits that would leave us scared half out of our minds. And she could say some pretty mean things and play with our heads.  All this happened to me in the 1960's and 70's amid Beatles and Elton John, hiphuggers and bellbottoms, the same backdrop as that of Wendy Lawless and her mother in the blue peignoir.

The author captured her mother's jet-setting, booze filled life so perfectly because she lived it right along with her without a choice.  We watched Wendy grow up from an innocent child, to a mischievous teenager all without parental guidance and direction.  We watched her lose her way as she entered college without much of a plan.  And we watched her stand up to her mother's controlling behavior and blossom into strong and beautiful woman. 

Chanel Bonfire paints a true picture of mental illness and how it affects the family unit.  In Wendy's case "family unit" is a real stretch.  How she and her sister were even able to come out of such a childhood alive is a miracle.  Yet I understood Wendy's actions and reactions to everything that happened. 

This story is real.  The setting, the illness, the emotions, all real and true.  Ms. Lawless has written a powerful and engaging account of a life overshadowed by an addiction and illness we will never understand.   

Friday, January 4, 2013

After The Fog by Kathleen Shoop

After The Fog by Kathleen Shoop

After graduating from college, I moved to Pittsburgh for my first job at Gimbel's.  The first time someone asked me for a gum band, I had no idea what they wanted.  When a girlfriend said she needed to redd up the house because company was coming, I was just a clueless.  And the first time I hears the word 'yunz', I thought I'd moved to a foreign country.

After The Fog paints a picture of a steel town on the Monongahela River is western Pennsylvania in post WWII America.  The mills kept the towns alive, without them the people would have nothing.  They wrapped the workers and their families in the dirt, soot and fog sent into the air from the stacks.  The almighty paycheck from the mill kept their noses to the grindstone and their complaints silent.

Rose is a driven community nurse with a secret past.  She believes she has done everything right in keeping her marriage and family together.  When it all falls apart in the great fog, her soul searching begins.

The scenery and setting of this novel took me back to this part of the country I'd left behind years ago.  I breathed in the thick, gritty air.  I heard the rough guttural sounds of their speech. I walked through the crooked streets lined with rundown houses and broken stoops. The characters, Rose, her husband, Henry and her children lacked depth.  Many of Rose's actions didn't seem to fit her.  Her lazy sister-in-law, Sara Clara, appeared in an interesting scene early in the book, never came into the fullness I longed to see from her.  I felt the same about Father Tom.  These were the characters I wanted to see more from and never did.

After The Fog is based on an actual event.  If I had know that from the start I may have viewed this story with more credibility.  Some descriptions of the fog seemed unrealistic to me.  If I'd know they were based on historical descriptions I may have viewed them differently.  After The Fog may have more historical value even though it is a fictional account.  Otherwise, I wouldn't invest time in this story that lacked the depth of character I long for as a reader.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

I'm not usually one for making New Year's resolutions. I did however, make three for 2013.  Alot of people think that 2013 will be unlucky because of the 13 part.   I'm not superstitious but I made some resolutions just in case.

The first is to stop swearing.  I can swear like a truck driver if anything makes me really mad.  I want this year to be kinder and gentler so I'm nixing the bad language.  Oh!  I broke that resolution already!  I said "@$%#" when we didn't get a newspaper this morning.   I caught myself and I said a little penance.  I did it very early in the new year so I hope I can call the slate clean from this point forward.

Second is to not spend any money on books this year.  I can get a book if it's being given away for no charge, or I can use my points from answering surveys and collecting Coke caps but I can't charge any amount for a book to my credit card or pay cash out of my wallet.  Netgalley is my new best friend, allowing me to read advanced copies of novels for no charge.  Lately I've read some really good works so my plan is not to run out of excellent reading material.  And I can read any book that is currently sitting on my shelf.  Oh, I know what you're thinking.  You've heard that before.  But this year I'm really going to do it.  A year from now every book on my shelf will be read.  

My third resolution is to treat everyone and everything that comes into my life in 2013 as a gift.  Because all that is to be in 2013 is just that, a gift yet to be unwrapped.  A friend posted something on Facebook that I liked.  It said "Welcome Chapter 2013.  Page one of 365". 

The new year is like a new book, a surprise on every page.  Write a good one! 

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...