Sunday, September 20, 2015

Blackout: Remembering the things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank To Forget by Sarah Hepola

Although I haven't had a drink in almost 6 years, I still need to be reminded why I made that choice.  I knew from page one how painful this book would be for me to read.  The title alone told me what was ahead.

Blackouts.  I'm sure I've had few but I don't remember.  Sarah learned to like beer at a very young age.  I also grew up in a time if I asked my father for a sip of his beer, I'd get one.  I don't think my drinking started until college but maybe its roots run deeper than Thursday nights at the Brathaus.  Oh I forgot, it was high school when my friends and I would sit outside the 7 Eleven until someone would buy us a six pack.  See what alcohol can do.  It makes you forget.

Sarah is brutally honest in this memoir, from hiding a case of beer in her closet, to being the life of the party, and waking up in bed with men she didn't know.  On assignment in Paris, Sarah tells of coming to, in a hotel room with a strange man.  She dresses and leaves only to discover she doesn't have her purse.  Unable to remember her room number, she enlists help from the night concierge.  What happens next, Sarah has never forgotten.  Alcohol is the great manipulator.

Blackout is the story of an alcoholic woman and her road to recovery.  Under the fog of alcohol, life seemed easier, more free and uninhibited.  Giving it up meant Sarah had to be honest with all those things she wanted to forget that were hidden deep inside.  I get that.  The reason that this book was so painful for me, is that even in sobriety, I need to be reminded how far I have come.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank To Forget is not a story only for those of us who have walked down Sarah's same path.  Sarah paints a vivid picture of what it is like to be addicted and how hard it is to come out on the other side.  But with the support of many people in every facet of an alcoholic's life, a better life is waiting.  I can clearly remember what it was like to stop drinking and become sober.  Nothing about it was pleasant or fun.  It is that ability to remember that keeps me sober.  And I think Sarah would agree.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Nella Oortman is whisked away from her small Dutch village to big city, Amsterdam by marrying a man she barely knows.  Her family has fallen on hard times financially and Johannes Brandt is a wealthy merchant.  In the 17th century, her family sees him as a good match for her.  She arrives at the Brandt home with her parakeet and not much else.  Her new sister-in-law, Marin immediately sets out to make sure the young and naive, Nella, knows who's in charge of the household.  It will not be the new wife.

When Johannes eventually returns home from his travels, he brings his wife a replica cabinet house as a wedding gift.  Nella sets out to furnish the house with miniatures.  The items are small and detailed, matching the Brandt home furnishings perfectly. Additions to the cabinet begin arriving which Nella has not ordered.  She becomes drawn into a dark web and deception of her new life through the tiny items she finds neatly wrapped in brown paper.

The setting of late 17th century Amsterdam was very well developed in The Miniaturist. The historical backdrop of Dutch life drew me in completely.  Nella held my attention, with her attempts to fit in a strange place and find her place as a wife.  Though only eighteen, she had a strong will.  Marin, hiding a secret of her own, tried to break her, but in the end, it was Nella she needed most.

I'm on the fence about this novel.  Many things about it, I loved.  The writing is good, the story moves quickly and I never felt bogged down in it.  The historical aspect of the story is interesting and keeps the plot line grounded.  But when I got to the last page I felt let down in a big way.  The miniaturist, herself, had such a small role yet commanded the title of the book.  Nella deserved much more from this story than she got.  But I might not have read it if the title had been different.  The Miniaturist serves as a double edged sword much like the story inside the cover.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield

The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield

There's always a reason I'm drawn to certain books with unusual titles or captivating covers. The Undertaker's Daughter brought forward a memory when I was a teenager.  I had a very good friend, Georgia, whose parents had a vacation home on a lake in a small town in central Ohio.  Every weekend I went with her to water ski, swim and cruise down main street on Saturday night.  We were 16, so of course boys were also in the mix.

One boy we met was the undertaker's son.  The family lived upstairs and the funeral home, downstairs.  He gave us a tour of the embalming room. I remember the walls being painted that old hospital green, a stainless steel table in the corner and hoses neatly wrapped up in even circles hanging on the wall.  Just like Kate, the author of this book, it creeped me out.

Kate and her family move to a small southern town so her father can run a funeral home.  Every time the phone rings, they know someone has died.  That means they must stay upstairs and be quiet until the viewing and funeral are over.  That's a difficult task for a family hiding enough secrets to fill all the coffins in the showroom downstairs.

What I found intriguing about this story is not so much the business of death but about living life with the hand we're dealt.  Much of this story is about Kate as a child. It's not until later in her life does she learn about her father's affairs and drinking habits. Her sister is said to be moody and in reality is severely bi polar.  The family's black maid cooks for them but must eat all her own meals alone.  Kate's first boyfriend is black which she knows must be kept secret or her family would be destroyed.
I didn't view this memoir as a story about death, but one about racial discrimination, mental illness, alcoholism.  For Kate these things were swept under the carpet. Not until she became an adult did she begin to understand how it shaped her future.

So don't stay away from this book because it appears to be about a funeral home.  The Undertaker's Daughter is a memoir and a story about life.  

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...