Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler has done it again for me. "A Patchwork Planet" is a heart-warming, "slice of life" story that draws you into the world of 30 year old Barnaby Gaitlin. Gaitlin is a young man who has struggled all his life because he marches to the beat of a different drummer than those around him. In his youth he was in trouble with the law and his mother especially has never let him forget it. As readers we share his most intimate thoughts about his family and friend relationships and happily see him mature and start to realize his true worth.
Barnaby works for a company called "Rent-a-back" that caters to senior citizens by doing odd jobs, running errands etc. He quite enjoys his job and is loved by all the clients. It was interesting to get into the minds of some of these elderly people and see life through their eyes. The compassion and friendship that Barnaby extended to his clients is an example to us all.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

There are two ways to study history. You can get the encyclopedia out and learn a list of names and dates. Or you can read novels about the time period and really get a sense of people and relationships and why things happened the way that they did. A more meaningful way to learn in my opinion. For history to have any meaning, for events to have an impact on how you live in the here and now, you need to get into the skin of the people living in the past. A novel serves the purpose well. "The Postmistress" is set in one of the most interesting-to-me times - World War 2. We see the early war years through the lives of three very different women who eventually come together in a heart-rending conclusion. I had a bit of a time getting into the first chapter, but then I was hooked and continued to read at every opportunity. The cover illustration of the version I read was lovely too, but if anyone can tell me what significance the dried flower has, I'd love to hear it. Take away question - is it sometimes right to do the wrong thing?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

This has got to be one of my most favorite books of all time. But confession time. I've never actually read the book. I've only listened to it twice. This time I wondered if I'd get all the way through, but it was as wonderful as the first time. Melville has a way with words that transport you out of your world into the life of the whaler. Apparently there are all kinds of life meaning in the characters and how they interact - including the whale. Google it sometime. But I take it just as an adventure story about a young man who goes to sea on a whaling ship with a strange captain named Ahab, who happens to be obsessed with catching a white whale called Moby Dick. It's full of big words that I really don't know the meaning of. Maybe one day I'll actually read a hard copy and look those words up. For now though, I'll savour it just for what it is - one whale of a tale. (sorry, couldn't resist). If you do listen to it, the version narrated by William Hootkins is fantastic.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Left neglected by Lisa Genova

Have you read Genova's other book "Still Alice"? You should. It's a wonderful book about a woman who gets early-onset Alzheimers. "Left neglected" deals with the brain as well, but this time injury as a result of a car accident. Sarah is left with a condition that causes her to not recognize anything to the left of centre - her left arm, leg, anything in her left vision. Apparently this is a common condition of brain injured patients. We see Sarah before the accident - a successful, albeit frazzled, business woman. And then we see her after the accident - barely able to clothe or feed herself, let alone walk. The novel follows Sarah through rehab and her processing of what this is going to mean to her as a career woman, wife, mother and person. Along the way we see her relationship with her husband and mother grow through the trials and tribulations, but come out stronger in the end. I was reminded of a favourite blogger of mine, Kate, who had a stroke a few years ago. Similar struggles but determination wins. Take away quote, "Because while I still hope for a full recovery, I've learned that my life can be fully lived with less."

Friday, August 19, 2011

The 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno

I've read dozens of books on decluttering over the last 30 years or so. Being "organizationally challenged", I've needed all the help I could get. So I expected this book to be just one more "how to get rid of stuff in your life" that I might glean at least one tip from. Such was not the case. Yes, I did get some pointers, or at least refreshers, on only keeping the important things around you. But this was a more introspective book than that. And it was funny to boot. The journaling of Dave Bruno's personal, year-long goal to rid himself of consumerism was interesting to read and raised all sorts of questions about why we buy and is it important to keep doing so. He chose to limit himself to 100 items for the year, but suggests that that number might be different for others. His conclusions resonated with me and have reinforced my desire to simplify my life and think more about my purchases. Thank you, Dave, for the lessons. Thanks, too, for the blog to keep the conversation going.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Different Minds by Lorna Drew and Leo C. Ferrari

Alzheimer disease is becoming more and more common, or so it seems. My father has now been diagnosed with it and so what was once vague medical terminology has become a reality in my life. True to my nature I have started reading up on the disease. "Different Minds" is a non-fiction book that records the journaling of two writers, one of whom (Leo) has developed Alzheimers. The chapters alternate between Lorna and Leo, so you get two different perspectives on living with AD. The back of the book includes contact information for support groups and helpful websites. This would be a great introduction to the world of Alzheimers disease and how it affects the patient as well as the caregiver.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The House on the Gulf by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Having read Haddix's "Shadow Children" series and enjoyed them, I picked up "The House on the Gulf" off the library display shelf. It's a Young Adult fiction novel about a sister, brother and single mother who find an unusual way to make ends meet one summer when the mother is going to summer school. What looks like a simple house-sitting situation rapidly gets more suspenseful as a number of scenarios play out that just don't make sense to the sleuthing younger sister. This was an easy read that kept me thinking. The morals were good and the message of family togetherness was hopeful. The sister displayed resourcefulness in getting a part-time job and the older brother suffered consequences for his lying.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bedtime Story by Robert J. Wiersema

If you are a voracious reader like me, one of the things that captivates you is the ability of a book to draw you in and take you to another world. Have you ever gotten so involved in a book that you felt a sense of the surreal? In two worlds at once? When reading a good book I hate to leave that "other world", it has become so real to me. What would happen if you really did enter the world of the book? How would you - or could you - get out? How did you actually get in there in the first place? This is what is explored in Wiersema's fantasy book "Bedtime Story". Weirsema follows a father and son as a book is read out loud at bedtime, gradually leading to tragic consequences. The father races against time to figure out what is happening to his son and how he can rescue him. This is not a child's book. But it will appeal to the child in you as well as satisfy the adult. Great read. I will definitely search out his other books.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Fine Art of Insincerity by Angela Hunt

This book was a sleeper. First it sat on my shelf for far too long after a friend lent it to me to read. Then I had a really hard time reading it and kept putting it down. But somewhere into chapter three something clicked and the three sisters who tell the story became real to me and I was swept into their lives. I have two sisters myself so it wasn't hard to find common points between my situation and that of the women in the book. Being the oldest I related to Ginger the most - those firstborn traits are hard to lose. I laughed and cried with these sisters even though the storyline was a little unbelievable. I'd like to think that I could go away for a weekend and come home with life all worked out and past hurts smoothed out. Not likely, but it was interesting to live with Ginger, Penny and Rosemary for a few days and see life through their eyes. I came away a little wiser and with more compassion for decisions made that don't fit my view of life.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Over-diagnosed by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch

Perspective. We all need it. Some people are better at it than others. When it comes to health I tend to see lions behind every tree. Every time I read or hear of a disease or condition, the symptoms resonate with me and I'm sure I have "it". Logically speaking I'm mostly healthy, but logic doesn't always factor in. Dr. Welch premises that with all the possibilities that modern medicine has for tracking down abnormalities in our bodies we may have taken medical screening to the extreme. He proposes that ALL bodies carry diseased cells around in them at all times - most of which will never go beyond a very small stage or will be eradicated by our body defence systems. However, if an x-ray, MRI or other scanning procedure is used, treatments may be begun that will have more of a negative effect on us than just leaving well enough alone. The book is very well written, easy to understand, and full of examples, footnotes and references. It covers most common ailments and cancers, and also includes a chapter on genetic testing which was very interesting.
His advice - if it's not broke, don't fix it. Good advice and I plan to take it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

I listened to this book over a period of several weeks while at the beach. The remarkable thing about it was that everytime I thought it was winding up, a new twist would occur and the story would go on. The book has a very complex story line involving conspiracy within the government of the United States. Through an unfortunate mishap an innocent archivist finds himself plunged into intrigue, conspiracy, lies and deception. All too soon he doesn't know who he can trust and what the truth is. Meltzer is a master of this genre and this novel will satisfy those who enjoy suspenseful thrillers.

The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen

This was a perfect diversion read. Not too heavy or complex - just your traditional murder mystery. A well preserved mummy shows up in the basement of a museum, but turns out to not be thousands of years old as first thought. The police are brought in and the plot continues to thicken, twist and turn enough to keep you on your toes not knowing exactly how it's going to play out. I stayed up late several nights reading this novel, and fortunately it didn't give me the creeps even though there are a number of no-so-nice images described in the book.