13. Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir by Doron Weber
Again, I picked up a galley of this book at ALA Midwinter and wound up really enjoying it. It’s the true story of Damon Weber written by his father Doron. Damon was born with a congenital heart defect that seemed to have been taken care of during surgery as young child. Yet now entering his teenage years Damon all of a sudden seems to be once again fighting for his life. He is diagnosed with PLE, an illness that a small percentage of people born with his heart defect eventually develop, which depletes the protein in his body. It is a poorly understood rare disease that leaves the Webers struggling to figure out the best way to treat their son. Over a number of years that gradually move from less invasive treatments trying to prevent Damon from needing to have a heart transplant. It is the struggle of a father to keep his son alive and a young boy trying to hold on to some semblance of his life while facing a very serious illness. It also touches on the challenges of dealing with a medical system that often seems to provide more harm than good. It’s a heartbreaking story filled with love and hope. I give it an 8 out of 10.
12. Heft by Liz Moore
Heft is yet another book I got a galley of at ALA Midwinter, that turned out to be a really good book. The book centers around the stories of 2 characters Arthur Opp and Kel Keller. They are joined by a common relationship with Charlene, who is Kel’s mother and who was a college student Arthur had a relationship with almost 20 years previous.
In the years since they last met in person Arthur has become a 550 pound housebound man and Charlene has become an a woman ailing with lupus and succumbing to alcoholism. Although they have kept in touch via letters throughout their lives they have not been honest with each other about their current situations. Meanwhile Kel is a high school student from a poor neighborhood trying to navigate life amongst the rich families where he has been allowed to finish out school due to his mother’s previous employment at the school. The book alternates between the stories of Kel and Arthur eventually drawing the two characters together and propelling them into their futures based on the small act of Charlene attempting to bring them together in what turns out to be the last day of her life.
I really liked this book. The characters were all hugely flawed, but very well drawn. You could acutely feel both their pain and small joys. I give it a 9 out of 10.
11. The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler
I was excited to snag a galley of this book at ALA Midwinter as I generally really enjoy Anne Tyler’s books. Plus as a fellow Baltimorean I enjoy the fact that she sets all of her novels in Baltimore. This was a sweet little book about coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. The book begins with Aaron believing that his dead wife, Dorothy, has returned to him a few months after her passing in a freak accident. The book moves both back and forward in time looking at their relationship and how she died while moving forward into the future to the point where Aaron is able to let Dorothy go. I give it an 8 out of 10.
10. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
I picked up a copy of this book at ALA Midwinter thinking it was another book that I had on my to-read list. It turns out I was confused, and when I read what this book was about I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to read it because I usually greatly dislike dystopian future stuff. I’m glad that I took a chance on it though because I wound up really enjoying this book.
The story take place in the future (duh, dystopian future). After a virus that swept the world making women infertile and threatening the existence of humanity, the United States has become a religious state in which ultra-conservatives rule. Additionally, in order to save money all except the most violent criminals are no longer kept in prison. Instead they are injected with a virus that causes their skin to turn various colors based on the level of their crime.
Hannah Payne, the protagonist of the novel, has been sentenced to be a Red for 16 years for aborting her unborn child. She is under additional pressure for refusing to name both the person who performed the abortion and the father of child, who is a highly revered and married minister. Now that she has been released out into the world as a Red, Hannah must face the prejudice the world has for Chromes (the criminals who have been injected with color), come to terms with her own guilt, defend her life against a fringe group attempting to kill Chromes, and figure out what her future is going to be while on the run.
It very much reminded me of a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and The Scarlet Letter. It brings up lots of issues such as the oppression of women, and the dangers of the human trappings of religion rule politically in a dictatorship. I give it a 9 out of 10.
9. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
As an introvert myself I was very excited to read this book. In it Susan Cain examines the personality traits of introversion and extroversion and what really defines them. She also examines them within the context of culture. Extroversion is highly prized in the United States, but in Asian countries introversion is actually more respected. She looks into the history of how extroversion became more valued and how that can actually be detrimental to society. She also looks into ways that introverts can better function in a society that expects people to be extroverted while still remaining true to who they are. Cain also examines a number of personality traits that most introverts also tend to have in looking at the larger picture of who introverts are and how they relate to the world. As someone with a background in psychology and an introvert I thought it was a fascinating book that I very much identified with. I highly recommend it to my fellow introverts and also to extroverts so that they can better understand what is driving the often seemingly silent people in their orbit. I give it a 9 out of 10.
8. This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
This Beautiful Life was anything but beautiful. It is a book filled with obnoxiously self-absorbed characters that I completely hated. I didn’t care about their problems, and way the parents’ story end seemed to come out of nowhere for me. The plot centers around a well-to-do family who recently relocated to New York City. They appear to be bored living their frivolous lives until their world is shattered by the stupid mistake of their teenage son. After hooking up with a young girl at a party, she sends him a video of herself naked and lets just say doing stuff with a baseball bat. He unwisely sends it along to one of his friends who of course sends it along and you get what happens. The rest of the story centers on them trying to pick up the pieces and prevent his future from falling apart while also salvaging the damage it has done to their own work and reputations. I give it 2 out of 10.
7. Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards
I admit I had a really hard time following this book because I couldn’t keep the characters and how everyone was related straight in my head. The whole time I was reading the book I was wishing there was a family tree. Hey guess what! There is one. Only it’s on the last page of the book so unless you happen to flip to the end before you actually get there you’ll never find it until it’s too late. So you’re welcome future readers for the heads up about that.
Other than the issue with having a problem keep characters and their relationships straight I found Lake of Dreams to be an enjoyable read. The story centers around Lucy who while at somewhat of a crossroads in her life has returned to her family’s home in Lake of Dreams, NY for a visit. Lucy’s father died in a fishing accident shortly before her graduation from high school, and once she left the town for college she avoided returning. Not only does her trip home stir up long buried feelings and questions over her father’s death it unearths a long buried family secret regarding a relative that was deeply intrenched in the suffragette movement. I give the book 7 out of 10.
6. The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson
The Underside of Joy examines what it means to be a mother. After the tragic drowning death of her husband Ella Beane is suddenly confronted by the return of Paige, the biological mother of the children she has been raising as her own for the past 3 years. Paige left the children when her son was still a baby and her daughter was still a toddler. She now claims that she was suffering from post-partum depression when she left, she has received treatment and wants her children back. She also claims that she attempted to reestablish contact previously, but was ignored by her ex-husband. Ella has seen no evidence that Paige had anything to do with the children in the 3 years she has been in their lives, and is desperately trying to hold her disintegrating family together. Who has the right to call themselves the mother of these children? While I did enjoy reading the book it did tie up in too much of a nice little package for me at the end. I had no doubt the entire book that it would, but it wasn’t a very realistic ending in my opinion. I give it 7 out of 10.
5. The Lost Flamingos of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
I read this book for one of my book clubs. It’s a good thing that I did because in our discussion of the book we discovered that only one of us actually really realized what had happened at the end of the book on our own. One person did actually get the meaning from the text, one realized it after reading the discussion questions included in the book, and the rest of us apparently completely misinterpreted what happened.
If you haven’t figured out already based on that introduction this book is very description based and the author often does not just come out and explain what happens. On the other hand there are some very graphic and seemingly purposefully shock inducing things in the book as well. So in that respect it is a book of contrasts.
The story centers around 4 main characters a talented pianist who has left the limelight, his best friend a famous Bollywood actress, a photographer who befriends them when sent on assignment to photograph the pianist, and the woman the photographer begins an affair with. It’s hard to relate any actual plot details without giving major spoilers, so I leave it at that. The story should appeal to anyone who likes F. Scott Fitzgerald. It seems very similar in nature to his works filled with tragically flawed characters. I give it a 6 out of 10.
4. Mercy by Jodi Picoult
This book follows a similar pattern to all of Picoult’s other books in that there is some issue that leads to a trial and the story is told from alternating points of view of each of the main characters. If you have read any of Picoult’s other novels you should be very familiar with the formula. This particular story takes place in a small Massachusetts town that essentially is supposed to be the descendents of some Scottish village transplanted over to the United States in such a way that the old clan rules still apply with the clan chief being the police chief, Cameron McDonald. His long-lost cousin Jamie arrives in town with the dead body of his wife who he supposedly just killed at her own request as she was dying from cancer. Jamie throws himself on the mercy of Cameron who feels compelled to uphold the law at all costs, meanwhile his wife Allie takes Jamie’s side leading to a rift in what was a merely complacent marriage. At the same time a mysterious woman appears in town further threatening their marriage.
I had many issues with this book. The whole Scottish clan rules in America rang very false with me. The characters were very selfish and yet we were supposed to somehow view all their actions as love. And the main conceit of the book revolved around a husband doing anything for his wife because he loved her so much even to the point of taking her life, but I never understood why she couldn’t just kill herself. Picoult’s attempted explanation of why Jamie is the one who had to kill her just didn’t pass muster with me.
This is definitely not one of Picoult’s better books in my opinion. I give it a 5 out of 10.