Monday, July 19, 2010

Flower Children by Maxine Swann *Review*

A swing hangs in the middle of the living room. The house was built by the parents. The children- two girls and two boys- run free all day, dance naked in the rain, climb apple tress, ride ponies, press their faces into showers of leaves, rub mud all over their bodies and sit out in the sun to let it dry. When their parents invite other adults for skinny-dipping in the creek, the children memorize all the body parts to discuss later among themselves.
Maxine Swann's Flower Children is the intimate, shocking, funny, heartrending, and exultant story of four children growing up in rural Pennsylvania, the offspring of devout hippies who turned their backs on Ivy League education in favor of experiments in communal living and a whole new world for their children. The children, in turn, find themselves impossibly at odds with their surroundings, both delighted and unnerved by a life without limits. But as the parents split, and puberty hits, the ground seems to shift. The children's freedoms have not come without a cost to their innocence
Based on the author's childhood, Flower Children was originally a short story. Now expanded to include many vignettes of the children's early life, we come to know the four siblings throughout their teen years as well.
What most kids these days would have thought of as an ideal childhood with no rules was at first a wonderful exploration period for Lu, Maeve, Tuck & Clyde. But upon entering school, the older children realize they know more then they should at such a tender age. They have been exposed to naked bodies being-allowed to take baths with their father and pot smoking parties. This embarasses them once they realize other children do not live like they do and they become shy and keep things to themselves.
Flower Children was an interesting account of an alternative lifestyle that I have not been exposed to before. That being said, I did not like the book. I can't give you a good reason why, it just was not what I thought it would be. 2/5 stars

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Boy on the Bus by Deborah Schupack *Review*

I wish I knew what to say about this book, but I don't. I wish the author knew where she was going with this story, but she didn't. I wish there had been a satisfying conclusion to the story, but there wasn't.

I was very disappointed in The Boy on the Bus. This short novel starts out with a mother who is waiting for her son to come home from school. But when the bus pulls up to her house, the boy on the bus is not her son. At least that's what the mother is sure of. He acts different, he seems strangely unfamiliar, and he even looks a bit older and more robust.
The author then takes us through a few days in their life as her and her partner Jeff and her daughter Katie try to know sort out what is going on. Jeff is away for months at a time at a job site in Canada- would he know if his son was acting different if he hasn't seen him in that long? Daughter Katie, away at boarding school gets called back for her opinion. She just thinks Charlie's acting weird.
Mother, Meg, left at home to shoulder the load of taking care of the household and her sickly, asthmatic eight-year-old is a little overwhelmed with life. She doesn't know what happened with her "real" son but she is determined to find out.
If this book would have been a mystery like it implied it could have made a good one. But the story went nowhere and with no resolution I was left hanging and a little stumped. Did I miss something? Did I not get it? More confused after I finished then when I started I would only give this 1/5 stars.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain *Review*

A few weeks ago when I was looking for a shorter books to read for an all day reading marathon I came across a classic called The Postman Always Rings Twice. Never having read it, watched the movie, or read anything by this author, I pulled it off the library shelf.
The back cover proclaims it was "banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism." Written in 1934, I was curious to see what made this book so controversial it had to be banned.
This short novel is about Frank, a bum who never stays in one place for long, and Cora, the wife of a Greek restaurant owner. The two fall in love and can't keep their hands off each other. Theirs is a violent love full of ripped blouses, bitten lips and deliberate punches. It's a love you know can only end the way it started.
Cora can't stand being married to Nick Papadakis, especially when Frank enters her life and she sees what passion is. Frank and Cora come up with a plan to murder Nick and make it look like an accident. But when their plans are foiled and a local cop gets suspicious, Frank decides the best thing for him to do is to leave town and try to get Cora out of his system for good. Unable to forget about her, he returns and the affair picks up again hotter and wilder than before.
Again they come up with a plan. This time it's foolproof. It's the perfect murder. The Postman Always Rings Twice is a dark book full of cheating, lies, passion, murder, blackmail and double crossing. The violent tendencies during their lovemaking scenes were disturbing and I can understand how, in 1934, this book would have shocked a lot of people. That being said- I can honestly say I enjoyed this classic and would even consider nominating it for our book club's classic read month in October. 3/5 stars

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Girl in the Photograph by Gabrielle Donnelly *Review*

To meet Allegra O'Riordan of Chicago, you'd think she was like anyone else- a modern single woman in her thirties; a more or less lapsed Catholic; more or less gainfully employed; urban, independent, irreverent, and smart. But there's a hole in her life, and it doesn't really show until, going through her late father's effects, she comes upon a photograph of her mother. Now, her mother was a prim, unsmiling woman who died when she was three. But this is something- someone- else, a laughing, beautiful, sexy girl, who inscribed the picture to someone Allegra's never heard of.
Astonished and intrigued, she returns to her hometown of Los Angeles to find out more about this mother of hers, only to be met with smiles and evasions and a definite sense that people are keeping something from her- and of course, that
only makes her more determined to find out what it is, even though she's beginning to suspect she's not going to like it one little bit...
Yes, Allegra O'Riordan sets off for Los Angeles to find out more about the mother she never knew. But what Aleegra doesn't count on is that nobody wants to talk about Theresa Higgins O' Riordan.
Certainly not her Uncle John and Aunt Katherine. Every time Allegra brings up the subject of her mother, Katherine clams up- not very talkative, is she- and herUncle John changes the subject. Allegra knows there's a story there somewhere and she's determined to find it.
With the help of a young, hot neighbor, Scott, and her cousin Jimmy they start to piece together a few clues but Allegra is frustrated to the point of giving up when she asks a kindly old priest at a family birthday party if he remembers Theresa Higgins and watches him turn cold at the sound of her mother's name.
"No one," said Father Carroll, "in the diocese of Los Angeles will forget
Theresa Higgins."

"A sin," said the priest, "is a sin."
Allegra shivers in the sunshine of the birthday party, and as the priest shuffles off she knows the answer she seeks might change her life forever. 3/5 stars

Monday, July 5, 2010

more than it hurts you by Darin Strauss

Josh Goldin was savoring a Friday afternoon break in the coffee room, harmlessly flirting with co-workers while anticipating the weekend at home where his wife, Dori, waited with their eight-month-old son, Zack. And then Josh's secretary rushed in, using words like intensive care, lost consciousness, blood...
That morning, Dori had walked into the emergency room with her son in severe distress. Enter Dr. Darlene Stokes, an African American physician and single mother whose life is dedicated both to her own son and navigating the tricky maze of modern-day medicine. But something about Dori stirred the doctor's suspicions. Darlene had heard of the sensational diagnosis of Munchhausen by proxy, where a mother intentionally harms her baby, but she had never come upon a case of it before. It's rarely diagnosed and extraordinarily controversial. Could it possibly have happened?
When these lives intersect with dramatic consequences, Darlene, Dori, and Josh are pushed to their breaking points as they confront the nightmare that has become their new reality

Emotions are churning within me of which I cannot even begin to describe. The characters- all so well drawn, so lifelike, each with a heaviness all their own...

Dori- the mother accused of Munchhausen by proxy syndrome- of hurting her baby for the attention it will create. Dori is galled that anyone would think she could hurt little Zackie. After all, no one could love him more than she does. And she does love him immensely. She is burdened by the investigation by Child Protective Services and the need to prove she is a good mother.

Josh- the sometimes inattentive, but still loving husband and father is saddled with feelings of not being competent enough. Of not knowing enough "medical speak" to understand what's going on. Josh blindly trusts in his wife and creates a united front against their accusers.

Dr. Darlene Stokes- a black doctor who worked her way up from a fatherless home to become a respected doctor and head of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of St Josephs hospital is targeted for reverse racism against this young Jewish family and is weighed down with the battle between hospital politics and the diagnosis she made without any proof but which she is sure is correct.

More than it hurts you is a thought provoking novel of right and wrong, good and bad, fair and unfair, conceptions and misconceptions. A novel that leaves you thinking about it long after you've put it down. 4/5 stars

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather *Review*

In 1851 Bishop Latour and his friend Father Vaillant are dispatched to New Mexico to reawaken its slumbering Catholicism. Moving along the endless prairies, Latour spreads his faith the only way he knows- gently, although he must contend with the unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Over nearly forty years, the two friends leave converts and enemies, crosses and occasionally ecstasy in their wake. But it takes a death for them to make their mark on the landscape for ever...
I have been trying to add more classics to my reading list lately. Other than Pride & Prejudice which is one of my all-time favorite books I am not a big fan of the classics. When a friend of mine told me this was her favorite Willa Cather book I thought I would give it a try. I think one of my main objections to classics is I get too caught up in the language style they are written in and the antique quality of the words and it becomes too much of a distraction.
Willa Cather does not write like this. Written in 1927, this classic at no time feels like a book that was written over eighty years ago. The words and phrases she uses, while simplistic, are very relatable. But just because her writing style was very easy to read does not mean I enjoyed the book.
This book, I am sorry to say, was boring. I did learn a lot about the early Catholic Church and the French missionaries who helped to spread the faith in its infancy in New Mexico, the hospitality of the Mexican people and the way the Indian peoples were very devout to both God and their own superstitious pagan ceremonies.
The reason I did not like it was that nothing happened in the book. Each chapter within the nine books of the novel was about a different person or event that took place. It seemed more like "Do you remember when we did ________?" or "Did I ever tell you about_______?" There was no plot, no suspense, no storyline; nothing to keep you wanting to read on.
It wasn't a terrible book, just not one I would highly recommend. 2/5 stars