The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff…

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This historical fiction called The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is an excellent book club book. There’s lots of layers for dicussion – polygamy, parenting, religion, and murder. It’s all there.

The storyline bounces back and forth between modern-day, where BeckyLyn has just been arrested for her husband’s murder – and 1875, where Ann Eliza Young recently separated from her husband Brigham Young.

The book is probably longer than it needs to be and the dense build up of the historical conflict for women in the Mormon faith is a little overdone – we get it – being the 19th wife would come with some complications. But overall the book is very interesting and, as I said, opens up a lot room for book club talk.

There are some surprises in the book also – a big plus for me.

My book club is made up of women so our discussion focused a lot on trying to understand how women can tolerate being one of so many wives. We didn’t really understand how it makes sense – although we did get perpetuating the “way it’s always been”.

At one point, one of our members asked the group to imagine having 19 husbands. Holy smokes. No thank you.

 

 

1222 by Anne Holt…

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When Scribner asked me to review this book,
I jumped at the chance 1222to read Anne Holt‘s latest crime story 1222.

The basic story line is that a train crashes in Northern Norway during a horrific snow storm and the survivors are taken to a nearby hotel until the blizzard subsides. (The title comes from the fact that they are 1,222 feet above sea level.) All seems well until a priest is found murdered just outside the hotel door on the morning after the crash.

Hanne Wilhelmsen, a wheel-chair bound retired detective, is one of the survivors. She carefully observes the other passengers and pieces together what happened. The interesting wrinkle in this book is the other characters’ willingness to talk near Hanne as if she wasn’t there – likely because they see her as lesser because of her wheelchair – but it ends up being how the mystery is unraveled. The other irony is that Hanne enjoys watching people but not so much inteacting with them – quite a challenge when trying to interview witnesses and suspects.

Hanne is a little grumpy and I kept forgetting that she was a woman. That’s not good or bad – just my experience.

Amping up the drama and mystery is the fact that the passengers from the private car on the wrecked train have been isolated on a separate level of the hotel.

To be honest – because that is what I promised to be here – I had a hard time buying into the idea that this hotel would have been totally stocked full of supplies to support a train load of people for several days when it was practically empty of people, except for staff members. Beyond that, the story is engaging and the unfolding connections between people are interesting.

This is the eighth book in a series but the first one translated into English. So English readers are likely missing out on some historical information/backstory on Hanne Wilhelmsen – but I think that’s okay. If you like a mystery – especially an isolation mystery where the people are bound together by circumstances/location and cannot escape each other – you will likely enjoy this story.

 

how to stop time by anne marlowe….

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I think I have shared that I am writing a novel called The Alligator Purse. In my story, the main character Savannah is addicted to heroin. Someone suggested to me that Savannah isn’t believable as a heroin user. To help fix that, they also suggested I read this memoir – how to stop time, heroin from A to Z by ann marlowe.  

My exposure to drugs has (thankfully) been very limited. I know nothing about heroin. (Which was apparently abundantly clear.)

If you are a writer, you will probably enjoy this book from a technical level. It is written like a dictionary – broken down into sub-topics which are discussed alphabetically (but with references to other subtopics that apply). I haven’t read a book in this format before and I enjoyed its snippet-style of story telling. Heroin addiction is a heavy topic and it was nice to read about it in small doses (no pun intended).

If you know someone struggling with heroin, this book would give you a lot of insights into what they are facing. It was fascinating to me to read about Ann’s addiction. And to learn that she was highly functional in her professional life.

Apparently some critics have argued that her story doesn’t sound authentic enough – whatever that means. According to her own words, Ann scheduled her life around her drug use. That sounds like at least a heavy dependence to me.

The only reason I mention the critics is to also mention that Ann never claims to know what all addicts go through – this is her story and her story alone. This isn’t a “here’s what happens to anyone who is addicted to heroin” story but rather a “here’s what happened to me” story.

Ann is a professional writer and her story is well written. I was shocked and sad and even laughed a little. This is a terrific book. I am very glad I read it!

Spirit of the Wolf by Linda Star Wolf with Casey Piscitelli….

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Merging the world of the wolf with Shamanism, authors (and mother/son team) Linda Star Wolf and Casey Piscitelli join with artist Antonia Neshev to introduce the power of lupine energy.

The artwork alone is amazing. And this book would make an excellent gift for anyone with an affinity for wolves. Neshev earned international acclaim when the artwork on the cover of this book appeared on a t-shirt.

The teachings and inspirations in the book will appeal to those who believe in the spirituality of nature and its ability to help humans move forward peacefully in their own lives.

There are several of Samuel Briedenbach’s teachings sprinkled throughout the book as well. He is a scientific Shaman who believes in a spiritual DNA connection with nature and animals.

The essence of The Spirit Wolf seems to be captured in its quotes from Art Berg:

The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer

and William Blake:

What is now proved, was once only imagin’d.

The authors and artist share their own knowledge and experience to help everyone connect with their inner wolf. This book won’t be for everyone, but for those who believe (or want to believe) in the power of lupine, it will be especially poignant.

The book is on sale at Amazon for $13.46 and you can buy it here.

Drinking Diaries (an anthology)…………..

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The tag line under the title of Drinking Diaries reads “Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up”.  And they do with brutal honestly and reflection.

I bought this book because Jane Friedman has an essay in it. She’s very well known in the world o’ writing and her essays appear on quite a few websites I read regularly. In one essay titled Finding and Longing for Community, Jane comes across as quiet, academic, and maybe even reserved. Of course, I don’t know Jane, but she seems so down to earth and grounded. She is certainly successful in the writing world. So, the fact that she has a drinking story intrigued me. And her essay is intriguing – and quite revealing.

As are all the essays.

I am not really sure how to describe this book. It’s great that it’s an anthology because, not unlike drinking, it’s best served in small doses. The stories are heavy and heart-breaking and real. There is humor sprinkled here and there like an olive adorning a potent cocktail.

If drinking has been a part of your life in any way – even via its absence – I think you will be glad you read these stories. You might also start to see your own drinking in a different way.

A lot of the stories come from the perspective of daughters who were affected by drinking parents. If you are a parent, it’s interesting to see drinking through a child’s lens. If you had a parent who drank (or drinks), the stories might feel pretty raw.

In a very general way, this books feels like an AL-ANON meeting (the support group for those who love an addict). It’s just a simple sharing of stories and experiences without too much judgement. And it’s a great place to start a discussion about drinking in our lives and what affect it really has on those we love and those who love us.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot……

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art from www.amazon.com

This non-fiction story is about the life of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who died from cervical cancer in the early 1950s.

While Henrietta was undergoing treatment for her cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. George Gey  (a researcher) obtained some of her cells – without her knowledge or consent. Those cells were the first human cells to remain “alive” outside of the human body. Sadly, Henrietta died – but miraculously, her cells live on even today.

And the study of those cells has led to amazing advancements in medicine, including the polio vaccine, various cancer treatments, and so much more.

Normally, I read a book with my eyes wide open – but this book I read with my mouth wide open. I simply could not believe the liberties that doctors were allowed (and by the by, still are allowed) to take with human tissues. No consent necessary. Even if they will profit from it.

And it’s not just taking samples – it’s testing. While doctors and researchers were dissecting and analyzing cells outside of Henrietta’s body, other doctors were conducting research – including injecting cancer cells into their patients – without asking permission or forgiveness.

Rebecca Skloot does a lovely job of introducing us to the Lacks family and sharing their journey with us.

It was by complete accident that the Lacks children even learned that Henrietta’s cells were taken from her and being used all over the world. The cells were named HeLa cells (the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last names). And they have not profited in any way from their discovery or continued sale – even though they struggle to pay their own medical bills.

This book sounded a little intimidating to me because of the science/research tilt – but Rebecca explains everything so easily that even I (a mere English major) can understand it.

The Lacks family saga saddened me tremendously. In a land where these types of things just aren’t supposed to happen, they simply do happen.

The bottom line for me is – please use my discarded tissue for research if it will help other people, but you really should ask me first if it’s okay. And if you are going to make millions on my tissue, please share at least some of those profits. Yes, thank you.

This is an amazing story and I think you will be very glad you read it!

You can purchase it on Amazon here.

And NPR did a story here.

Suzy’s Case by Andrew Siegel……

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One of my favorite classes in college was Biomedical Ethics. So, when I received a request to review Andrew Siegel’s medical malpractice story titled Suzy’s Case, I jumped at the chance. Plus the main character’s name is Tug Wyler. That’s a fabulouso name for a medical malpractice attorney.

image from www.Amazon.com

The story starts a little slow and it involves a tough set of circumstances to read about. Suzy is a little girl with sickle cell anemia who leaves the hospital in much worse shape than she arrives in – she walks in sick and leaves in a wheelchair, brain damaged and paralyzed. Her mother believes the hospital did something wrong – the hospital suggests Suzy is simply a victim of her own disease and an unfortunate turn of unpreventable medical events.

Tug Wyler is brought onto the case when the original attorney decides after 6 years of litigation that there really isn’t much of a case. Tug is a little crass and very quirky but he is a dedicated attorney looking to get the best results for his clients. Admirably, he tries to distance himself from cases that he knows to be fraudulent. In the beginning of the story, we see Tug  defending his own actions in front of the Disciplinary Committee. He knew one of his clients was lying and refused to represent him in a “zealous” manner as required by the Professional Code of Conduct. This reveals his honest nature and makes him more than just an “ambulance chaser” – which is important given the negative stereotypes surrounding medical malpractice attorneys.

As we meet and get to know Suzy and her mother, it’s hard to not to care about this little girl and to be curious about what exactly happened to her – not only because her story is tragic, but also because medical malpractice is a reality. Sadly, it can happen to anyone. Siegel did a good job of building suspense and answering questions slowly to keep his readers engaged in the story.

The real beauty of this story, though, is its exploration of what Tug is willing to do to ensure justice is served for the victims of medical malpractice. Tug makes decisions that teeter on a delicate balance between defending the truth and bending it.

I have not read a medical malpractice novel before and this was an interesting journey into a complicated and contrived world – where the truth often hides behind self-preservation and big payouts.

This is Andrew Siegel’s debut novel and it was published by Scribner, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Defending Jacob by William Landay……..

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.)

I read Defending Jacob by William Landay for my book club. If you want a book rich with discussion possibilities, this one is it.

Jacob is a high schooler who lives in a small town. In that town, one of his fellow students is murdered. Jacob’s dad is the Defense Attorney on the case – until Jacob is accused of the murder. It turns out that Ben (the murdered boy) was bullying Jacob, giving him quite a motive.

This book opens a lot of avenues of discussion….

  • Nature v. Nuture
  • The Impact of Working Parents
  • Genetic Predisposition
  • Bullying
  • Community Reaction to Crime
  • Murder and Suicide
  • What Defines Normal Behavior in Children
  • What Parents Are Willing/Unwilling to Believe About Their Children

You better serve wine. 8-)

The story was well-paced and I really liked the first half of the book. I felt like Jacob’s story could go either way and I struggled to decide whether Jacob was innocent or guilty. But then the book turns and a lot of surprising things happen. Which is generally good in a book. But this story just had too many twists. It felt contrived and too easy at the same time.

It really would make a good book for any discussion group and maybe even a good book for parents/teenagers to read together. I just wasn’t thrilled with plot development toward the end.