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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Heartwishes

HeartwishesUnknown

Jude Deveraux

Pocket Books  NY, NY  2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0800-0

I like to read romance novels when I travel.  They don’t usually require a lot of attention.  They tend to be a quick read.  When I’m done I can leave the paperback behind and be sure someone will find some use for it.  Even so I tend to be picky about my romance novelists.  I like writers who are more interested in characters than in sex scenes.  I like writers who fill in the details around the story.

This story is set in a small town outside of Richmond Virginia.  There are 7 founding families and one of them is looking for a student to move in and write a family history.  The matriarch, Mrs. Frazier, has purchased a huge number of papers from the old family home in England which was being sold.  Although we are presented with the idea she’s researching to support her claim to a title (the ancestor was an Earl) she has an ulterior motive.  She’s looking for a wife for her oldest son because all her peers have grandchildren.

Gemma, our heroine, is intimidated by Mrs. Frazier and out of her class.  But she also is in love with history and this would be her dream job.  While her fellow students and competition woo Mrs. Frazier, Gemma finds herself wrapped up in a stack of old letters.   Of course she lands the job and is intrigued by the family mythology of a heartstone.  This stone, said to be given to the Frazier by a witch in thanks for using his strength to rescue some villagers, is supposed to grant a heart’s wish to any Frazier.

As the coincidences of wishes coming true increases, so does Gemma’s understanding that writing her dissertation about the heartstone will wreak havoc on the town and the family she’s come to love.  There are all the elements of a classic romance novel, gossip, jealousy, intrigue and hot sex.  The story, although fantastical, remains in the realm of possible.  There is always a “logical” reason for the wishes to have come true.

What drew me the most to this novel was the fact that Gemma, to help support herself in school, was the tutor for the football team.  She came to understand that brains and brawn are not exclusive.  When meeting the Frazier boys she recognized them as very much akin to her students.  She also, because she was training with the athletes, is quite able to hold her own with the physical challenges in the book.  The secondary characters, particularly the younger brother who is an artist, were also intriguing.  I’m actually hoping Jude Deveraux will write a series with a story for each of the 5 boys.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Jude Deveraux.  I think I’ll add her to my list of readable romance.

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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Romance

 

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Expecting Adam

Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth and Everyday Magic51A3UmNH51L._AA160_

Martha Nibley Beck

Three Rivers Press NY,NY  1999, 2011

ISBN:978-0-307-71964-5

This is a memoir.  At the time they were expecting Adam the couple were both PhD candidates at Harvard University.  She finds out early on that he will be born with Down’s Syndrome.  Martha Beck writes this memoir ten years later with much help from her old journals, diaries and conversations with friends and family.  The narrative is centered at the time of her pregnancy with Adam.  She occasionally jumps through time offering an incident in Adams life that underscores her experience.

I find this an interesting story juxtaposed to The Fault in Our Stars.  There the author insists that he is writing fiction but his work rings true.  Here the author insists she is writing truth but her story doesn’t sit well with me. It is the fantastical and spiritual parts of the story that I believe and the truth of the tale that I do not.   I find her jumps in time between being pregnant and having a 10 year old son at the time she’s writing disconcerting.  That she occasionally tosses in a scene with her son at 2 or 5 or 7 doesn’t help continuity.  I see what she’s trying to do in making her points but I find myself lost in time.

Memoirs are interesting in the literary context.  They tell a true story but they can never be entirely the Truth.  Scenes are painted as though the author was a fly on the wall when truly they are pieced together based on likelihood, history and knowing the characters.  Memory is also not dependable and is clearly one sided.  I sympathize with the author’s feelings and experiences but I struggle with her judgmental attitude.

The magic referred to in the title is expressed as Martha’s sense that her life being controlled by divine beings.  She experiences moments of telepathy or astral projection.  She describes what is essentially a magical healing.  She talks about feeling surrounded by love and compassion in her most desperate moments, but she demonstrates no love or compassion for the other characters in the story.

I know what the tone of the world was like when Adam was born.  He’s the same age as my son.  I also got bombarded with medical studies and had specialty doctors explaining to me my son would be a vegetable.  But I am astounded that someone, who is so insistent that her credentials as a social scientist lend credibility to her observations, is unable to evaluate statistical information.  Even I knew that studies of children who were institutionalized at birth were irrelevant to a child who would be loved, held and given early intervention services.

Adam (and my Orion) was born in 1988.  Life Goes On, the TV series staring an actor with Down’s Syndrome aired in 1989.  The American Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 but people had been working towards it since 1973.  I don’t understand the blame and resentment that ten years after the fact still comes out in the writing of this memoir.  I don’t understand the insistence on using words like retarded and mongoloid to describe your own kid even in the 2011 edition.  I don’t understand her inability to find real information and support even in the rarified university environment.  Surely she had access to a Boston phone book!

Adam (and my Orion) were born in 1988.  Life Goes On, the TV series staring an actor with Down’s Syndrome aired in 1989.  The  American Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 but people had been working towards it since 1973.  I don’t understand the blame and resentment that ten years after the fact still comes out in the writing of this memoir.  I don’t understand the insistence on using words like retarded and mongoloid to describe your own kid even in the 2011 edition.  I don’t understand her inability to find real information and support even in the rarified university environment.  Surely she had access to a Boston phone book!

At one point in the book she and her husband are having a stress induced argument.  He barks at her, “You don’t want this baby to be normal.  You’d throw him in a Dumpster if he just turned out to be normal.  What your really want is for him to be superhuman.”  The argument, as many are, turns out to be more about the husband and his life experiences than anything else.  Still I have to wonder if he has a point.  This book seems an attempt to convince us, and herself, that Adam is indeed superhuman.  The author even goes so far as to suggest the chromosomal abnormality technically makes him a different species!

I said I wasn’t sure if I could review a book I didn’t like.  I think the reason is because then I’d have to finish the book.  This was a hard book for me to finish.   I know what it’s like to be exceptionally hurt by crazy insensitive stuff people say about your kid.  I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed with information and expert opinions that are not based in real life experience.  I know what it’s like to be extremely sick, pregnant and dependent on the support of people who don’t believe in your choices.

It doesn’t surprise me that her feelings about other people’s reactions were exactly as she’s conveyed.  But again her insistence that her degree allows her to pass judgments on people’s intentions is absurd.  I stopped speaking to my Mother-in-law because I heard her say, “Did the doctors tell you it was your fault?”   That probably is what she said.  She was actually trying to express concerned that any of the doctors were blaming me.  She didn’t think the situation warranted blame, but knew how people can be.  She didn’t want me to feel guilty.  Instead she devastated me.  We worked it out.  Clearly Martha Beck never did.

I suspect this is a book people either love or hate.  I’m not the right audience.  I don’t need to hear her story, I’ve lived my own.  I don’t need her to validate my experiences.  I know that we are not alone in experiencing discrimination and I trust my experiences with Divine presence.  (See my book Manifest Divinity for more on that.)   I know there are a lot of people out there who do need those reassurances and for them I can see this as an important book.  I think it would be better if Martha had learned to reflect the loving kindness that Adam continues to demonstrate toward her.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Memoir

 

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Chu’s Day

Chu’s DayUnknown

Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Adam Rex

HarperCollins NY, NY

ISBN: 978-0-06-201781-9

I picked up this book because I’m fond of Neil Gaiman as an author.  He does use an amusing word play as Chu seems to have a tendency to sneeze.  Warning us, the book begins “When Chu sneezed, bad things happened.”

Generally in books like this I find a simple theme developed and repeated in variations five or six times before the climax.  Often the pages then turn the story around and go backwards through those variations with repercussions.  The classic example of this is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.  Gaiman has simplified this formula in the extreme making this a very short children’s picture book.  He uses the principles of comedy one, two and the punch line on three.  The story turn around is done entirely in pictures.

As it is a children’s picture book it is really the illustrations that sell the story.  Adam Rex seems to use an illustration convention that is quite unique.  When the story is “telling” about Chu, the panda’s day the pictures are stark and set against a white background like many science based photo picture books.  When the story is “showing” Chu’s day the pages are filled with color and whimsical animal characters.

This might be a fun book for very young children suffering from colds or hay fever.  I could see exploring the details in the illustration with a child while reading to them.  It would be fun to ask, “what could happen if you sneezed like Chu?”

This is no great piece of literature.  I would be thrilled to see it in every pediatric waiting room.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Children

 

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A Nameless Witch

A Nameless Witch: A Tale of Vengeance, True Love, and CannibalismUnknown

A. Lee Martinez

Tom Doherty Assoc., LCC,  NY, NY  2007

ISBN:0-7653-1868-7

The title is intriguing, the subtitle gruesome and the entire tale a delightful fantasy romp.  The story line reads like many modern teen fiction novels.  A girl who is cursed from birth trains to become a witch.  She acquires a blood-thirsty familiar and takes on a troll as a companion.  When she meets the White Knight she works desperately to hide her true self and her forbidden attraction to him.  Only it’s not what it sounds like.

This story is written with the wry humor of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett.  It has the quality of the early work of either of those renowned authors.  In that style, the characters are developed as much through their witty and distinctive dialogue as by their actions.  This technique is at its most charming when the Nameless Witch struggles to sound like a “proper witch”.

The evil wizard who stalks the land is an illusionist and there-in lies the depth of the tale.  There is nothing about this book that demands a literary examination.  It is a fun, light escape.  Should the reader choose to look deeper each character is confronted with making the distinction between reality and illusion.  They all have major character flaws that they can indulge or deny.  They can also choose the third option and come fully to terms with who they are.

The True Love in the story is carefully nurtured by a beautiful prostitute who has the capacity to see past the illusions to the heart of the matter.  It is reminiscent of teen love in its intensity, shyness and in the way destiny strives to pull it apart.  These characters are truly torn when their natures are in conflict with their desires.

This was a quick read and a nice break from the intensity of some of the other books I’ve been reading.  It put a smile on my face. It even made me laugh out loud.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Fantasy, Teen Fiction

 

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The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our StarsUnknown

John Green

Penguin Group, NY, NY  2012

ISBN: 978-0-525-47881-2

There is a good reason that this book was on the New York Times bestseller list.  It’s smart.  It’s honest.  It’s funny.  It’s compelling.  It’s very modern and very literary at the same time.  This is a teen/young adult story that reads well for adults.

The main characters in this story are a group of teens with unusual and terminal cancers.  There are certainly tearful moments in the narrative.  Kids like these do not spend their entire lives thinking about their illness or their mortality and neither do these characters.  There is a lot of humor, and plenty of gallows humor, that rings very true.

John Green is very explicit that this is a fictional story.  He actively discourages his readers from looking for some key to his real life.  He even makes up the treatments.  Still it is clear that he has at least spoken with kids in this age group with similar issues.  The attitudes and aggravations will be familiar to anyone who’s ever spend time on a pediatric cancer ward.

Like most teens these characters are interested in love and relationships.  They want to make something of their lives.  They suffer from teen angst and depression.  They are bored to tears with the stories of adult survivors.

The juxtaposition of America’s Next Top Model (a favorite TV show of our main character Hazel) with a girl who just wants to be left alone is poignant.  Top Chef seems to come into the TV schedule when our characters are having trouble keeping any interest in eating.  Modern culture plays as important a literary role as Shakespeare,  a hamster named Sisyphus, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs all of which are debated for their credibility by the teens.

These characters are smart kids.  They are exploring big questions like “Why are we here?” and “Is there something after”.  Their illness just puts an urgency to that searching that is uncommon.  There is humor, and some of it gallows humor but there is also whimsy.  Because there may not be a tomorrow these characters are expert at living in the moment and seeing truth in the nonsense of everyday living.

This is a book that will make you think.  It’s a book that may inspire you.  It’s a book that will leave you full.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Teen Fiction

 

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