October 2012 Bookshelf

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff

A honest and thought provoking true story of addiction.  Outsiders, those who don't have someone they love addicted to something, can't understand the range of emotions one goes through when watching a loved one unravel.  And what happens when the one unravels is the whole family unravels.  Sheff takes us through an honest look at his son's addiction and what it did to him and his family.  The harrowing part is that Nic's story doesn't end with the book.  It continues to this day as he strives to stay in recovery after being addicted to meth and many other drugs.  Here's his most recent update.
David Sheff decided, once his son revealed his drug of choice was meth, to research the drug and find out what it does to a person.  His son's story includes history of the drug and how it has become a major problem in America.  So the book is an interesting mix of meth facts and Nic's addiction.
Sheff's book opens up a whole new world of insight for those who have never walked through addiction.

Butterfly in Brazil by Glenn Packiam

Glenn Packiam calls out the church on their unrealistic visions of grandiose acts of service.  I especially loved, and highlighted, the chapter in which Packiam addresses the church about "storing up greatness" and letting it go to waste while waiting for the grand stage.  He contends, and I agree, that greatness is for today - in the mundane and ordinary.  And it is, it really really is.  In fact I think I wrote a blog about that myself.  We need to let go of our illusions of greatness and be faithful to what is set before us today.  If we can't be faithful for what we perceive to be insignificant then God is not going to entrust to us anything bigger.  The whole premise of the book is that it is the small acts that lead to the biggest changes that are lasting.  He's right on.
Some of the book got a bit repetitive but that's to be expected I think.  He was trying to drive his point home using multiple examples and ways.
Want to make a difference? Start small.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

An interesting concept for a book - written from the POV of a "behavioral problem" boy named Christopher.  Never explicitly stated what his behavioral problems were I was led to conclude he had autism.  Christopher writes a book to share his story of detecting who killed the neighbor's dog.  But his detecting leads to far bigger findings than a dog murderer.  His unique character leads him to number the book chapters according to prime numbers and about every other chapter has not much to do, directly, with his story.  He's very intelligent, as are many autistic people, but very hard to follow.  In this Haddon succeeds in his writing.  He pulls off a book written as if Christopher really exists and did write the book.  But it just didn't capture me.  It wasn't particularly funny, in my opinion, nor all that engaging.  I felt a bit as if I were trudging through.  I hate it when a book takes me on that kind of journey.  Also, once again I have to bring this up, the language is unnecessary and detracts from the story. Although the characters are located in the U.K. and they seem to love their poor, imagine-less language.  I just don't get it.  A word thrown in there every so often is no big deal to me but lines upon lines of it are totally unnecessary. But in the end that isn't what detracted for me.  It just wasn't endearing enough, not like I think Christopher could have been.

One Child by Torey Hayden

There's no doubt about it that Torey Hayden has a special touch when it comes to wounded children.  One Child is Hayden's first published book about her work with children, she's gone on to write about several more.
Sheila was a 6 year old girl who landed in Torey's special class after abducting a 3 year old boy and setting him on fire.  Hayden never has found out why Sheila did it.  One can assume, after reading of Sheila's rough life, that her behavior was a response to her abuse. Through 5 months of work and attention Torey and her teacher assistants are able to help Sheila begin to heal and move forward.  It is an incredible testimony to what love, patience, and perseverance can do for a person.
What I've like about Torey's books is that she makes the reader so interested in her kids that you want to know how they are doing now.  She provides what info she can on them through her website.  Here's the update on Sheila.

True Notebooks by Mark Salzman

Wow.  What an experience.  Salzman was in the middle of a novel and stuck in writers block.  A friend suggested he come to Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles to observe a writing class with youth inmates.  After one class Salzman decided to start teaching his own with unit K/L - the murderers awaiting their trials and sentencing.  What came out of it was this book sharing Salzman's experiences with the boys and their own writings about a myriad of topics that will surprise most people.  A warning: if you can't handle coarse language then you shouldn't read this book.  Salzman recounts his exchanges with the boys and staff and holds nothing back, the language is bad.  But in order to accurately share this story he had to keep it real.
This was a great read.  Salzman's experiences with Central Juvenile Hall, both staff and youth, will give the reader some insight into what has happened to the teenagers of our time.

Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen

Set in 1959 this is the story of innocence changed.  I don't want to say innocence destroyed but certainly changed.
Sally and her sister Troo have been left to roam their neighborhood streets alone the summer of 1959. Fortunately for them neighborhoods like theirs act as one big family so night after night they would absorb themselves into various family tables to get a meal. Their older sister, Nell, is supposed to be looking after them but she is much more interested in her boyfriend.  Their stepfather, Hall, is supposed to be looking after them but he is much more interested in the bar down the road.  Their mom is fighting for her life in the hospital down the road.  And to top it off two little girls have been molested and murdered in the neighborhood.  Despite the grim circumstances Sally and Troo manage to stay alive.  Families in the neighborhood take them in and make sure they are safe.  Sally gets it in her head that she is the next little girl victim so she starts "investigating" possible suspects and makes some stupidly brave moves.  It's a story of optimism in the midst of some really dark spots.
Lesley Kagen has written a heartwarming book.  It certainly isn't one I am raving about but I never wanted to put it down.  I kept saying to my husband, "One more chapter" and ended up finishing the book.  Her characters are developed well and her mystery of the murderer adds an element of suspense.  I will definitely read other books authored by Kagen.

The Underside of Joy by Seré Prince Halverson

What a debut novel! Halverson's book about parental love is so good, I devoured it.  
Ella Beene is living an idyllic in Elbow, CA with Joe and her two kids, Annie and Zach.  But tragedy strikes our main character early on in the book and with Ella's loss comes a host of secrets Joe had been keeping from her and everyone else.  As those kind of secrets usually are, a whole lot of hurt is piled on top of Ella's loss of Joe.  Enter Annie and Zach's birth mom, Paige.  Showing up at Joe's memorial and making her intentions clear. 
As the description of the book says, this book isn't so much about the fight between birth and step mother's for their children but about finding healing through understanding and ultimately about finding joy in the underside of life.  
Halverson's debut novel is a home run. She develops her characters beautifully and weaves a wonderful story.  She doesn't go to one extreme or the other in her story, which makes it enjoyable to read. I will definitely read any other book she puts out with hopes that she is not a "one hit wonder". 

One Moment, One Morning by Sarah Rayner

I've been eyeing this book for quite a while so when I saw it on the library shelf I snatched it up.  I'm glad I did.  Sarah Rayner's book about one moment that can change everything was a good read. 
On the 7:44 am train one morning three strangers lives are about to intersect over one moment.  It is that moment and the ones introduced the following week that literally change the course of their lives.  Lou witnesses firsthand the moment that changes Karen's life.  Anna is several cars down and finds out about her best friend, Karen, later on that morning.  Together, and separately, the three of them begin to reevaluate their current lives and what may need to change.  Rayner does this with ease.  
I've not read any of Rayner's other titles but I'm going to give them a go.  Apparently a book released earlier this year, The Two Week Wait, is a loose sequel off of this book as Lou becomes a main character in that book.  I like her writing style, it has an ease of storyline to it and her character development is good.  She is a British author and while some of them are a bit too colorful and over the top with their language and character lifestyles, I found Rayner to have struck a realistic balance.  I appreciated that. I'm glad that I picked up this title, looking forward to exploring this author a bit more! 

The House I Loved by Tatiana De Rosnay

I'm so disappointed.  I really liked the other books by de Rosnay, Sarah's Key and A Secret Kept, so I expected to like this one as well.  Instead I was so bored by it.  So disappointing.  It had so much potential and I feel like de Rosnay was rushed? bored herself? pressured into publishing another book? I don't know but part of the problem with this book was its lack of character development.  She started a bunch of characters but didn't really finish them.  Another problem with the book, in my opinion, was the voice of it.  It is written as "letters" from Rose to her deceased husband, Armand.  A good premise, lots of potential but it fell flat.  It was annoying.  de Rosnay's Rose doesn't write naturally.  It was obvious that Rose was writing to the reader not Armand because she includes a lot of back story and details that the reader would need to know not Armand.  This made it unbelievable as letters to him.  It felt very forced. I'm no published author but I think there are better ways this book could have been written. It didn't engage me, the reader, and I was bored by it.  I couldn't wait to finish it so I could be rid of it.  It's not a story that will stick with me.  That's unfortunate because I think it had the potential to be a "sticking" story. 

Objects of my Affection by Jill Smolinski

I knew I was going to like this book when I read the description.  When it involves cleaning out the clutter of life I'm all in!  This was a well-written, engaging book.  
Lucy, a 39 year old woman, needs a fresh start and it seems like cleaning out reclusive artist Marva Meier Rios' home might be the ticket.  As Lucy helps Marva clear the clutter she discovers she has some of her own clutter to clear as well.  Of course clutter in life is never contained to just physical items, there's a lot of emotional clutter that needs to be removed as well. Lucy's own journey to remove clutter is relateable, giving the reader more to think about (perhaps) than just a story.  
It's ironic to me that I sat down to read this book, or rather start this book, and by chapter 2 knew I would read it all in one sitting instead of doing what I meant to today...work on some of the basement clutter.  :)  


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